The Museum of the Filipino People reopens its doors


This month, the National Museum of the Philippines is accepting fully vaccinated adults and visitors ages 18 and below, provided they are accompanied by a fully vaccinated adult. All visitors are also required to reserve online and book slots at least a day before their visit. Walk-in visitors without prior reservation will not be granted entry. Admission is free.

The National Museum of Anthropology, formerly the Museum of the Filipino People, one of the National Museum of the Philippines three component museums (the other two are the National Museum of Fine Arts and the National Museum of Natural History), is housed in the impressive, NeoClassic-influenced, 5-story former Department of Finance Building. The second building pledged to the National Museum, as a cultural center, it takes the lead in the study and preservation of the nation’s rich artistic, historical and cultural heritage in the reconstruction and rebuilding of our nation’s past. Built in 1940 in the Federal architectural style, its construction was implemented by Arch. Antonio Toledo of the Bureau of Public Works who was responsible for the construction of Manila government structures under the American colonial regime.

The Marble Hall greets visitors at the lobby.

At the open courtyard is an actual Ifugao House (Fhaley Ad Henenga) from Mayoyao. The ground floor houses division offices of the museum and the National Museum Library while the fifth floor houses the National Ethnographic Collection Repositories. The middle floors house the exhibits. The Marble Hall, at the second floor, serves as the lobby of the museum.  Also on this floor is “The San Diego: A Homecoming Exhibit” and “Garing: The Philippines at the Crossroads of Ivory Trade.”

The former, probably the museum’s most popular exhibit, displays 5,000 artifacts recovered, from January 1992 to May 1993, from the San Diego, a galleon which sunk after a fierce, six-hour naval battle, on December 14, 1600, with Dutch privateers under Admiral Oliver Van Noort off the Batangas coast.   On display are 14 bronze cannons, pieces of intact Ming Dynasty porcelain ware and navigational instruments including an astrolabe (one of only 67 that have been preserved and, more uniquely, 1 of 5 oldest as well as 1 of 6 or 7 known examples dating before 1600) and a bronze astronomical ring (the only known example of this type, in terms of both mechanism and shape).

“Garing: The Philippines at the Crossroads of Ivory Trade” displays real African elephant (Loxodonta Africana) ivory tusks from Tanzania, Africa (seized by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and donated to the National Museum) as well as elephant tusks recovered from the Lena Shoal wreck north of Palawan in 1997.

The third floor houses six exhibitions.  Along the corridors are “Lantaka: Of War and Peace,” a display of bronze swivel guns inaugurated in 2015. The “Manlilikha ng Bayan-Hall ,”  inaugurated last June 1, 2016, features the work and lives of 13 people awarded, since 1993, the Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan (GAMABA) or the National Living Treasures Award in recognition of their contribution and preservation of culture.  “Lumad: Mindanao,” inaugurated last December 12, 2015, features “the material culture of 13 of the roughly 19 major Lumad groups from the National Ethnographic Collection.

Kaban ng Lahi (Archaeological Treasures) displays a burial jars collection. Faith, Tradition and Place—Bangsamoro Art from the National Ethnographic Collection.

“Faith, Tradition and Place: Bangsamoro Art from the National Ethnographic Collection,” inaugurated last October 2014, is a permanent exhibition on the rich material cultural heritage of the Islamic cultures in Mindanao, Southern Philippines. The 51 objects on view include  the Koran of Bayang (a copy of the Koran supposedly handwritten in the mid-19th century), a rarub-a-kulong (armor), kulong sa ulo (helmet); a wall ornament depicting the heroic mythical character Prince Indarapatra; a sataran (a Maranao chess set of wood and silver); an elaborately-carved, throne-like wooden korsi (here a kulintang player sits while entertaining royalty); a wooden winged horse which boasts of ornate and curvy engraved details; swords (kris) and a  kinupud, a boraq (winged creature); a colorful, wood and metal Maranao kokora (coconut grater); and a canopy of silk and cotton used by Maranao royalty to cover their beds.

Manlilikha ng Bayan Hall (National Living Treasure) features material culture from Lumad groups. Rice, Biodiversity and Climate Change highlights cultivation practices, among others.

“Kaban ng Lahi ,” one of the museum’s long running exhibitions (installed in 1998), portrays secondary burial  jar collections as well as samples of other utilitarian vessels unearthed from different cave sites across the Philippines. Highlights of this gallery are a number of objects declared as National Cultural Treasures (NCTs) by the National Museum and regarded for their uniqueness and outstanding historical, cultural, artistic and historical value discovered from different sites in the Philippines—the Manunggul Jar, Maitum Anthropomorphic Burial Jar 21 (depicted with male genitalia), the Leta-Leta Stem Cup,the Leta-Leta Presentation Dish and the Leta-Leta Footed Jarlet.

“Biyay: Traditional Ecological Knowledge among Philippine Negrito Communities,” opened October 20, 2018, is the first exhibition, of this scale and depth, on the Negritos, the least understood Philippine ethnolinguistic group. Biyay is the Ayta term for “life.”

The cannons from the San Diego galleon. A weaving loom from HIBLA ng Lahing Filipino.

The fourth floor houses four exhibits. “Rice, Biodiversity and Climate Change,” inaugurated last December 17, 2013, highlights, among others, the history of rice cultivation in the Philippines, rice farming practices, plants and insects in the field, farmers way of life, and the importance of rice conservation.“Hibla ng Lahing Filipino: The Artistry of Philippine Textiles,” inaugurated last May 18, 2012, features the different textile collections from the National Museum, National Anthropological Collection, and from the private collection of Senator Loren Legarda as well as weaving looms.

“Baybayin: Ancient and Traditional Scripts of the Philippines,” inaugurated in 2013, showcases baybayin, the ancient and traditional native Filipino script of the Philippines prior to the arrival of the Spaniards. On display here are archaeological artifacts such as the Laguna Copperplate Inscription (said to be one of the bases of baybayin), the Calatagan Pot, the Intramuros Pot Shard, the Monreal Stones and some books loaned by the UST, NHCP and National Library. “Entwined Spheres: Mats and Baskets as Containers, Costumes and Conveyors,” inaugurated in 2017, showcases a huge collection of old mats from various indigenous groups in the country and baskets that are used by the natives in many different and surprising ways.

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