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Lapida making: Engraving gravestones, a maker’s remarkable journey

Lapida making: Engraving gravestones a maker's remarkable journey. In photo is Bryan Saga, a lapida maker.

Bryan Saga, 32, took over his father’s business after the latter retired from the occupation when he reached 60s. | CDN File Photo by Niña Mae Oliverio

CEBU CITY, Philippines — Seven years ago, Cebu Daily News interviewed a gravestone (lapida in Cebuano) maker named Alberto Saga, who is now in his 60s this year.

In a fortunate turn of events, the daily is able to meet and interview one of Saga’s children who is now a gravestone maker like him.


Taking over father’s lapida making business

The 32-year-old Bryan Saga shared with CDN Digital that after finishing high school, he began following his father’s steps.

And now that Alberto could no longer do it because of his shaky hands, Bryan took over the business under his name.

His father is now working as a barangay tanod in Barangay Maguikay, Mandaue City.

Bryan originally resided in Cebu City but transferred to Mandaue City because it is where his wife is residing.

Since he is now in Mandaue, he travels via his motorcycle every day to Carreta Cemetery in Cebu City where his spot is located.

Alongside him, his two other uncles were also making and selling gravestone markers in their spot.

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No fixed operating hours

Bryan said that he had no fixed schedule in arriving or leaving his spot outside the cemetery, because sometimes it would depend on the availability of his customers.

He said there were times when his customers messaged him that they would be out at 6 p.m. from their work, so he would wait for them by then.

Meanwhile, there were also times when he took a half-day’s work, especially after All Souls Day, because the business would be slow at that time and there would be fewer customers by then.

“Magdepende na lang namo kung mulahutay mi og bantay. Naa say time nga laayan mi mao nang usahay manira mi og mga ala una o alas dos,” Bryan said.

(It will depend on us if until what time we man our spots. There are also times when we get bored that is why we close at 1 p.m. or 2 p.m.)

Extend work hours

But this October, Bryan said that they extended their working hours daily especially that it was the peak season of their job.

He said that most of his customers request for gravestones in October because some would want to change the gravestones of their deceased loved ones with a new one.

On an ordinary day, Bryan usually earns P1,500 and the least is P500 which is equivalent to one gravestone, but there are also days when he does not earn even a single centavo.

However, if the season favors him, he could get four to five customers in a day and earn P3,500.

But he earned more than that in the peak season between September and November.

From September to October this year, he was able to cater more or less to 30 orders of gravestones.

When the All Souls Day is approaching, he could get five orders in a day because he would also accept rush orders.

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Prices, designs

The gravestones’ prices depend on their designs and sizes. Those that have photos in it cost P3,000-P4,500, while those that have simple designs and lesser in size cost P2,500.

The standard size is 50 by 60 centimeters, but the customers could also request for a smaller dimension such as 30 by 40 centimeters, still at P2,500 with simple design.

The customers may also request them to have their designs customized by sending the design through Bryan’s Facebook Messenger or Facebook page.

And the materials that he would use in making gravestones are granite, brass, marble, porcelain tiles, and stainless steel.

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Free of rent

Since selling gravestones does not guarantee good sales daily, it is fortunate enough that vendors outside the cemetery do not pay any rent.

With this, Bryan said he was relieved that they did not have to pay anything by selling their products in the area.

“Og naa man gani bayad, yabo nami kay example sa usa ka semana wala mi madawat, unsa pama’y (ibayad) sa tax,” he said.

(If there is a fee, then these will really affect our business, for example, in a week we don’t earn anything, then what will (pay) for the tax.)


Challenges are there in every aspect of the business.

Bryan is usually challenged at times when he does not have customers or receive no orders, especially between March and June.

But besides that, another challenge for him is when he encounters a problem with a customer.

These problems usually occur when the customer would insist that they were correct when they gave Bryan the spelling of the names.

“Mao bitawng sila’y pasuwaton namo (sa papel) para in case og unsay reklamo, naa mi ikasukli nga mao na di ba,” he said.

(That is why we will ask them to write the name (in paper) in  case they complain, and we have something to show them that they were the ones who wrote the name, right?)

But when Bryan would be at fault, he said, that he would take responsibility for it even if it would affect his income just to compensate for his mistake.

“Pero og sayop sa tag-iya, mag additional sila [og payment],” he said.

(But if the mistake is from the owner, then he would have to give us additional payment.)

Bryan said that engraved markers take about one day to finish, while the stainless ones could run up to one week or 10 days because of the tedious process.

Lapida making: Engraving gravestones a maker's remarkable journey.

Bryan Saga posed for a photo in his spot which used to be his father’s outside the Carreta Cemetery. | CDN File Photo by Niña Mae Oliverio

Fulfilling part

Given the nature of his job, Bryan said that the fulfilling part of his work is when he gets to offer a free gravestone to his friends.

“Naa man gyuy uban, pareha anang mga amiga nato, nga need gyud og kwarta. Maong usahay kami gyud mosponsor sa lapida kay syempre may kantidad baya,” he said.

(There are times, like our friends, who need money and cannot pay us. That is why we are the ones who would sponsor the gravestone because, of course, it is expensive.)

He also said that he would also do the same when a friend of his would bid their farewell someday.

“Mas ganahan ko [sa feeling] nga ma-libre nako siya kay at least sa buhi pa, nagkuyog mi. At least bisag patay na siya, wa nako siya kalimti,” he added.

(I like the feeling that I will be able to give him something for free when he was still alive and we would sometimes get together. At least, even if he is dead, I still did not forget him.)

Moreover, he also revealed that his occupation has helped him send his two children to school and also helped in the financial side when his wife gave birth to their twins this year.

His eldest child is in the sixth grade, the other is in the fourth grade, while his twins are six months old.

And he also hopes that through his work, he could send all his children to college someday.

To boost the income

Online transactions have been helpful to business owners, and to boost his income, Bryan also extended managing his business online.

In 2021, Bryan created a Facebook page named, ‘Bryan Ylaya Saga Lapida Maker’ where he transacts with his customers.

He said that his wife, Mery Grace, was the one who managed the page while he was responsible for the deliveries.

Bryan said it is also his way to boost their business. Those who would want to inquire about gravestones, they could send him a message through the page.

Through this strategy, it helped him reach customers even from outside Cebu and had the chance to sell some of the gravestones and pay through a mobile wallet app.

When delivering the orders within Cebu City, he was usually the one who delivered them.

Meanwhile, he offers shipping if it is outside Cebu.

And just like his father, Bryan is determined to continue his work in the following years so long as his body can take the job.

/dbs, bmjo

TAGS: All saints day, All souls day, Halloween
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