Last October 20, 2020, the Nayong Pilipino Foundation conducted another round of online multi-sectoral consultation called Umpukan sa Nayon. Titled No Object Unturned, this iteration convened anthropologists, ethnomusicologists, museum specialists, and scholars in cultural heritage to seek guidance on the museum the NPF intends to build that will house the Foundation’s permanent collection.
The collection includes; textiles, accessories, vessels, hunting objects, musical instruments, and grave markers that were taken from various ethnolinguistic groups in the 1970s to the 1980s. Nayong Pilipino Foundation has over 2,762 artifacts, previously housed in the Philippine Museum of Ethnology, which was part of the old Nayong Pilipino Park in Pasay.
Under the authority of the Presidential Assistant for National Minorities (PANAMIN), the Museum of Philippine Traditional Culture was inaugurated in 1971. From the initial assessment of the NPF collection, there is a distinct lack of information on the cultural origin of these artifacts, vernacular nomenclature, and acquisition details found in the current inventories. But from the information available, an estimated 80% of the collection appears to have come from communities in Mindanao: Maranao, Tausug, Yakan, Subanen, Blaan, Maguinadanao, Mandaya, Mansaka, Talaandig, Higaonon, Jama Mapun, Sama, and Manobo.
Other communities represented in the collection include Gaddang, Tinguian, Bontoc, Apayao, Ifugao, and Mangyan. When the park was relocated to Clark in 2007, the collection was moved to the new location with most of the artifacts going into storage. The artifacts of the NPF collection were recently inventoried by the NPF museum staff in 2019. Prior to this last inventory, an inventory was also conducted last June 2018 by students of the Department of Behavioral Science of the University of the Philippines – Manila. Before that, a partial inventory of around 1,000 artifacts back in 2016 was supervised by the National Museum.
This round of discussion was timely in celebrating the Museums and Galleries Month as well as the 23rd anniversary of The Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997 with the theme Correcting Historical Injustices for Indigenous Peoples Rights and Welfare. As mentioned in the opening statement of Executive Director Atty. Lucille Karen Malilong-Isberto, she hopes the discussion would bring about better strategies in safeguarding heritage, especially, indigenous heritage along with the duties of cultural institutions to protect and promote.
Esteemed panelists included Romulo Vinci R. Bueza of Ateneo de Davao University, Marinella C. Mina of Ayala Museum, Dr. Jocelyn B. Gerra of the Cultural and Historical Affairs Commission-Cebu, Dr. Jose S. Buenconsejo of UP College of Music, and Dr. Nestor T. Castro of International Council of Museums- Philippines. Moderating the discussion was Dr. Laya Boquiren of the Nayong Pilipino Foundation. The panelists offered their perspectives and suggestions guided by three main questions:
(2) How can museums engage the public to produce critical dialogues about a collection?
(3) How can virtual museums support the relations that link the artifacts in a collection to persons and society?
Dr. Nestor Castro took note of the efforts of the Nayong Pilipino Foundation in reflecting on its institutional history or its “shady past” in light of the ideology of the PANAMIN or Presidential Assistant on National Minorities. In confronting the history of a collection, Dr. Castro said that “There has to be culpability of the Nayong Pilipino in returning to the community and saying what transpired in the past.” He underscored the need for fieldwork. More than an ethical duty, engaging communities will allow a collaborative provenance study.
Vinci Bueza accentuated the intangible aspects of objects that provide meaning, which may stimulate the continuation and renewal of practices. He added that in order to confront the history of a collection, the repatriation and resocialization of objects should be considered, especially when objects were taken within contexts of violence and systemic oppression. He proposed that museums should consider its role as a convenor and a space for healing or a supporting actor for reconciliation as it confronts its shadowy history. However, Marinella Mina shared that the worldviews of people may change and museums are now viewed as more than just repositories but as long term institutions keeping information and contexts of an object. Mina highlighted that provenance studies should go as far as the contexts of specific people involved in the entrustment of objects, it is a continuous practice of multilayered tangents and multi-faceted representation of worldviews.
Dr. Buenconsejo brought up the concept of public good. He explained that construing heritage as a public good may be a solution to the conundrum of ownership of objects. Public goods are shared resources that should benefit all. He added: “This idea of public good might contradict the idea of repatriation if we look at the museum as a place which simply safeguards this for the benefit of all and the museum acting as a midwife to the voices from indigenous people.” The professor said that we must instead consider the museum as a convergence point or a nexus of voices of the community.
