Kabayan Mummy Burial Caves

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Kabayan Mummy Burial Caves, located at the Municipality of Kabayan in Benguet, Mountain Province, is one of the recognized UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines. The caves show cultural evidences of the Ibalois - the dominant ethnolinguistic group of the area - who practiced mummification prior to the Spanish colonization.


The Mummies

The Kabayan Mummies, also known as Fire Mummies, Benguet Mummies and Ibaloi 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.


A fire mummy child

The Ibalois have a long ritual process of mummifying individuals from the higher social class. The mummification begins before the person dies. The dying person is made to drink a very salty liquid and after death, the body is washed and applied with an herb treatment. It is made to seat in a sangadil (death chair) which is set under fire to collect its fluids which usually takes several months. Then it is brought out to the sun to hasten drying. The elders peel off the outer skin then tobacco smoke is blown into the body to dry the internal organs. The herbal juices is then rubbed gently on the body. Once the body is totally dehydrated, the mummy is transferred into a pinewood coffin and laid in a man-made cave or dug-out from solid rock.

However, upon the arrival of the Spaniards in the Philippines, the practice of mummification was abandoned, and dead individuals were placed in wooden coffins interred in natural or man-made burial sites. Of the 200 man-made burial caves discovered in Kabayan, 25 of which contain preserved human mummies.

Stealing of Mummies

It was first reported that the Benguet mummies were stolen in 2000 and that these mummies were sold in Europe for P310,000. That same year, ten mummies were said to have been part of the exhibit in San Francisco. Former Benguet governor, Raul Molintas asked assistance from President Arroyo to help recover the mummies. Unesco National Commission secretary general, Dr. Preciosa Soliven and Department of Foreign Affairs secretary, Blas Ople was also asked for assistance.

In 2004, eight century-old mummies which was stolen in 1960 were returned in the cave in Sitio Timbac wherein a death ritual called "kape" was held.

The National Museum of the Philippines recently returned the mummified and intricately tattooed body of Apo Annu, a tribal leader in the Benguet province (140 miles north of Manila) who died 500 years ago. His body had been stolen from a burial cave near the town of Natubling in the between 1918 and 1920. Museum curator Orlando Abinion said the mummy was stolen by a Christian pastor between 1918 and 1920 and wound up as part of a sideshow in a Manila circus; the mummy changed hands a number of times until 1984, when an antiques collector donated it to the National Museum. According to Reuters, Apo Annu was "heavily tattooed--the mark of hunters and warriors...[and is covered with] dried flesh, brownish in color. In a sitting position with arms held up to his face, Apo Annu looks like a man praying to the heavens." He was dressed in the clothes of a tribal chief before he was placed just in a wooden coffin inside his burial cave.

Some residents of the area believe that the region has been cursed by droughts, earthquakes, and famine since the mummy of Apo Annu was looted. To insure that Apo Annu stays put, the local government has built a fence around his resting place in the cave and has offered to pay for other security measures.




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