Between Past and Present: Re-imagining Heritage Tourism in Kawit and Roles of Travelers as Story tellers | Cavite, Philippines

dsc09888In my fantasy world, time stops. There will be spaces for everything. I can always travel back and forth to reminisce, to prepare, or easily, to do the rest of what we call possibilities.

But in reality, that isn’t the case. We must move – with and through time. Or else we get painfully stuck in images of the past, or we drown in the illusion of times ahead.

If we move then with and through time, what essence does three nights or four centuries ago hold?

History is a fascinating thing. It pulsates with millions of events and persons that unimaginably existed in many parts of the planet. Some had vanished on the map, some decided (wisely or stupidly) to divide or unite. Luckily for mankind, plentiful still thrive in the modern era. In these thriving parts emerge spaces, objects, and individuals that are characterized with unique narratives. Long before they are spoken or written or photographed, they ordinarily and fastly flip into mad pages of history. Time works its magic. Historical landscapes and cultural legacies are continuously created and re-created. Famous people, both living and dead, are sculpted into monuments, wooden houses stand proud amidst the concrete ones, languages spread and blend and get lost and learned again, traditional cuisines among regions and through decades evolve, religious celebrations are passed on from one generation to the next. We get to live the past in many ways.

However, even in what remains, something new always beginsThis is movement of time – the currency of the world. It is widespread and it cannot be tamed.

Changes perpetuate everyday. We get to be alive and we get to feel bursting aliveness because of these novelties.

What then of our roots?

How do we reconciliate the soul-expanding, life-altering lessons of generations before us? How do the past and the present connect? Can they truly co-exist? And are we flexible enough to live with mismatched and forgotten identities?

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This summer, I applied to an Erasmus Mundus program called Dynamics on Cultural Landscapes and Heritage Management (DYCLAM). Indicated below the abbreviation is the tagline which says: “Let’s imagine heritage for the future.” A more elaborate description of the program can be found below the brochure:

After the 1980’s, the material and immaterial heritages became, almost all over the world, the levers of territories’ global development. Finally in 1992, the UNESCO world heritage list included a new category, “Cultural Landscapes”, as the combined result of nature and humanity. They are economic, social and cultural sustainable tools. To know them helps individuals to live better together. Objects of peace for their universal value, they are also vulnerable to crisis, disasters and natural or human risks. To know how to manage them may reinforce their preservation and valorization of limited growth.

HERITAGE TOURISM IN KAWIT, CAVITE

Five months ago, I was privileged to be invited to tour around Kawit, Cavite alongside other blogger friends, or whom I prefer to call story tellers. We experienced heritage tourism that is being promoted by Fundacíon Santiago. Having applied to DYCLAM, I was thrilled upon knowing the scope of the tour. Kara, Program Director of the organization, discusses the program with spark in her eyes. Her eagerness to share and the love for her work can be felt. Immersing oneself in a Heritage Tourism Program here in the Philippines was a good surprise, all the more because it is community-based. They even offer volunteering programs for travelers wherein they can “share their time, talent, technology & treasure with those who have less in life, while experiencing our country’s Culture and Heritage as well as enjoying moments of rest & recreation”. Through its programs, Fundacíon Santiago aims to “bring about the vision of ganap (compleat) Filipino“.

About 30-45 minutes away from Makati City, the province of Cavite has surprisingly much to offer, notably in Philippine history. Everytime I return, I notice that this place is surely and rapidly becoming “Manila”. Malls, condominiums, fast-food chains, buildings and all things urban sprawl like weeds. People move around everywhere. Shiny vehicles cause traffic adding more heat to the already hot weather. It smells like any other city now.

However, while driving around the municipality of Kawit, we pass by residential areas with narrow roads. We fix our gazes at the remaining old and huge houses which, perhaps, had been erected way back during Spanish colonization. Slowly, we are being brought back in time. We move towards another century colored with stories and characters we somehow perceive in black and white. Finally, we get off the van. We proceed inside the preserved spaces.

Kawit has now become a capsule of history.

We were greeted by the proactive and smiling tour guides from Cavite el Viejo Heritage Tourism Association (CVHTA). They are community volunteers who, under the guidance of Fundacíon Santiago and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, are dedicated to the “preservation and promotion of the town’s significant heritage treasures – historical and natural sites, traditions and festivities”. As they led us, we saw the same eagerness as Kara’s, evident in their faces and gestures as they tell us stories on what life was like during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

We begin to move with and through time by simultaneously living in the present and exploring the past.


Saint Mary Magdalene Church

Let’s go back to 1624. That was the year this church was built, making it one of the oldest in the Philippines, the second oldest in Kawit. It was quite interesting to know the background of the name. Around the area used to be the red-light district. In order to tame the not-so-good things going on, the originally wooden church was then dedicated to the patroness of the town, St. Mary Magdalene. Perhaps the renaming turned out to be effective because the Kawiteños became intent in preserving this holy place. Later on, the structure was replaced with stronger materials. It would come in appropriate and useful when it was declared as a Historical Structure of the Philippines in 1990.

Like all old churches I have visited in various provinces around the country, its beauty invokes familiarity. The construction and design obviously hold a Spanish influence. And perhaps like every church in the Philippines, there were quite a number of activities happening at the same time. During our ongoing tour, there were also marriage and baptism ceremonies. And Filipinos can’t miss the picture-taking sessions.

