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Mapping Memories

All over the land and all over the regions, towns and provinces are announcing the holding of cultural mapping.

In these news, it is common to bandy words like “heritage” and “legacy.”

I also do cultural mapping. It is a different kind of mapping.

I begin orienting, when the local officials allow me, communities how to conduct cultural mapping. Communities here refer to the people, a cluster of key informants generated from the villages and barangays.

It may sound easy at this point but, in reality, local government units, in particular, have an oddly different view of cultural maps.

It is therefore necessary before everything else, before even initiating the mapping, to orient the local officials what this kind of mapping entails. It must be explained that cultural mapping, at least, in my book and bias, is one that is based on what people think, remember and recognize. That what is already written in history books and reflected over and over again in tourism manuals must be set aside. We must start anew.

Take as an example the case of Naga City. The cultural mapping of this city need not be a revisit of monuments, churches and statuaries. These are established points in the city, belabored in speeches of the elite, raised forever above the throng. In fact, from the perspective of the outsider, that “tourist” who remains the target always of some mapping, the city is fairly limited. You have the Plaza Rizal and that is that. You have the Quince Martires and what is that? Then you have the churches but what town in this republic has churches more exotic, more extraordinary?

But has anyone asked the people what are the parks and plazas they have in their mind. We are not even asking whether these monuments and statues are in their hearts. Does anyone know who cooks the best “pinangat” in the city? Does the guide ever bother to tell the visitors that, in this city, there are still individuals who are called “parahinaw,” those who can divine names of people who pilfer your things, and even help you locate lost objects.

Cultural maps allow communities to claim honors or reputations that mainstream cultural writers or traditional and academic historians see as much too exotic.

Cities have culture bearers. We have them in schools and formal institutions, like museums. But museums can be deathly boring. The museum of any city and, especially towns, are in the people. The stories they tell are more interesting than the curated statements and captions on walls that retain the templates of other museums.

I am not saying that museums are unnecessary. In a poor country like ours, when you construct museums make sure these edifices matter, that they touch the sensibilities of the people. Otherwise, you have a building that gathers dust, shelves that are set up to be aloof displays of tiny objects that cannot be touched.

Take the case of the Colegio de Santa Isabel. Or, Universidad de Santa Isabel. The entire campus with its buildings are the museum. Find the photos of the events that happened in that campus and plaster them onto walls. Establish markers on pediments and pillars, on façade and parlors and tell us what were there before.

For the Colegialas of yore, where did they pray? Where did the Sisters of Charity come from? Is there a map, an origin map at all?

What happened to those grand musicales and operettas? Do we have photographs of them? Why not display them on screens and make them come alive again?

Institutions have tales to tell, stories to relate. Their memories are great and grand. They are the culture bearers of this institution. The Universidad de Santa Isabel is now claiming to be a “heritage university.” What does heritage mean? Do “Colegialas” embrace that label? Is the city or the region found in the embrace of that term?

We have a fine museum in the traditional sense of it: the Museo de Seminario Conciliar de Nueva Caceres. That the name has to be in Spanish speaks more about us than any historical perspectives. Be that as it may, the museum has many fine pieces and these are in the form of “santos,” sacred statues, created by local carvers from Buhi to Libmanan to Magarao.

We need to point out more these artefacts. These local arts at the time when art was dictated by Europe are the hidden treasures of the museum. The students in elementary and high school need not be taxed reading books on Egypt and Greece. We have our own.

I remember years back when the late Lily Realubit asked me to mind the museum. I was fresh with my Museology Diploma from Rikkyo University in Tokyo, Japan. Take note, I did not claim to be a curator (I will leave that claim to the more pretentious ones). I was there in the room, which displayed ecclesiastical objects. Believe me it was a boring job. To while away the time, I would go over the artefacts piece by piece, marveling at the designs and details. I was particularly fond of a San Pablo, whose provenance was Magarao. I would always inspect his face each morning. His mouth was slightly open and through that very thin gap, the sculptor carved teeth so tiny you could not see them unless you were bored enough to inspect . At five in the afternoon, I would go to the rear of the room and start closing the windows, moving closer to the windows at the entrance. Then, as I was about to step out, I would look , because the windows fronting San Pablo had open again. A bit amused and enervated. I would go those two windows and, as I shut them, I would start to scold all the “santos” to behave and “Please do not scare me or I would never come back here again.”

I stayed only for a year and the stories in that museum remain untold up to now. As with the many stories in our cities and towns because we did not ask the people to tell us their stories.

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