As far as I can recall, I have known about mummies since I was about 8 years old from encyclopedia books for children. At that time, I didn’t know anything about them much more than they were like a coffin, they were in pyramids, and they were in Egypt. (Later I have realized that mummies are not only in Egypt though.) As an 8-year-old kid, I thought that it was just like a mysterious ghost story from other countries. Therefore, as a girl who tended to not be into ghost stories but more into arts and world famous people’s biographies, I have to confess that I was not that much into mummies at all. However, the stories of mummies could occasionally provoke the curiosity of a girl like me when they became a theme or a plot of TV cartoons I watched or children fictions I read. In this case, I would count The Adventure of Tintin: The Cigar of the Pharaoh as my all time favorite story related to mummies.
Since then, that comic has been my favorite, and I used it as my case study for my first MA degree thesis in Cultural Management in Thailand to study intangible cultural heritage (ICH) interpretation in comic books. I used the making of mummies as a Social Practices Rituals and Festive Events type of ICH. Then, I had to do more research on mummification and its process and this created a huge change in my perception of mummies forever. I suddenly wanted to see a real mummy! Unfortunately, there are no mummies in Thailand and none of the museums there display mummies or exhibit content about them. Consequently, I have kept my wish in my mind until my wish came true when I had the chance to study for my second MA degree, this time in the UK.
I was quite sure that at some point I would be able to see real mummies in some museums in the UK. My wish came true for the first time when I saw mummies at the New Walk Museum in Leicester. Of course, that was not the only time, or the last time, I saw mummies. I had never realized that most museums in the UK would give importance to mummies. I saw them again, and again, in the British Museum in London, and in other museums such as the Petrie Museum, Derby Museum, and Manchester Museum. What was really striking when looking at mummies on display is how perfect the bodies remained after the mummification and the story of each mummy ie. who s/he was, how old s/he was when they died, and why they died. These details intrigued me and encouraged me to look for more information. Additionally, since I have seen displays from many museums, I have to say that the one from Manchester Museum impresssed me the most due to the narrative and choice of display.
Being able to see real mummies in museums in the UK has brought home the importance of having museums as places of learning, and the value of seeing something authentic. On the other hand, after I have experienced seeing real mummies many times, staring at them, and thinking about their past lives according to the details on the panels, I sometimes wondered how these people would feel if they knew that thousand years later their body have become human remains - objects in museum displays and are looked at by various visitors. Would they be happy? Angry? Or embarrassed? I would like to thank them as they sacrifice (or are forced to sacrifice) their remained bodies for educational purpose frol generations to generations.
Nonetheless, at least I can say I feel happy that I can fulfill my wish after all.
Nuntamon Noma Kutalad is a freelance translator who holds degrees in Cultural Management from Thailand and Museum Studies from Leicester. She is currently conducting a PhD research in Museum and Exhibition Design at De Montfort University, Leicester.