Monday, June 30, 2014

Hanging Coffins

Voices chase you. They come from everywhere.  A cliff blocks your path. Your light explores the rocky surface. It shines on hundreds of tattered coffins resting on stakes above you. Chairs hang beside these wooden terrors. They sway back and forth as though someone is sitting in them, watching you. The ghostly voices stop. Trees rustle behind you. Twigs snap. A pained creek sounds above you. You shine your flashlight. People are sitting in the chairs.

I find the custom on handing coffins fascinating. It's amazing inspiration for a horror story. It's also good for world building. Burial customs can reveal a lot about a culture. If this comes up in the culture or race you're creating, you don't have to rely on common methods like burying underground or in tombs. Your people could hang coffins from cliffs. This is one of the reasons I love researching. You find unusual information. It stretches your imagination.

Hanging coffins can be found in various locations, including China, Indonesia, and the Philippines. In China, they are known as Xuanguan, which also means "hanging coffin".

The hanging coffins in Echo Valley, Sagada, in the Philippines, are reserved for Igorot elders with families because it is believed that the younger generations will benefit spiritually from the success of the burial. The coffins are said to be carved by the elderly before they die. If an elderly person is too weak or ill to do so, their son, or a relative would, do it for them. When the person dies, they're placed in the coffin in a fetal position 

Family members may also wish to carry the corpse to its waiting coffin at the cliff edge in order to be contaminated by the bodily fluids which are thought to contain the talent and luck of their dead relative.

The coffins are traditionally carved out of a single log or piece of wood. They are decorated ornately and painted, often in bright colors. Families have plots of rock face with a line of ancestors hung one above the other, though not everyone qualifies for this special type of burial.

One of the most common beliefs behind this practice is that moving the bodies of the dead higher up brings them closer to their ancestral spirits. A schoolteacher of the Igorot tribe believes there are other contributing factors. “The elderly feared being buried in the ground. When they died, they did not want to be buried because they knew water would eventually seep into the soil and they would quickly rot. They wanted a place where their corpse would be safe.”
Photo Credit: Funzug.com

The Unique Hanging Coffins of Sagada, Philippines
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