TWHS: Kabayan Mummy Burial Caves, Philippines

After stopping in the definitely becoming touristy Historic City of Vigan, and stopping at our last on our near-epic Philippines Baroque Church Tour at La Asuncion de la Nuestra Senora Church in Santa Maria just south of Vigan, it was back to hunting down the more obscure class of Tentative World Heritage Site: today’s visit was to the

Kabayan Mummy Burial Caves

Kabayan Mummy Burial Caves, Philippines

 

Kabayan is one of the Municipality of Benguet Province in the Cordillera Mountain Ranges of northern Luzon. The municipality is recognized as a center of Ibaloi Culture. The Ibaloi, the dominant ethno-linguistic group, of Kabayan have a long traditional practice of mummifying their dead. Mummification began prior to the Spanish colonization. Individuals from the higher societal stratum of the Ibaloi of Kabayan used to be mummified through a long ritual process over a long period of time.

The process of mummification using salt and herbs and set under fire may take up to two years. When the body is finally rid of body fluids, the mummy is placed inside a pinewood coffin and laid to rest in a man-made cave or in niche dug-out from solid rock. During the Spanish period, Christianity spread and took a foothold in the mountains of Benguet and the practice of mummification and cave burial was abandoned.  The remains are then placed in wooden coffins and interred in man-made burial niches in rocks or rock shelters and/or natural caves.

Strategically located in the mountain slopes of the municipality of Kabayan, more than 200 man-made burial caves have been identified and 15 of which contain preserved human mummies…

It’s only mildly difficult to locate this site; there’s a sign at the turnoff from the nearest highway; and although you have a couple dozen more unsignposted miles on dirt track to get to the right place, it’s fairly clear which turnings you should take.

Kabayan Mummy Burial Caves, Philippines

However, you notice the Tourist Advisory tacked up the bottom there? Yeah, we didn’t actually read that before heading up. So when we eventually arrived at the place, we found beautiful views…

Kabayan Mummy Burial Caves, Philippines

… of a barbed wire fence and a locked gate.

Now, we never counsel breaking any laws, or even requests, in your visits; we figure it is completely reasonable to count a physical approach to the limit of applicable legality as a visit. A pretty weak kind of “visit,” yes, but hey until we ever have multiple people complete The Sitelist under weak standards, what’s the point of being picky, let’s give out points for effort, why not.

That said, should you happen to give in to your understandable frustration and decide that you’re gonna darn well take a look at these caves after coming all this way, this is what you’ll find: Grates loosely placed over various cave openings,

Kabayan Mummy Burial Caves, Philippines

and inside stacks of wooden coffins as in the lead picture to this piece.

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p dir=”ltr”>So, we can’t recommend you attempt visiting this one until and unless they open it up again — but even if you do find it open, it’s of mild interest at best; one of those sites where the getting to it makes a better story than being there does!

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Alex Curylo

Alex

I go places.

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