Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Kabayan Mummies

I know this post is sort of overdue. I have been feeling pretty lethargic this past few days probably because of the weather, the tons of stuff I have to do and the deadlines I have to beat. My trip last week to Kabayan was one memorable jaunt for a wily writer like me. In Kabayan, 90 kilometers away from Baguio City, I discovered one of the few things we Filipinos should be proud of: The Kabayan mummies.

Most of you would probably ask why I call them as one of our National Treasures. Well, these mummies were one of a kind in this part of the world. The Kabayan mummies are the only mummies in the world that have their internal organs intact.Without the advanced knowledge in Chemistry, I'm really wondering how the Ibaloi people were able to preserve the remains of the elite and the elders of their town.

Thankfully, I met one of the town elders and he shared to me some of his findings. Here's an excerpt from my interview with local historian and former mayor of the town Florentino Merino on how the mummification process is done:

"Until the coming of the Americans, mummification of the dead in Kabayan had been practiced. However, the American colonizers put a stop to this claiming the practice was a health hazard. This is perhaps why there is no documented record of the process of mummification. The youth of Kabayan sadly are in fact ignorant of the process on how their ancestors were mummified. If the guess of the other anthropologists is right that the age of the mummies is now 750 years old (foreign Carbon dating test showed even older with mummies up to a thousand years old), mummification could have started in the early 11th to 13th century," Merino shared.

However he stated that most of the description on how the mummification process was done is now only translated from oral history handed down from the elders who were still alive.

According to Merino, the process of mummification starts just before or after the deceased breathes his or her last. In the moment that the person to be mummified is made to drink, in the case of a person breathing his or her last, a solution of water with a good amount of salt mixed, or in the case of a just expired person, given the same salt and water solution. The body is then undressed and bathed with fresh water. After which, the body is made to sit in a high death chair constructed on the ladder facing back the traditional stilt house of the native Ibalois. Then the dead body is tied on a the death chair by a scarf and covered by a specially made death blanket. The dead person who is often a chieftain or a member of the elite class of the tribe would then be placed beside the low fire so that the smoke and heat will dry the dead body.

A jar is then placed to catch the body fluids dripping off the body of the dead person. These fluids are considered sacred.(like holy water!) When the body has been drained of its fluids , it is brought out in the middle of the sun to dry. At this time, the elders of the tribe will take turns in peeling off the skin specifically the epidermis layer .(Ouch!)This does not however affect the color of the corpse's skin. Some mummies even have tattooes all over their body. In the meantime, the juices of the pounded leaves of the diwdiw, besodak, kapany
and native guava are continuously rubbed all over the body.

Tobacco smoke is also blown into the body through its mouth to help preserve internal tissues and to drive out worms. AS observed, unlike the Egyptian mummies, these mummies' internal organs are intact and preserved.

Earlier, the site for the burial of the mummy will already have been chosen. These could be a hollow cave or a man-made hole bored in a large rock or under it. Then the dead mummy in a crouching position will then be placed inside a pine wood coffin and will be transported to its burial site.

On the eve of the last day, the family of the deceased says Merino performs the sabusab. This may be considered to be the last ritual where chickens are slaughtered to offer to the dead.

"These Ibaloi people believed that the elders could live in the afterlife that is why they are mummified", local Municipal officer Kenneth Kelcho shares.

The last thing I've heard that for the past years that these mummies are desecrated and stolen from the numerous caves of Kabayan. Some were looted by unmindful individuals who doesn't care about the importance of these mummies to the Ibaloi people of Kabayan, Benguet. Some of the famous looted/stolen mummies was that of Apo Annu and Solicam Bacdin (Merino's great grandmother).

So far, the mummies of Kabayan and the burial caves of the Ibalois are in the tentative watchlist of UNESCO as a World Heritage site for being one of the world's remaining cultural treasures.

Here are some photos of the Philippine National Cultural Treasures the Kabayan Mummies and their burial sites:

Here are some related articles about the Kabayan mummies:

Abner Mercado's Correspondent Episode Meking: Misteryo ng nawawalang 'mummy' sa Benguet

UNESCO World Heritage Site Tentative List Kabayan Mummy Burial Caves


Reyville of Simply Manila said...

Cool findings. That's really interesting. I am planning a trip to Baguio, so if schedule permits, I'll probably go backpacking in Baguio for a day or two. Perhaps early December.

Mojo Potato said...

@REYVILLE >>> just give me a buzz b4 you go here...if i have time maybe i'll show you around...hehhe

Anonymous said...

jm am so sorry for myself. its only now that I read your blog. Its just amazing and informative. hope you will come back to kabayan for more. its a pleasure working with you. thank you very much. kenneth- 09195132740

waya said...

I'm planning to take a couple of mummy experts from Australia to the Kabayan caves. Do you know of a reliable guide who can take us there. Please email me at

Many thanks.

Anonymous said...

I found this website offering day tours to the Kabayan Mummy Burial Caves:


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