Ethnic Groups of the Philippines

Uncovering the Ancient Traditions of the Ibaloi People

ibaloi29 September 2023

LA TRINIDAD, Philippines – The Ibaloi, also called Nabaloi or Inibaloy, are among the indigenous people collectively known as the Benguet people who occupy the Northern part of Luzon, notably the mountainous terrain of the Cordillera Administrative Region. They are traditionally an agrarian society and grow rice in terraced fields. According to researchers, the aboriginal Ibalois traveled through different tributaries from the shores of Lingayen and Ilocos to the Southern Cordillera Mountains.

The name Ibaloi means “people who live in houses.” This ethnic group inhabiting the province of Benguet is concentrated in the municipalities of Kabayan, Bukod, Tuba, Itogon, Tublay, Sablan, Atok and La Trinidad. They have a rich culture that existed long before the Spaniards or any other foreigners stepped foot on the Philippines. Famous for their ancient tradition of mummification, the Benguet people believe in supreme beings and spirits that guide their way of living as well as their future.

Ancient Tradition of Mummification

The Ibalois, especially the affluent families, have an ancient tradition of preserving a loved one’s dead body through mummification. It is a complicated process that takes about weeks or months and sometimes even years to accomplish. The corpse is properly cleaned and covered in salt and herbs before it is placed over a fire in a seated position. Meanwhile, tobacco smoke is blown into the cadaver’s mouth to dry its internal organs. This process helps remove fluids from the body.

During the early 20th century, several mummified remains were found enshrined in different caves in the Cordillera Mountain. The remains were enclosed in oval-shaped coffins estimated by scientists to date back between 1200 and 1500 CE. The mountain is considered sacred and believed to be inhabited by ancestral spirits. To appease these spirits, the locals pay respect through offerings and rituals. The municipality of Kabayan houses the mummies for the deceased Ibalois and is recognized as the center of Ibaloi culture. 

Currently, more than a hundred man-made burial caves have been found in the region, with 15 of the caves containing preserved human mummies. The Kabayan Museum in Benguet was named among the 100 most endangered sites in the world. It housed four mummies that were eventually returned to the Timbac Caves in February 2004. There are still between 50 to 80 mummies left in their natural caves in Benguet. This ancient practice has since died beginning in the 1500s when the Philippines was colonized by Spain.

Cañao Tradition 

A popular native feast amongst the Ibalois is the Cañao Tradition. It is a thanksgiving ritual that refers to several native feasts of the Ibaloi and Benguet people. There are different types of cañao ceremonies, most of which involve massive preparations and revelry.  Among the most extravagant observances is the Pechit or Pesshet that entails feeding the whole neighborhood. It involves sacrificing animals as well as an offering of rice wine or tapuy.

A ritual is performed to appease the spirits, seek approval, or simply to give thanks or appreciation. Tapuy is an important offering since rice was a special commodity in the past and was only served during special occasions. Some lavish celebrations could take up to a week of merrymaking where people incessantly sing and dance. A number of the traditional ceremonials are still carried out despite the new developments surrounding the mountains of the Cordillera today. The Ibaloi and the Benguet people overall still hang on to the ideas of supreme beings and spirits that influence their way of living. Theirs is a deep-rooted tradition that transcends generations.

Image from Monol International Education Institute,