ANGARAY’S TAKE: On natural calamities and material culture

By Loreta Sol L. Dinlayan

MALAYBALAY CITY – (BukidnonNews.Net/23 January 2018) In October 2016, I visited the famous Met Museum in New York City and saw for the first time the “world’s greatest, most complete, and best preserved” Tyrannosaurus Rex, a kind of dinosaur.

Its size of 42 feet long and 13 feet tall dwarfed me as I stood before it. It took me a while to realize that such museum’s treasure does not only occupy a large area but it also requires strict handling for its safety from the viewers and from natural forces like earthquakes. Surely, they have the state-of-the-art means of protecting their artifacts. Indeed, material culture, the ones placed in a museum, are cultural heritage of mankind.

The tropical storm Vinta claimed a lot of houses in Matigsalog communities in Bukidnon three days before Christmas of 2017. Along with those houses were the Tulugan and Panubaran – the very significant dwellings of the tribe. Tulugan is a communal house where important meetings are conducted.

Panubaran is a communal worship place for Manama or Magbabaya. Vinta claimed the material culture which were kept for years but lost in just a moment of that gloomy day of December 22, 2017. A Matigsalog clan in Panganan, Kitaotao lost their agung (gong), tangkulu (a datu’s head gear signifying authority), pinaksuy (traditional clothes) and kuglung (2-stringed guitar) among others. Their yearly thanksgiving ritual will never be the same again because of this loss.

Today, the material culture in the IP communities seems no longer safe from natural calamities. The threat of natural calamities to the areas prone to earthquake or flood is the same danger that haunts the safety of material culture.

The destruction of artifacts like agung, tangkulu or kuglung is also a destruction of a history, of values and of human skills present in a community. Aside from artifacts, the significant cultural spots are also threatened like that of the Panubaran for Apo Gepew which is located in Kabuling, Kalagangan of San Fernando in Bukidnon.

It is a small hill, believed to be the burial ground of Apo Gepew, just besides the Salug River. The yearly ritual is conducted in this place to remember the heroic acts of Apo Gepew who is known as one the patriarchs of Matigsalog tribe.

My last two visits in Panubaran were in 2012 and 2017 and for a span of five years, I saw a big difference. The area has decreased in size. Its base is soaked with flowing water and just recently with Vinta, the water level of Salug almost reached the top of the hill that caused lots of soil erosion. Relocation, despite a possible desecration of the worship place, is suggestive when the hill eventually collapses.

Relocating a burial site is very expensive culturally.

While doing a profiling of new artifacts in Bukidnon Studies Center last week, I got the urge of facing the threat of natural calamities towards the material culture. This challenge is also for all museum workers who believe that artifacts are extension of anthropological and archaeological data about people and places.

Would it be safer to bring the artifacts from the communities to a museum? I don’t have an answer for that question as of now. Material culture is inseparable from the people who take care for it. On the other hand, depositing material culture in the museums is a good idea to facilitate the understanding and appreciation of varied cultures. I am excited to welcome the bangkekewan (a percussion made of fine logs) and the gakit (bamboo/log raft) in our museum and to write stories about it.

This is how important material culture is; behind it is a string of stories about people and culture. With the new environmental challenge, museum workers are called to discern the right way of protecting the artifacts from natural calamities.

After reading the text about the female pharaoh Hatshepsut of ancient Egypt in the Met Museum, I went to galleries where the works of Vincent Van Gogh were mounted and see for myself the strokes of the artist who set fire my existential questioning about life. Those paintings spoke to many viewers for many years. Such is the same power possessed by artifacts placed in museums. Thus, they are significant and worthy to be protected, even from natural calamities.

(BUKIDNON VIEWS is the opinion section of Bukidnon News.Net. Ms. Loreta Sol Dinlayan is a social science educator at Bukidnon State University, where she also works as in-charge of the Bukidnon Studies Center, formerly university museum.)