Past Forward

Cebuano waterworld

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There’s a humongous table-top rendition of a Western Christmas atmosphere at SM City Cebu Northwing, where people can elect to pay for their own little cottages amid a profusion of snow and Christmas décor, all for charity. It draws a huge crowd of shoppers daily, eager to see how Christmas would have been if we were in the temperate regions of the world. The magnificent Christmas tree and its select rendition of lights complete the holiday atmosphere pervading there. I saw a version of this at Marco Polo Hotel last year but this one at SM seems twice as big.

Unsung, on the other hand, is the enthralling collection of native huts and stilt houses reminiscent of the movie “Waterworld” that one can gawk at the pond inside ParkMall. Unfortunately, unlike the snow-filled miniatures at SM Northwing, people just sit around this one, oblivious of the beauty of it all. And no charity is being raised out of this profusion of huts. How I would have loved to ask the ParkMall owners to use the tableau as a backdrop to raise funds for more archaeological research in Cebu; for these miniatures have inadvertently captured for us a look at old Cebu at the coming of the Spanish explorers.

Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler of the Magellan Expedition that reached Cebu in 1521 would have instantly recognized them as so like the ones he describes about Sugbu or Zubu as they docked at its port.

I saw this collection of artwork miniatures yesterday, after my sister pointed them out to me. They remind me of a section of Disneyworld in Hong Kong and yet they look so Cebuano as to be extremely useful in educating the young about how our seafaring ancestors would have lived just before the coming of the Spaniards. The display at ParkMall is worthy of a museum gallery elucidating on the life and times of Humabon and his kingdom which Pigafetta, being an Italian, wrote down as Zubu, unable to comprehend the guttural stop caused by the letter “g” in Sugbu.

Although devoid of humans or any animals in miniature, the huts are placed amid a profusion of greenery, giving it a sense of pristine innocence, a glimpse as it were to a world where modernity had not yet taken hold.

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The news last week that the Province of Cebu and the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc will provide funds jointly to restore all Gabaldon schools in Cebu came just as the curators at Museo Sugbo were re-airing all the documents and papers of Sen. Vicente Rama following the threat of  Super Typhoon Pablo passing through the city. Museo Sugbo’s personnel had to dismantle all the exhibits in 10 of its 12 galleries and store most of the important ones for protection due to the impending storm. Fortunately, the storm did not make much of a dent on the city and so the gargantuan task of putting back the exhibits was also accompanied by simple conservation practice like opening all the files of documents and re-arranging them.

Among those that caught my attention was a letter-request by Sen. Vicente Rama, then an assemblyman in the unicameral National Assembly of 1937, a year before his appointment as city mayor of Cebu. The letter lists a number of barrio schools that he had provided funds for in the towns of Carcar (five schools), San Fernando (five schools), Naga (three schools), Minglanilla (three schools), and Talisay (five schools) within what was then the Third District of Cebu in the National Assembly. It would be interesting to see which of these on the list survived the last great war and how many need to be repaired. These schools cost between P2,000 to P5,000 to build in 1938. Their repairs would cost 10 or 20 times more nowadays.

I am particularly interested in a small two-classroom Gabaldon building in the mountains of barangay Libertad, Alegria town, where the principal has personally asked me to see if funds could be made available to repair its leaking roof and damaged floors. These schools form part of the history of every locality, educating the populace and creating a path of success for thousands since 1907 when the first appropriations were made by Assemblyman Isuaro Gabaldon of Nueva Ecija. I wish all nothing short of success in this joint venture that will also include local government units where these schools are located.

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