Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Also known as Kabayan Mummies, Fire Mummies or Ibaloi Mummies, the mummies of Benguet are preserved in the caves of its grand mountains. These are said to be similar to the Inca Mummies of Peru. These were originally well-preserved in Timbak Cave, Bangao Cave, Tenongchol Cave, Naapay and Opdas by the ancient member of the Ibaloi Tribe (Igorot). 

Benguet Mummification, however, was discontinued during the Spanish era. In early 1900s, the mummies were rediscovered. Many were stolen then and later, recovered.

After my successful sunrise watching at Mt. Pulag, I took a 3-hour ride from Ambangeg, Bokod to Poblacion, Kabayan.

I rested the night and recovered my strength at Kabayan Cooperative Lodge.

The gloominess of the next day never stopped me, a just-acquainted French tourist and a local guide to head to Timbak Cave to see the mummies. That was an 11-kilometer ascent. I only had bread and trail foods to sustain my energy for that cold, foggy and drizzly trek.

Waterfalls are ordinarily seen in the mountains.

The view of the Ibaloi villages on the terraces along Agno River got me astounded. Bungalow houses, however, disappointed my expected native huts.

I also saw Embosi, the first known Ibaloi settlement, which was later abandoned due to pneumonia outbreak which claimed many lives. Accordingly, the ancient locals thought of it as a curse from the gods so they left the place.

Humidity filled the very cold air of the Cordilleras that my even tired and sweaty body couldn’t give me heat.
The scenic view of the mountains peak and my excitement to see real mummies, however, kept the heat in me to go on.

The drizzle finally matured into downpour when we reached the mountains peak.

That was noontime. We rested at a humble residence at the peak. So tired and hungry from the long ascent and the cold, bread for sure would never replenish my drained energy. I forgot my shyness and requested the house owner to cook a lot of rice and viand for our lunch.

Good thing, cabbage was all over the backyard.

With our bodies shivering, I and the Frenchman decided to join a cat near the firing kiln to get close to the heat we really missed.

The minty “gipah” herbal concoction somehow eased us from the cold.

Rice and sautéed cabbage was then served. Preserved chili, with the rain and the strong wind outside escalated my appetite. Even the Frenchman, who had already finished eating his French-style food, ate again as much as I did. Hahaha!

After the rain, we left the very hospitable home. 

We proceeded to the burial caves.

The view of the wooden coffins slightly scared me.

Much more when we opened them! I saw dead humans!

Amazed how mummification was done, my scared feeling suddenly turned into awe. I was in utmost wonder when I saw the dried human bodies, chemically free. I greatly admired the brilliance of the Ibalois who conducted such treatment.

Couple Mummy

Child Mummy
Tattooed Mummy
 I saw couple mummies, child mummies and tattooed mummies.

The most popular is the “Smiling Mummy” with a heartbreaking story. Her facial expression suggests her name. I just doubt if she was smiling or wailing. 

 She had a very big cut on her belly. At 21, she is said to have undergone a very painful primitive method of Caesarian birth to save her baby. No anesthesia. No disinfectant.

Her already shrunk internal organs can even be seen through the cut. She still has complete set of teeth. The body was even stolen decades ago and was recovered in 1975.

I found my experience and the stories about the mummies really worth sharing. That day also was coincidentally first day of November (goosebumps, hehe!)...

(According to my guide and other references) 
  1. Shortly before the person dies, he drinks a very salty solution. 
  2. After death, the body is washed and seated in a death chair (sangadil).
  3. The chair is set over a low fire to gradually dry the body. A jar is also placed under the chair to collect its fluids.
  4. After the fluids had been drained the body is brought out to the sun to hasten drying.
  5. Then the outer skin is being peeled off by the elders.
  6. Then tobacco smoke is blown into the body to dry the internal organs.
  7. Finally the juices of herbs (including guava leaves) are continuously rubbed very gently on the body.
  8. After about two years, when the body is finally free of fluids, the mummy is placed inside a pinewood coffin.
  9. The remains are then interred in man-made burial niches in rocks or rock shelters and/or natural caves. 
After communing with the mummies, we descended the 11km trail back to the town.

The sun finally shone.

The view of Atok, Benguet and the vegetable terraces truly amazed me.

Going back to the town, I passed by a burial rock near an Ibaloi village. 

We also visited the Kabayan Museum. 

And before heading back to the lodge, I passed by Kabayan Weaving for pasalubong items. 

My last night at Kabayan was spent learning basic Ibaloi key terms with the lodge attendant.

departed the home of the mummies early the next day. 

My visit to the mummies was, indeed, a perfect “Day of the Dead” experience. Literally…  


  1. Smiling Mummy? or Wailing Mummy? The experience was really that worth after the cold ascent. Nice one Tupe.

    1. truly one of my best and most informative treks

  2. natakot din ako nung una pero iba pa rin yung feeling na finally you were able to see one... gusto ko rin gawin yung sa Kabayan Poblacion manggaling... sana makabalik ako soon! :)

    1. once you've visited the mummies, their spirits incessantly entice you to go back...