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.