Historically

I have always loved history. One of the reasons I love literature and historical fiction is because history comes alive. Instead of dates, names and places, you find loves lost and found, joy and fear, sorrow and hope, great figures real and imagined, earth-shattering and life-changing events of varying scale.

As with most history enthusiasts–I hesitate to call myself a history buff–there are some periods of history that hold quite a fascination for me. Gone With The Wind introduced me to the American Civil War. High school English class led to my interest in the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses. I think it was because of The Egypt Game that I wanted to learn about Ancient Egypt. And a children’s version of the Trojan War sparked my love for the ancient Greeks.

Of course I’m curious about our own history too. In 1998 the Philippines celebrated the centennial of its independence, and my mom made sure we attended plays, concerts and exhibits that taught us about our history. Since then I’ve always tried to attend lectures on Philippine history, and I write about them when possible.

Most recently I wrote for One night with ‘Heneral Luna’ for Rappler.com. It was incredibly entertaining to meet John Arcilla, who played the title role in the popular film. He and the film’s producers had many things to say, not just about the film and its impact on the public, but about nationhood, heroism, even villainy.

[Arcilla] admitted that he was surprised at how often people quoted lines from the movie. “Hindi ko inaasahan na yung mga simple at ginawa ko’ng mga salita ay magiging suddenly hugot line (I didn’t expect that the simple things that I did and the words that I said would suddenly evoke deep emotions in people).”

Producers E.A. Rocha and Fernando Ortigas were asked about their motivations for making this film.

For Rocha, it was a family affair. “My grandparents knew the Lunas. According to my grandfather, one of the greatest tragedies of our history is the assassination of Antonio Luna. That stuck to me. This guy, he’s a perfect anti-hero. He is flawed, and he’s not a victim. He was the closest to a Shakespearean tragedy we could find in this country, among our heroes.

It was Ortigas’ lifelong dream to make a movie. He joked, “This was my first movie, and I didn’t know any better.” Turning serious, he continued, “It was the script. I was impressed with was the train sequence. I laughed my head off. I thought to myself, ‘If I have to produce this movie just to see the train sequence, I will.’”

In 2013, I attended a lecture at the Ortigas Foundation Library, organized by Instituto Cervantes, titled “The 500th Anniversary of the Discovery of the Pacific: In Search of the ‘Other’ Sea.” Dr. Fernando Zialcita of Ateneo de Manila University spoke about the Philippines’ connection not with other Southeast Asian cultures, but with our neighbors in the Pacific Ocean. (Read the full article: The Philippines and the Pacific world: Past connections, modern ties)

While many of our Asian neighbors eat with chopsticks and stage the Ramayana on a regular basis, we use forks and spoons, and few of us are familiar with the Indian epic. Many scholars and intellectuals have pointed out these and more differences between us and our Southeast Asian brothers and sisters.

But rather than focusing on this deficit of Asian character, Dr. Zialcita suggests we look at what we have in common with our other neighbors: those of the Pacific islands.

Our pre-Hispanic history tells of trade with neighboring islands, of extensive travel and exploration aboard outriggers with v-shaped sails, of a diet rich in taro and coconut. A glance at Micronesian culture will show you the same things, as well as many other commonalities.

Photo by my editor, Barbara Marchadesch

At the same lecture, Dr. Javier Galván Guijo, Chief of Staff to the Director General, talked about Spain’s influence on fortress architecture in the colonies. (Read the full article: The baluarte: A lasting example of Spain’s architectural legacy)

Students of architecture, particularly those interested in our Spanish heritage, might consider going around the world in forty days, if only to see baluartes in far-off places that look very similar to those in our own Intramuros.

Ramparts ripple outwards from Spain through to her vast colonies across the continents, beyond the vast seas, like so many barriers protecting the legacy of Spanish culture. And while all these baluartes share many similar elements, they also differ in subtle ways, showing us that while a single Mother Spain colonized us all, we adopted her culture in such beautiful and varied ways.

john silva
John Silva, Executive Director of the Ortigas Foundation and former Senior Consultant of the National Museum

In 2014, I listened to historian John Silva, executive director of the Ortigas Foundation and former Senior Consultant of the National Museum, speaking at a lecture for the Museum Volunteers of the Philippines. The lecture was a preview to an exhibit Silva was curating, “Churches of the Philippines: Lasting Links to Spain.” It opened in Madrid’s Casa de América in November 2014. (Read the full article: Exhibit on Filipino churches hopes to teach young Spaniards about PHL history, culture)

However bitter the relationship between the Church and her flock, centuries-old churches remain at the center of many towns—and many lives—in the Philippines. But how long can they stand? Nature has proven a worthy and patient adversary: churches in coastal towns suffer from the salty sea air, while those in mountainous regions are at the mercy of volcanoes and landslides.

Regardless of location, any church can be leveled during an earthquake or a fire. Should a structure survive those phenomena, inevitably it will fall into disrepair anyway.

With each church that suffers damage of any sort, Silva could only ask, “How do you rebuild? Will you restore it to its original form? Restore the façade only? Or build a completely new church?” Each option would cost millions of pesos, and take years to complete.

History is fascinating and enthralling, and it always saddens me when the only people I see at such lectures are the elderly, the academics, and the conservationists. I hope that when I write about these lectures, I can inspire young people to take an interest in history, ours and the world’s.

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