By C. Horatius Mosquera
In the month of June, especially around Independence Day, our thoughts usually turn to our history and heritage. Sadly, however, it seems not too many people nowadays appreciate the past. Maybe it is because we live in a time of rapid change, where the fast pace of progress, especially in technology, defines us in terms of where we are going. The past, even the recent past, therefore becomes irrelevant.
It is sad, for example, how we have lost so many heritage structures in our cities. In the world’s great capitals, they preserve their buildings and monuments, many of which are hundreds or even thousands of years old. Here in the Philippines, we tear them down to be replaced by mega-malls.
To our forebears, history and heritage mattered. To them, knowing where you came from helped you understand who you are. It grounded you, provided you roots and a sense of belonging.
With Google now easily at our fingertips, ignorance of the past is not because of a lack of information, but because of a lack of interest. Or perhaps indifference. Or even intimidation, because knowledge of history and heritage is often considered the territory of experts and geeks. Nothing could be further than the truth. History and heritage are compelling enough that many social register A-listers have embraced it as an advocacy, making it classy and newsworthy. Think Jacqueline Onassis, E.M. Forster, Stephen Fry, and Charles, Prince of Wales.
Indeed, the past is not about being outdated. No, far from it; in fact, scholars have said that our view of the past shapes how we view the present, and how we prepare for the future. So how do you make history and heritage interesting and relevant? Try these 4R’s for as a start.
READ Knowledge is power, and learning never stops. These are truisms that hold true, even in the everyday workplace. Because to stop learning means to stagnate and to stop growing. From the moment I opened my first encyclopedia at home as a young kid, my cravings for knowledge have been sated by reading. I have been hooked on history and heritage ever since.
To illustrate: my own understanding and appreciation of Philippine history was not only informed by reading Gregorio Zaide textbooks in school, but by spending time in the library reading essays of Nick Joaquin, books by Leon Ma. Guerrero, and the newspaper columns of Ambeth Ocampo, among many others. It is always a good idea to get many views to a topic. The more you know about a topic, the more you can ask the right questions.
With the Internet, access to information is almost instant. But nothing still beats going through the pages of a hardbound book. Or going to other repositories of culture and knowledge like museums, art galleries, even theaters! Soak it all up. Once you absorb it, it becomes part of you.
RELATE You can get information about the past not only through books, but through people. In fact, history and heritage become alive when told through the witness and experience of people. Start with your own family history. Little-known stories as told by the old-timers offer so many anecdotes that are priceless references to the character of relatives long dead. Instances like this show that history and heritage begin at the personal level. In the provinces, people usually get to “know” you by asking your surname, who your parents and grandparents are, who your relatives are. Once they are satisfied that they “know” who you are, they become more generous and open with their time and their resources.
And the best way to relate to other people is to speak their language. Literally and figuratively. The National Commission on Culture and the Arts has established, with the help of ethnologists and linguists, that there are about 133 indigenous languages in the Philippines, 13 of which languages—Cebuano, Tagalog, Ilokano, Hiligaynon (Ilonggo), Waray, Kapampangan, Bikol, Albay, Pangasinan, Maranao, Maguindanao, Kiniray-a, and Tausug—have more than one million speakers. And there are hundreds more dialects found all over the archipelago, some with variations occurring between towns on the same island. Not too many Filipinos realize it, but they are already multi-lingual. For example, if their families originated from the island of Panay, they may also speak Hiligaynon and Kiniray-a aside from Tagalog. Add to that English and Spanish, and they can readily study source materials in the original languages if they wanted to!
REVEL Get out of your comfort zone. Go places. Party, if you must. The best way to learn about history and heritage is to go where it was made. It is sad to note that many Filipinos know more about the ins-and-outs of San Francisco or New York than Manila itself. A walking tour of Intramuros or Vigan or Cebu or Iloilo can leave you with a different perspective of the place and its people. Even something simple like taking the public transport, where you can observe, listen, and experience how the local people get around, can give you valuable insights to their worldviews and way of life.
Interested in Philippine architecture? Regional cuisine? Tribal fabrics and designs? Meeting and interacting with like-minded afficionados can provide you with the connections to organizations and experts. You will find out that they are more than happy to welcome others into their fold. They usually have regular get-togethers where you can meet new friends, share information, and be updated with the latest news.
REJOICE. Lastly, be proud of your history and heritage. You are a Filipino! Celebrate yourself. The more you are comfortable in your own skin, the more you become sensitive to the environment around you. And you will find that you will begin to value and appreciate history and heritage not just as a topic, hobby, or advocacy. At the end of the day, history matters because you are part of it, and what you do—no matter how big or small—becomes your legacy for the future, adding in a shared heritage of family, community, and nation.