header image


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

Interested in What I Create?


Friday, March 15, 2019

entry arrow2:15 PM | Built Heritage as Repository of History

Part 8 of the Dumaguete Heritage Series

I never know what to make of Tanjay whenever I come to visit this city north of Dumaguete, an hour away by car. It’s a prosperous small city and I find it fascinating enough to have written two short stories set in it. It is also clear that its people take civic pride in the city as bastion of mavens, given the moniker it has come to embrace: “City of Professionals,” which sounds positively lofty, educated, sophisticated.

Local history gives us an even richer regard of the place. Tanjay is the oldest parish in Negros Oriental [the mission was established in 1580, and the parish became full-fledged in 1587].

When we take archaeology into consideration, we also learn that Tanjay was the site of an ancient maritime chiefdom of some importance in the Visayas in the period before the Spaniards came.

“Tanjay appears to have been the center of a series of economically and politically expanding regional polities, whose chiefs simultaneously controlled luxury good trade coming into the coastal port, and the river-based economy of lowland-upland exchange,” writes Laura L. Junker in Raiding, Trading, and Feasting: The Political Economy of Philippine Chiefdoms (1999), and suggests that its growth as a pre-colonial settlement is linked with the Tanjay chief’s increasing political power, themselves engaged thoroughly in production activities and trade, sponsoring crafts by skilled local artisans and becoming their patron.

[In the book, Junker also maps out the phases of pre-colonial civilization in Negros Oriental, from artifacts collected from archeological sites in Tanjay and nearby Bais, as well as Bacong and nearby Dumaguete: the Edjek Phase (1500-2000 BC), the Solamillo Phase (0-500 AD), the Aguilar Phase (500-1000 AD), the Santiago Phase (1100-1400 AD), the Osmena Phase (1400-1600 AD), and the Historic Phase (post-1600, in the early years of the Spanish colonial period)—all of them named after the properties the archaeological diggings were conducted. This gives the astounding insight that 2,000 years before the modern era, there was already a civilized culture in the island of Negros, then called Buglas.]

In Eufemio Patanñe’s The Philippines in the 6th to 16th Centuries (1996), we also learn that the Tanjay archaeological data suggests that the chiefdom founded at the mouth of the Tanjay River—the largest and only navigable river in Negros Oriental—was actually “strategically located,” the settlement small at first, but in time grew, “attracting migrants from upriver or from other less geographically favored islands,” with the “one major impetus for growth [being] trade, specifically, foreign trade…substantiated by excavations of Chinese porcelain represented by Sung, Yuan and early Ming trade pottery.” Patanñe admits there was scant evidence there was direct trade between China and Tanjay, “but certainly, by 1100 A.D. Chinese porcelain was present in Tanjay.”

And yet you don’t see any of that history—both the pre-colonial or Spanish colonial—manifested or preserved in Tanjay. No museums exist to exhibit the evidences of that pre-colonial chiefdom. No old houses preserved to give light of its rich sugar past, and no remains of the Spanish stronghold that made this one of the earliest Spanish settlements. In other towns—especially Bacong, Dauin, and Amlan—we still have standing churches that attest to that Spanish colonial history. Tanjay, oldest parish in Negros, has none of that.

What gives?

I asked a particular friend from Tanjay who comes from the Calumpang family [specific identity withheld upon request], thinking he would have answers since he is pursuing projects invested in the city’s local heritage efforts. Of the church, he says: “From what I was told, it was renovated in the 1960s when they tried to ‘upgrade and update’ everything to concrete. The old church, based on pictures and accounts of people who saw it, was made of adobe. The floors inside the church, instead of lapidas, had names of the faithful who helped the church through donations. I’ve always wanted to know why it has been redesigned this way, but no one seems to have concrete answers to give me. I once saw photos of the old church and it was beautiful. It had two belfries and [the design] was typical of its generation. The most recent wave of ‘damage’ was brought on by a parish priest who gave the main altar a garish facelift and had all the pillars of the interiors removed.”

Of heritage conservation, he commented: “Tanjay has had a hard time preserving its heritage. I don’t think it even does this now. [And] I have yet to find a direct answer to why this has been so.”

I can very well imagine a Tanjay with its heritage intact. I can imagine walking down its Rizal Street and strolling across heritage houses that tell the tale of its storied past. I can imagine going to its parish church and see reflected back to me 318 years of Spanish colonial history. I can imagine going to archaeological sites within the city, or to a local museum, and see documentation in shards of ancient pottery and china indicating the richness of pre-colonial Tanjay. None of those exist.

[Note: Tanjay parish priest Msgr. Glenn Corsiga is currently constructing a museum. He hopes to finish it before he will be transferred for another assignment next year. Information from Fr. Roman Sagun]

In Dumaguete, despite the enormous heritage work still left undone, we have at least a few scattered efforts, for the most part existing because a visionary a long time saw a need for conservation.

