Ivan Man Dy of Old Manila Walks and Lei Aldea of National Historical Commission of the Philippines – NHCP Museo ni Emilio Aguinaldo share their experiences on heritage interpretation in Episode 3 of Dunong: Nayong Pilipino Podcast.

This episode of Dunong for the month of March was co-created by the technical experts who are part of NPF’s Cultural Leadership Institute (CLI) Program. The CLI Program is composed of an interdisciplinary team of researchers, module writers, and industry specialists. Through this program, the Nayong Pilipino Foundation intends to introduce the concept of Heritage Interpretation to its stakeholders by asking, with the episode title, “What is Heritage Interpretation?.”

dunong nayong pilipino podcast episode 3

The Dunong: Nayong Pilipino Podcast invited Mr. Ivan Man Dy, a cultural tourism professional and the founder of Old Manila Walks which is a specialist outfit that operates interpretative tours around the city’s old neighborhood, and Ms. Lean “Lei” A. Aldea, who began her career in the tourism industry in 2015 as a volunteer guide for Kawit, Cavite and underwent training in cultural mapping and tour guide training conducted by Fundación Santiago and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), and is now with the Museo ni Emilio Aguinaldo as one of its tour guides.

Dr. Laya Boquiren of the Nayong Pilipino Foundation introduced the event with a definition from the ICOMOS Charter on Interpretation and Presentation of Cultural Heritage Sites wherein heritage interpretation is characterized as multifaceted, multidisciplinary, and inclusive. It embraces the full range of engagements intended to enhance your understanding of heritage places.

The Program Head and Technical Advisor of the NPF Cultural Leadership Institute Program, Ms. Natasha Kintanar, moderated the afternoon’s discussion where she began by saying that, “Heritage Interpretation is a way to communicate information about a natural or cultural site, museum, park, or centre.” She also added that heritage interpretation is an “art to create a relation between the elements of a heritage site; or a collection on one hand, and the ‘meaning-making’ of the value frame of the visitors in the other.” She started the dialogue by asking the experienced practitioners from two different heritage [interpretation] experiences their professional backgrounds.

The guests responded to the following seeded questions: After my visitors have left, when they go back to their daily routines, will they remember their visit to my site/museum? What emotions do I wish to evoke after hearing this site’s narrative? Do you think that with your tours, your visitors feel more connected to the sites or museum?

Mr. Man Dy of Old Manila Walks [on third-person heritage interpretation] started by explaining how they emphasize specialize in telling the narrative of the city. He also added that,

When you talk about the history of Manila, most people just think about it as Intramuros, when in fact there’s actually a bigger story on the history and the development of the city, and a lot of these stories are seen or experienced in other historic districts that are not really popularly promoted as, say, Intramuros so this is where we came in.

He walked through how an Old Manila Walks Tour is normally prepared for by explaining why it is called ‘old manila walks’ to begin with as they focus on telling their guests the narrative and having them experience the historic neighborhoods around the city. He also shared how this methodology is also a part of their efforts on heritage conservation to get people to talk about the sites they visit and be a part of the heritage conservation movement as “the bulk of Manila’s historic edifices are actually in the places where we operate in,” Man Dy added. He mentioned that their tour programs integrate fun and experiential ways in their interpretative tours as they believe these important elements will help their guests understand and appreciate the sites they take them to.

Ms. Kintanar then moved to Ms. Aldea where the museum is not a city, but a museum that used to be someone’s home, to share how she practices first-person heritage interpretation or a first-person perspective. Ms. Aldea talked about the Museo ni Emilio Aguinaldo and their interactive museum, where the guests can interact with the three (3) characters of the museum. These characters play a character role in the family museum’s history and it allows the guests to interact with the characters after the interactive tour, or play when they have told their tale and will be staying in character for the entirety of the tour — like talking to a person living in a certain period in time.

In preparing for a tour, Ms. Aldea shared that they are tasked to do their due research on that character’s history and prepare their own script to tell during the tour. They conduct interviews with the family of the roles they are playing and interpret it to create the character of the tour. She also added that their script for the 1.5-hour tour is constructed in a way that they are not simply reading off a history book with facts, but they offer hints during the play to incite questions and interactions from the tour group. And while the guests are on the tour, the cast is accompanied by a moderator to guide the tour group around the house museum. Finally, Ms. Aldea shared an anecdote that she was identified by a child who has been on the tour for her role as “Donya Teneng” outside the museum, and that was when she knew that their work in the museum is effective.

First Person Interpretation allows the tour participant to see and hear the events as they may have happened with the tour guides in character. It stimulates the person’s senses that help the guests remember the experiences, and that’s where the learning process happens. Third Person Interpretation, meanwhile, have guides remain in character during the program in a way of “lived interpretation”, having imbibed the narratives of the areas they walk their guests in. They are able to share their experiences and stories of the sites in their tour programs. First and Third Person Heritage interpretations are able to intersect on the narratives of the persons who provide the interpretation.

As the event came to a close, the guests shared their answers from a live question asking what is the most important challenge in bridging young tourists and the local cultures they visit. Ivan Man Dy said that more than a challenge, it’s an end goal he wants to achieve. It is him being able to give context on historical and cultural aspects and relating it to the young audience’s context. Beyond trivial facts, visiting heritage sites is an education that hopes to give perspective on culture, a particular group of people, an old building, or a street. Lei Aldea mentioned that with a house built in 1845, a child born in 2012 won’t immediately understand the historical context to avoid information overload. But instead, as a museum guide, she tries to contextualize the house museum in the eyes of a child. Both experts agreed on contextualizing the content of the tour with the participants and hopefully achieve what they wanted to achieve in the tour.

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