Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Virtual Ethnography 101: The Art of Ancient Jewelry-Making in the Philippines

As part of the weekly exercises of my graduate students in Anthropology 225: Philippine Society and Culture, I wanted my students to explore places and write ethnography using the method of participation-observation.

I am posting in my blog with the writer's consent selected ethnography penned creatively by my students to contribute to the emerging sub-discipline of anthropology called 'Virtual Ethnography'.

Basically, virtually ethnography is also referred to as Webnography. We cannot deny the fact that with increasing use of technology and the Internet, there is now a demand for online spaces on various ethnographic accounts.

Ethnography by April Joy Lim

History is part of who we are as a nation. Without it, is like not having your identity at all. Understanding starts when we start asking why but more importantly, the WHO question – Who am I when I stand in the world surrounded by all nations with unique cultures of their own. In the end, I will be proud to say that am a Filipino.

When I was a kid, my teachers used to teach us in our history class that Filipinos were descendants of Negritos followed by Malays, who came in our country in a balanghay. I have known little of our prehistory and later by the successive conquerors who colonized our land. As a “good” student, sadly, I listened to them…without questioning why.

I grew up still thinking like a colonized person – I remember whenever I go to the mall, I would always like to buy something foreign to me – from shoes, bags, chocolates, and other things. Older people would use to tell me, “ah, wag yan, made in the Philippines, mahinang klase yan, baka madaling masira” (no, don’t choose that. That’s made in the Philippines. It’s cheap and not durable). Then again I listened to them. I did not know that of the many things that I learned before – I should have had asked why, and more I should have also asked myself, who am I as a Filipino?

Who am I? it is not a simple question to answer to. But today, I am beginning to know more about our past, in search for my real identity as a Filipino, hence, I have made some trips into some museums in the capital.

The Metropolitan Museum in Manila has a floor dedicated to pre-history of the Philippines. In here, you can have a glimpse of the great civilization that we once had in the past before we were colonized by western powers during the colonization period.

Pottery and gold jewelries from 200 B.P. up to the 19th century found in Butuan which they wrote founded the first established Filipino kingdom – around 320 years old. The balanghay was found together with a lot of jewelries surrounding the place. It marked the craftsmanship in jewelry techniques that we had used in the past. That time, people from Butuan had developed sophisticated and unique designs, which up to now are still in use as techniques in designing pricey jewelries. Thus today, we have in the country one of the most expensive designs in the jewelry market around the world.

Archeologists also found jewelries in Surigao. However, looters and pragmatists would just sell it to collectors. Unfortunately, they do not realize how important these pieces of material culture to our country and history.

In the collection of jewelries exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum, there were also pieces of jewelry from Batangas found from terracotta figurines dating back around 8th to 10th centuries. It was believed that any person at that time who possessed this symbolized his social standing or class hierarchy in the our stratified society.

Our ancestors also used “pahiyas sa damit” (mostly found in Sulu, Samar, and by the indigenous peoples called Yakan and Tausug), where they wore it to accessorize their clothing. It only proved that prior to the coming of the colonizers, peoples in the Philippines were glamorous and civilized.

From 12th to 15th centuries, jewelry craftsmen incorporated colored and precious stones like jade, white ores, aquamarine, and yellow stones, into our jewelries that marked the evolution of jewelry-making in the Philippines. Thus, jewelry-making peaked at 10th to 14th centuries. Furthermore, jewelry craftsmanship had shaped our sophisticated civilization as early as 200 B.P. and indeed showcased how rich our culture was in the past.

The pottery collection at the museum shows the way of life of the ancient Filipinos. Pots were made according to the specifications and uses in the household. Sizes range from extra small to extra large. Together with their designs, you can be able to see if the pot was used for household or for religious purposes because of some inscriptions.

Our ancestors were very creative in creating their designs; some were shaped like animals (turtle, dog, etc.) or anthropomorphic. There were also beautiful pieces used for special occasions. Filipinos also utilized pots to ferment their food and wine. Meaning, even then we had already sophisticated technology in preserving food. This again showed how advanced and civilized the Filipinos were in ancient period. We had a rich culture to look back.

It came to my realization that places near the seas traded well their pieces of jewelry. Our ancestors loved to show off what they had through their profound jewelries, clothing, accessories, piercing, and tattoos. I had also noticed that their jewelry pieces were big but very simple. Gold were melted also with their swords and even small pieces of gold used as bolts to things that needed to be closed. In other words, we are a country that is very rich with gold deposits. It was not uncommon for our ancestors to use gold in everything.

It only shows that are country is naturally blessed and very rich in resources!

In one way of another, we may be guilty of material things. But then, I once again started asking queries, but also began to seek for answers by understanding the beautiful things surrounding us. From what I have seen at the Metropolitan Museum, I can say that I have learned to love and appreciate our race. Our country is indeed very rich in history and natural resources and the ancient Filipinos were sophisticated and talented before the colonizers destroyed our lands. I have every right to be proud that as a Filipino because I have understood that I came from a great group of people. Hopefully soon, this country will re-emerge again. Let us love our country Philippines!

1 comment:

ed said...

Hi joy,

This is a nice short article, and i stumbled upon this because of the same line of thought, I am in fact in the process of making a simple video about some of the points you came to realize like the fact that our people long before being called by the name of a foreign king is already cultured, civilized, and rich. I like you dream of a day when we will wake up from this nightmare of hardships and realize, we do not have to slave in foreign countries, realize who we really are. I hope i can finish the video and do what little part I can for this purpose. Possible video keyword "ophir". Thanks it is just nice to know we are not alone.-ed