We remain grateful, for example, to visionaries like Hubert Reynolds, who was founder of the Silliman University Anthropological Museum—an institution he established partly to house local ethnological and archaeological artifacts dating as far back as 200 B.C. Reynolds was a fraternal worker of the Disciples of Christ who, due partly to the nature of his calling, was a wide traveler who took a deep interest in different cultures. When he came to Dumaguete, he contributed greatly to the local understanding of the various native cultures of the Philippines. Dr. Reynolds came to Silliman in 1964 with his wife Harriett, after finishing their doctorate degrees at Hartford Seminary Foundation in Connecticut. They arrived with a vast portfolio of research materials and scholarly writings that focused on the cultures of the Negritos, the Isnegs, and the Tausugs. What might be considered the highlight of all the Reynolds’ involvements in and contributions to Dumaguete is the establishment of the anthropology museum in 1970, which stands today as a treasure trove of memorabilia from the early years of Silliman, as well as the aforementioned archaeological finds.

We remain grateful to the Dumaguete parish for finding an icon in the campanario, still standing and giving us a slice of the distant past when Dumaguete was a constant place of pillage by pirates in the 19th century—and from this, we learn of Fr. Jose Manuel Fernandez de Septien built a fort with four watchtowers to stand guard against future raids, and of Fr. Juan Felix de la Encarnacion who built the now famous bell tower upon the ruins of one of those Septien watchtowers. [But what is up with that orange photo-bomber of a building behind it?]

We remain grateful to the families who own the sugar houses along the Rizal Boulevard, for endeavoring to preserve their beautiful architectural integrity, which speaks volumes of the Golden Age of Sugarlandia in Negros Oriental, even as they are being repurposed to fit more modern needs—a restaurant, a hotel, a café.

These things are what we call in heritage work as “built heritage.” Built heritage is easily the most recognizable and most visible of the lot: it includes, after all, man-made historic environments including houses, factories and commercial buildings, churches and mosques and other traditional places of worship, cemeteries, school buildings, government buildings, the local marketplaces, monuments and plazas and parks, bridges, even streets, roads, railways, and bridges. It also includes physically created places such as gardens, mining sites, and stock routes, as well as archaeological sites.

These things—particularly buildings—are a city’s most obvious historians, but also ironically also most mute. When they are able to tell their stories, though, we get a slice of the Dumaguete story in such rich historical details.

Take a look at the Du An Sim Building, for example, which takes up most of the eastern part of the block straddling Calle Ma. Cristina, Surban Street, and Locsin Street. It is one of my favorite old buildings in Dumaguete. It currently houses several shops, which have been around for quite some time, including Good Luck Store, which used to have the best collection of movies on VHS for rent in the city. [Good Luck Store was veritably my film school when I was of college age, and was devouring movies to fill in a cineaste education.] The shops in this building are always busy, but I’ve often wondered, whenever I find myself in this area of Dumaguete, what’s upstairs, or better yet, how the building began.

I love the building’s rounded corners, and its wooden windows, and its generous corner balconies [there are two]—something you don’t see a lot in old buildings here. I can imagine the family that constructed this building, assembling in the balconies to watch parades or just the people of the town hustling by on ordinary days. [One balcony overlooks the wet market.] For a long time, I didn’t know when it was built, and I thought perhaps that it was probably in the 1940s.

When I posted a photo of the building on Facebook, captioning it with my rumination regarding its architecture and history, City Sports Coordinator Ike Xavier Villaflores contacted me, and over coffee told me a bit of family lore.

Mr. Villaflores belongs to the Alo clan, an old Dumaguete family known for its expertise in carpentry and whose patriarch in the 1930s and 1940s was one Generoso Alo Villaflores, or Popo, as he was fondly called by friends and family. [Popo was one of the local artisans responsible for building many iconic structures in Dumaguete, including the Silliman Church and the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria.] The Alo family owned the property fronting the Du An Sim building, where the Uypitching Building now stands, and Popo used to set out to do regular carpentry work at the Cathedral grounds before it was burned down in the Great Dumaguete Fire that consumed the area—including the public market—in 1953, which started at a store under the proprietorship of Nirmela Nanikram, in what is now MetroBank.

During the war, what is now the Du An Sim building was just a haphazard collection of wooden shops. The head of the Du An Sim family, who was very close to Popo, asked for his help: the Japanese had been occupying Dumaguete for some time now, and the later years of the war proved hard, especially for people of Chinese ancestry, and he was planning to evacuate the town for the mountains with the rest of the family—but he didn’t know where to entrust his accumulated wealth in bills and coins. Popo suggested burying the money in a nearby field—what is now the EROS Building, which currently houses Pag-IBIG Fund. In the darkness of one quiet night, the two proceeded to bury the entire lot, and the Du An Sim family evacuated the next day. Mr. Du An Sim unfortunately died during the war, and when his widow and the rest of the family later came back to the city, they arrived almost penniless, and their plight aggravated soon after by their property being engulfed in the Big Fire of 1953. Popo, according to Mr. Villaflores, guided the widow to the hiding place where her husband’s money was buried—and out of that, Mr. Villaflores told me, came the funds that built the Du An Sim building we see today. Popo was foreman in the building of that project, completed in 1954.

The Du An Sim Building tells a story significant to the historical development of Dumaguete. So do many of the old buildings here—although most of us have learned to become deaf to what stories they have to tell. Preserving them, and then digging up their history, is one way to appreciate them, and one way to chart Dumaguete history. I look at the Du An Sim Building now: it occupies a choice spot in the oldest section of Dumaguete. I can see its potential, if it’s spruced up and restored even just a bit; as an architectural piece, as a historical marker, as a vibrant commercial center, it would be a jewel.

To be continued…

Labels: , , ,

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich