KABAYAN, BENGUET?This town is again promoting a summer trek to Mt. Pulag, with mummies as the main attraction. But local officials have a piece of advice for visitors: Respect the mummies.
Mayor Faustino Aquisan said some mummies and human skeletons in the ancient burial caves had been desecrated because visitors, in their desire to get souvenirs, would sometimes touch or get bones from the burial sites.
?Many mummies have been stolen from caves. The mummies should not be touched. Stealing them or getting their bones could bring bad luck,? he said.
The town has prepared tour packages for its Bendiyan Festival from April 30 to May 2, in an effort to become a globally competitive ecotourism destination.
The festival, which will include a trek to the mummies? burial caves, would be capped by the butchering of animals and the holding of the ?bendiyan,? an indigenous dance rarely performed by the community.
Aquisan said participants in the Pulag trek and visit to the burial sites must be ?culturally sensitive? and should pay the ?green fee? of P25.
The mayor said the town wanted climbers to be environment-friendly and to avoid destroying or disturbing the mountain?s lakes and pine forests.
Pulag, known for its endemic plants and animal species, is the country?s second highest peak at 2,938 meters.
To the Ibaloi and Kalanguya, the town?s major tribes, the mountain is considered sacred since it serves as home of the spirits of their dead ancestors and the playground of their gods.
Aquisan said the town is coordinating with the National Museum so the local government could adopt measures to save the mummies from decay.
Elders frown on the stealing of mummies, and communities and officials have to fence off the caves to stop the desecration of the mummies, the mayor said.
?Visitors are allowed to take pictures of the mummies or to have their pictures taken with the mummies. But the mummies should not be touched or brought out from their coffins,? said Aquisan.
In 2004, eight mummies, which had been stolen from their burial caves here in the 1960s, were returned to the local government. These were buried in a cave in Sitio Timbac after a death ritual.
The most popular ancient burial sites of mummies here are found in Timbac, Bangao, Tenongchol, Naapay and Opdas caves.
50 burial sites
The National Museum, in its earlier reports, said it had documented around 50 burial caves in this town but the 28 mummies it found were all in poor condition.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) website said Kabayan, the recognized center of the Ibaloi culture, had a long traditional practice of mummifying their dead and burying them in caves.
Mummification, where salt and herbs are used to preserve the body, began before the Spanish colonization, UNESCO said.
It said the Kabayan mummy burial caves, through Presidential Decree No. 374, were proclaimed Philippine national cultural treasures.
The summer trek to Pulag is divided into four packages, depending on the difficulty of the trail to reach the peak. These are the executive trek (Ambangeg-Bababak-Pulag trail), Akiki experience adventure trek (Akiki-Pulag trail), the mossy jungle challenge (Tawangan-Pulag trail) and the mummy trail (Bulalalacao-Tabeyo lake trail).