A Day at the Museum | The National Museum of Anthropology – Part 1

Treasures of the San Diego

You’d be glad that our museums are free of charge, would you not? At least those under the auspices of the National Museum, that is. One could kill time away and explore new knowledge for practically nothing, at no cost.

The story of the San Diego should interest every Filipino because not only does it shed light into the kind of world our forebears lived in, but because it’s teaching us some important life lessons too, if we are only to look closer and really listen.

I know nothing much about the San Diego myself, so I’m sharing this so we could learn together. I’m kind of curious too if this has already been part of school text books. It should be. Children, especially, with their impressible minds, should visit the gallery because nothing beats seeing the artifacts with one’s own eyes. I was kind of happy seeing groups of school children touring the museum. There is this one group in the lobby being briefed by the guide before the tour started. Although most seemed excited, you can see in some of the children’s faces that they are getting bored, what with their short attention span – some looking spaced-out, others forcing a somewhat interested/engaged look, perfunctorily nodding to every thing the guide says, but that you know their mind is wandering some place else. Sorry kids, you need to learn these stuff 🙂

Just a disclaimer, though. The article you will be seeing below were taken purely from museum references and informational guides. It does not reflect the author’s words or opinions.

The San Diego – a 16th Century Galleon

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A model of the San Diego

The San Diego was a 3-masted trading ship built in 1590 in Cebu by Basque, Chinese and Filipino shipbuilders. It used different kinds of Asian woods and was about 35-40 meters long, about 12 meters wide and 8 meters high. It had at least 4 decks and could hold about 700 tons of cargo.

The discovery of the San Diego has significantly expanded knowledge of Renaissance shipbuilding techniques. On the basis of the finds and the positioning of the wreck, the construction of the ship had been studied.

Detailed investigations were only conducted on selected planks because of conservation problems. A large part of the wood remains were left under-water and covered with sand for future researches.

The Sinking of the San Diego

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photo courtesy of Wikipedia

On December 14, 1600, about 50 kilometers southwest of Manila, the Spanish battleship San Diego under the command of Morga clashed with the Dutch ship Mauritius. All odds were in favor of the Spanish. The San Diego was four times larger than the Mauritius. It had a crew of 450 rested men and massive fire power with 14 cannons taken from the fortress in Manila.

It sank “like a stone”

Unfortunately, this was also the weakness of the San Diego. Morga had the ship full of people, weapons and munitions but too little ballast to weigh the ship down for easier maneuverability.  While the gun ports had been widened for more firing range, not one cannon could be fired because water entered through the enlarged holes.

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The San Diego sprung a leak beneath the water line either from the first cannonball fired by the Mauritius or from the impact of ramming the Dutch at full speed. Because of inexperience, Morga failed to issue orders to save the San Diego. It sank “like a stone” when he ordered his men to cast off from the burning Mauritius.

The events were recorded in Morga’s book, Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas. The book portrayed Morga as a hero of the battle. Olivier van Noort also wrote about the battle.

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photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Antonio de Morga (1559 – 1636)

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photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Morga came from a family of bankers in Seville but decided to have an administrative career. He was appointed as Advisor and Lieutenant General to the Governor of the Philippines in 1593 by the Spanish King. This did not make him happy being posted “at the ends of the earth”. He saw his chance to change his fortune when he heard the news of a Dutch pirate ship entering Philippine waters.

Through political maneuvering, he was promoted to admiral and later commissioned the San Diego, a merchant vessel anchored in Manila, to be a battleship. Morga thought that a swift victory over the exhausted intruders would put him in a favorable stead with the King.

Morga’s ignorance as a captain was proven during the sea battle with the Dutch. He gave wrong commands that led to the sinking of the San Diego, but as one of the few survivors, he successfully depicted himself as a hero of the battle and even got promoted. He was sent to Mexico in 1603 and to Peru in 1615.

Olivier van Noort (1558/59 – 1627)

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photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Olivier van Noort was a tavern owner in Rotterdam. He was described as a humorous, courageous, stubborn, but enterprising man. In 1598, he was entrusted to command a small fleet financed by some merchants and the Dutch stockholder, Maurice of Nassau. His mission was to ascertain the trade route to the Spice Islands and, along the way, plunder any vessel he could find.

