TABUK CITY, Kalinga: Long before he left this world, mason Vicente Agyao, a heavy drinker, told his buddies that when he dies, the cause of his death should be recreated in his final resting place.
In 2016, he succumbed to alcohol abuse. True to his wish, he got what he asked for. His tomb in the barangay (village) public cemetery along the road to Tuguegarao City is distinguished by a 1.5-meter high concrete likeness of a 4 by 4 feet gin bottle – his favorite drink.
Agyao’s is one of about 20 unique tombs inside the cemetery. These tombs include a chapel, a castle, a car, an airplane, a boat, and at least a couple of animals. These unusual graves have made the Nambaran cemetery a tourist attraction. Local and foreign visitors are often seen taking photos of these tombs.
Nambaran resident Silverio Daluping said that in death, Agyao had become part of the spectacle he and his friends, fellow masons Ignacio Baguiwan and Peter Bangayon, had conceptualized and executed.
Daluping recalls that in the late 90s, the Tulgao tribe members who relocated to Nambaran, including Agyao, had a reputation for being prone to violence and were reportedly involved in highway robbery and squatting. They came from Tulgao in Tinglayan town and Colayo in Pasil town in the 70s.
Among the victims of violence include Roman Catholic Bishop Carlito Cenzon and his driver. Their hands were chopped off as they were trying to pick up a child who was accidentally hit by their vehicle.
“At that time, no one would touch us with a 10-foot pole. This burdened Agyao and his two friends a lot and they tried to think of a way to make the tribe acceptable to other people in the village,” Daluping said.
He said the trio’s brainstorming ended when New People’s Army guerilla Rolando dela Cruz, who was killed in an encounter with the military in 2002, was buried in a tomb that bore the hammer and sickle emblem of communism.
He related that the trio agreed to create unique tombs that would speak of what the dead person stood for, adding that the idea would later grow to include fulfilled and unfulfilled desires of the dead or any facet of his life which the trio felt must be memorialized.
“They had hoped that the unique tombs would attract people to the cemetery and somehow would allow interaction with us,” Daluping said.
The three first applied the concept on the tomb of Sakgod Ya-o who died not long after dela Cruz. Ya-o was the first Christian convert from Colayo, Pasil and the three constructed a tomb that resembles a chapel.
Helen Ya-o, whose tomb is in the shape of a rubber shoe, used to tell her nephew Banatao Baguiwan to buy her children rubber shoes. But all he brought home for them were slippers. In death, her wish will forever be remembered: her tomb was marked “Adidas.”
Helen Sawadan had always voiced her frustration at not having grandchildren because none of her five children had no child of their own. She expressed the wish that if she dies, she should go to heaven immediately so she could petition God to give her grandchildren.
When Helen died in 2009, the masons built for her a tomb in the shape of an airplane, reasoning that it would be the quickest way for her to reach heaven to deliver her petition.
Piwa Ngaya-an, who also died in 2009, had expressed the desire to see his grandchildren in Manila. He died without seeing them. His final resting place is in the likeness of a taxi, the conveyance that would have brought him to his grandchildren had the Manila trip materialized.
A concrete dove sits atop the tomb of Helen Agpad. Daluping said that the dead used to be a caretaker of a farm that had lots of doves. Meanwhile, the horse on top of Layugan Uyam Malannag’s tomb is in the likeness of the horse of the Marlboro man. Malannag smoked no other cigarette but Marlboro.
Daluping related that because Juan Edduba, who died in 2015, had the last word in the Tulgao society in Nambaran and he was an acknowledged tribal leader and peacemaker in the province, the masons constructed an elevated and shaded tomb for him. The top has a table with a gavel.
The latest addition to the unique tombs is a guitar, which was how Bangayon and Baguiwan felt Jimboy Layugan, a fresh college graduate who was killed in a motorcycle accident two months ago, should be remembered. The victim had a talent for singing and playing the guitar.
Daluping said that in some of the tombs, the dead were entombed in the structure itself but in others such as in the helicopter tomb of Biyada Angiwot, the body was buried beneath the symbol.
“Generally speaking, the masons have the freedom to conceptualize the tomb. In most cases, the family only finds out about the unusual tomb during the day of the burial,” Daluping said. He added that because the Tulgao tribe usually bury their dead on the fourth day, the masons finish the tomb within three days and put the finishing touches if any are needed after the burial.
City Tourism Officer Arlene Ethel Odiem said her office considers the cemetery a must-see for visitors not just because of the unique designs of the tombs but because of the message these convey.
Odiem said they have proposed the improvement of the fence and entrance of the cemetery and the installation of a marker.
Nambaran barangay secretary Tony Ngaya-an said they have always included the cemetery in the development plan, explaining that it should have a water system and comfort rooms for local residents and the tourists who drop by.
He admitted that the barangay has not provided for regular maintenance of the cemetery so that relatives of the dead and sometimes the watchmen are left to do it themselves.
Ngaya-an said they will seek the help of outside agencies for the development of the cemetery.