Agimat in the museum

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By Jasmine Agnes T. Cruz
WE KNOW of agimat and anting-anting — Filipino amulets or talismans — as those metal trinkets sold outside Quiapo church whose vendors claim have a variety of powers. But there is so much that we don’t know about them. What do those figures and symbols mean? What is their place in the story of the country?

These questions and more are answered in Yuchengco Museum’s exhibit Pinoy Power Packs: Agimat, Anting-Anting, and the Stories They Tell.

Curated by director and writer Floy Quintos, the exhibit features pieces from Mr. Quintos’ collection and from thoe of Romeo Allanigue, the Bose family, Jaime Laya, Richard and Sandra Lopez, Ramon Lucas, Lisa Ongpin Periquet, and Dennis Villegas. The exhibit includes contemporary art by National Artists for Visual Arts Ang Kiukok and Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera, Santiago Bose, Roberto Villanueva, and Leeroy New, which show these artists’ modern interpretation of the agimat and anting-anting.

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The first thing you’ll learn from the exhibit is that there is a difference between the agimat and the anting-anting. The anting-anting are objects from nature like a coconut shell or an unaltered piece of wood, while the agimat is man made. The agimat comes not just in the form of a metal object, but it can be a handkerchief, vest, an ivory piece, a shirt, a statue, and even a wand — all of which are represented in the exhibit.

There are many symbols one can see on the agimat. One is the infinito dios who is the god that was worshiped by the early Filipinos; the animasola or the sky diety; the warrior form of the infinito dios called the atardar; the female version of the infinito called the infinita dios; and the cinco vocales or the vowels that represent the different names for the infinito, and more.

Further in the exhibit is a section on how Filipinos incorporated Christian imagery — such as the crucified Christ, the Virgin Mother, and the Santo Niño — into the agimat. This blend of Christian iconography and the Philippine occult tradition is what got curator Floy Quintos interested in collecting these objects.

Mr. Quintos remembers being in his antique shop, Gallery Deus in Ermita, when a man walked in and showed him several old agimat. Attracted to how the pieces looked, Mr. Quintos asked the fellow to bring him more. As he became more exposed to these charms, he began to form his taste. He became averse to agimat that were meant to attract money and a love life because these seemed like cheap uses of these amulets. He was attracted to those that were related to the infinito dios, specifically those from the period when Filipinos were newly colonized by the Spaniards and were transitioning to Christianity.

“I saw the effort by which Filipinos tried to bridge the gap between animism and Catholicism,” said Mr. Quintos in mixed English and Filipino, during an interview with BusinessWorld on Sept. 3. A devout Catholic, he is interested in this chapter of colonization, explaining that while today we are comfortable with being Catholic, he imagines that it was probably difficult for early Filipinos to accept this new religion. “’Yung pagkatao mo at pananampalataya ’di na puwede (Your humanity and religion is suddenly not allowed),” he said. Despite this prohibition, they still managed to preserve some part of their previous religion. “You see the lasting influence of the anting-anting on the Filipino society,” said Mr. Quintos.

The exhibit is on view until Nov. 7. The museum is located at the RCBC Plaza, corner Ayala and Sen. Gil J. Puyat Aves., Makati City. The museum is open Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For details, call (632) 889-1234 or visit