Upon the invitation of a friend, a visit to the National Museum of the Philippines was arranged for a day of immersion in the culture and arts. It was reminiscent of educational field trips of school days long gone by. I was in child-like wonder over some of the attractions my eyes laid on. My tour buddy and I felt no different from most of the museum-goers who were unmistakably students with their school uniforms on, age gap notwithstanding. Some schoolchildren came in busloads. A handful of foreign tourists stuck out from the crowd.
The National Museum of the Philippines is divided into two major sections, and reasonably so, because it occupies two buildings. The first leg of our tour took us to The National Museum of Anthropology (or Museum of the Filipino People), housed at the former Department of Finance Building bounded by Taft Avenue and Finance Road, at the periphery of the Rizal Park. The first chamber we entered transported us into another world and another era. The cavernous ceilings, gothic architectural designs, stained glass windows and antique chandeliers stirred my fascination for old world charm. But hogging the spotlight in that hall is Section No. 22 of the Berlin Wall, or part of the Great Divide that separated East and West Germany during the Cold War. It was donated by the German government to the Philippines in 2014, or 24 years after Germany’s reunification in 1990, as inspired by the Philippines’ bloodless People Power Revolt in EDSA in 1986.
Much of the historical artifacts and archaeological finds from the distant to the recent past, as well as dossiers of national value and general interest, are remnants of the galleon trade era. Not to be missed are the Treasures of the San Diego Galleon, discovered in 1992 in the deep waters of Palawan. (The San Diego Galleon was built as a trading ship but was quickly converted into a warship. On December 1600, San Diego sank southwest of Manila after it was engaged by the Dutch warship Mauritius.) The collection consists of a great number of artifacts and ecofacts recovered from the shipwreck, including Chinese porcelain and celadon ware dated as early as the 11th century, religious relics, Japanese katanas, Portuguese cannon and Mexican coin. Previous to its permanent home in the National Museum of the Philippines, The San Diego Exhibition had been on a global tour. Miniature replicas of galleons used in the ivory and galleon trade are high in appreciation value for visitors like me.
But what truly cinched my interest the most, and where I naturally lingered much longer, was the Lumad exhibit (Bangsamoro Art from the National Ethnographic Collection) that featured the diversity and ethnicity of the tribal communities in Mindanao. Their customs and traditions, as evident in their fashion, homestead, jewelry, accessories, tools, and musical instruments, speak of their fondness for vibrant colors, elaborate and ornate designs, and use of indigenous materials. All these highlight the distinct artistry and creative genius of the people, not to mention their exotic and almost sacred uniqueness.
Too engrossed to notice the time, our lunch came at almost 2 p.m. As I pause for a short break, watch out for the next leg of our tour as we cover the next building, the National Museum of Fine Arts (also known as National Art Gallery).