Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Philippine Golden Age

The Philippine Golden Age

There are few existing records, both physical or written, of precolonial history and culture in the Philippines. When the Spanish arrived in 1519, they embarked on a systematic process of destroying the existing culture to implant there own. 300 years of Spanish rule was able to erase most everything, all in the name of spreading Christianity.

In 1981, a bulldozer operator on an isolated island in southern Philippines unearthed a treasure trove. Thousands of golden artifacts were unearthed, albeit secretly. The items were taken by the original discoverer, and later, by throngs of antique dealers. For years, the gold artifacts were sold in the underground antique market in Manila.

Video of discovery

Fortunately, a substantial portion of the find was collected by the family of the late National Artist and architect Leandro Locsin. Reluctant to flaunt gold in a country where most of the population lives in poverty, the Locsins sat on the collection for 25 years, waiting for the right conditions to publicly exhibit it. In 2004, the family decided to lend the collection to the Ayala Museum, and the exhibit opened in 2008.

Video of Exhibit

I was fortunate to have seen the exhibit for myself and I was totally blown away. Part of the exhibit was the “Sacred Thread,” a 3.6-kilogram (seen in above pic), thick gold sash made of the woven gold wire so fine, you couldn’t stick a needle into the gaps. I have to admit, I never knew that the Philippines had such technology previous to colonization. These items are testament to a once great civilization. One that has been lost to history, and now I am rediscovering for myself. I literally was in awe. Mind you, Ive been to a lot of exhibits on antiquity. Greco, Roman, Egyptian, even Medieval and Renaissance. This stuff was at par to the best of them. Tutankhamun even! It made me proud.

While at the exhibit I noticed a short blurb on the wall. It spoke of an obscure book called the Boxer Codex. The book is the earliest known record of Filipinos closest to the point of first contact with the western world. The country was discovered in 1590, and the codex written in 1593. It is believed to have been commissioned by the 9th Governor General of the islands, Luis das Marinas, for the King of Spain, as a report on the colonial inhabitants. What ties the book to the exhibit is that it shows graphically the gold jewelry shown as worn by pre-colonial Filipinos.

Why am I talking about all of this? Well, I happen to have been in Bloomington, Indiana (you can call me Indiana Bing) the other day, right were the Boxer Codex is kept. I had an opportunity, and I took it. I made a reservation to see the book with the Lilly library. This is the only book known to have a graphic and descriptive account of Filipinos at the peak of their indigenous civilization. This book was handwritten in 1593. 410 years ago!

They took the book out of the vault and let me handle it. I spent 2 hours browsing the book, looking at the pictures, and translating some passages. I was having a hands-on experience with the Philippine history in 1593. Sweet!

Me rifling for the book card

Found eeeet!

Verified! The book possesses Charles Boxer’s Library Stamp and his notes written in pencil.

This stamp, as told to me by the curator, is one of the Chinese book dealer thru whose hands this book got out of the Philippines, to the Holland House collection in London 19th century and, and then to Charles Boxer right after the war. (blurb: everything was for sale in Europe right after the war primarily to finance rebuilding)

The Negritos – Darkest skinned Filipinos

Filipino Pintados

The Tagalogs


Token Bing Pic

First Contact!

Philippine Fauna

Here is something I also found in the li-bary 

Some Vonegut!

Hope you liked it as much as I did.