A Day at the Museum | The National Museum of Anthropology – Part 2

Bangsamoro Art – Faith, Tradition & Place

Having lived in Manila my whole life,  I never really experienced what life is like anywhere else in the country except those I had the chance visiting for a few days. But even that wouldn’t really suffice for one to really get to know or understand the local culture. I think one really has to immerse himself in it. That might require some time spending with the locals and experiencing things they usually do on a day-to-day basis. Now, being a busy person with lots of commitments, that prospect may not really work out for me. It’s almost next to impossible. Good thing there are museums, right?

Ok. You are probably thinking: “Here he goes again selling this museum thing to the hilt”. But really, this has proven indispensable for the city creature like me. It’s funny because both my (biological) parents were from the provinces. My surrogate dad was from the province, too. But I never really had the chance being on those places for a long time. The everyday man on the street may not realize it, but it’s staggering how culturally diverse our country is – more than 175 ethnolinguistic nations or groups. An average working person may not be able to meet, let alone visit each ethnic group in his lifetime, unless he spends most of his time traveling around the country, like some blogger I’ve read about. It is doable, yes, but may not always be practical. So, to each his own. And yes, this brings me back to the topic of museums and how it fills the void to satisfy that curiosity. You may not be able to meet or visit each of those ethnic groups, but you can learn about some of them through museums and visual arts. It doesn’t replace the actual experience, of course, but it’s the next best thing.

So, on with the topic. Now, what could be more interesting than the Bangsamoro, right? Bangsamoro, of course, is that hotly-contested autonomous region in the South populated by Muslims. There are other non-Muslim ethnic groups who are indigenous to Mindanao called the Lumads, but that’s for another article.

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photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Bangsamoro is the “largest non-Catholic group in the Philippines and, as of the year 2012, comprises 11% of the total population” – Wikipedia. Its defining and official religion, Islam, is the second largest and the fastest-growing in the world.

The spotlight is turned every time we hear news of war in this troubled region and when there are developments in the efforts made to achieve that seemingly elusive peace, as when peace talks and deals are made.

If you come to think of it, if we weren’t colonized by the Spaniards, we probably are Muslims today. Now, all the reason to be interested in the Bangsamoro’s history and culture.

Bangsamoro from the Filipino term bangsa, meaning nation and Moro, from the Moors (of Southern Spain) – a designation used by the Spanish to all Muslims.

Three indigenous tribal men from the Sulu Archipelago in the 1900s.
Three indigenous tribal men from the Sulu Archipelago in the 1900s. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

What’s interesting to note is that Bangsamoro (as one nation of Muslims) is actually composed of different ethnic groups who happened to share a similar faith, and maybe certain aspects of their cultures, history and traditions. But there are certain things that are unique to each group. The brand of Islam itself as how it is practiced here, or manifestations thereof, may differ widely from say, those in the Middle East or even other Southeast Asian neighbors. The basic tenets of the faith are adhered to but there are certain embellishments that are quite unique to this specific group. Think of it as Islam in Bangsamoro garb. Some indigenous practices and beliefs persisted and made its way to the new religion.

Feast for the eyes

What really struck me immediately upon entering the exhibit is the ornate artistry of the works. Apparently, the peoples of this region have developed a highly-stylized form of geometric patterns that are combined together to form these visually stunning imagery. This is in no less thanks to a Qu’ranic prohibition of creating artistic depictions of human, animal and plant forms in any medium.

This particular style is called okir which, aside from referring to carving or engraving, is also referring to a particular curvilinear design pattern predominantly and distinctly used by the Muslim groups in Southern Philippines. This type of design could be seen in their architecture and in the day-to-day implements and fashion.

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Tabo or Dabu-dabu, of the Maranao tribe, Lanao del Sur. A signalling instrument horizontally suspended in front of Mosques. A standard rhythm calls people to prayer on Friday, while a more intricate tempo is played during Ramadan.
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Boras, Tausug tribe, Jolo, Sulu. A window screen which doubles as a floor mat during ceremonies. Interesting to note that Tausug culture gives specific division of labor for the sexes in the creation of the boras – men for the rattan mat itself and women for the painting and design.

