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Monday, June 09, 2008

Museum of the Filipino People




I knew that there was something exciting going on at the National Museum. Although I have not visited the museum ever in my life (not exactly proud of this), I've heard my fair share of horror stories about dark halls and cramped rooms of the old National Museum (which squatted in the old Senate Building).

Therefore, it was a surprise when a few months back, someone told me that they attended a wedding at the museum. The wedding guest raved about the reception and the ambience of the place. Is this the same National Museum I had in mind?

Recently, an e-flyer found its way to my inbox which talked about "finding beauty in our own" culture and art. It was a museum tour by John Silva, a senior consultant of the National Museum.

Fast forward to Saturday, June 7, I found myself at the appointed meeting place. I overheard that usually he had around 30 to 35 people but that Saturday it ballooned to 60 guests, which was a good thing for Philippine art but no so good when you want to catch every word uttered by the guide.

A few realizations during the tour:

1521 wasn't Year 1
History for us Filipinos started way before 1521 when Magellan came to our shore. This is the big misconception that John wants to dispel. We had a rich culture and presumably equally rich history before the Spaniards conquered these islands. Aside from the National Museum, readers may want to check out the Gold Exhibit at the Ayala Museum.

Use it or Lose it
It is bittersweet for John to be able to collect, salvage, and maintain a treasure trove of instruments, traditional clothes, tapestries, jewelry, and everyday tools. One thing that is beyond his control is the ability to revive some of the lost art. He talked about how musicians who are able to play our indigenous musical instruments are slowly disappearing with their knowledge and skills going to the grave with them. Some of the intricate weaving cannot be replicated even by tribesmen whose forebears have created the pieces. Even the original language written in alibata has been lost to most except for two tribes in Mindoro and one tribe in Palawan.

Philippines is more than just Manila
When you realize that Filipinos speak 87 dialects and 11 major languages, you come to the conclusion that no region, city, town has monopoly on being Filipino.

Wanderlust in our blood
Archeological finds all over the archipelago point to a rich trading history that from all over Asia.

Juan Luna's Spoliarium is much better when viewed in person
Well, first of all it's not Spolarium (maybe you knew that) but the more tongue-twisting Spoliarium. The painting is huge!! It depicts the aftermath of an event at the Coliseum (not Araneta!!). The losing gladiators (losing usually means dying as well) are dragged away for disposal. Even if we just leave it at the imagery and drama of the colors (dark sombre with splashes of bright red), the painting would already have done its job of evoking powerful emotions. But, John also talks about how this painting started the seeds of the Philippine revolution and also Rizal's participation in it. Apparently, Rizal saw parallelism in the painting and the cruelty being unleashed by the Spaniards in the Philippines.

Less is More
In Juan Luna's painting Bulakena, we see an exquisite painting of a Filipina lady posing demurely with a fan in her hand. Silva explains that in the olden times, ladies would signal their availability or non-availability without uttering a single word. A fan that is closed meant the woman is engaged or married. A half-opened fan meant she is open to suitors and a fully opened fan was as vulgar as a prostitute on Sunset Boulevard. So what is the Bulakena....you need to go to the museum to find out for yourself.


Let us protect our national treasure by visiting our museums, supporting innovative programs that cultivate Philippine culture, introducing Philippine history to our kids.



(The first stop, a Cordillera hut)



(Anthropomorphic Jar Cover found in Ayub Cave, Pinol, Maitum, Saranggani)



(The Spoliarium lecture)

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