Balangagan Cave: A call to preserve sanctity and cultural pride

By: Hemmady S. Mora | Wired World Watch

 

Balangagan cave is more than meets the eye.  It has a story to tell and things you see inside,  instead of giving you answers lead you to ask more questions. My journey inside on a Good Friday was unforgettable.

The story has it that the name of the cave Balangagan came from the names Bangcawayan, Lawagan, and Nagayang, the three elders from Taccong, Sagada who got trapped inside ages ago.  According to the folk tale, the three men went bat hunting in the cave and caught a lot of them.  On their exit, fear overtook them when they seemed to keep ending up in the same area of the cave. According to these three men, they heard the voice of a spirit in the cave telling them that they should not take out the bats nor anything from the cave. They obeyed the voice and immediately set the bats free. Then they followed the same path they took and were able to come out alive from the cave.  

When you get inside Balangagan, you can readily tell that it is an ancient burial cave.  The strangest sights inside were jars placed in unreachable upper edges of the cave walls. According to our guides, these jars contain the remains of fetuses.  Perhaps the mothers gave birth to premature babies so instead of burying them on the ground, they kept them inside those vessels.  Also placed in some unreachable corners were coffins made of hollowed trees. It remains a puzzle how the ancient people managed to position the coffins in very high edges inside. 

Finally, we were taken to an area where there were many coffins.  It was like an ancient mausoleum of a family whose remains were placed together in a secluded area of the cave.  Apparently, however, these coffins have been seen and examined by a lot of tourists already because some bones were messed up and the tops of the coffins were open. I just wish that certain rules would be imposed to keep spectators from ruining this sacred area.

More than the stalactites and stalagmites, more than the columns that have formed inside for a thousand years, more than the fossilized jellyfish on a wall, Balangagan cave is a repository to rich archaeological artifacts and history. There are many things to learn about the culture of our ancestors here.  If the Egyptians are proud of their pyramids, we should take pride on our burial caves as well because it unravels our past and leads us to ponder on our ancestor’s beliefs, rituals and traditions even before the arrival of the foreign colonizers.

I call on the concerned government authorities of Sagada to preserve its rich caves and prevent them from getting damaged by careless sightseers.  The sanctity of Balangaga cave should not be compromised for the sake of income generation.  Policies should be drawn for tour guides in order to set limits and boundaries for tourists.  This way, we will be able to preserve what is truly priceless for our nation.

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