In the latter part of 1600, van Noort, reached the Philippines with two ships. On December 14, the battle between his flagship Mauritius and Morga’s San Diego took place in front of Manila Bay. Although far outnumbered, 59 to 450, his men fought bravely. Van Noort tricked the Spanish into fleeing by setting fire to his own sails. Through his nautical skills and tactical cunning, he was able to escape the Spaniards.

One year later, van Noort returned to Rotterdam broke. The expedition was a failure. But his knowledge of the trade route, allowed Dutch participation in the spice trade in the Moluccas. Belatedly acknowledged, he finally took a post as garrison commander until 1626 when he retired.

The Wreck of the San Diego

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The hold of the San Diego contained food and water supplies. Stoneware jars doubling as containers and ballast were placed in the hold. About 800 of these were found in the wreck. These jars came mostly from Burma and dated from the 16th century.

Antonio de Morga sailed into battle with the Mauritius, commanded by Olivier van Noort. Early in the morning, Morga neglected to inform his Vice Admiral Juan de Alcega. Morga at first seemed to gain the upper hand, and his soldiers even captured the standard of the Mauritius. The Spanish galleon was under full sail when it violently rammed the Dutch ship. The seasick Spanish admiral, however, failed to follow up on his advantage despite pleas from his officers and crew and soon lost control of the situation.

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The Admiral’s table

A major leak was discovered in the hold, obviously a result of the violent impact. Morga gave the fatal order to cast off the lines holding the ships together. The astonished Dutch could not believe their eyes. When the lines had finally been cut, the San Diego sailed 330-660 feet (100-200m), nosed over and went straight to the bottom. The time was approximately 3:00 pm, on Thursday, December 14, 1600. Three hundred people are thought to have drowned. Another hundred apparently survived by swimming to nearby Fortune Island. Morga himself was rescued by his secretary.

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A Day at the Museum | The National Museum

Finally got the chance to visit the National Museum. I’ve been wanting to visit for the longest time but couldn’t seem to get to doing it on my own. There is something in the whole prospect that I find intimidating. Luckily, my friends, who have been thinking of going themselves, invited me to join. Needless to say, I was happy to oblige. I guess that is the only nudge I needed to finally make that jump.

I don’t pretend to be someone who is adept with the arts but I feel like I needed to appreciate it, especially living in a country that has identity issues and where culture and the arts often take a back seat. The arts department suffers lack of funding and a general lack of interest from the public. We, the people, have become so caught up with the daily routines of our pathetic lives. We’ve grown accustomed to the commercialism around us. I feel it a responsibility (as it should for each and every one of us), to develop a renewed appreciation for the arts, especially in a world getting more and more superficial and self-centric, with work and the pursuit of money taking the priority above everything else. We live our day-to-day lives kissing a**, some going as far as trumping values in exchange for power and wealth. We become beholden to people who are only driven by profit, making us mechanical droids who do their bidding. To all these, we need some reprieve. We need some diversion to bring us back and make some sense of our humanity, or what’s left of it.

How else can we appreciate art if we don’t see it face-to-face? I’m glad that I did. There is so much to learn and to be amazed about with our arts and culture, and the development of certain art forms. Imagine, for example, how creative and ingenious our forefathers were back in those days when the closest thing they could get to photographs and selfies are paintings and portraits using the basic and organic of art materials. Ah, the power of the human mind.

Such is the appeal of the Spoliarium, for example, Juan Luna’s masterpiece which rightfully takes center stage in the museum’s collections. It would be hard not to take notice and pay homage to as this is the largest and most imposing piece of artwork in this hall – the Session Hall of the Old House of Representatives. Collectively, everything that is housed under the Old Legislative building is called the National Art Gallery.

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Aside from the Spoliarium, this hall also has works of other artists like Guillermo Tolentino and Felix Hidalgo.

 

Luis I. Ablaza Hall

Religious Art from the 17th to the 19th centuries

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Academic and Romantic Art

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La Barca de Aqueronte, by Félix Resurrección Hidalgo

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Homage to Dr. José Rizal

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Mother’s Revenge, by Dr. José P. Rizal

Silvina & Juan C. Laya Hall

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The Battle of Manila, 1945

Security Bank Hall

Works of Guillermo E. Tolentino

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The Old Senate Session Hall, where the works of Jacques Ferrier (scale models of his designs and projects) are currently  on display.

