The Mummy Burial Caves of Benguet

In nature, caves are usually used as shelters by many living creatures. True cave dwellers such as bats, insects, rare fishes, and salamanders are adapted to living in the cave. The most outstanding evolutionary manifestation of these animals is their ability to adjust to the darkness of the caves.  Other creatures that have been recorded inhabiting caves are plants, snakes, birds, and even humans.

Long before human found the ingenuity of building houses for habitat, caves are one of the primary shelters of the ancient people. Pieces of evidence come from human relics – fire ashes, stone tools, and bones from food animals – found by many scientists in cave floors. This may be the case of most studied caves around the world and that is caves are used as shelter or refuge. But within the town of Kabayan at Benguet province, former natives rather used caves as burial tomb of mummified dead relatives.

Burial caves are typical within the Cordillera region of the Philippines and many of the different indigenous people have been documented to be performing some sort of mummification practices. Specifically for the town of Kabayan, it is the group of the Ibaloi indigenous people that are known to be practicing mummification or non-bony tissue preservation. Their distinct practice has no influence on any colonization episodes. In fact, their mummification practice is dated prior to Spanish colonization. Only when the Americans came that the said practice gradually died out.

One mummy burial cave in Kabayan is named Kangal cave. It is near to a primary school located in the slopes of Cordillera’s mountain range. The cave is formed by large boulders from the rocky hillsides and it only houses four mummy coffins due to the small size of the cave. Each coffin holds a single mummy which has been placed in a seated position, arms and legs bent towards the front body.

museum
Some of the Ibaloi’s cultural instruments and artifacts showcased at the Kabayan Museum.

Most of the burial caves are off-limits to the public and it is strictly ordered that neither mummies nor mummy coffins are to be disturbed. This is so to preserve the status of the burial caves and to prevent deterioration of the mummies. But for educational purposes, a local museum has been established in the town. The museum provides an overview of the native’s culture including their mummification practices.

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