In this day and age when the Philippines has become a caricature of its former self—with its people beaming with so-called pride while they patronize foreign culture, and a government that aligns itself with countries threatening our sovereignty—it seems that the future of our national identity is set to be wiped out in the near future.
What does it mean to be a Filipino? For years most of what we know from the past has either been extensively whitewashed or drowned out by our many colonizers.
In the National Museum of Anthropology, photographs of indigenous people clothed in their finery grace the walls, as well as intricate baskets and textiles that not only display our forebears’ skill in weaving, but also show the complex mathematics that goes into each pattern. It is also worth noting that there is a hall solely dedicated to the rich and colorful Filipino languages that showcase not only the recently-trending Baybayin alphabet, but also the different scripts that exist in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
But there is far more beyond the Chinese and Islamic influences. The museum is also home to archaeological treasures such as the Manunggul Jar, a burial jar that not only gives us a glimpse of how our ancestors honored their dead, but also shows us the level of craftsmanship that we already possessed at the time—a far cry from being ”savages,” as the Westerners had previously claimed. We were already a thriving civilization with our own laws and customs and trading routes even before Ferdinand Magellan mistakenly landed on our shores in 1521 as he got lost while looking for his actual destination, the Spice Islands.
While there has been a recent spark of interest in what is “local”—with big companies capitalizing in on the trend—our appreciation and understanding of the richness of the Filipino precolonial culture still lacks substance and should go beyond more than just a fashion statement. Frankly, our ancestors did not die fighting in vain for our identity just to be commodified and appropriated into what is now being incorrectly labeled as “tribal” or “folk” art.
For example, the infamous Barrel Man figurines of the Cordilleras, originally revered as a symbol of fertility, have now been reduced to kitschy souvenirs to be gawked at by tourists who find it amusing that such a figure even exists. And what of the Bulul, or the Baybayin languages? A system of religion and proof of a literate society long before the West set foot on our shores, now only regarded as a trivial fact or a cute gift to be used as home decorations. It’s like buying religious iconographies of the Catholic Church for ornamental and entertainment purposes, serving absolutely no purpose but to be interesting conversation starters.
These surviving artifacts are a testament to what we can only imagine life was like before the Spaniards came. From the rich kingdom of Rajah Sulayman, where Fort Santiago now stands, to the dwindling number of people who are still trying to keep tradition alive, such as the Gawad sa Manlilikha sa Bayan (GAMABA) awardees, who are also regarded as National Living Treasures, unless we actively not only appreciate, but also protect and preserve our culture, then there might be hope for us successfully reclaiming our lost time, and passing down a legacy our children could be truly proud of.
Maybe then, we could finally discover what it means to be a Filipino.