Kabayan Mummy Burial Caves
The Kabayan Mummies of the Philippines, also known as the Fire Mummies, Benguet Mummies, or Ibaloi Mummies, are a group of mummies found in Kabayan, a town in the northern part of the Philippines.
This group of mummies, made by members of the Ibaloi tribe, were found in caves in an area around Kabayan, a town in the Benguet province of the Philippines (north of Manila). Well-preserved human mummies were initially found in Timbak cave, Bangao cave, Tenongchol cave, Naapay and Opdas. However, when the mummies were rediscovered in the early 1900s, many were stolen then and later, including the “smiling mummy” (stolen in the 1970s) which was known for having an intact set of teeth.
The mummies, which were laid to rest in mostly unprotected caves, have been designated as one of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world by Monument Watch, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of important monuments and sites.
Among the Ibaloi, the deceased were placed in a fetal position into oval-shaped wooden coffins with etched anthropomorphic and geometric designs. The coffins were placed in mountainside caves, the location of which remained unknown for most of their history.
It appears that only tribal leaders were mummified, though this theory may change with more discoveries and tests. The mummification was begun, if possible, shortly before a person died. The person swallowed a very salty drink to start the process. Then, after death, the body was washed and seated in a chair that was set over a glowing fire. The purpose was not to burn the body but to dry the fluids by exposing it to external heat. Tobacco smoke was then blown into the person’s mouth to dry the inside of the body and internal organs. Finally, herbs were rubbed on the body. The drying/smoking process would have lasted many weeks and perhaps a number of months before the mummy was finished. Then it was taken to a cave for burial.
The National Museum of the Philippines is conducting a comprehensive survey and documentation of around 50 caves around Kabayan. To date, 28 human mummies have been accounted for and are in a state of considerable deterioration. Research and studies on the preservation and development of the mummy sites is being undertaken by the conservators of the National Museum of the Philippines, according to Orlando V. Abinion of the National Museum. Abinion believes that 100 other mummies are located in the 200+ caves of Benguet.
After logging operations intensified in the area, the location of many caves became known. Unfortunately this has led to looting, as unconscientious visitors have been eager to leave their mark, including graffiti, on the Kabayan mummies. The Kabayan Mummies were listed in the 1998 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund. Funding through American Express was used for emergency conservation and the creation of a comprehensive management plan. Additionally, local authorities from surrounding municipalities collaborated in cultural awareness campaign to introduce the Mummies to the Philippine people. Tourist facilities were also constructed in order to control visitation and prevent harmful intrusions.