Monday, May 18, 2015

Preserving Filipino heritage against cultural ‘Ultrons’

Note: This photo-essay appeared in a slightly differenct version in the 15-21 May 2015 issue of FilAm Star, 'the newsparer for Filipinos in mainstream America' published in San Francisco, CA. This blogger/author is the Manila-based Special Photo/News Correspondent of the weekly paper.

The Avengers invaded the Philippines in April, and there was nothing else to see at the cinema houses for more than a week except their battle against Ultron, who was set to put mankind to extinction. The queues to the ticket counters were long, indicative of the tight grip of Hollywood on the cultural consciousness of almost every Filipino, parents and children alike.

Colorful ethnic costume against a
blown-up picture of indigenous people
'exhibited' at the St. Louis Exposition
in the 1900s.
Well, the Marvel-ous characters have not totally left when avengers of a different kind led by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) set out a program of activities to keep our national heritage alive in Filipino minds and hearts. It has the month-long celebration of National Heritage Month in key venues in Manila, Baguio and Cebu City as well as a year-long Taoid Heritange Program around the country.

The month of May has been National Heritage Month since 2003 when then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared it as such through Proclamation No. 239.   The proclamation cited, among others, the “need to create in the people a consciousness, respect and love for the legacies of Filipino cultural history” and the “need to strengthen the people’s awareness of cultural heritage sites, structures and landscapes, and encourage their participation in the preservation of these cultural legacies through various activities.”

The Taoid Heritage Program echoes the intent of Proclamation 239 especially on the importance of cultural preservation after the devastation of various cultural landmarks, heritage sites and important cultural properties wrought by the Bohol earthquake and Typhoon Yolanda. It is basically an intervention program to assist local communities in the conservation of their own cultural heritage. This year’s theme is “New Fruits, Ancient Roots”.

Taoid is an Ilocano word for inheritance (mana, Tag.), which NCCA adopted to emphasize the importance of bequeathing culture and tradition to succeeding generations. Starting this month, NCCA will be going to the different communities in the country for cultural profiling and mapping.

The Spoliarium of Juan Luna is the star attraction of the 
National Museum: favorite selfie background.
The National Museum is a very effective partner of NCCA in the cultural education of the young generation of Filipinos. In May, it opens its doors for free to visitors as its share in celebrating heritage month. This is also true in the affiliated museums in the regions. The museum staff says that there has been a large turn-out of young visitors every viewing day, and we have seen a truly excited audience during our two visits.

Young visitors immediately encountertwo large canvasses: the “Spoliarium” of Juan Luna and “El Asesinato del Gobernador Bustamante” by Felix Resurrection Hidalgo; both won the top prizes in the Madrid Exposition of 1884. It doesn’t surprise that Luna gets the more avid attention of viewers, and the Spoliarium the favorite backdrop of photo-ops and selfies.

For many, the museum offers them their first encounter with a National Cultural Treasure (NCT), an object that possesses “outstanding historical, cultural, artistic and/or scientific value which is significant and important to the country and nation.”  The Luna and Hidalgo masterpieces are NCTs.

Viewers discuss the history of Philippine medicine as depicted
by Botong Francisco in four large canvasses.
Four large canvasses occupy one museum gallery. These comprise “The Progress of Medicine in the Philippines” by National Artist Carlos V. Francisco, the popular Botong of Angono, which depicts healing practices of pre-Spanish times, herbal medicine work of monk-scholars, introduction of American medicine, and markers of modern medicine today.   These were at the entrance of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) for 58 years until they were replaced with photographic copies in 2011. The exchange deal was for the originals to go to the National Museum. The paintings were declared NCTs in 2011.

Lucky visitors may chance upon a guided tour and thus eavesdrop on stories surrounding some Luna paintings like the “Portrait of a Lady,” rumoured to be jinxed, and “Una Bulaqueña,” which many claim to be their grandmother because her identity is unknown. There’s not much fuss on “Feeding the Chicken” by Simon Flores at the gallery entrance. The Bulaqueña and the Flores are NCTs.

Many visitors take time for photo-ops at the gallery of sculptures by the Tampincos and by National Artist Guillermo Tolentino.

Mother's Revenge, small terra cotta
sculpture by Dr Jose Rizal.
At the Gallery showing Rizaliana, the selfies are with the bust sculpture or paintings. The small sculptures of Dr Jose Rizal get special attention. His “Mother’s Revenge” shows an angry dog trying to save her puppy from the crocodile’s mouth, and the message is not lost to viewers on Mother’s Day. This was declared NCT in 2008.

The displays on Baybayin tell the young generation that before the Spaniards came, the people already had their own system of writing. The University of Santo Tomas is the custodian of the most complete handwritten Baybayin documents. Many may not be aware of it, but they are looking at a baybayin letter in the Cultural Center and NCCA logos, among others. We chuckled at the sight of a young man with her girlfriend writing probably love notes to each other using the baybayin.

Ancient Baybayin letters with translation.
The ancient and traditional writing equipment were declared NCTs way back in1997.  Significant artefacts that contain ancient inscriptions were declared NCTs in 2010: the Laguna Copper-Plate Inscription (ca. 10th century), Butuan Metal Paleograph (14th-15th century A.D.), and the Calatagan Ritual Pot (14th-15th century A.D.). The last is the only one of its kind with an ancient script.

There’s one gallery containing religious artefacts from the Spanish colonial times. One of them is a NCT: a retablo (altar piece) from the Church of San Nicolas de Tolentino in Dimiao, Bohol. This reminds that several antique churches in Bohol were destroyed by the strong earthquake of 2013. Baclayon, for example, was a NCT and was nominated for designation as UNESCO Heritage sites.

The Dimiao altar piece made us recall our visit to the Saint Augustine Church of Paoay, Ilocos Norte, considered the most outstanding example of 'earthquake Baroque" in the Philippines. Its distinct architectural features are the enormous buttresses on the sides and at the back. Our great-great drandparenst were baptized here before they moved to central Zambales around 1838. The church was declared NCT in 1973 and a UNESCO heritage site in 1993.

The antiques churches of Paoay, Ilocos Norte and Masinloc, Zambales, both National Cultural Treasures.

Close to our hometown in Zambales is the San Andres Apostol Church of Masinloc town, another Baroque structure but built with coral stones. It's located within walking distance from the shores of the West Philippine Sea. It could be that the town's fishermen look back to it every time they head toward Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc) for protection from Chinese coast guards, and for prayers for a bountiful catch. It became a NCT in 2001.

Four Sto Ninos at the Kristo Manila on exhibit at
the NCCA art gallery.
Part of the heritage month celebration of NCCA is a back-to-back exhibition dubbed “Art & Soul: 10 years of Kristo Manila and the Kristo Niño in Cebu City” comprising artworks depicting Christ’s Passion and various images inspired by the Santo Niño.   Kristo Niño commemorates the 450th year of the finding of the Image of the Santo Niño de Cebu and of the Agustinian presence in the Philippines (1565-2015), and the 50th anniversary of the Santo Niño Church as Basilica Minore (1965-2015). 

The sixth international arts festival was held in Tam-awan Village in Baguio City with the theme “A Global Cordillera: Heroes, Legends and Treasures.”

A musical event will be held on May 23 in Cebu City.  The second 2nd Taoid Heritage Concert is one of the closing events of the National Heritage Month.

Selfies appear to be good reminders of the richness of Philippine heritage to those who have walked through the National Museum galleries and those who have participated in the heritage month and Taoid programs. These can also be passed on with messages that the artefacts, structural landmarks and artistic expressions in the picture be safeguarded against cultural ‘Ultrons.’

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