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Two Bicolano scholars (re)tells Philippine history

SOCIAL studies teachers, professors, and students in the general Philippine education are taught of the dominant historical narratives idealizing the nationalist Philippines. We are taught that Lapu-Lapu was a muscled-man Mactan hero who successfully resisted the Spanish colonizers led by Magellan. A victory we can say as our first triumph against superior Spanish colonizers. Social studies curriculum also describes the Ifugao Rice Terraces as an “ancient” architectural marvel of the Ifugao, constructed about 2,000-3,000 years ago. Almost the same time as the birth of Christ.

Most of these dominant histories that we know are of histories that perpetuate a construction of Filipino as “civilized” and “with culture” before the colonial encounters. Recent scholarships challenges portions of the Philippine national history that is commodified in our educational system.

Two of Bicolano scholars, Dr. Stephen B. Acabado (University of California, Los Angeles) of Tinambac, Camarines Sur and Dr. Danilo M. Gerona (Partido State University) of Canaman, Camarines Sur, have recently been the subject of social media and academic discussions for their scholastic contribution to the (re)imagination of our Philippine history.

Spending more than a decade of going-in and back to the Spanish archives and other archival repositories in Europe, Dr. Danilo Gerona in 2016 publishes his renowned book “Ferdinand Magellan: The Armada de Maluco and the European Discovery of the Philippines”. The book charted and corrected Lapu-Lapu’s description as we imagined based on history we are immersed. Lapu-Lapu as corrected by Dr. Gerona’s work reveals that the Mactan hero was an old man during the Battle of Mactan 499 years ago. Dr. Gerona’s work made to national consciousness through the acceptance of the National Quincentennial Committee, the Philippine body overseeing the 500 years of Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe. We are fortunate, that through Dr. Gerona’s archival works, we come to correct our visualization of Lapu-Lapu inscribed within our history books, sculptures, and monuments of him.

Another Bicolano scholar, Dr. Stephen Acabado, an anthropological archaeologist, had recently been the talks of the cultural sector through social media because of his findings that (re)dated the terraces of Ifugao. Dr. Acabado (re)tells that the Ifugao terraces are about 500 years old. This is academically known as the “Short History Model”, a product of almost two decades of collaborative community engagement, ethnographic works, and archaeological investigations.

In a nutshell, Dr. Acabado’s work explains that the “massive terracing” in Ifugao is an indigenous response to Spanish colonization. This is contradictory to what we were taught in schools, particularly the works of the American Anthropologist, H. Otley Beyer. The dating of terraces as 2,000-3,000 years old (Long History Model) of Beyer is an estimation to support Beyer’s Waves of Migration Theory which some anthropologists’ views as “racist”.

The long history of terraces date, however, is a product of Beyer’s times as pointed out by Dr. Acabado. Hesitation to accept the Short History Model from some nationalists and some cultural institutions can still be observed at least in social media, especially recently. Considering that Dr. Acabado’s work is an “active collaboration with descendant communities”, fixation to the Long History Model, for me relegates the Ifugao to the sideline of national history.

The works of these two Bicolanos’ are indeed counter-narrative to the histories we know from our history textbooks. But a fascinating takeaway from their works set an example of (re)telling histories of national significance through accurate and honest scholarships. Scholarship paying attention to details based on data that may not be significant in one layer but is actually important in other aspects of our cultural horizon.

Dr. Gerona’s archival research and Dr. Acabado’s archaeological excavations and community engagements also set as a starting point on how we should use various approaches to contribute to filling some gaps in our known histories. From this overview of the two works done by our Bicolano scholars, we can see how Bicolanos had contributed to decolonizing as well as (re)imagining how we view our national history. Their works contradict to a romanticized history produced to establish an organized and brave Filipino culture before the Spanish contacts.

So, what if in Lapu-Lapu is old, not a young macho-man warrior? We now have an archival description of someone we recognize as our hero. A close representation of Lapu-Lapu imagery that we are going to past on to new generations when we talk about early European colonial encounters of our ancestors is a product of research work not just a mere result of the imagination of early writers of history.

In Ifugao, the new younger date of the terraces speaks of Ifugao people as a group who had chosen to resist the colonial powers. Colonial resistance enabled Ifugao people to contour the mountains according to their needs, in this case, the shift of taro planting to rice enabling a successful indigenous resistance, as explained by Dr. Acabado’s about 30 peer-reviewed writings on the subject. At least, because of Dr. Acabado’s collaborative community engagements new Ifugao generation will be taught of history that is also co-produced by fellow Ifugao backed by scientific models and experts.

Visualizing now an old Lapu-Lapu and young terraces do not necessarily mean diminishing the historical significance of the Battle of Mactan and the cultural heritage of the Ifugao Terraces. But for me, these open new spaces of conversations, with local or national consciousness, of continuously questioning the authenticity of our known histories. Older or younger does not put any value or devalue on writing history. Data and documents that support such claims should be the center of discussion in the question of authenticity. Hence, producing a reliable history, whether local or national.

A final realization as of writing this essay is that their contributions are not only laudable but will surely be forthcoming modules in the history curriculum in the Philippines. In addition, this (re)directs students, young scholars, and the public to continuously explore scholarly questions. Time spent in fieldwork or archival repositories will produce scholarly insights into a profound understanding of our deep history. Our culture and our history are still a fertile ground for more engagement and examination open for new and emerging Bicolano scholars to write about.

I encourage fellow Bicolanos to follow the pathway of these two Bicolanos, but, don’t stop when you reach them, rather go beyond and forge new directions for a refined Bicolano scholarship.

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