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Political and Social Commentary after the 1970s

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Selected Modern Works

 

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Introduction of the First Christian Image by Carlos “Botong” Francisco

Philam Life Hall

Pillars of Philippine Modernism – Vicente S. Manansala

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Pillars of Philippine Modernism – Victorio C. Edades

 

Philippine Abstraction from the 1960s to 1980s

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There are also temporary exhibits such as that of national artist BenCab (Benedicto Cabrera) entitled BenCab: Appropriated Souls, which focuses on Sabel and his Larawan series.

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There is so much art to be appreciated at the National Museum, we barely had enough time to see all of them. We had to cut our visit short as we have been feeling famished already after four hours of exploring the halls, and it’s way past lunch time. But just to give you an idea how huge and extensive the artworks are in here, the museum even has an annex (or a component) right across the street, the former Finance building, also known as the Museum of the Filipino people, which houses the anthropology and archaeology divisions. Another exciting and interesting visit for sure. For now, we can just dispel any negative thoughts and ideas about our country not having a strong culture, or that it is sub-par compared to others (whatever that means). My take away from this is that our culture is only as strong as the people who appreciate and practice it.

My City | In Transitio

I’ve been looking to join the Manila Transitio for years now but couldn’t seem to find the time, for some reason. Anyone of you who is interested, this year it happens on the 21st of February. Just follow the link to find details on the event and where you can make reservations.

This is an event started by the famous tour guide Carlos Celdran, to commemorate the Battle of Manila. To quote Carlos’ words from his blog: “A combination of history, art, and culture, this event hopes to become an annual commemoration/memorial where… Manileños may reflect upon the passing of this event in… history. A way…  to remind future generations that there once was a beautiful Manila and there’s a beautiful Manila that can be redeemed again”.

It is important the we do not forget this dark chapter of our city’s history and the lessons it teaches. The younger generations, even our leaders, can become oblivious of this fact, this event, that has forever transformed this city we once call the Pearl of the Orient.

Discovering My City | Rizal Park

I have a dream of traveling the world. And if money is no object, I would have easily done it. But, as it is, I’m just your lowly, everyday drone worker who doesn’t have the cash to burn for such luxuries.

So I guess I just have to make do with what’s readily available and economical. And what better way to do that than to discover my own city, Manila.

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So today I decide to go to the Rizal Park, one of the well-known places here which has long been a center of the city’s social life. It is however, better known as the place where the national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, was executed. And so in honor of his martyrdom, the park was named after him. The other names used alternatively for the park are Luneta and Bagumbayan. There’s also a statue of Rizal built in the middle of the park.

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There is a sound-and-light show depicting events in his life leading up to his execution. There is even a replication of the firing squad complete with flashing heat, smoke and the sound of gunshot emanating from the bronze rifles of the statues. It was quite ingenious, actually, how they were made.

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If you want some peace and quiet and just want to experience some tranquil surroundings, you might want to try the Chinese gardens for only P20. Just to have this in the middle of a crowded city makes you appreciate its existence although a lot can be done to improve it, especially the pond. I think it would be nice if they transform it into a koi pond. I just wish people are more disciplined and not litter the place.

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“Soul Wave”

I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of art installations put up everywhere, just like this stainless sculpture that was given as a gift from Korea, known as Soul Wave. As the marker says, it represents “all souls of humanity united in their cause for freedom”. It symbolizes Korea and Philippines’ “sacred shores” which both countries “protect against all forms of oppression”, and whose “common sacred shores are its love for freedom”.

The Statue of the Sentinel of Freedom
The Statue of the Sentinel of Freedom

There’s also a gigantic statue of another Filipino hero who hails from Cebu, called Lapu-Lapu. It’s called the Statue of the Sentinel of Freedom. The plaque on its marker says: “Ne’er shall invaders trample thy sacred shores”. Lapu-Lapu was the one who killed Magellan in a battle for the islands. Magellan is the famous Portuguese explorer who led the expedition that circumnavigated the world. Unfortunately for him, he did not live to see that day because of his untimely death in the hands of Lapu-Lapu.

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By nightfall, the park comes alive with the dancing fountain whose movements synchronize with the background music and whose colors change from time to time, giving much pleasure to the eyes. It is such a hit among the crowd especially during holidays.

The musical fountain caps a fun-filled day at the park. I wish more people would appreciate this little pocket of green in a congested city and I hope whoever is in charge of its maintenance and development is able to really up the ante. I believe exciting things are happening to the park and is on its way to becoming world-class. I couldn’t wait for that day to arrive.