The Missing History
Subtitle: : A (rather disappointing) visit to the National Museum.
October 6, 2013
I always enjoy visiting Museums. I always cherish the experience and the feeling of seeing what happened before I even existed. It was like travelling through time and experience what the people in the past experienced. See what they saw. Learn what they knew then. Among the few Museums I went into were those that are close and easily accessible to me: The National Museums in Sulu (oh I love that place!) and Zamboanga in Port Pilar (I hope it was not affected by the recent crisis -_-), the lauded Aga Khan Museum in MSU Marawi, and some Museum I cannot name somewhere in this planet. And now Alhamdulillah being fortunate that I am in Manila since May 2012, visiting the National Museum has long been placed on my priority list. But I have to wait for a year and a half then before I can finally visit it, as what finally happened last Saturday.
A good friend of mine told me in FB about the “free-admissions” in the Museum for the whole month of October in celebration of Museum and Galleries month. And finally having a somewhat “free” Saturday, and as I was yearning to do something far different from my cluttered life of medschool, I decided to pay a visit to the National Museum and check it off of my list of “places to visit”.
And oh boy, I had never been this disappointed.
Before walking to this ancient-looking, American-time-erected building, I already had my expectations of perhaps getting the feeling of “awe” as what I usually feel when visiting those museums I mentioned earlier. This is the real “National” Museum after all, the mother of all Museums in this country. I was also preparing myself to one of the sad truths I can observe in most Museums, especially in urban cities: the few or lacking information about the History of the Muslims in the Philippines. A part of history so grand and so full of legacy yet was more often ignored that admired. So I was off to a single objective: find out how much of the History in Southern Mindanao will be mentioned and presented in the National Museum. I never knew that I should have asked the other question (how much was NOT mentioned at all).
|A photo of some Royal Muslim clans. This was the only picture with close connection to "History". And it has no description.|
Yes. I was disappointed on what I later discovered. How much of the Muslims History was there I asked? From the arrival of the Muslim merchants, the first mosque in Simunul and the spread of Islam, the ten datus of Borneo, the establishment of the great Islamic Sultanates that lasted for hundreds of years, the Sultans Shariful Hashim, Kudarat, and Sharif Kabungsuwan and their stories, the great Sulu pearl trade, the treaties and alliances with other great foreign powers, the 300-years of Moro wars fighting the Spanish power, the Kiram-Bates Treaty, the Bud Dahu and Bud Bagsak tragedies, the battle of Buayan. All of these, not even one was mentioned…None at all! Then what about the Jabidah incident, the rise of the Liberation Fronts, the FPA and other important events in the post-colonial era that lead to what we are currently facing. Still no mention of them. It was like a piece of a big jig-saw puzzle that suddenly disappeared into thin air… Pooof! Gone forever like they never existed and never happened at all…
It’s true that I cannot directly conclude that there were no mentions of the 13 Muslim ethno-linguistic tribes in the Museum. Actually there were some displays talking about them and the other Lumad groups, (finally something to ease my disappointed heart). Most of them are only in the “Arts and customs” section: local and cultural traditions, artifacts of weaponries and armors, some grave-markers and sarimanoks, some farm and fishing equipments, and lastly the artistic designs of clothes (not even completely represented) and wood carvings known as “okir” in Meranao and “ukkil” in Tausug. But under the “History Section”? Not one mention of these Muslims was done.
|This portion talked about the Meranaos and how Islam changed their old cultural ceremonies. Just like all other Muslim tribes. But no mention of how Islam came to the land of the lake.|
I remember one of those rooms displaying a timeline of the “History of the Filipino People”. It was a set of rooms where you enter from the “beginning of land formations” that soon lead to what we now call Philippine islands. Then displayed next was the arrival of the first men in the islands, the Tabon Man of Palawan with his stones and weapons. After a little transition on the “Age of Metals and Bronze”, suddenly we were brought to the “Arrival of the Spaniards”! OK, wait, where did the other parts of History go? It was a whole 4 centuries worth of human activities suddenly lost in the pages of history!
