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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

entry arrow9:00 AM | A Map of Heritage

Most of us rush past the campanario—or the iconic belltower of Dumaguete—in our pursuit of daily lives barely registering its presence, despite its history or its height: familiarity blinds us to things, which explains everything, and that is perfectly understandable.

But we know it’s there when we care to. We know it is the city’s ultimate landmark when we are pushed for more opinion about it. And when some tourist would insist for a story, we could give the basic outline of it being a watchtower in the olden days, when the people of Dumaguete paid vigil over the seas in a constant lookout for pirates from down south who had a propensity for pillage. “That’s where we got our name for the place,” we say, as if from a script, “from the word ‘daguit,’ which means ‘to kidnap,’ because these pirates regularly came to pillage the village.”

Which is fine enough as tidbit of history—but it is a narrative that erases much of the nuances of history, because incomplete. And incomplete because forgotten.

For one thing, there wasn’t just one watchtower. There were four.

When Father Jose Manuel Fernandez de Septien began building the Dumaguete convento between 1755 and 1760, he also built these four watchtowers, each mounted with cannons, to guard against the aforementioned invading pirates—and Fr. Septien guaranteed, for a time, a village that was largely spared the mayhem that attended many Visayan shore towns in the 17th and 18h centuries. The first of these four watchtowers would be at the corner of Bishop Epifanio Surban St. and Perdices St. [where the Bank of Philippine Islands is located]. The second would be at the corner of Surban St. and Katada St. [the rear corner of COSCA]. The third would be at the corner of Katada St. and Colon St. [the corner of the fish terminal]. (Katada St. is the narrow byway that traverses what we call the painitan.) And the fourth, and the only surviving watchtower, would be the current campanario, which was actually built much, much later by one Father Juan Felix de la Encarnacion upon the ruins of the original Septien watchtower.

From his research on local parish history, Fr. Roman Sagun writes: “With certainty, Fr. Septien must have had the nerves of steel. One can just imagine how in those times, and with so meager sources at hand, he was able to accomplish numerous projects with such tenacity. The massive stone church, which still stands today, is due to his great labors, though its transepts were developed at a later time. The convento was built from choice strong materials, which covered even the rear portion. This edifice, in which remnants of warfare can still be found in its original doorway, was constructed like a strong fort and ensured safety from any attack by the Moros. It was also fortified by a wall over two meters in height from the outside, forming a large square in the center of which the church and the convento were situated; there was also a large plaza where the inhabitants could take refuge in times of necessity … In addition to this arrangement, there was a contravalla, another defense perimeter walling of a smaller size than the former whose remains can still to be found here and there. Aside from constructing the church, the convento, the fortress, the watchtowers, and the contravalla, Father Septien also built bulwarks which were located at strategic positions on the beachfront of Dumaguete. All these were made of stone and were well secured, and they were utilized to keep watch on the coast and prevent any surprise Moro attack.”

Nobody, save local historians, remember Fr. Septien, practically the architect of what we now know of Dumaguete. We don’t even have a picture of him, and much of his life remain a mystery, unresearched. Like the three other watchtowers, he has become lost to us, forgotten.

The human mind, even at the best of times, tends towards forgetting. It is a fact of frailty that’s perfectly understandable: our lives are finite and short, while the world is vast and history is long, and we only have the vessel of our puny lives to witness that vastness, that immense length. Thus we have evolved to create memorials and museums—institutionalized memory markers—to remind us that our present is not all there is, that it is in fact the sum of the accumulation of years and experience.

Heritage is the word for that.

It is, to borrow one popular definition, “anything of value from the past that provides identity to the present and inspires the future generation.” Heritage is significant not only in terms of historical importance, but also architectural, aesthetic, spiritual, and social. Its value transcends and includes many levels, even the economic—and proper heritage management can only be good for any community, establishing not only a sense of identity, but also marking potential economic boon. Think of Vigan and its Spanish colonial houses. Think of Banawe and its rice terraces. Think of Bohol and its chocolate hills.

Traditionally, heritage can be classified into five distinct categories: movable heritage, intangible heritage, natural heritage, built heritage, and creative industries. These categories allow not only mere classification of heritage items, but also a key to what we call “cultural mapping.” Cultural mapping is, as the popular definition goes, “a process of identifying cultural heritage resources of a specific locality for purposes of conservation and development, and enables the community to understand and share culture, to re-think history, and finally to promote creativity and development.” A good program of cultural mapping will ultimately have three specific objectives: first, to identify distinct heritage resources of a community vis a vis another community; second, to thoroughly understand and properly record a heritage resource for future reference; and third, to generate interest on heritage resources among users and non users of heritage.

What are examples of “movable heritage”? Paintings and other artworks, documents, books, photos and memorabilia, costumes, crafts, weaponry, furniture, equipment and machinery and work implements, and musical instruments. Even religious groups and personalities. “Intangible heritage” would include language, local festivals, songs and assorted local music, dance, poetry and assorted local literature, local technology, local sports and games, culinary arts, local jokes, rituals and belief practices, healing arts, and secret local knowledge.

“Built heritage” would include ancestral houses, churches and mosques, plazas and park, schools and government buildings, local marketplaces, bridges, and streets and roads.

“Natural heritage” would include endemic plants and animals, rocks and minerals, forests, lakes, rivers, falls, mountains and volcanoes, valleys, caves, beaches, rice fields, and underwater resources.

“Creative industries and occupations” would include architecture, crafts industry, furniture design, fashion designer, general design industry, advertising, visual arts scene, live and recorded music industry, writing and publishing, performing arts and related entertainment, film and video production, TV, radio, and internet broadcasting, and software and computer games development.

All of these is culture, is heritage—and one can see how vital they are in the making of a community, even of sustaining it. Mapping these is indeed what Dessa Quesada-Palm has described as “a valuable tool for identifying a community’s strengths and its resources,” because it allows identification, and with that comes assessment—Why is it important to us? How do we maximize its potential? What is its current condition, and what can be done to make it better?

We ask, for example: what is the common image we use to promote Dumaguete?

The campanario is a ready answer, because it’s there, and we are vaguely aware of a history. It is our icon for a city that endures. But it is in a frail condition, and it has been dwarfed by an ugly and ill-advised towering addition to the adjacent convent, and the infrastructure that surrounds it diminishes its beauty. Noting these, its future can be mapped out, and proper development can follow, and we not only become instrumental to preserving heritage, we open a way for the community to maximize the draw the campanario holds.

Mapping heritage is a way to forestall forgetting.

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