By CARLO MANALANSAN
Every first of November, a portion of Sagada’s mountain is burning and enveloped in smoke. There was no fire truck on standby, only people heading to the direction of the fire. This is iSagadas’ (people of Sagada) unique way of panagdedenet, a Kankanaey term for remembering the dead, during All Souls’ Day.
Before trooping toward Calvary Hill, where the only community cemetery is located, both iSagadas and their visitors attend the afternoon mass at the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin. They bring sacks or bundles of saleng (mainly comes from the roots of pine tree that have a high concentration of resin) and flowers to be blessed by the celebrant priest. Everyone would start marching 300 meters from the church up to the hill when the mass is finally over.
Local folks simultaneously do panag-aapoy (light a fire) on the graves of their departed relatives which gives a sight of bonfire across the cemetery. They believe that the fires give warmth and light to their departed loved ones. According to some community members, panag-aapoy is also a way of connecting to the souls of their ancestors. If there are graves that seem to have been forgotten, it is the responsibility of the community to provide lighted saleng near the tomb.
Historically, saleng was used as a torch in a traditional burial which were usually taken place inside the cave. But in the 1900s, when American colonizers introduced Christian burials, they used saleng in ceremony due to absence of candles. The iSagadas opt to still use saleng because pine trees are abundant in the community and it is free. Unlike candles, big fire from saleng can withstand strong winds.
The iSagadas welcome friends and tourists during this ocassion. However, they encourage visitors to observe panagdedenet not as a touristic event but a sacred ritual in honor of their departed kins and ancestors. Understanding the local culture is a step forward to being a responsible tourist.