Last June 2020, the Nayong Pilipino Foundation partnered with Tuklas Pilipinas Society and hosted a public consultation session on how the narration of heritage is presented. Aptly titled “Umpukan sa Nayon: Telling Heritage Stories,” the online discussion was divided into two parts.
The first part, subtitled “Interpreting Local Heritage Stories”, was held on June 3 and tackled heritage interpretation—its relevance and the methods and approaches applied to it. The invited speakers also reflected on heritage and community engagement and how heritage interpretation can be effective through the use of an online platform and other supplementary materials.
Facilitated by Tuklas Pilipinas Society’s President Kristine Kate Lim, the discussion began by first establishing what heritage interpretation is.
For Boboi Costas of Grassroots Travel, it is when you effectively communicate to the visitors the meaning and significance of the place they are visiting. According to him, in must be a blend of management needs, resource consideration, and visitor needs. Quoting American Journalist Freeman Tilden, he said that it is “an educational activity which aims to reveal meanings and relationships through the use of original objects, by firsthand experience, and by illustrative media, rather than simply to communicate factual information.”
With the possibility of not only educating but also entertaining its intended audience, Costas emphasized that interpretation must first be meaningful—provoking curiosity, interest, and the attention of the audience.
“Any interpretation that does not somehow relate what is being displayed or described to something within the personality or experience of the visitor is sterile, according to Tilden,” he added
These sentiments were echoed by Maria Karina Garilao, from the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), who happened to be another individual shaped by the writings of Freeman Tilden. She added that in order to capture the attention of people, heritage interpretation must be thematic, organized, relevant, and entertaining. She explained that this approach is integral to heritage conservation as well, as it will allow people to find meaning and personal connections to sites and places that they would normally not care about. People will preserve heritage if it is relevant to them.
Tuklas Pilipinas Society Executive Director Andrea Natasha Kintanar added that in order to truly turn historical data into meaningful experiences, it is necessary to make everything as engaging as possible. Aside from just conducting lectures and question-and-answer portions, it was also important to do hands-on activities and ask for inferences based on the audience’s own observations.
The “what” and the “why” of heritage has also been brought up. Garilao urged listeners and members of the sector to assess and understand the reason why they are championing heritage. While she agrees that pride for the place is a good reason, Garilao focused more on the identity as Filipinos. She discussed that much of the narratives on heritage put emphasis on the differences of Filipinos as a nation rather than the similarities and how this may not help the Philippines to move forward as a nation. “I think heritage must help us confront who we are as people so we can consciously create a future that we want,” she said.
Costas also recommended utilizing online platforms better. He suggested that local communities must be digitally empowered especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic. “They can do social media live interviews with hosts in rural destinations, sharing their stories across the globe, or virtual travel to destinations with host communities, or they can actually do all of these things simultaneously,” he added.
The second part of this online discussion was held last June 5, 2020. Now subtitled “Translating Heritage Stories in Philippine Archaeology,” it carried over the insights from the first part of the Umpukan.
The discussion mainly involved engaging communities and localizing archaeological heritage. The speakers gave a background on both their studies and their audience as they explained the challenge they face in interpreting archaeological heritage. They each gave their own insights for audience development and the role of public archaeology relating to the programs of traditional institutions and alternative learning hubs, tourism and sustainable development, and cultural sensitivity and Filipino identity.
Now moderated by Kintanar, the discussion began with Taj Vitales introducing Manila ArchaeoTrails, an educational program offered by Tuklas Pilipinas. He explained by saying that it is a mobile lecture that offers an alternative classroom experience to its audience. Vitales added that it facilitates learning by engaging with the audience by allowing them to explore, discover, interpret, and even question historical knowledge while going to different locations.
“By engaging the participation of the public in science and the practice of archaeology, we’re looking at a multiplier effect; an increased relevance and importance and acknowledgment of science and scientific work. So there’s nowhere to go but up in terms of archaeologists because then we will be generating broader support from a broader audience that will lead to sustainability,” Mylene Lising supplied.
The necessity for community engagement was further touched upon by UCLA Professor Dr. Stephen Acabado. He noted that community engagement is the key to a more inclusive archaeological practice. This lead to him discussing the intricacies of community archaeology and how despite being a complex concept, it is necessary for the local community to be able to take control of their heritage, siting the Ifugao Archaeological Project as an example.
The problem on whether there are gaps and insufficiencies on the policies that protect heritage sites were also tackled.
Majority of the speakers were in agreement that the policies are enough. The gaps lie somewhere else. For Lising and Vitales, the gap is in the lack of proper planning and implementation.
“It all boils down to that word ‘management,’” Lising said. “I think in our field, not enough attention has been given to management and training people in management so that these concepts are developed and applied to our projects or archaeological projects or heritage management projects.”
Dr. Acabado added that while there is no issue with the policies, the problem is in the lack of a developed narrative for heritage. He described archaeology as a destructive process and emphasized this by saying, “If we just keep on digging and digging and we keep on excavating materials and we don’t do anything about it, that’s the gap.”
The moderators closed the Umpukan by reading a comment from a viewer, leaving the speakers with something to further ponder on: “Sabi ni Ms. Susan Petilla, ‘Do you believe what Laurajane Smith said that heritage is non-existing but is defined by people today?’”
Umpukan sa Nayon is a multi-sectoral consultation session held by NPF as part of its mandate (P.D. 37, 1972) to engage the public for consultation and to enliven conversations.