Bonfires and candles light Sagada’s panag-apoy

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It's a sight to look at this place ablaze!
It’s a sight to look at this place ablaze!

I quickened my pace as dusk was settling in, past people going down, coming from Sagada’s cemetery up in the hill beyond St. Mary’s Church and just at the edge of Echo Valley. I was determined to go up the mountainside and witness a unique cemetery tradition in the Cordilleras: Sagada’s panag-apoy which is celebrated on 1 November.

I know what to expect but seeing a good portion of a mountain, with splotches of white for sepulchers and gravestones being lapped up with the warmth tongues of fire, the white light of flashes, the sound of people conversing, laughing and the air heavy with pine scented smoke was awe inspiring. Here in Sagada, it was magical!

Better than a night at the Talisay cemetery. READ MORE: Luminous night at the Talisay City Cemetery

I asked people around Sagada on the significance of the panag-apoy. Our guide to Bomod-ok Falls said that it is to warm the dead, which I think is unlikely. And three said that it’s just a tradition with no significance. An old lady told me, “they light the candles for a longer light, the wood for shorter but brighter fire.

Whatever they say, I have my own interpretation, two in fact:

  • Because the cemetery is located near a forested portion, the smoke that the bonfire generates can deter insects, and
  • At this time of the year, Sagada is in for colder nights and the fire from the burning wood counters the cold, and enough time to bond with friends and relatives and meet other Sagadans who have come back home.

Being here, witnessing this, is a sight to behold!

REALITY CHECK: With the popularity of the panag-apoy filtering into social media, do expect to see lots of tourists who wants to witness this unique tradition. Amidst the boisterous event, there are lots of photographers setting their tripods, smartphones and Ipads taking photos for Instagram and FB and lots of camera flashes bursting. Do expect the usual tourist group who are a bit loud and rowdy.

The day is dying and the earth is ablaze!
The day is dying and the earth is ablaze!
Dusk is settling in as Sagadans pay their respects to departed family and friends
Dusk is settling in as Sagadans pay their respects to departed family and friends
As early as 3PM, the bonfires at Sagada's cemetery starts to light
As early as 3PM, the bonfires at Sagada’s cemetery starts to light
One of Sagada's pioneering family, the Masferres
One of Sagada’s pioneering family, the Masferres
Lighting a candle for a departed
Lighting a candle for a departed
Sagadans, tourists and photographers
Sagadans, tourists and photographers
Time to meet old friends
Time to meet old friends

GETTING THERE: GL buses ply the Baguio-Sagada route via the Halsema Highway and during this time, can be loaded with passengers both locals and tourists. The cemetery is just between St. Mary’s Church and Echo Valley where a cellsite is located. Panag-apoy starts at around 3 PM and can last till early evening.

I'm a Travel and Architecture photographer, blogger and writer based in Cebu, the Philippines.

A true blue Cebuano, I make stunning images and meaningful stories. My work has been published in various coffee table books as well as local and international publications including Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London), done photo assignments for Mabuhay and written posts in Smile.

My personal Photography work has been exhibited around Asia and Europe including Paris in France, Germany, The Netherlands, South Korea, China and around the ASEAN regional capitals.

I am a peripatetic traveler and have been to all 81 Philippine provinces and abroad.

Check out my portfolio site at StanCabigas.

9 thoughts on “Bonfires and candles light Sagada’s panag-apoy

  1. thanks estan: these photos reminds me of our visit way back then. the people are always kind and enchanting! salamat gid.

  2. why do we light fire? before, we did not have candles, instead, we used the heartwood or candle wood as a replacement. it’s been a tradition to light firewood more than candles.

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