Saturday, November 4, 2017

Sagada’s Ap-apoy, a Merging of Christendom and local Tradition

Sagada's annual Ap-apoy.

Sagada’s Ap-apoy is a celebration of All Saints Day combined with the traditional way of commemorating dead loved ones.

During late afternoon of November one, people of Sagada visit the tomb of their dead loved ones carrying with them bundles of firewood. The practice was also adopted by the people who migrated to the place whose dearly departed are buried in the cemetery.

I went to this event hoping not only to understand the culture but to find the tomb of American anthropologist and educator William Henry Scott. From what I heard, he fell in love with this place and made it his last resting place.

It was a fortunate visit as I not only found his tombstone, I also found his foster family who come here often during this event to commemorate him.

Miguel Talaney is one of the 15 foster children of Scott. Talaney, who is now 85 years old, was closest to the anthropologist as he and his family were the ones who stayed with him. The family explained to me about the tradition.

The old folks according to Wileen Lasangan, daughter of Talaney, did not practice the annual November one Ap-apoy until Christianity came.

In the old tradition of Sagada, lighted firewood is usually carried ahead to light the way when they bring their dead ones to his/her last resting place, either to the burial caves or to be included in what is now the famous hanging coffins.

“The light is a symbol that shines the way of the spirit of the departed,” said Lasangan. With the arrival of Christianity, cemeteries were created and eventually the people adapted this practice.


Came with Christianity was the annual observation of All Saints Day. But instead of candles, firewoods were used.

“It’s not only part of the tradition but it’s more practical as it doesn’t easily put out from the windy weather of Sagada,” said Willa Langbay, also a daughter of Talaney.

The ap-apoy usually starts in the late afternoon with each family arriving to light their firewood one after the other. Recently, they organised to do it simultaneously where a mass is scheduled at the start of the event. After the mass, they all heed to the cemetery for a simultaneous lighting.

After the Ap-apoy, each family goes home to honour their loved ones over dinner. Sometimes, they are joined by invited guests. I was fortunate to be invited by the Talaney family.

The Talaney family at William Henry Scott's residence. Miguel is standing 2nd from right.
Ap-apoy is open to visitors as long as they observe the solemnity of the event. Contrary to some misleading info by some travel agencies, this event is not a festival  and group tours are usually closed to this part of town during this event.


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