The city of Manila is a frequent topic of discussion here on LiP. Some love it, some hate it. There seems to be no middle ground for most folks. I’ve also sometimes voiced my distaste for the capitol city. That feeling is rooted in my dislike for any large city. That feeling has also been tempered a bit through the years. My education in the real world has shown me that these places are, more or less, necessary economic engines. But that doesn’t mean that I would want to live in any big city. Our retirement home, and Marlyn’s family ties are in central Luzon. That means, like it or not, Manila is a fact of life for us.
Another thing I’ve learned is that big cities are often cultural centers for the area they serve. This is especially true of Manila. For all the crowds, grit, grime, poverty, and pollution, Manila houses many cultural treasures. I spent the day in one of them during our last trip there. I managed to escape the mandatory shopping trip. Instead, I was dropped off at the National Museum on Padre Burgos Street. The National Museum is comprised of three parts; a fine arts museum, a planetarium, and the Museum of the Filipino People. I spent the day in the latter. This portion of the museum is made up of several galleries on three floors and an outdoor courtyard. Each gallery has its own theme.
Of course, there is plenty of space dedicated to history and culture. In one room are Stone Age artifacts. Another fascinating gallery focuses on the Asian maritime trade and boat building. This exhibit also includes info on the colonial Spanish galleon routes that connected the Philippines to the entire world. The incredible biodiversity of the islands has its own gallery. Still another spotlights the cultural aspects of the Philippines. The multitude of ethnic groups and dialects are represented there. Of interest to me in this gallery are the stories of artisans who have worked to preserve traditional and historical designs in weaving, pottery, music and storytelling.
My own favorite is the gallery housing the artifacts recovered from the wreck of the ship, San Diego. . The story of the ship is worthy of an action drama. There is an inexperienced, politically appointed Spanish admiral pitted against an ambitious Dutch pirate. A merchant ship is hastily converted into a warship. The climax is a fiery naval battle on Manila Bay. And the epilogue is filled with political wrangling and “spin”. The recovered artifacts show us a moment forever frozen in time. We have a glimpse of a cross section of Manila society in the year 1600.
We can see Filipino sailors, Chinese cooks, Japanese mercenaries, and Spanish gentry all on board the doomed vessel.
Whenever I’m at this museum, I spend hours in the San Diego gallery. But all too soon, it was time to meet Marlyn and head back to the hotel. Should you find yourself in Manila, I highly recommend a visit. I can’t think of a better way to soak up so much of the history and culture of the Philippines than a day spent at the Museum of the Filipino People.