Home Arts & Leisure What stoneware tells us about Philippine heritage

What stoneware tells us about Philippine heritage

OBJECTS used in daily lives carry the history of a civilization. The earliest pottery technology dates back 4,200 years, and ceramics were widely exported globally in the 7th century. In 1947, an archeological survey led by Dr. Henry Otley Beyer uncovered ceramics in several provinces including Batangas, Mindoro, Marinduque, Palawan, Quezon, Bicol, Samar, and Leyte. These were commonly used to store food and liquids for cooking. Pottery was also associated with burial practices, while porcelain and stoneware served as symbols of social rank and political authority.

In continuing the work of preserving stoneware and documenting its uses, the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) opened the Elizabeth Y. Gokongwei Ethnographic Stoneware Resource Center on the fifth floor of the National Museum of Anthropology’s East Wing.

The opening of the resource center was done in partnership with the National Museum and the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation (GBF) — a foundation established by brothers John, Johnson, Henry, and James Gokongwei in 1992 which provides scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education to students and educators.

Since the project’s announcement in 2021, the GBF has provided support to repair and upgrade the resource center with equipment and supplies for interior furnishing, transporting the ceramic collection from regional museums and satellite offices, as well as the ongoing inventory and assessment of the pieces in the collection.

“This project of establishing the Elizabeth Y. Gokongwei Ethnographic Ceramics Resource Center adds to the quality of custodianship that we have of our precious natural patrimony. [It] adds to the quality of service we could provide to the public, especially to researchers who will flesh out our appreciation of our heritage,” Museum Director-General Jeremy R. Barns said in his speech during the launch on June 11.

“When it comes to ethnographic stoneware, we know that this is something that links us with the rest of the region [across Asia]. We are yet to really flesh out the story of how our ethnographic stoneware really represents the Pan-Asian heritage with the Philippines as a core part of it,” Mr. Barns added.

In line with the GBF’s advocacy of nation-building through education, the Foundation also hopes to inculcate a stronger sense of identity among learners about Filipino culture and heritage.

“As a staunch advocate of holistic education, the Foundation takes to heart its duty to protect our heritage, enrich our culture, and pass this on to the next generation. There, we are grateful to the NMP for bringing to the GBF and making it possible for us to contribute to the valuable field of cultural preservation,” GBF General Manager Lisa Y. Gokongwei-Cheng said.

Named after the late Gokongwei matriarch, the Elizabeth Y. Gokongwei Ethnographic Stoneware Resource Center — formerly a repository of the NMP’s ethnographic division — is a research facility accessible to those who are studying early Filipinos. The visiting public can view the collection through the center’s glass windows.

The Elizabeth Y. Gokongwei Ethnographic Stoneware Resource Center has over 1,000 pieces of stoneware and earthenware from the National Ethnographic Collection that served as commodities, utility items, household decorations, heirloom pieces, and containers for ritual ceremonies.

“A significant portion of these objects were collected by renowned anthropologist Dr. Robert B. Fox and archeologist Dr. William Longacre from their research areas in Palawan and Kalinga. It also includes 73 Ilocano stoneware pieces which are part of NMP’s long-term lease from the Ilocos Sur Historical and Cultural Foundation collection (ISHCF),” NMP Deputy Director Jorell M. Legaspi said in a speech at the launch.

The ethnographic ceramics collection in the National Museum was initiated by Dr. Fox during his term as the chief of the Anthropology Division (now Ethnology Division) in the 1960s. The collection includes jars, plates, and bowls from the 15th to the 20th century.

The items were acquired through the years from different ethnolinguistic groups such as the Bontok, Ifugao, Ibaloy, Ilokano, Gad’dang, and Pangasinense communities in northern Luzon; the Tagalog, Pala’wan, and Tagbanua communities in central and southern Luzon; and Maguindanao, Maranao, and Tausug communities in southwestern Mindanao.

Due to their production dates, the items in the collection are presumed to be Important Cultural Properties, in accordance to Republic Act No. 10066 or National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.

To maximize the reach and impact of the EYG Resource Center, there are special tours, the provision of digital reference materials for teachers, and a 360° VR exhibit (https://www.nationalmuseum.gov.ph/…/stoneware360.html).

Alongside the opening of the resource center is the upcoming release of an accompanying book titled From Kiln to Kin: The Philippine Ceramic Heritage. It will include the full catalog of collections in the resource center, the ceramic history of the Philippines, and its significance alongside ethnolinguistic traditions and culture. Physical and digital copies of the book will be available.

“Far more than being vessels, these objects tell the story of their connection to their maker and the culture they constitute. By highlighting material culture, we hope to offer a new avenue for exploring our past to fully understand the diversity of our heritage,” Mr. Legaspi said.

Researchers, educators, and students who wish to access the catalog of collections and examine objects from the EYG Resource Center may send a letter of request at inquiry@nationalmuseum.gov.ph or nationalmuseumph@yahoo.com.   Michelle Anne P. Soliman