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The unique mystery of mummification in the Philippines: Start doing it while people are dying

They give the dying person extremely salty salt water, which causes the body to become severely dehydrated and soon become dry. When this person died, they smoked and burned the body, creating a mummy that lasted for thousands of years.

The Ibaloi are an indigenous people of the island nation of the Philippines, mainly living in the northern region. They are concentrated in the cities of Kabayan, Bokod, Sablan, Tublay, La Trinidad, Tuba and Itogon; has a total population of over 110,000 people.

The Ibaloi depend on agriculture. They do terraced fields, cultivate rice and familiar food crops of Southeast Asia such as sweet potatoes, taro… Ibaloi beliefs worship gods and spirits. They practice animal sacrifice rituals, make offerings and offer rice wine.

According to Ibaloi mythology, in ancient times mankind committed many crimes. They angered the gods, creating a cataclysm to wipe out all humans. When this flood swept over Mt. Pulog (mythical place), only one couple survived. They are the common ancestor of the Ibaloi people.

The social life of the Ibaloi people is very complex, with rich and poor class divisions. Rich households are called baknang, living in the style of an extended family, consisting of 4-5 couples and children in a private residence. Poor households are called abiteg, living as single family with only one couple and children.

Fire mummies of the Ibaloi people, Philippines.

According to researchers in the Philippines, since about 2000 BC, the Ibaloi have practiced a special burial rite reserved for rich subjects: mummification. It is called the Ibaloi mummy, the Benguet mummy, the Kabayan mummy or the fire mummy.

Most mummification practices in the world are carried out only after the subject has died. As for the Ibaloi people, the preparation begins right from the moment this person is dying.

They were given extremely salty brine. The salt concentration is so high that the internal organs are washed clean, and the body falls into a state of severe dehydration. After a few weeks to a few months, their bodies become dry.

Kabayan – a town in Benguet province, north of Luzon island, Philippines is home to the majority of Ibaloi people – an ethnic group with a unique culture of the Philippines. The Ibaloi are known all over the world for their mummification practices.

This custom was practiced by the Ibaloi people long before the Spanish colonists invaded the Philippines. The embalming was carried out in a lengthy ritual and was only open to those of the upper caste in the community.

The Ibaloi mummification technique is based on the use of salt and herbs combined with the effects of fire. This process can take up to 2 years.

Once completely dry, the mummy is placed inside a pine coffin and buried in a natural or man-made cave dug deep into the rock.

This custom ended when the Spaniards occupied the Philippines and imposed Catholicism on the indigenous community. Since then, the caves containing the mummies have been abandoned for a long time.

After being rediscovered in recent decades, many caves have been infiltrated by ancient tomb robbers. Tourists are also a factor in the damage and loss of mummies.

According to statistics, on the slopes around the town of Kabayan today there are more than 200 caves and 15 of them contain mummies. In addition, there may be many other mummified caves buried in the mountain.

The archeology agency of the Philippines has actively cooperated with international organizations to study and preserve these mummies. Many management measures have been put in place to protect mummies from negative human impact.

Currently, the Kabayan mummies caves have been recognized by the Philippine government as a national heritage, a symbol of the unique culture and beliefs of the Ibaloi tribe, which needs special preservation.

This relic has also been submitted by the Philippines to UNESCO for the World Heritage status.