A Sa­cred Mys­tery

Philippine Tatler - - SKIN IS IN -

those left be­hind gath­ered such herbs and grains that grew around their com­mu­ni­ties. The col­lec­tion does not sim­ply show life in gen­eral; it also shows how pot­tery played a key role in both the spir­i­tual life of early Filipinos and the end of life it­self. Valdes point­edly uses dis­tinc­tive terms in this con­text: pang-alay refers to the or­na­ments worn by the babay­lan or priestly class, and the ter­ra­cotta fig­urines and ves­sels used in dif­fer­ent rit­u­als to hon­our or pla­cate the gods. Pabaon, on the other hand, refers to grave goods: the fu­ner­ary ves­sels used to in­ter the bones of the dead or the of­fer­ings of food and flow­ers made to nour­ish a departed soul for its trip to the af­ter­life.

The fol­low­ing chap­ters on jewellery and cloth­ing penned re­spec­tively by Vil­le­gas and Alv­ina are a stark con­trast to the sim­plic­ity of the earth­en­ware col­lec­tion. In his chap­ter, Vil­le­gas writes with verve as to how the com­ing of for­eign colonists had a pro­found im­pact on lo­cal cul­ture, cus­tom, and fash­ion.

Ac­cord­ing to Vil­le­gas, “Gold per­formed a cen­tral role in tra­di­tional Philip­pine life. Gold or­na­ments were an in­te­gral part of an­i­mist re­li­gious cer­e­monies. Un­der the new reli­gion [Ro­man Catholi­cism], gold had just as cen­tral a role. The prac­tice of of­fer­ing jew­els to ven­er­ated im­ages such as the Nues­tra Señora del Rosario de la Naval de Manila hark back to pre-His­panic prac­tice.”

Lo­cal gold­smiths and jewellers who once wrought in­tri­cate pieces to adorn the heads and necks of the ma­har­lika or rul­ing class found them­selves craft­ing a unique ar­ray of pieces rang­ing from worldly adorn­ments for women of qual­ity to a se­lec­tion of re­li­gious and de­vo­tional items such as in­sti­tu­tional and per­sonal reli­quar­ies, rosaries, and sa­cred ves­sels like chal­ices and ci­bo­ria.

Alv­ina’s chap­ter on the Philip­pine dress over the years touches on how for­eign in­flu­ence im­pacted the de­vel­op­ment of fash­ion in the coun­try and how it re­tained nu­ances unique to the cli­mate and cus­toms of the re­gion. Like­wise, she talks about how the ma­te­ri­als used in cloth­ing—their sources, the man­ner of weav­ing or em­broi­dery, and the qual­ity of the fab­rics—spoke vol­umes as to the wearer’s sta­tus in so­ci­ety; and how lo­cal cloth­ing has adapted to the chang­ing times. She also speaks of the virtues of the women who crafted such in­tri­cate and del­i­cate items out of lo­callysourced fab­rics such as piña and jusi: “All work But per­haps the most com­pelling chap­ter in the book is Esper­anza Gat­bon­ton’s piece on re­li­gious art dur­ing the Span­ish Colo­nial Era.

Serv­ing as both ob­jets d’art and ob­jets de foi, re­li­gious im­ages and de­vo­tional items ac­tu­ally gave a na­tion of gold­smiths, weavers, em­broi­der­ers, painters, as well as wood and ivory carvers a steady source of in­come for the bet­ter part of 400 years. Passed on from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion or given into the safe­keep­ing of in­sti­tu­tions such as the BSP, pri­vate museums, or the Church, each piece is an item that speaks vol­umes of the faith of a na­tion, its dif­fer­ent de­vo­tions, and— par­tic­u­larly in the case of one very pre­cious piece—its re­silience in the face of ad­ver­sity.

This is the BSP’s Niño Dormido, an ivory stat­uette of the In­fant Je­sus in His crib which was crafted in the early 18th cen­tury but taken by the Bri­tish as part of Spain’s ran­som dur­ing their brief oc­cu­pa­tion of Manila be­tween 1762 and 1764. Al­legedly taken by Ad­mi­ral Wil­liam Draper as an ex­am­ple of the riches the Spa­niards had in the Philip­pines, the Niño was given up as lost un­til 1983,

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