Badjao cemetery

Boat-like grave markers at a Badjao cemetery

Badjao cemetery

A portion of the small area of the cemetery in Greater Sta. Cruz Island off Zamboanga City. It has a mix of Tausug, Badjao and Sama graves.

The pinkish sandy shore of Sta. Cruz Island glistened as the pristine aquamarine waters broke into shore as we walked at a narrow strip of sand bounded on the right by low lying vegetation and to the left the sea. In less than a hundred meters from the cottages, our  guide led us to a small area which is the cemetery of Badjaos, Tausugs and Sama.

I’m always fascinated with cemeteries and cemetery art, especially those built during the Spanish colonial era with antique elements still present. But I’m equally fascinated with graveyards of Philippine tribes as well.

When I read that Sta. Cruz Island off Zamboanga City is one of our tour stops, I got elated. It’s not only known for its protected lagoon and pink sand but importantly, it also has a cemetery with one important feature: Badjao graves marked by human effigies on a wooden boat.

The Badjaos, popularly called as the sea gypsies, live off the sea almost their entire lives. Historically, these people live off the coasts in their lepa boats, roaming around the rich waters. And when a kin dies, it’s connection to the sea still continues in the form of grave markers.

Effigies of the dead, with the face drawn on the head rides a boat like construction. As Badjaos remember and visit their dead on the month of August, there were effigies and grave markers still bearing their cloth canopy. There are small cups that held food offerings to the dead. In other grave markers, the effigy has a cloth wound around its head.

It was indeed a fascinating trip in Sta. Cruz Island. It not only afforded me a good swim at the beach but the interesting cemetery grave markers gives one a glimpse of the culture of these seafaring people.

Badjao cemetery

Effigies of the dead atop a boat like contraption atop a grave. The Badjaos are also called sea gypsies.

My guide told me that figures with a cloth at its head is a high ranking individual. Notice the cups which are used for food offerings to the dead.

My guide told me that figures with a cloth at its head is a high ranking individual. Notice the cups which are used for food offerings to the dead.

Badjao cemetery

A Badjao grave marker with human like figure atop a wooden assemblage representing a boat

Modern non Badjao grave markers. Might be Tausug or Sama

Modern non Badjao grave markers. Might be Tausug or Sama

Badjaos remember their dead during August and this explains why there are  still cloth canopies and turbans placed on graves. Photos were taken this October 2014.

Badjaos remember their dead during August and this explains why there are still cloth canopies and turbans placed on graves. Photos were taken this October 2014.

A Tausug grave just near the pristine waters of Greater Sta. Cruz Island

A Tausug grave just near the pristine waters of Greater Sta. Cruz Island

A wooden Tausug grave marker is identified by its almost abstract representation of a man or woman. This might be a wooden marker representing a man. I was told women are represented with markers that have a lot of curves.

A wooden Tausug grave marker is identified by its almost abstract representation of a man or woman. This might be a wooden marker representing a man. I was told women are represented with markers that have a lot of curves.

Estan Cabigas is freelance photographer, blogger and writer based in Makati City, the Philippines. A true blue Cebuano, he makes stunning images and meaningful photo stories. His work has been published in local and international publications including National Geographic Magazine, Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London) and other publications. He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces. I'm open for work, collaborations and inquiries, including hotel, restaurant and site features and reviews.

7 Comments

  1. Estan Cabigas (@EstanCabigas)
    October 19, 2014 @ 13:54

    Boat-like grave markers at a Badjao cemetery: A portion of the small area of the cemetery in Greater Sta. Cruz… http://t.co/8AVFr9LoLc

  2. Estan Cabigas (@EstanCabigas)
    October 26, 2014 @ 9:38

    Boat-like grave markers at a Badjao #cemetery http://t.co/1V1YRDe0MA #afterlife #travelph #mindanao http://t.co/wfmxsy6Mng

  3. Estan, Ang Langyaw (@LangyawMedia)
    October 26, 2014 @ 10:39

    Boat-like grave markers at a Badjao #cemetery http://t.co/bfbyRiRyOn #afterlife #travelph #mindanao http://t.co/KpYGHZy9ch

  4. @BlueMiste
    October 27, 2014 @ 7:08

    Boat-like grave markers at a Badjao cemetery – langyaw http://t.co/vwPd0Wzxln

  5. Estan, Ang Langyaw (@LangyawMedia)
    October 30, 2015 @ 14:36

    Have u seen these unique cultural gravemarkers in Sta. Cruz Is., #zamboangacity? #cemetery
    https://t.co/bfbyRiRyOn https://t.co/k6KqcsATsz

  6. Estan Cabigas (@EstanCabigas)
    October 30, 2015 @ 14:36

    Have u seen these unique cultural gravemarkers in Sta. Cruz Is., #zamboangacity? #cemetery
    https://t.co/N5fPp62Ihv https://t.co/qlVqF3Wqr3

  7. Karen Burchill (@BlueMiste)
    October 31, 2015 @ 7:28

    Boat-like grave markers at a Badjao cemetery – langyaw https://t.co/vwPd0WR8JX

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