WHEN HISTORY COMES ALIVE. Philippine history can be a boring subject. Depending on how the topics are presented, stories about the olden times, how our ancestors lived, how our heroes died can be fascinating when it is entertainingly and creatively narrated. As the cliché goes, this is when history comes alive!
We were at the Ayala Museum for the first time to attend one of Ambeth Ocampo‘s weekend lectures. Home to ancient artifacts and well-curated exhibits that narrate our nation’s historical timeline, the museum is a fitting and potent setting for our country’s most popular historian to discuss about everything and anything about Philippine history.
ART FOR ALL. The six-floor building has a permanent exhibit of ancestral gold that were unearthed from pre-colonial grave sites. While it is not clear when our ancestors first learned to mine gold, but the earliest gold artifacts date back as far as 500 BC. Visitors can view up-close priceless ancestral gold used as personal ornaments like barter earrings, anklets, bracelets, woven belts, necklaces and burial face ornaments that is believed to give its wearer greater privilege in the afterlife.
The museum has a collection of rare drawings from the 19th century album of Damian Domingo. Two of these albums are in the US and two are in local private collection. The Ayala Museum reprinted the Damian Domingo drawings in pencil cases, greeting cards, stationary and made the rarest art of a Filipino old master available for all to bring home.
BOAT GALLERY. It is only in the Ayala Museum you can find a boat gallery that shows in miniature models a myriad of watercraft that sailed on our lakes and rivers in the olden days.
Chinese junks with its mighty sails and roofed quarters for its sailors transported traders to the different islands to barter goods. The royal galleons that carried the colony’s products to Mexico and in some occasions became warships. The cascos with awnings of nipa navigated the length of Pasig river and sailed the wide Laguna de Bay to ferry passengers and produce to the countryside.
DIORAMAS. The timeline of Philippine history is visually narrated in 60 dioramas. The intricately detailed dioramas were made by unnamed craftsmen from the chisel town of Paete in Laguna.
The diorama exhibit is a good introduction to learning Philippine history because it highlights the significant events and important turning points that led to our natinoahood. However, this outline should not replace the main text we study in school, those details we research in our library and read from books because memorizing key dates and historic names and places do not make sense out of context.
STANDING ROOM ONLY. It was standing room only when we arrived early at the Ayala Museum for the lecture. For more than an hour we learned and were entertained. We waited in line for our turn to have our copies of Looking Back to be signed. How come the weekend lectures of the Ambeth Ocampo are always jam-packed and sold out?
EPILOGUE. Here is an excerpt of my interview with Ambeth:
Traveler on Foot: You are undoubtedly the most popular Filipino historian of this generation. You have numerous followers, influenced and inspired a lot of Filipinos to appreciate our culture, art, and history. Can you now say that this is the life that you want? What else do you want to achieve in life?
Ambeth Ocampo: As the country’s former National Historian, as allegedly the most popular historian of my generation I’d like to think I took history from the ivory towers of academe and brought it down and returned it to people where it also belongs. I wanted to share my interest and enthusiasm for history by making it relevant to people. I am an accidental historian, I didn’t plan it. Many things in my life fell on my lap and I made the most of them. Skill is nothing without opportunity and I was blessed with both. I’m lucky that I like what I’m doing such that my “work” doesn’t seem like work at all because I enjoy it–and this shows.