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The Hanging Coffins of China And Philippines

The ancient Bo and Guyue people of southern China did not bury their dead. Instead, they hung their coffins from tall cliffs. This peculiar burial custom was prevalent not only among the Bo and Guyue people of China, but among many other minority groups in several Asian countries such as Philippines and Indonesia. The precise reason for this kind of burial is not known. It is possible that the Bo people believed that placing the coffins high up the side of a mountain will enable the deceased to escalate to heaven easily. However, practical applications of cliff burial cannot be ruled out. One advantage of hanging the dead is that it makes the corpses inaccessible to scavengers and less vulnerable to destruction. It also keeps the ground free for cultivation.

Hanging Coffins of China

Hanging Coffins in Sichuan province, China. Photo credit: Alexander P Bell/Shutterstock.com

Hanging coffins can still be seen across central and southern China, especially along the remote valleys of the mighty Yangtze River, which flows from the Himalayas to China's eastern coast. The oldest coffins dating back 3,000 years, however, were found in the eastern province of Fujian.

The coffins come in various shapes but are mostly carved from a single piece of wood, usually a hollowed tree trunk. The coffins either lie on cantilevered beams, or beams wedged between crevices high up on the vertical faces of the mountains. They are also placed in caves in the face of cliffs or on natural rock projections. In Sagada, in the Luzon Island of Philippines, coffins are nailed or tied to side of the cliff. Each coffin weighed a staggering quarter ton, so it must have required an inhuman effort to haul the coffins up the cliffs.

How the Bo people managed to move the coffins into place is a mystery. Those near the top of the cliff were probably lowered from above, while those closer to the bottom of the cliffs were most likely raised using ladders. The existences of numerous notches cut into the rock face at several places suggest that some sort of scaffolding must have ben used.


Related: The Peculiar Burial Rites of Tana Toraja


Hanging Coffins of Sagada

Hanging Coffins, Sagada, Philippines. Photo credit: Rick McCharles/Flickr

Hanging Coffins of Sagada

Photo credit: Gino Mempin/Flickr

The Bos were a rebellious minority tribe having strange customs. For instance, adults deliberate knocked out their teeth, a custom still practiced by some tribes in Southern China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia. The tribe disappeared some 400 years ago, believed to be wiped out by the Ming Dynasty when the imperial army cruelly oppressed the ethnic minority peoples of Southwestern China. To escape the oppression many Bo people migrated to new locations and assimilated with other local tribes.

There were once hundreds of hanging coffins in Sichuan, Yunnan, and Guizhou province, but many had fallen into the valley and river below. There are still over a hundred coffins scattered across Southern China.

Hanging Coffins of China

"Hanging coffins" rest in a cave in Guizhou, southwest China. Photo credit: Katie Hunt/CNN

Hanging Coffins of China

Hanging Coffins in Sichuan province, China. Photo credit: Alexander P Bell/Shutterstock.com

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