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IN History & Culture ON 03 Oct, 2016
'The Fire Mummies' of the Philippines, better known as Kabayan Mummies, Benguet Mummies or Ibaloi Mummies are the unique class of Mummies that are found along the mountain slopes of Kabayan, in the Northern part of the Philippines. What makes them distinguished from the other Mummies, is their unique process of Mummification. They were made in around 2000 BC and today they remain in the natural caves and in a Museum in Kabayan. The process was different as during Mummification, the smoke from tobacco was blown into the mouth of the dead to dry the body and also the internal organs. Many of the Mummies were stolen during that era as most of them were unprotected and thus, Kabayan is declared as one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world.
Read below to find out the actual process that created these 'Fire-Mummies'.
Kabayan is a town that lies in the Northern part of Philippines, where the indigenous people are called as Ibaloi. The land consists of terraced rice-fields and the people are very helpful and generous. On Mt. Timbac, that lies above the fields of these farmers are found these Fire-Mummies.
The localites and also the Filipino Government has tried to keep their location a secret from the other people. You need to take a five hour car ride firstly to reach the mountains of Kabayan and then another five hours to climb up a stony path, designed by the local people. The Mummies have been preserved in their original coffins and there are fences designed by the people at the entrances to secure the area.
This is the process that began when the dying person was made to drink a salty beverage which dehydrated the person's body. When the person died, the dead body was fully washed and then placed over a heat source in a seated position. This allowed the Ibalois to fit more bodies in the cramped caves. The cadavers were never exposed to actual fire, but were smoked above smoldering kindling. The smoky heat would remove the body fluids making the body dry and leathery.
Once the body was fully dried on the outside, the people would work to dry out the inside of the corpse as well. This was done by blowing tobacco smoke into the mouth of the corpse to dry the internal organs. The body was then rubbed with herbs and made to rest in a small wooden coffin inside one of the hidden caves.
When Philippines was colonized and invaded by the great explorer, Ferdinand Magellan around the year 1500, the smoking Mummification process along with many other practices began to lose its significance.
..many of these Mummies were stolen around the year 2000 and sold in Europe at a huge price. It became such a crucial matter that the Department Of Foreign Affairs had to step in, to make sure that the remaining Mummies returned to their original resting space. In 2004, many of them were restored and proper death rituals were held. Still many of them remain missing.
Around 1919, the preserved body of an important tribal leader, Apo Annu, who died about 500 years ago, got missing from his coffin. It was later found that a Filipino pastor who visited the site, stole it and used it for display in the Manila circus. In 1984, it was finally donated to the National Museum which notified the Government of its existence.
Owing to the loots that have taken place in the area, the residents believe that the region has been cursed by droughts, earthquakes and famine as a result of Apo Annu's sacrilege. The Government has constructed a special fence around his resting place and plans to spend more in the future.
Unlike the other Mummies, these Mummies have been restored in their natural environment till today. They remain protected by the Government and also the local people. So, if you hire a local guide to take you to these sensitive habitats of the Fire Mummies, it is sure for you to explore the genuine mysteries of the past.
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