In the case of NPF’s collection being established in the 1970s to 1980s and the gaps in the inventory, Dr. Castro explained that during that time anthropologists tended to view communities as homogenous and that there was a tendency to assume that an object collected from a specific ethnolinguistic group can be found across its subgroups and villages. Dr. Gerra added that the narratives of objects change in accordance with the interpretations of collectors and museum actors and that collections may also manifest the people’s aspirations. Institutions must first have a complete documented history of the objects before even considering the return of objects to communities.
Dr. Gerra explained that the ethnographic process is crucial in “making peace with the past.” Museums can share information on the collections with the community and collaborate with them to triangulate information and reconstruct the history of acquisitions. At this point, Dr. Boquiren shared that Dr. Gerra was referring to the grave markers in the permanent collection that were taken from their original communities and without proper provenance and documentation. Boquiren also cited an essay helmed by Dayang Yraola in 2004 that mentions how anthropologist Dr. David Barradas gathered representatives of ethnolinguistic groups who brought objects that were included in the collection.
In engaging a collections’ audience, Mina recommended a two-pronged approach: directly engaging with people who are considered specialists and a co- curation initiative–directly engaging the community. Dr. Buenconsejo also reinforced co-curating unfolds in a shared space for interaction and dialogue which fosters critical thinking on the narratives of a collection.
Dr. Castro proposed engaging academic institutions and specialists that cater specifically to these communities and using effective fieldwork strategies. He shared that museums must map their stakeholders and utilize online platforms by producing information materials to reach out to the public. Institutions can “cast a wider net” by employing visual methods during fieldwork.
Bueza gave an example of direct community engagement. A community museum in Barangay Klubi, Lake Sebu that has a collection of gongs, brass, and ornamental works, and t’nalak textile pieces was built on top of a kindergarten school. Students will often interact, playing the musical instruments in the collection. Objects from the collection were also used by the community; during community and ceremonial gatherings and as reference for the weavers work. Bueza added that these are a few examples of community engagement and also how objects are resocialized.
On how virtual museums support the relationships that link objects in a collection to persons and society, the panel had common inputs about virtual spaces. They said digital avenues allow access as physical boundaries exist, specifically in consideration to the COVID-19 pandemic but even beyond the pandemic, virtual museums have added value for those people who cannot physically go to museums. An advantage as well, as there is a wider reach when utilizing digital platforms. The panelists agree that digital platforms may allow opportunities for transparency and a greater sense of public accountability. Dr. Castro added that this also allows a space for engagement directly to the communities involved, if not through fieldwork. Dr. Gerra shared that these are added resources, reference materials which are a good source of information in consideration of the whole public. Bueza highlighted that through online platforms, institutions can interact through comment and feedback mechanisms for a more participatory engagement. Design and programming are huge factors in engaging the public, these have the capability to entice the audience and give more value to their experience.
Bueza and Mina were quick to note the limitations of virtual platforms. For example, the role of museums in providing the viewer with the ability to directly connect with the past which may not translate into an online experience. To somehow address these concerns, a thorough study of a stakeholder’s cognitive abilities and learning styles, and strategies for interactivity must be considered.
The panel also brought up other factors to be considered in planning for virtual museums. Bueza said viewers have preconceptions and the structure of the virtual museum should be designed to interact with these preconceived notions in order to change or rectify the views. Dr. Buenconsejo highlighted one of the main features a virtual museum should contain, it should have narratives from cultural bearers so that displays will not be filled with disembodied objects. Also as a way to confront the history of a collection, it must contain the entire narrative including the negative aspects. Dr. Castro added that the Intellectual Property Rights of the community members shall be protected by consulting and reaching out to people on the ground, recognizing ownership, and seeking prior and informed consent before sharing information.
In conclusion, Dr. Boquiren reassured the public that the Nayong Pilipino Foundation will consolidate all recommendations and translate them into checklists. She said: “Certainly the points that were raised this afternoon are important to us and the attendees here, many of whom are practitioners in museums. Some important insights include the need to go beyond the exhibitionary order and for museums to amplify and make more legible its role as a supporter, enabler, advocate, motivator, catalyst, among a few.”
Boquiren shared that the Nayong Pilipino Foundation sees the necessity of partnerships, co-production, co-curation, and multilayering of knowledge. She also emphasized the need to design interactivity beyond the trappings of investing resources on technology, virtual platforms, or computers, without giving space for multi-dimensional narratives. On the other hand, virtual platforms may support feedback mechanisms. “We will definitely go back to the field. The Nayong Pilipino will generate conversations and seek the validation of communities to remain inclusive and participatory.”
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.
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