My earliest memories of the Anglican cemetery of St. Mary the Virgin in Sagada that we fondly call “Kamusanto” (Campo Santo) with the eloquence of the local tongue were when I was but 5 or 6 years of age. I went there with my old man for almost two weeks straight when he was constructing double tombs to lay my grandparents in the future when they pass away. Yes. We made their final resting places way ahead of time.
The place didn’t have as many graves and headstones as it does now so I have vivid memories of a lot of green and red-brown dirt and me going home with a lot of knee scrapes caused by hopping from one tomb to the other.
I’ve wondered how come we were making the burial chambers in advance when I see both my grandparents being strong and healthy. Lolo could still lead the ‘amam-a’s‘ in the dap-ay and he had this voice and aura that somehow made him seem taller than his actual six feet. Lola on the other hand could not be stopped from going to the fields to ‘manungtung‘ and ‘mangubi‘ (gather camote tops and roots). My mother said building these ahead of time actually makes the lives of people meant to be interred therein longer. That made me happy and I didn’t question that any further.
Whether the belief held or not, my grandfather succumbed to cancer five or six years after his tomb was completed. His wife, my grandma, lived on to be 103 years old. I guess that somehow proves the belief then.
For the next few years after my lolo’s demise, the ‘Kamusanto‘ has been a sanctuary for me. I find myself wandering to his place late in the afternoons simply because I enjoyed the tranquility and peace riddled within the boneyard. I’d bring my textbooks and hard bounds and spend long hours studying, reading, or napping right on top of lolo’s tomb. It may seem like a creepy way to have a me-time but the place never gave off the eerie ambience most cemeteries are expected to have. I’d often find empty booze bottles snuck inside the vacant cavern next to my grandpa’s which proved the fact that I was not alone when I say the place is not at all a scary place to chill. Heck, those punks who drank those 4 x 4’s most probably after town curfew are way more courageous to go drink their poison amongst the dead. Cemetery ‘jamming’, anyone?
These graves and the spirits therein have probably seen so much more than we let on. Drunken confessions, lovers’ trysts, first kisses, first heartbreaks, first drag of that stick that made you cough, last embraces, last tears.
Even for non-locals, the place cannot be missed as it is strategically located as a scenic detour when going to the Echo Valley and the Underground River.
Much controversy arose before too when this gigantic network erected its tower, looming right over the tombstones and monuments.
The years have seen so much physical changes as expected. Imprinted in my earlier memory is this spacious hill–a lot of white but so much more grass and dirt. Today, the whites have crawled higher, lower, southward and northward. But obviously the vibe is still the same. It remains a buoyant place and so much alive, a nice irony. And this is probably why it’s always poignant to be unable to join the family when we do the yearly remembrance for departed loved ones during All Saints’ Day. Like I know I can always do my thing from wherever I am. I was brought up with the teachings of ‘atang‘ and ‘luwalo‘ (offerings and prayers) so I still light my little candle and leave a shot glass of booze and fruit on the side (and chug the remaining contents of the bottle of course). But actually being there, getting sooty and smoked with the rest of the family is something that’s really missed.
First recollections of the place were those long hours with my dad, now he’s resting there himself. I never fail to visit every chance I get whenever I’m home. I walk my dogs there often that I can guarantee they know their way around, even without me.
There’s no telling what other changes our beloved Kamusantu will witness and undergo in the coming years. But nothing can change my sentiments about it. The way the place enthralled me with its serenity and peace will always be what I’ll look forward to– living, and in the afterlife.