The San Carlos Museum of Cebu

The question of what the Filipino used to be before all those years of colonization which, with wry humor, is described as 400 years in a Spanish Catholic convent, 50 years of Planet Hollywood and three years under the Chrysanthemum throne would stir a tourist's curiosity. But a look inside any museum, which specializes in Filipino culture, might give him a few concrete ideas on what we as a people and as a nation used to be.

In Cebu, one could have a culture-filled time at the University of San Carlos Museum. Located at the ground floor of this 400 years old institution in P. del Rosario St., the museum has quite a considerable collection of artifacts, all giving one a concrete idea of what life used to be.                

Before the colonizer's attempt to force his brand of civilization on the "indio," there was already a flourishing culture, as proven by the artifacts one can see in the Ethnographic Gallery, which is at the second division of the San Carlos Museum.

In this gallery, there are various interesting artifacts that the museum has acquired from various tribes, which were known to have existed on Philippine soil centuries ago. There are well-crafted brass weapons like spears and the moro "kris" from Muslim tribes in Lanao, Cotabato and Sulu. Also shown are various hunting and gathering tools.

From the Tagbanua and Balak tribes of Palawan, there is the "subut" or blow gun. Another set of weapons on display are the "udyong sa Udyongan" or darts and quivers. All these hunting as well as war tools show how difficult it must have been at first, for the white colonizers to subdue the natives. In fact, even to this day, the white man's failure to colonize the entire country is well reflected by the fact that not all of Mindanao was Christianized, a part of the population has remained steadfast in the Islam faith.

The Museum also shows bits and pieces of ancient Filipino ingenuity, as shown by the various native baskets and water containers like the ones made from dried gourd, the rind of which is hard enough for such a purpose.

The display of three Ifugao-carved figures represents rice granary gods. The Manaog mansaka house idols ancient natives used to stick to their house rafters for protection are also displayed. One then can surmise that the ancient Filipino may have been a prayerful person.

Further inside is the Arcaeological Gallery which showcases the artifacts and archaeological finds from various eras in Philippine history. One can see pottery used by Chinese traders during the Sung and Ming Dynasty. As well as a collection of burial jars and burial boats which were found by an archaeological team, in the Kulaman Plateau, in the Mindanao province of Sultan Kudarat. Dr. Marcelino Maceda led the archaeological team.

The fourth and last section of the museum is the Natural Science Gallery. It may not exactly give one the feeling of awe that he gets while looking at a display of dinosaur fossils. Nevertheless, the Natural Science Gallery showcases a vast and lovely collection of Philippine butterflies and moths, which were acquired by the university with the help of famous lepidopterist Professor Julian Jumalon.

There is also a shelf for Philippine shells and insects. There are samples of ants, termites and a lesson on Philippine fauna, for curious children, where unusual and nearly extinct species of animals found in the jungles of the Philippines are preserved and mounted. On display are stuffed tarsier monkeys, which are found on the island of Bohol, but which are extremely difficult to breed in capacity, a stink badger from Palawan mousedeer. There are two lifelike stuffed Philippine eagles, the famous Litehcophaga jefferyl, which, with the assistance of poachers, may soon be seen only on the Philippine fifty centavo coin or on the museum shelf. And still another stuffed animal on display is the coconut crab, which is believed to be the world's largest land crab. This crab climbs coconut trees to pick, drop and eat the coconut.

As one leaves the Natural Science Gallery, past the Archaeological Gallery, and the Ethnographic Gallery, one wonders as to what the Filipino might have been, had the land and its people been left alone, to develop as an unconquered fate would have willed it.

As the viewer finally steps into the first part of the museum, the Spanish Colonial Gallery, he cannot but feel that the answer rests solely in the hands of the Christian God, whose statues and saints are on display in all their carved and ivory glory. Searching for the essence of the Filipino is somewhat like the first few layers of an onion which one will have to peel to see the onion's core. And strangely enough, as one peels away layer after layer of Philippine history to search for the Filipino soul, one cannot help but sigh and in many cases, one may even weep.

(Text and pictures from Sunstar Horizons, The Philippine Travelogue, Copyright 1996).