Saturday, February 5, 2011

Skulls and bones, coffins and spirits and Marinduque funeral grottos

Type of jars used by pre-Hispanic Marinduquenos for second burial of their dead.

In the 1860s public attention was aroused in the West with the discovery in Marinduque caves of deformed skulls. Up to that time nothing was known of such skulls in the oriental island world. These were gathered by anthropologist F. Jagor. There were similar finds during those years in the island of Cagraray at the entrance of the Bay of Albay.

It was believed that the natives of these islands practiced the custom of compressing the head of a newborn child between two boards so that instead of looking round it would be lengthened out with the forehead also flattened. This was considered as an ancient “special mark of beauty”.

Believed to have been buried in these caves long before the introduction of Christianity in the Philippines, they have been compared with similar crania from other parts of the South Pacific such as Chatham and Sandwich Islands then peopled by proto-Malays.

Marinduque’s fame for its funeral grottos, their legends, spirits and terrors, would eventually attract other anthropologists and archaeologists.

Coffin found by Marche in a sepulchral cave in Marinduque.

By the 1890s further discovery in Marinduque caves by the Frenchman Alfred Marche of wooden coffins with crocodile images carved in the coffin lid were found to be similar to those found in the rocky islet called Nosy Loapasana in Madagascar in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa.

The coffin cover and two coffins from Marinduque shown in these drawings that appeared in the Antananarvio Annual and Madagascar Magazine 1892 formed part of the collections of the Museum of Ethnography at the Trocadero (Paris) during that era.


Debris of jars, vases and bones are still found in Tarug Cave in Mogpog, Bathala Cave in Sta. Cruz, Pastores Cave in Buenavista and Gaspar Cave in Gaspar Island, to name a few. In the mid 60’s the National Museum team of Dr. Robert Fox and Dr. Alfredo Evangelista conducted further excavations in Gaspar Cave in Gasan that yielded artifacts now forming part of the museum’s vast collection. A similar collection discovered in Banton Island near Marinduque has been carefully preserved and is presently housed in Hacienda Escudero.

Congressman Lord Allan Velasco with other cave explorers at San Isidro cave.

Marinduque caves, truly one of the island-province’s natural treasures continue to draw visitors at present, out to experience the thrill of seeing not bones nor coffins but natural stone formations, crystalline stalagmites, stalactites and rare fauna found in them. More so now, with the discovery during the last couple of years, of the San Isidro Cave in Sta. Cruz, the exciting one with a never-ending subterranean river that takes hours to explore.

Susong Dalaga Hill

Susong Dalaga Hill
Susong Dalaga Hill from Bagtasan isthmus

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