detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Wednesday, April 21, 2004

: . Filipinas, Puerta de Oriente. De Legazpi a Malaspina

Casco. Visaya (isla de Panay), siglo XIX. Repujado de plata: 15 x 23 x 17,5 cm. España, Madrid, Museo Nacional de Antropología, no. inv. 2.475...Los que tenían adornos de plata eran el símbolo de la jefatura local instaurada por los españoles, a los que éstos denominaban «gobernadorcillos» o «capitanes», y que no necesariamente se correspondían con el líder tradicional.

If you missed the recent Legazpi exhibit in Manila, you can view the wonderful virtual exhibit (every single artifact!), with accompanying documentary, here. You can also download the complete exhibition catalogue here for free, a great deal as the print catalogue costs a whopping 54.50 euros. Everything from the voice-over narration to the captions to the exhibition catalogue articles is, alas, in Spanish (and some Basque?). However, even if you don't understand a word of Spanish, the striking visuals speak for themselves.1 Just think of yourself as one of those hapless "pre-Hispanic Filipinos," who, without Enrique of Melaka2 or a Siamese trader to serve as translator, were first bedazzled by Catholic pageantry and those exotic European baubles, cannons, and velvet upholstered chairs. If you're as interested in this sort of thing (bourgeois long-distance cultural nationalist nostalgia?) as I am, I recommend that you download everything now. This may not be online for very long like the long-vanished virtual exhibit for Manila 1571-1898. Occidente en Oriente sponsored by CEDEX, although you can still view a few panels from that exhibit here.3 Please, please see this exhibit for yourself then spread the word.

1Above is a 19th century salakot or helmet ("casco") from Panay made out of blowfish skin ("el caparazón del pez erizo") and silver. Below is the full battle regalia of the 1837 Datu or Sultan of Iligan. Note the very un-PC captions.
2Was he "Malay" or "Filipino"?
3But then again, maybe it's a good thing that the artifacts from these exhibits, both actual and virtual, are so transitory. Spoils of conquest and colonial expropriation, they have returned to the Philippines as objects that are of Philippine history but also as objects out of place. That is they are strangely familiar, forcing upon their Filipino viewers a past that is at once personal in the nationalist sense and a past that requires the mediation of public cultural institutions to be remembered. That these objects are possessed by other times and are possessions of other places (where they have become resident aliens) make them doubly disconcerting. They can only be claimed as Filipino if one recalled the conditions of possibility of Filipinas. Likewise, once restored to their proper places -- the museums, archives, libraries, and churches of Spain, Portugal, and the Americas -- these artifacts no longer seem themselves, no longer the patrimony of one nation but of a system of relations with a long forgotten, long lost (fellow) colony. Though still intact, they have also evaded preservation. In the brief moment of their disappearance, they've stirred up faint counterclaims as to where and when they truly belong.

Conjunto armadura y armas del Sultán o Datto de Iligan. Anónimo, ca. 1837 (Filipinas/Iligan). Asta, piel, latón, hierro, fibra vegetal, concha, bambú, piel de raya, dientes de tiburón. Pulido, cosido, tallado, aplicación,atado. Espa˜a, Madrid, Museo del Ejército, no. inv. 43.108...Desde el principio de la anexión de Filipinas a la corona de España, la población indígena de las islas de Mindanao y La Paragua, y particularmente del archipiélago de Joló, había sido reacia a someterse a todo tipo de dominación extranjera. De raza malaya y religión mahometana, sus naturales eran conocidos como «moros», valerosos hasta la ferocidad y fanáticos en sus creencias, muy aptos para la navegación en embarcaciones a remo y vela muy ligeras -- pancos, vintas y barotos -- , eran un peligro constante para el comercio marítimo español y extranjero que se atrevía a navegar por la zona, e incluso para las pequeñas poblaciones costeras del resto de las islas del archipiélago, objetivo predilecto de sus robos y correrías, a las que sometían a todo tipo de pillaje y caza de personas para convertirlas en esclavos. Su organización era muy primitiva, una especie de confederación a cuya cabeza aparecía un sultán, que gobernaba a través de un conjunto de jefes denominados datos.


Manila Galleon-related items from last year's Arts of the Spanish Americas exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bruce Cruikshank's Manila Galleon project.

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