Do the words “ancient mummies” come to your mind when the word “cave” is mentioned? Likely not. But there’s a cave in the Philippines that serves as the final resting place for the dozens of ancient people, and if you want to visit the cave, the tour guides will make sure to utter prayers of “forgiveness” first before entering.
In a remote mountain in the Philippines, there is a cave where corpses known as “fire mummies,” are stored. The corpses belong to the Ibaloi people, an ancient race in the country, who are known for smoking the dead bodies for several weeks to mummify them.
The cave is near Kabayan in the province of Benguet, 200 miles (approx. 322 km) north of Manila. However, the exact location is kept somewhat secretive to safeguard the nearly 80 remaining mummies inside.
Descendants of those mummified still return to the cave to perform rituals. The only way to gain access is through getting a tour guide, and one who apparently knows how to keep away harmful curses, and respect the site.
The mummification process practiced by the Ibaloi people, which dates back to 2000 B.C., died out after the arrival of Christianity in the 16th century, but the caves were untouched until the 19th century. The tombs later become the target of vandals.
According to the Mercury Press, Edgar Alan Zeta-Yep, a photographer from the country, had gone to see the ancient mummies in 2015 after seeing one of the mummies at a museum.
“I have always been fascinated by them. It was a spooky and enlightening experience crouched inside a small and damp rock shelter to admire and photograph the mummies really up close,” he said.
Recalling the visit, he said: “After murmuring prayers, our Ibaloi guide lifted the covers. They were lying inside wooden coffins in a fetal position, some with hands over their faces as if to shield the light from our torches.
“The mummies were so well-preserved, we could even see the linear tattoos preserved on their arms and legs,” he added.
The several-week process of mummification would start with the individual who was approaching death, to consume a highly salty beverage. After the person’s death, there would be a process to dry the body on the outside, and have smoke blown into the person’s mouth to dry the insides. Afterwards, the person would be put into the fetal position.
Imagine being the first person to come across these mummies… How would you react?