Why don’t ancient mummies decay?
Ancient mummies do not decay because they have been preserved. The name “mummy” came about because the ones and skins of corpses embalmed (preserved) by the ancient Egyptians were found to be blackened. The blackened corpses were mistakenly credited to the use of “bitumen” (mumiya in Arabic) in the embalming process.
In the Philippines, a place where mummies abound is in Kabayan, one of the municipalities of Benguet. It is eighty five kilometers northeast of Baguio City. Kabayan mummies are famous and are found in museums and other centers of anthropological studies abroad.
The kabayan process of mummification begins before or after the deceased breathes its last. The body is made to drink salt and water solution. Then the clothes are removed and the body bathed with fresh water. It is then made to sit on a high chair and the forehead is tied with a scarf two inches wide. The remainder of the scarf is bound to the back of the chair to keep the body erect. Then the waist is enveloped in a blanket especially made for the dead. This blanket hangs freely over the legs of the corpse.
Under the chair, a low fire is lit to help dry the body. It also helps to preserve the tissues.
Bodily fluids may seep out of the body. Thus, a jar is set under the chair. These fluids are considered to be sacred. After the body has been drained of its fluids, it is exposed under the sun t speed up the drying process. At the same time, the elders of the community peel off the corpse’s outer skin. This aids in the over-all drying process. Leaves of the diwdiw, besodak and native guava are also pounded. The juice extracted from the leaves are rubbed continuously but very gently through the body. To preserve the internal tissues and to drive out worms, tobacco smoke is blown into the body through the mouth.
The belief that spirits of the dead become gods led to the process of mummification. Hence, the body of the deceased had to be kept from deteriorating.