All shook up-A A +A
The Point Being
Friday, October 18, 2013
OUR country straddles the Pacific Ring of Fire; and hazards like tropical storms and earthquakes are not uncommon. But when disasters occur we are caught unawares; and fear and uncertainty grip us and expose our vulnerabilities.
These were again demonstrated when a 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck Central Visayas last October 15 affecting the islands of Bohol, Cebu, Siquijor and other adjoining areas. Hardest hit were areas in Bohol, particularly Loon and Maribojoc which were at the epicenter. The death toll had risen to more than 150 and could still be climbing as rescue operations reach interior areas.
The October 15 quake could easily be among the top 5 deadliest to have hit the Philippines since the 1600s. Already, the number of those who died has exceeded the mortality figure in the November 15, 1994 quake that hit Mindoro, which is fifth in the list.
The affected areas are still reeling from the aftershocks that continue to be felt and many have not been able to resume their regular activities.With timely, appropriate and adequate assistance, the prayer is that these communities will recover the soonest time possible. One need only look back at history to ascertain that Boholanos and Cebuanos are known for their resilience and adaptability, and it is hoped that these abilities will serve them well once more.
Historic and cultural heritage sites, of which there are many in Cebu and Bohol, were particularly affected. A number of old churches were damaged; with one, the church in Loon, literally crumbling to dust. There was some furor over the perception that sites were being prioritized over people. But I personally find that sort of opposition unnecessary under the circumstances.
People affected by disasters deserve to be assisted immediately and in a manner that would help them get back on their feet as soon as possible. Period. That being said, there is also need to pay attention, at the appropriate time, to other things that we value collectively as a people, such as heritage sites.
The issue of whether public resources can be used to rehabilitate and restore these churches without constituting a violation of the separation of the Church and the State has also been raised. I think that if the appropriate authorities had declared the sites as national cultural heritage then that type of scruple would not apply. There are those that we value because they evoke in us sentiments of being in the presence of the grand, the majestic and the timeless regardless of our persuasions.
I became more persuaded of this sentiment upon overhearing Muslim partners discuss with concern the damages sustained by the churches in Bohol that they had visited. It is similar to the sense of awe that sweeps through me when I pass by the mosques in Bacolod-Kalawi and the Grand Mosque in Cotabato City.
I also found inspiring the number of people posting pictures on social network sites of the Bohol churches that they had visited. I am convinced that the posts were neither simply cases of Throwback Thursdays nor acts of sentimentalism; but examples of linking to, celebrating and commemorating our cultural heritage.
ICOMOS defined cultural heritage as the “expression of the ways of living developed by a community and passed on from generation to generation, including customs, practices, places, objects, artistic expressions and values”. A cultural heritage can be intangible or tangible. The latter can take the forms of built environment such as architectural works, natural environment such as land and seascapes, and artifacts like objects of art. As demonstrated by the October 15 earthquake, the tangibles, no matter how massive, can be perishable.
And so it is important that we safeguard our cultural resources and support heritage restoration, which is characterized as “actions or processes that are aimed at safeguarding the character-defining elements of a cultural resource so as to retain its heritage value and extend its physical life”.
But if tangible heritage can perish, more so the intangibles.They include vision, “voices, values, traditions, and oral history” and are usually perceived through our diet, dress, dance, dialect, domiciles and deity system. If we do not practice them and pass them on, if we do not recognize and record them, they could be lost to us forever.
Everyone can be involved in efforts at documenting these intangibles. The Smithsonian Folklife and Oral History Interviewing Guide that can be found at http://www.folklife.si.edu/education_exhibits/resources/guide/introducti... provides easy to follow and easy to adapt tips and tools for interviewing people, young and old, who are “bearers of tradition” and for identifying and documenting cultural markers.
These “living traditions” are people who are described by folklorist Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett as “living links in the historical chain, eyewitnesses to history, shapers of a vital and indigenous way of life. They are unparalleled in the vividness and authenticity they can bring to the study of local history and culture.” They are in our homes. They are our neighbors. They are in our communities. Let us get to know them and their stories and skills before they are lost to us.
The Davao City Government showed foresight when it set up the Museo Dabawenyo, the People’s Museum that is mandated to promote “better historical and cultural awareness, understanding and integration”. But Museo Dabawenyo has to be supported by dynamic links to the grassroots and different streams that characterize Davao society.
In this respect, barangay local governments play a vital role in keeping folklife and traditions alive and mainstreamed. Further, community events like fiestas are important, not only for what they commemorate, but also for the opportunity of community members to meet and interact.
Imagine my mixed feelings then when I learned that our barangay had hired an events organizer for our fiesta. I can appreciate the effort to professionally conduct the activities, since many of the residents are at work on weekdays and are constrained from providing volunteer services. Nevertheless, I felt that we lost out on an opportunity to mobilize and socialize as a community there.
Come October 28 on Barangay Election Day then, let us not forget to include “support for culture and multiculturalism” in our considerations when we draw up our list of barangay officials to support. Barangay governments are at the frontline of service delivery and that includes securing the services that can keep cultures alive and dynamic.
The Culture in Development website promotes what it calls the Heritage Cycle diagram which posits that “by understanding cultural heritage, people value it; by valuing it, people want to care for it; by caring for it; it will help people enjoy it; and from enjoying it comes a thirst to understand it; by understanding it…” thus closing the loop and beginning a new one.
Our languages are full of words that suggest shaking and waking. The play between the Cebuano term “siging-siging” and the Tagalog word “gising” suggest being shaken rudely and hurriedly in order to wake up. But ought that to be the case all the time?
The point being we cannot wait to be shaken up in order to wake up. Otherwise, we might end up with only pictures posted on social network sites to remind us of what we once had.
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Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on October 19, 2013.