Friday, August 24, 2012

afternoon at the national museum (part 1)

On my most recent Manila trip, I had nothing planned for after lunch. I thought that it would be cool to say hello to Juan Luna's opus at the National Museum so I went there after lunch. Unfortunately, the art gallery (the supposed highlight of my impromptu field trip) is closed until the end of September. So I contented myself with the more anthropological, historical, and biological exhibits at the Museum of the Filipino People. There were several exhibits there during my visit but none of them, thank goodness, became alive in broad daylight! 

In hindsight, I wish I had a guided tour. That would have been fun and informative. However, roaming the galleries on my own did allow me to take more time looking at the exhibits that interested me more and then scan the others that didn't interest me as much. This was fun too. One thing's for sure: going around the Museum of the Filipino People as an adult made me appreciate the richness and the roots of my culture a bit more.

A bit on what I learned during my afternoon at the museum...

The archaeological finds on display showed that there were elephants and rhinos once in what would someday be the Philippines. While I had read that in textbooks back in school, actually seeing fossilized remains made it all too real. I just could not imagine big mammals roaming the forests and the plains of Luzon, particularly since none of them are alive today. Were they eaten by pre-historic hunters? Or did they die out because of competition or loss of food?

In movies like The Pirates of the Caribbean, the pirate's life appears to be full of adventures, of mysteries, and of exotic locations. The exhibit about the San Diego, although NOT a pirate's ship, puts a more realistic spin to what a seafarer's life really was like in the 1600s. After all, the Philippines was literally the end of the world at that time (according to Carlos Celdran). Apparently, life at sea wasn't as cool and attractive as Captain Jack made it to be. According to the exhibits, the crew lived in cramped quarters, food and water had to be stored in huge earthen jars to make sure they last the entire journey, and not everyone ate off a porcelain plate.

I know that the Philippine eagle is one of the largest birds of prey around. But the stuffed animal in the museum, perhaps because it is stuffed, doesn't look as kingly and as intimidating as the live one I've seen on tv (duh!). Then there were the cloud rats and the flying mammals, the reptiles and the fish... Oh, and the plants too. There were dried plants, those inside bottles, those on cardboard... Basically, I felt like I was back in UPLB's Institute of Biological Sciences, looking at specimens along the corridors (cramming as much information into my brain) just before my Bio 3 final lab exam.

Nautical Highways
There's this globe, in the museum, that has lights tracing the trade routes involving the Philippines during the pre-Hispanic period all the way to the Galleon Trade era. It's interesting that most of the trade routes were on the western parts of the country, where there's territorial conflict between China and several Southeast Asian nations these days. The lack of trade routes on the Pacific side of the Philippines centuries ago made Carlos Celdran's words sink in visually: the country must have been deemed the end of the world back then... until Ferdinand Magellan successfully traveled from Europe via the Atlantic and then the Pacific. Then everyone learned that the world is round.

There are two ways to look at it: either the Philippines was the end of the world or it was at the center of it. Despite being at the very edge of the known world many centuries ago, trade was evidently booming. One just had to look at the contents of the San Diego to realize that a lot of finished goods from China were traded to Europeans via Mexico. But the trade route was far from safe. Mexican coins, lots of blue-and-white flatware, and gold items were amongst cannons, cannon shells (or bullets?), and hand-held weapons when the sunken ship was discovered. I assume that due to the dangers of the journey (or was it because women were deemed unlucky? -- another Pirates of the Caribbean reference), only men made the long trip to this side of the world. If there was a woman onboard, she would have been the statue of the Virgin Mary that these sailors always bring along in their ships.

And all that is just the tip of the iceberg that is the Museum of the Filipino People. Interesting, right? Seeing all these with fresh eyes (having been far away from a history textbook for almost a decade) has given me a renewed appreciation for and interest in my Filipino roots. I hope that a lot more Pinoys, not just foreign tourists, drop by to get more in touch with their cultural side.

Want to visit it too? The National Museum of the Philippines is located along P. Burgos Drive, Rizal Park, Manila. Regular entrance fee at the Museum of the Filipino People for individuals is P100 but students and senior citizens have discounts. Tour groups have discounts as well (just check the website for details -- click on the link above).