I have never heard of hanging coffins in the Philippines outside Sagada. Sagada has always been associated with hanging coffins.
I was so distracted when I was in Kiamba (a town in Sarangani Province) when my motorbike driver told me that there are hanging coffins in their place. I was very fortunate that my motorbike driver is a T’boli and he knows very well the mountains of Kiamba.
After spending 3 hours in the mountains of Kiamba chasing waterfalls, we went to an equally mountainous T’boli barangay called Fallel. It was a rainy afternoon then but that did not stop me to proceed. We were under the rain as he drives our way to the steepy, rocky, unpaved and hole-ly roads leading to Fallel. My guide told me that it rains in their place every afternoon even during summer time.
Fallel itself is an attraction because of the T’boli people that reside here. I just love T’boli culture and tradition, their custom and way of life. People here hunt animals, plant vegetables, and make wood charcoal for a living. A very simple and descent way of life.
After about 20 minutes of motorbike ride, we stopped in one native house to seek shelter. Little did I know that from there, we will hike going to the burial grounds.
The hike is easy and short in a not-so-rugged mountain. We reached “gono no lembeng” or the burial grounds in less than 10 minutes.
The place does not look like a burial site to me. There are no graves or indication that it’s a cemetery except for the little signage that says “Burial Ground Gono-No Lembeng.” I could not see any hanging coffin. Then my motorbike driver slowly cleared some of the grasses in the ground. He told me that right where we are standing is the grave yard covered with grass. No markings, no crosses, nothing.
Then he pointed me to the branches of the pomelo tree where I was seeking shelter. I did not find any strange object until he asked me if I notice anything hanging. And I did see objects that are hanging. The infamous hanging coffins of Fallel right in front of me!
Okay, there are no coffins here – only corpses! The T’bolis of Fallel literally hang the dead bodies of babies (2 years old below) among the pomelo trees in this graveyard. The body is wrapped with a white cloth and damay leaves. Damay is a kind of herbal plant that according to them can only be found in Fallel. The T’bolis here believe that a child is an angel, who has wings, hence the “hanging coffin” practice – the corpse literally sway to the will of the wind. This practice is only done by the T’bolis of Fallel and no another T’bolis in the Philippines do it. This has been their way to bury dead children since time immemorial.
During typhoon and strong winds, some of the coffins would fall in the ground. If this happens, the natives will not pick the corpse but would just allow it to settle where they fell until such time, by forces of nature, gets buried in the ground.
During my visit here, there were only 2 hanging coffins. This is an indication that at the very least, child and maternal care in Fallel is improving. My guide told me that as far as he remembers, the most number of hanging coffins he saw was about 15.
An innovation of the hanging coffin is an elevated grave. Those who are more affluent in life, instead of hanging their dead, would rather make an elevated grave. I only saw one and it doesn’t even look like a grave.
The so-called hanging coffins of Fallel are located in the mountains of Fallel in the Municipality of Kiamba, Province of Sarangani.