FILIPINOS visiting or living in Madrid should go to the Museo del la Antropologia and view the first floor of their Asian exhibits. This time, the artifacts are all Philippine. From musical instruments to toys (spinning top, sipa) to textiles and arms, they are all there taking up the whole first floor.

I went primarily to see again the two huge dugout bancas that have been their signature Philippine items, together with piña textiles. They are usually on permanent exhibit, with the dugouts made from huge forest trees impressively hanging from the ceiling.

But this time it was an all-Philippine show, including cockfighting items like spurs and blades as representative of our native sports, together with musical items like flutes, gongs and drums from the Cordilleras. There was a focus on the tobacco culture with its attendant artifacts like woven containers, carved wood animal containers, even an embroidered cloth with glass beads for tobacco. Betel nut was also featured with metal, wood and bamboo containers. There were also the rice gods of Northern Luzon and other wood carvings as well as cooking equipment.

Jewelry in the form of snake bones, boar teeth for protection and rituals was on show. The feminine jewelry fashioned from plant fiber and stone was very attractive for their colors and exquisite design and workmanship. I loved an Aeta anklet made of black boar bristle with glass.

Mindanao objects were in full array from a Bagobo shield of wood, hair, brass and abaca fiber that looked so pristine and monumental to a sword from the rostrum of a swordfish as well as axes, krises, swords. Some with ivory and silver and brass aside from iron and carabao horn. These are masterpieces of design and hardly seen anymore. Decorations for them were made from abaca, other fibers, and animal hair. Somehow the museum had a carved Muslim gravestone that must weigh several tons.

There were Philippine agricultural and fishing tools as well as three typical houses in miniature — a nipa hut, an Ifugao house and a bahay na bato style house but all in wood. All had sloping roofs. A bunch of schoolchildren were being led by a guide who explained how the Philippines had abundant rain and that is why they used sloping roofs.

Interestingly, there was a section called Bellas Artes which had three carved busts by Filipino sculptors of 1887. A bust of Bro. Pedro Payo, Archbishop of Manila, a half life-size figure called "Memory of Antipolo" featuring a woman dressed in Maria Clara casually holding plant leaves. I could not figure out if she was the Virgin of Antipolo or a pilgrim to Antipolo. She was beautiful. The work was by Crispulo Jocson y Papa. Another sculpture in wood entitled "Roots of Custom" featured a young boy carrying a container on his head, also half live-size, by Ciriaco Gaudinez Javier. These three sculptures considered art pieces were on loan from the Prado Museum. "There was a modern touch. A contemporary Filipino photographer, Geloy Concepcion, was featured with his portraits of people in Caloocan City. There were about six large portraits. My favorite was that of a housewife holding a pet cat."

As for the piña items on exhibit, they were very old pieces with designs and colors not seen ordinarily in the piña woven today. There were as well accompanying items spinning wheels, thimbles, bobbins and comb beaters as well as a rudimentary loom.

Personal items like slippers made of wood with metallic thread and sequins for decoration, woven hats, salakots were in multiple numbers. One example of the salakot was a beauty of metal, wood and fiber trimmed in silver. It was accompanied by a matching cane. Another was a fishbone shaped like a helmet also trimmed in silver.

All of the above are turn-of-the-century items, specifically from the 1887 Exposicion General de Filipinas which took place in a palace on the Retiro Park of Madrid. Rizal saw this exhibition and made comments on it. The wonder is that the items still exist today and have not gotten lost, misplaced or destroyed. They were moved to several places when the building they were in was razed in 1908. Some items went to the Biblioteca Nacional, Museo de Antropologia and the Museo de Ciencias Naturales, even to an initial museum called Museo del Dr. Velasco, which eventually merged with the other museums. Despite the Civil War and other upheavals, this 1887 collection seems impressively whole and in good condition.

And there are photographs of the original exhibit where the items can be identified. These were taken by a photographic firm, J. Laurent & Co. They were commissioned to be the official photographers of the 1887 exposition and the photographs still extant, are exhibited along with the items.

This was an exhilarating and eye-opening experience that I urge those in proximity to the museum to see it.

2023-06-08T21:10:59Z dg43tfdfdgfd