Mummies Around the World @ Mummy Tombs


Kabayan Mummies

(also called fire mummies, Ibaloi mummies, Benguet mummies)


Where they were found

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.

When they were made

Scientists disagree on this point. Some believe that the mummies were created by the Ibaloi between 1200 and 1500 A.D. in five towns in the Benguet province of the Philippines and buried in caves. Others believe that the mummification practices date to 2000 B.C. What isn't in doubt, however, is that when the Spanish colonized the Philippines in the 1500s, they discouraged the making of mummies and the practice died out.

How they were made

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.

How many were made

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.

The government of Benguet has sought the return of approximately 80 other mummies.

What's special about them

1. They have been declared a National Treasure of the Philippines.The mummy of Apo Annu as it was published in the Philippine newspaper, SUARA MERDEKA.

2. 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.

3. 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.

Where to see them

These mummies are on display in their natural caves. In fact, officials know of between 50 and 80 other mummies, but they will not give their locations for fear that the public will desecrate them. A small museum in Kabayan may also display a few mummies.

Where to find more information

Relatively unknown, the Kabayan mummies have had few chances to tell their story to the world. One article appeared in the July/August 2000 issue of Discovering Archaeology (from the editors of Scientific American and now out of print) which includes five photographs on the mummies. The article by Robert Locke is entitled "Saving Sacred Mummies."

The Scientific Study of Mummies by Arthur C. Aufderheide includes 2 pages on the mummies in the chapter about mummy geography.