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Enjoying the visual treat, yet? This is just a prelude to more exciting things to come, so watch out for it 😉 Till next time! 🙂

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My 7,107 | Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Palawan is picture-perfect.

Although it is not immune to the trappings of the modern world, its relative isolation helped it to somehow fend off excessive commercialization and environmental degradation. True, economic progress and conservation usually do not meet eye to eye, and surely the province has been a battle ground for many a war fought in this field. There are victors and losers, with tables probably turned every now and then. But as I have observed, Palaweños are generally the nature-lover bunch, for practical reasons. With travel and tourism as the province’s main draw, the people stand to benefit from caring for the environment and its natural wonders.

And so I came back to Palawan, the country’s last frontier, to enjoy and bask in its wonders and its beautiful, uncluttered beaches. The heat in the Metro is at an all-time high and there is no better time to go swimming. Destination: Sabang!

We took an AirAsia flight to Puerto Princesa, the capital. First stop on our itinerary is the crocodile farm. Upon entering the PWRCC (Philippine Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center) main lobby, we were greeted with a skeleton of a huge crocodile.

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Its skin was laid flat and hung on the wall. The guide says the skin of older crocodiles tend to be tougher and so are not ideal for creating wallets, bags, etc. That belongs to younger crocs who have softer skin. So this oldie’s skin might have to stay here for a little longer.

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There’s another one hanging on the other side painted with different colors of what seemed like tribal markings, maybe for aesthetic or art purposes.

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The guide also says this particular croc (the one whose skeleton is on display) and the biggest and longest one on record found in the Agusan marsh -“Lolong”, both died of the same reason – stress. This elicited lots of laughs because as humans, we only know too well how to feel stressed. And if these fearsome, magnificent creatures can only be downed by something as mundane as stress, then who are we humans to feel superior against it. We’ve all heard it said over and over: “Nakamamatay ang stress” (stress kills). Even the mighty crocodiles are no match to it.

Next we visited the hatchery where we see baby crocs, of course. The house smelled of croc pee.

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Then we moved on to where the full grown monsters are. When you scroll down farther below, you will see how this group of crocs form what seemed like crocodile pinwheel.

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After this, you get to have a chance to have photo op with or have your picture taken with a baby croc and get a souvenir picture. This leg of the tour gives you chance to relax and buy some refreshments like buko (coconut) juice and ice cream.

Next we went to Palawan’s Millionaire’s Row, where the Mitra estate/ranch (of the former House Speaker of the Philippine Congress) is located. This is also called the Sta. Monica Ranch. The property overlooks Honda Bay, another famous tourist destination. It’s an ideal spot for picnics.

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Just a few minutes’ drive away is Baker’s Hill where you find different breads and pastries like hopia, butterscotch, pianono, etc., and the famous local product – kasuy (cashew).

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Afterwards we went to another local market where you can buy more native produce like dried or sweet & spicy pusit, dilis, dried danggit and more nuts. Also you can buy local handicrafts and souvenir items. Everything is at a more affordable price here.

It was a fun yet exhausting first half of the itinerary. Before we proceeded to the resort where we will be staying, we first had lunch at KaLui. It’s a traditionally-themed restaurant with an artistic vibe, and has lots of organic and native artworks everywhere. We were even asked to remove our shoes and slippers as is commonly practiced in traditional Filipino homes.

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The food is also good. I particularly liked the fish fillet with mango tartare and the “lato” (seaweed). After having our tummies filled, it’s time for us to go to the resort. It was a long drive – about an hour and a half to 2 hours, depending on how fast the drive is. I think all of us dozed off because of exhaustion. We couldn’t have been more excited to reach the destination as we all feel like freshening up and retire to our rooms.

We had dinner at 6 – buffet dinner. Felt bloated afterwards. Swam at the pool. Had a few drinks. Wasted, at the end of the day 😛

To be continued…