The Ibaloi tribe therefore worked actively with the World Monuments Fund (2010) and the National Museum in Manila to ensure that this important part of their history and culture would not be eroded by tourism, but rather enhanced by it.
In almost all other cases of mummification, internal organs are removed, while the rest of the body is mummified. For the Egyptians, this process involved placing each major organs in a jar by the bedside of the dead. The Kabayan mummies are the only mummies in the world with intact internal organs. Because of the unique mummification process, these mummies are then also a unique representative of the country's cultural past. It contrasts with all other mummification processes in history, including that of Egypt, one of the most advanced ancient cultures in the world (Cordillera Blogger, 2007).
The Kabayan mummification process however does show similarities with processes used by the 21st dynasty Egyptians and New Guinea tribes (World Monuments Fund, 2010). Mummies dating from similar times were also discovered in the caves in Mountain Province, which was inhabited by the Bontoc ethno-linguistic group. According to UNESCO (2010), these mummies were not necessarily created by the Bontoc, but could be an extension of the practices exercised by and extension of the Ibaloi burial territory from Kaayan, Benguet to Alab, Mountain Province.
By Presidential decree, the caves must be protected and maintained as a manifestation of the religious an cultural lives of the Ibaloi culture (OFW, 2008). In response, the Philippine Department of Tourism sanctioned off the most popular cave areas and built tourist facilities outside the sanctioned areas. This enabled them to exercise better control over visitation and also to prevent unwarranted intrusions that could harm the mummies or environment (World Monuments Fund, 2010).
It is important to note that the problems faced by the mummies and caves in Kabayan are not only the result of looting or other human-related issues. In addition, environmental elements such as insect infestation and fungal growth threaten the long-term preservation of the mummies. However, because the caves are quite remote, any concerted effort to conserve and protect them is somewhat challenged by practical access and funding issues (World Monuments Fund, 2010).
Institutions such as the World Monuments Fund (2010) have therefore begun to work towards the conservation and management of these culturally important caves. Part of this work involved placing the caves on the 1998 Watch and securing a grant towards the conservation and a comprehensive management plan.
The most prominent focus of these efforts were the most visited and damaged caves in the region, including Timbac I and II, Bangao, and Tenongchol. With the Help of the National Museum, conservators and the government worked together to help protect the mummies from further damage. Conservators for example treated the mummies for the prevention of further deterioration, while 13 municipality governments took part in a cultural awareness campaign to make the Philippine people aware of their heritage in the form of the mummies.
Specifically, this campaign involved a workshop on the conservation of the Benguet cultural heritage, including methods and techniques to ensure the long-term preservation of the mummies.
Other efforts include the Chemistry and Conservation Laboratory at the National Museum in its work to preserve the sites themselves. Occasionally, Spanish conservators have assisted the Museum in these efforts. UNESCO has also declared the caves as endangered, although, as seen above, such declarations hardly serve as a deterrent for vandalism if not followed up by more practical measures.
According to a report in the Cordillera Express (2010), conservation efforts are continuing. The Kabayan Mayor, Faustimo Auisan, for example requested help in coping with the preservation of the mummies. According to the Mayor, the appearance of mould or white moisture are threatening the preservation of the mummies. The National Museum was also informed of the situation. One of the problems surrounding this issue is funding. The National Museum will therefore have to be involved in issues such as fund raising to help preserve the mummies.
In addition to the mold and water, insects and rodent mites are also an increasing problem for the conservation of the mummies. Officials of the National Museum are in the process of contacting laboratory experts for the restoration of the mummies. Water seeping into the coffins are also having effects such as chipping the fingernails and eroding the teeth of the mummies. The Museum is therefore in dire need of technical assistance to help the conservation process.
The first step will be for the expert to conduct facial cleaning for the mummies, while others are in more extensive need of repair. These will be brought to the laboratory itself.
.Previously, the national government has been allocating financial support to the municipal government for the fencing and cleaning of the mummy burial caves aside from the continuous maintenance that they are doing at the different historical sites in Kabayan.
Measures that are currently in place to protect them include a "no touch/holding" and viewing only rule. The Kabayan municipal government is also continuously working with the Department of Tourism to give seminars to educate local tourist guides. These guides are then equipped to help tourists in preserving the mummies and protect them from vandalism.
The discovery of the Fire Mummies in the Philippines has placed the town of Kabayan "on the map," as it were. Many tourists per year flock to the town to see the "mummy caves," despite the steep climb and their remote locations. This is vital to the economy of the town and the country as a whole. The problem is, however, that many of the mummy caves remain in various degrees of vandalism and lack of security.
It has been seen that security within these regions are vitally important in order to perpetuate not only the heritage left by the ancient Ibaloi tribe, but also to conserve the mummies themselves from vandalism and environmental elements.
Furthermore, the current Ibaloi tribe considers the mummies and caves as sacred and as vital to their way of life. Many rituals are still practiced at these caves. To ensure the continual right of this tribe to continue their ritual practice, it is therefore important to conduct tourism activities in such a way that they do not impose upon the ritual practice of the tribe.
One might conclude from this that the relationship between tourism and tradition in this regard is a somewhat uncomfortable one. Conflicts could for example be created between a tourism drive to observe the heritage of the mummies, create jobs for local citizens, and to promote the economy of the country on the one hand, and the tribe that uses this heritage for their rituals, on the other. Nonetheless, this is not the greatest problem faced by the mummies. Most importantly, funding is required for improved security at the caves, as well as the chemical cleaning and preservation of this incredible heritage. It would be tragic indeed, for example, if the smiling mummy were to lose its teeth as a result of poor maintenance.
Strategies such as the comprehensive preservation and maintenance program in partnership with the World Monuments Fund and the UNESCO declaration of the status of the site as endangered go a long way towards assisting with the conservation efforts in the area. This is however not to say that enough has been done. Conserving the mummies themselves, particularly, as a continuous battle against the elements and against the curious human population. It is however encouraging to see that continuous efforts are, even today, being made to promote these conservation efforts.
Along with Egypt and other ancient nations, the Ibaloi tribe has provided the world with an important heritage to indicate the evolution of the human conception of the nature of life, death, and what might occur after death. It therefore serves not only as a spectacular attraction to visit and photograph, but also as an important indicator of the seat of our current ideas surrounding what we consider as the important issues in life.
A world without the fire mummies in the Philippines would be an impoverished place indeed. It is therefore very important that all stakeholders, including the Ibaloi tribe, the Philippine national and local government, security personnel, museum specialists, and scientists continue the team efforts they have shown to date to help preserve the mummies.
In conclusion, the concerted efforts by these individuals are remarkable, especially in terms of the accomplishments that have been successful to date. In this way, the mummies teach the world not only about history and ritual, but also about the human drive to work together towards a collective, important goal. The mummies therefore can be said to embody the greatness and potential of the human spirit.
AsiaRooms.com. (2010). Kabayan Philippines. Retrieved from http://www.asiarooms.com/en/travel-guide/philippines/baguio/excursions-near-to-baguio/kabayan-philippines.html
Baguio Insider (2009). Fire Mummies of the Philippines. Retrieved from: http://www.i-baguio.com/fire-mummies-of-the-philippines/
Condillera Blogger (2007). The Kabayan Mummies. Retrieved from http://jmagreda.blogspot.com/2007/11/kabayan-mummies.html
Cordillera Express (2010). National Museum Assistance South for Kabayan Mummies. Retrieved from http://cordilleraexpress.com/index.php/ifugao/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2058:natl-museum-assistance-sought-for-kabayan-mummies