I’ve passed by Ayala Museum countless times while strolling along the mall-infested part of Makati but I never thought of visiting until a stranger I met in Silay recommended the place. She had me at “pre-colonial” and “gold”.
She was referring to “Gold of Ancestors: Pre-colonial Treasures in the Philippines”, one of the permanent exhibits located on the fourth floor of the museum. After paying a 125 peso fee (I’m a resident and technically STILL a student hehe), the friendly concierge suggested I start with the fourth floor and work my way down which is exactly what I did because I’m an obedient puppy.
Ayala Museum is smaller than other museums I’ve been in but the number of guards per square meter is the most I’ve seen. It was a weekday afternoon so the crowd is almost nonexistent but it didn’t stop them from roaming around with their walkie talkies while waiting for the guests to commit a crime (taking a picture which is only allowed on ground and second floors). I just imagined I was the protagonist in a heist film because everywhere I go, a uniformed guard suddenly appears. It’s the kind where he wants you to think he doesn’t care but you know better thanks to his side glances?
But then I’m about to see 1000+ pieces of ancient gold and I realized the management is just exercising due diligence. Fittingly, you need to pass through an automatic door reminiscent of vaults to enter the exhibit.
It is a wrong belief (maybe due to what our colonizers propagated or simply colonial mentality) that we were barbarians before the Spaniards arrived and it’s thanks to them that we even have a culture. For everyone’s information, we had a form of government and religion even before Magellan “discovered” the country. What better way to be reminded of it than with the metal that does not tarnish nor rust, Gold.
In elementary school, our teachers taught us that the Spaniards came to the Philippines for 3Gs: God, Glory and Gold. While the first two are fairly obvious, my young mind couldn’t quite fathom the third one. I already knew that the metal is very important but if they wanted Gold, they should have gone to Africa or California right? Wrong.
Apparently, when the Spanish came to the country, they encountered cultures with a highly developed knowledge of gold. According to the Visitor’s guide, colonial accounts describe how even children could accurately determine the purity of gold alloys. And here I am racking my brains out remembering what alloys are haha!
Just kidding. I know that an alloy is a material formed when two metals or a metal and a non-metal are combined (5th grade Science naks!). Since Gold is too soft to make exquisite jewelries, it is usually alloyed with other metals like silver and copper to increase hardness. Karat is a measurement of its purity (i.e. 24kt means it’s 100% Gold while l8kt is 75% Gold and 25% other metals). Oh, and the traditional Tagalog term for pure gold is dalisay. Very nice, don’t you think?
The exhibit is organized in three sections:
(1) Austronesian Migrations which supports the notion of our shared history with our neighboring countries (even though we’re sometimes more Latin than Asian, that might not be the case in the past). Talk about regional affinities in terms of religion, politics and economics. Maybe if history had a different course we would have been a Hindu nation and a lot of temples would be sprawled all over the archipelago.
(2) Journey to the Afterlife. Who said only Egyptians had death masks or orifice covers made of gold (either to prevent evil spirits from taking over the body or prevent the soul from leaving)?
(3) Mortals and Deities adorned. Since time immemorial, class disparities have existed with the elite wearing intricate gold and drinking from golden bowls. There are neck chains, wrist ornaments, anklets and etc to announce one’s status. Lastly, GOLD. CHASTITY. COVERS.
Just like with other artifacts, the exhibit is still shrouded in mystery. But that’s the thing about history, we can only infer and assume based on what’s left of it.
NOTES ON OTHER EXHIBITS IN THE MUSEUM:
Old times VS Today all boils down to effort. In the past, making a meter of cloth entails a day or two of labor. Now all you have to do is go to a store and buy one. But of course the quality significantly differs. Compared to the exhibit I saw on the indigenous clothing from different communities with patterns inspired by nature, different iconography, and weaving techniques I couldn’t understand, our clothes today are generic.
A Millennium of Contact: Chinese and South East Asian Trade Ceramics in the Philippines (4F)
If you’re a Ceramic freak you will enjoy the Ceramics exhibit. Otherwise, you’ll remember old houses with “China cabinets” and ask your self why people invest so much on things so fragile. As for me I got a bit dizzy looking at all of them. And I remember what Jerika told me about authentic ceramic having that faded out pattern. Also, China is not the only ceramic-producing country. Vietnam, Thailand and other SEA countries have their own unique versions of these wares.
Fernando Zobel and Cesar Legaspi (3F)
Can I be honest? I’m actually really clueless about art (READ: no creative juice in my body). Can’t differentiate a painter’s work from another. Heck, can’t even tell if painting or doodle. I don’t know how to appraise art. Not that I think they’re made to be appraised — those are for collectors and businessmen. For a commoner like me, all I can do is look at them and welcome all the feelings they evoke. I especially like the simplicity and minimal colors of Zobel’s works, caters to the OC in me.
The Diorama Experience and Maritime Vessels (2F)
Shell out 75 pesos for the audioguide and listen to the Tagalog version. It’s so funny it’s reminiscent of radioseryes. My favorite is the Assassination of Governor Bustamante (no. 21, I think), “Hindi sila makikinig sa’yo, ungas!“.
Devote one to two hours of your time for this alone. It’s like a brush up on your history especially because you haven’t taken it seriously since high school. Also, compare your height with heroes and other nationals and feel good about it because you’re useless in the nationalism department.
New person I learned about: Chinese pirate Limahong.
Ronald Ventura: Big and Small (GF)
One word: Anatomy. As I’ve said I don’t have the right credentials to talk about artworks but if it’s any consolation, I love the red walls (what?).
And my favorite among the display is pictured below because it reminds me of inside jokes between friends. I’m in an age where nudity is no longer funny nor taboo (considering I laughed together with the whole class when a teacher showed a picture of a vagina in high school). There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s simply that, nakedness.
I’ve reached my quota. Now back to Manga and dumb TV shows.