The “Spanish menu”, even including the European thing on dividing the world into two (Magna carta they call it?) is the longest part of that room’s display. Just like most of the History books about the History of the Philippines, it is always funny to observe that the bulk of pages of that book would talk about the Spaniards, the “discovery” of the las islas Filipinas, the raising of cross, the encomienda, the different Governor-Generals with complete citations of their works as if History itself actually started there. That, at least during those times, was what the Spaniards wanted the Indios to know, that history and civilization started with their arrival. A great lie crafted to deceive the people of this island. I just can’t believe that after more than a hundred years since Philippines “Independence”, it is still the same thing again, only done by different hands now.
|Some display of Muslim artifacts.|
|Mostly about the Sama D'laut and how they lived with expertise of the sea.|
Maybe it’s true that this was brought about the more than 300 years of occupation and education of the Spaniards to the Filipino People. That most of the existing documents were recording by the Spaniards and for the Spaniards, and was taught to them Filipinos, who will soon take hold of this land. But don’t we have other available texts and documents on our other pasts as well now? There are massive readings and accounts from various international historians mentioning about a “vast and prosperous state rich in gold and pearls, trading with the great powers as China and Britain, long before the arrival of the cross.” Saleeby, Majul, Dalrymple, J. Hunt, S. Tan to name a few. Even the old Spanish historians have written about the Muslim Sultanates. But where did their stories go?
As a Muslim who grew up in the southern islands, I have always learned about Manila through reading books and visiting museums. I was hoping too that I would find the same thing: that maybe the people of the north would learn about us (from the south) through books and museums. But I was wrong again. I only learned more of what was taught to me before. In fact I feel that the museums in the provinces were more complete that the real National collection.
|Some kalis (kris) but these ones were not from Sulu Archipelago, but from Lanao.|
I wanted to tell myself that maybe I missed one of the rooms in the Museum. Maybe I failed to check all the sections there that’s why I cannot find what I was looking for. Or maybe there was another building. Or maybe they were among those empty rooms with a sign on the front door saying “Sorry, this room is under renovation” and maybe they will replace them once everything’s done. I wanted to tell myself that perhaps I did not hear the curator said “No sir, this is the only building we have for History. The rest are paintings and art galleries”. For whatever reason that the 600-year worth of legacy was missing in this institution, they better have a good one to defend it.
|A kulintangan from tawi-Tawi|
|Another one from Lanao.|
Our pasts is indeed a significant part of our present and as well as our future. By understanding what happened “then”, we can better judge, understand and criticize what is happening “now” and why they are happening. The past can actually even guide and help us in dealing and planning for “tomorrow’s” actions to take, be it as an individual or a society as a whole. It was even said on a famous quote that “Those who forget History are doomed to repeat it,” and what’s worst than forgetting is HIDING that important information to the greater population. A large History like this one can never be hidden nor be erased and easily forgotten.
Yes, maybe there are parts of our pasts that we are afraid to talk about, something we wanted ourselves to forget (or rather “others to forget”). There may be painful parts of history and some great events; there may be some that are tragic and some significant; there are some that we are always proud to talk about and some we are ashamed of that we wanted to erase them. But we can’t change anything that already happened. Our past is already part of who we are today, no matter how much we try to deny them.
Whatever these stories tell, we cannot just select what we wanted to remember and forget the rest. And more importantly we do not have the right to select what the people “have to know” and “not to know”. We have to accept the past as a whole, nothing more nothing less. Trying to hide history is actually a grievous crime to the people. You are actually depriving them of the information they have the right to know about. And what’s so sad is a national institution like this, aiming at teaching the common people about their past, is giving them incomplete information and thus leading to mis-education and lastly mis-understanding among the people. It’s a big responsibility for them to be just and fair and honest. But I hope I was wrong. I hope I was wrong.
If we try to hide some parts of History for the benefit of the powerful few, we would not succeed for long. For truth will always come out. The more we hide them, the more that they will come out. And instead of doing something great as we may thought it to be, we are actually creating more harm than good. Instead of giving attention and making those “less-heard” a feeling of pride to their rich culture and history we are actually make them feel more secluded and excluded. Unwanted. We are giving them more and more reasons to feel and ask:
“Was I (are we) really part of this land’s History? Was I really part of the crafting of this citizenship known as the ‘Filipinos’?”
And yes, we have already witnessed several times what these few words can do.
If the state really wanted to include these people as part of their people then they should be more sincere and honest to them. If they wanted them to feel that they belong to their citizens, as “Filipinos”, then they have no reason to accept them as a whole; their present, their cultures and beliefs, and especially the History that they have great pride of. But if they are not interested with any of these, and just choose what they feel would be beneficial for them and their plans… then by all means, they will surely witness how these few poorly-represented groups of people will surely strive and find ways to do it on their own.
Again reread your History more carefully. What happened then is never far from happening again… “For it is never history that repeats itself”, I remember my professor in History 1 saying, “It is actually us, who repeats History.”