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Death ceiling



Burying remains on the side of cliffs is an ancient custom dating back to 3,600 years ago, according to Chinese research. The study conducted by Zhang Xiaoming of the Kunming Institute of Zoology and published last year in the journal iScience, traced its origin to the Baiyue people in southeastern China.

Zhang conducted genetic analyses of remains from so-called hanging coffins in China and northern Thailand. The gathered DNA data indicate that the custom spread to mainland Southeast Asia some 2,000 years ago. In Thailand, the practice was common to Hmong natives.

Wikipedia described three ways of hanging coffins. One is by putting it on beams projecting outward from the side of a mountain. Another is by placing the coffin in caves in the face of cliffs. Third is by putting it on natural rock projections on mountain faces. It is speculated that making the coffin inaccessible prevents it from being disturbed.

Outside of mainland Southeast Asia, hanging coffins were also found in Indonesia and the Philippines. The Toraja people of Sulawesi use boat-shaped coffins and placed these below overhanging parts of the cliff face. They add wooden carvings of tau-tau or guard of the dead to scare away potential looters.

In the Philippines, the hanging coffins are found in the highland tourist site of Sagada in the Cordillera Administrative Region. Igorot natives used hand-carved coffins and tied or nailed them on the side of a cliff. Being high from the ground is said to make the dead closer to their ancestral spirits. Some coffins are accompanied by the “death chair” where the body was tied in a fetal position, covered in blanket and smoked to preserve it for several days during the wake.

According to Igorot guide Siegrid Bangyay, Igorots still practice the burial custom. But a family from Sofronio Espanola, Palawan that recently hung the coffin containing a dead relative was not related to the ancient burial practice.

In a video recently posted by Sheryl Tagyam on social media that went viral, the white casket is suspended by a rope from the ceiling of a house. Tagyam explained that it was their way of holding the wake of the departed because the house was flooded up to the waist.

Heavy rains from typhoon “Maring” caused a nearby river to overflow, flooding the place and inundating homes. There was no visitor at the wake where the coffin was hanging, but raising the dead was not intended to scare away anyone.