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The mystery of the Kabayan Mummies

In the Philippines, a town called Kabayan is home to hundreds of mummies. These strange creatures are curled into fetal positions and tucked into oval-shaped coffins made of pinewood.

They were laid to rest in caves, rock shelters, and manmade burial niches. The sheer number of mummies lends an eerie feel to a simple stroll down a mountain slope in Kabayan.

The Ibaloi tribe, which has existed in Benguet province for thousands of years, practiced embalming rituals also found in New Guinea. Dying members of the tribe drank salty mixtures to begin the process. After death, their bodies were cleansed, rubbed with herbs, and heated, while their mouths were filled with smoke. These steps were performed continually over a period of weeks before the deceased were placed in their coffins. The practice endured until the arrival of Spanish colonialists in 1500, and the caves themselves remained untouched until the 19th century.

What is perhaps even more disturbing than mountains full of mummies is the vandalism and destruction that has PHL-Kab-coffinstaken place since their discovery. Monument Watch has declared the Mummy Caves one of the most endangered heritage sites in the world. Measures are being taken to protect the mummies from further looting and abuse, which has even included graffiti!

Who on earth would scrawl his name on a corpse? Kind of makes you wonder what the world is coming to.

What’s the creepiest place you’ve ever been or wanted to go to? Could you hike through the mountains with mummies?

With files and photos from World Monuments Fund

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28 Comments

  1. That is a little morbid. Perhaps people feel as though if they leave their mark on the cave, they’ll be making themselves a part of history somehow?

    Reply
    • JH

      I have no idea why people do stuff like that, Stephanie. It’s like the guy who was recently charged with carving his name into the colosseum in Rome.

      What a sad way to make your mark. Sorry to be judgmental, but I hate the people who do these things.

      Reply
  2. My sister was adopted from the Philippines, but I sure did not know about those mummies. That’s creepy!

    Reply
    • JH

      Most definitely, Chrys. One has to wonder why they were made.

      Reply
  3. I should just write, “Now I’ve heard everything.” However, to avoid the cliche, I’ll go barf, then come back to write something cogent.

    There. Better.

    Desecration is among the most vile of human acts. That’s me talking, of course, but really…shred a gravesite, use permanent marker on a skeleton? There has to be a mark-up/destroy gene in our world that won’t go away through regular breeding.

    In spite of hating the news about this cultural heritage, I loved reading the post. I love reading all your posts.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much for the kind words. The feeling is definitely mutual. 🙂

      I agree completely about desecration. Why can’t we cherish our history? It’s so sad that mankind’s first impulse upon seeing the pyramids or the great terracotta warriors was to destroy them.

      Reply
      • Totally agree JH ….. You took the words out of my mouth!

        Reply
  4. Oh my God 🙁 for some reason looking at these mummies make me want to cry. But we suffer from looting and things like these in Sudan too, it makes me so angry, why can’t people just leave historical places be? it has so much meaning than the money it brings from selling it in black market, guh!

    Reply
    • JH

      I think people as a whole are short-term thinkers, Haneen. Look at the destruction of our environment, and the killing of endangered species–it’s all for short-term gain, with very little thought of the long-term consequences. Very sad.

      I know you definitely have challenges in the Sudan, so I’m sending you all my positive thoughts and energy, for what they’re worth. *Hugs*

      Reply
  5. That’s like those tombs in Europe where the walls are covered in skulls.
    Such an unusual practice – it definitely needs preserving.
    And some people are just so negative they want to spread it around everywhere.

    Reply
    • JH

      Sad but true, Alex. Thankfully, there are positive people like yourself in the world. Gives one hope. 🙂

      Thanks for commenting. I have no idea how you’re managing to visit all these blogs, but that’s why you’re our captain.

      Reply
  6. This is one of those times I have nothing to add but wanted you to know I enjoyed the post. 😀

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Frank. Sometimes, that’s the nicest thing to add. 🙂

      Reply
  7. These coffins are really different. Makes me wonder if there was a “rebirth” component to their religion, since the coffins look like eggs or wombs. The fetal position suggests this too or the ultimate comfort… back to where we all started before being born.

    Of course, there’s also the idea that these were pod people, heading back to their ship. Evil Science fiction grin. Inspiration for a creepy story for sure, where death is the path to transformation. (Oops. Your posts are so inspirational.)

    Reply
    • JH

      I’m glad, Bonnie. I love reading about this kind of thing, and beyond giving me ideas of places I’d love to go in the world, I find lots of inspiration for fiction as well.

      You know what they say about life being stranger and all that….

      I like your pod people theory!

      Reply
  8. Sad about the vandalism. People can be so… disappointing sometimes. I don’t think I’d want to go there though, walking around mummies is probably beyond my creep-comfort zone. 😉

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, they definitely can. I’m so distressed by the damage people do. I can’t even imagine what goes through a person’s head before they write on a mummy!

      I would go there, though, just to see them.

      Reply
  9. I agree with Bonnie that the body positions and pods are like a womb and rebirth. Perhaps they believed in reincarnation. I have a friend who grew up in the Philippians. I’ll ask her. That vandalism is horrible and terribly disrespectful. This is someone’s grave, the community’s burial mounds/traditions. People, stop and think! Be respectful.
    Yes, I’d hike there. It would be interesting. However, the vandalism would make me mad.
    Great post, once again.

    Reply
  10. Fascinating post and something I would like to read more about. Thanks for the thought-provoking post. Negativity and disrespect run rampant throughout society and it saddens me. I fear for future generations if this desecration continues. There will be so many wonderful things lost and destroyed but for what cause?

    Reply
  11. My in-laws are in Philippines right now serving a church mission right now. They’re on the largest of the Palawan islands so I’m not sure if they’re close to the caves. I wonder if they’ve heard of them though.

    Reply
  12. I guess I should probably read my comments more closely before I submit them. Just saw several typos in my previous comment. And I call myself a writer…

    Reply
  13. This is pretty fascinating. What do you think were in the salty mixtures? Was it a painful death? Were they entombed before death?

    Reply
  14. Death and burial rituals are always fascinating. Sadly, in many places, there is little respect for the living, so it’s not surprising some have no respect for the dead. Such a disappointing indictment of humanity.

    I would hike the mountains, if the culture didn’t consider such action a violation of sacred ground.

    Reply
  15. It makes you wonder what the hell is wrong with some people when you hear stories of graves being desecrated. I don’t care how old the graves/mummies/tombs etc. are, it doesn’t make it ok.
    Debbie

    Reply
  16. A fascinating place and proof that there are bad apples everywhere in this world. What’s wrong with people? It’s a question we find ourselves asking more and more these years. I hope the mummies will be preserved and protected; they’re a cultural heritage and so unique. And, of course I’d like to see them with my own eyes if possible one day. Creepy, but intriguing!

    Reply
  17. I can just see brats destroy something profound because they think it’s funny. These are the same a-holes who push gravestones over or mark up War memorials. I would give them a huge kick in the ass. I would walk through that valley but I would want to know what to do to show respect.

    Reply

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