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MM stands for Mary Magdalene, the patroness of the church

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Pandayan (Blacksmithing)

The photo below is a forgeur. Upon learning the French term for blacksmith, I instantly began to imagine a worker exuding the persona of being firm and wise and respected by the community. True enough, as we observed how pandayan was done, I’ve come to the conclusion that it does take serious strength of the body, especially the hands. Furthermore, becoming a forgeur requires skills such as precision of when and how to do this and that, as well as endurance to the heat. Pandayan is hard work. First, the metal is heated in a furnace. When the color turns orange and bright yellow, it is then placed in the middle of a thick metal bar where the magic of striking and forging and bending and straightening happens. Knives and other farm tools are some of the products made out of this labor.

During the tour, you could actually become a panday for a few minutes and try the art of blacksmithing. Sadly, this is fading as a profession. In fact, only three blacksmith’s shops operate in Kawit as of now.

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Bolo (Filipino term for farm tool) in different shapes and sizes
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Sights along the streets of Kawit
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Battle of Binakayan Monument

Baldomero Aguinaldo Shrine

This had been the residence of Baldomero, cousin of Emilio Aguinaldo. The interior feels like being transported into another era. It has that soothing familiarity, like really being at home, literally and figuratively. Beautiful patterns decorate the ceiling, walls, beds, pots, tiles and other old but still functional relics we found.

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Do you agree?

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Emilio Aguinaldo Shrine and Museum

Now I know why mansions are called mansions. Aguinaldo’s house is enormous and fancy. A life of abundance experienced by the family can be seen in every nook and cranny. They have swimming pools, bowling alley, spacious rooms for each member of the family, antique furnitures, high ceilings and wide windows, grand garden and parking lot, and almost everything a family of wealth and comfort and prestige can have. The house mansion even reaches up to seven floors. Reaching the attic, one can enjoy a view overlooking the towns.

 Aside from these symbols of extravagance that are visible to the observing eye, some sections of the house were intentionally built as disguised. It possesses interesting mysteries such as hidden doors, passages, and chambers. The purpose of designing these spaces were to maintain privacy (such as Emilio Aguinaldo’s secret room) and to anticipate safety and security, especially during Spanish era. Even the short height of stairs was a form of strategy in attacking Spanish enemies who have naturally long legs.

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On June 12, 1898, Philippine Independence Day was declared here
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Emilio Aguinaldo is the first Philippine President
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Main house on the west
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Family wing on the east
The backpacks and luggage of yesterday
The backpack/luggage of yesterday
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Covered balcony
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7th floor/attic of the Aguinaldo house

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Irasan Saltern (Weather-permitting)

Are we at Salar de Uyuni or what?

Who knew that in this part of the country exists a saltern? We were mesmerized with the beautiful reflection of the sky and the clouds and the farmers walking on the salt beds. But more than the picturesque sight before us, we were also enlightened on the process of salt-making by the farmers themselves. Salt can be produced through natural evaporation with the help of the sun and the wind, hence production heavily relies on the weather.

Perhaps because the industry is seasonal, or like pandayan it equally requires hard work, few salterns remain to this day. There’s also a big probability that budding generations prefer a more modern work, seeking a good, busy life in the city. After the tour, we gathered at the covered area. The smiling guides thanked and gifted each one of us a bottle of salt produced from the saltern. They voiced out their hopes to us, in spreading the word about Irasan Saltern, as well as the other historical and cultural landscapes we explored. By doing this, we will also be able to support the local community in sustaining their livelihood.

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TRAVELERS’ ROLES AS STORY TELLERS

Travelers are privileged to interact with the most diverse and interesting folks we could ever imagine meeting, to sleep out in the open with waves as our lullabies and starry, starry night as our roof, to learn in practical and pleasurable means the greatest lessons, to glimpse from the window of our plane seat the glimmering blue oceans and white peaks below – to be, literally and figuratively, high on life.

What else is there?

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Before starting this blog, I initially deemed story telling as my weakness. However, after finding the courage and setting an intention to share both my inner and outer travels in life, a shift or a re-discovery that is heartfelt, expanding, delightful, and liberating happened within months. Since then, writing has been leading me to the path of inspiring people to travel and/or write, helping by means of guides on trips and personal sentiments about destinations, and in so many ways and levels, touching lives.

Let’s open our eyes to what’s happening to the people around us and write about it. Let’s film it. Let’s show it. You, who were lucky enough to be born with a voice, can choose to make more visible those problems that sometimes remain hidden by all the flashy pictures of adventurous travellers. And, no matter if you’re a writer/filmmaker or not, you might as well roll up your sleeves and ask yourself how you can help make the place you’re visiting better. –Elisa of Revolution on the Road

This is the kind of story telling which proves to encompass distances and cultures and gender and time and, I’d like to believe, has a mightier, everlasting impact.

This is what it means to be a story teller: Our existence will be blazing at the same time extinguished, because the act of story telling will lead to a purpose unbelievably colossal like the cosmos than what our individual passions and dreams promise. We participate in the grander scheme of things. In telling stories, travelers become messengers of reality and artists of movement.

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So how does this connect to the heritage tour in Kawit, Cavite?

As we exited each historical and cultural site, in the outside world the light of summer made visible the 21st century that Kawit, Cavite literally belongs to. Yes, a capsule of history but also a rising modernity. This land of contrasts and the last words of the tour guides made me reflect on how important and eternally relevant telling stories can be.

Revisiting the municipality of Kawit truly brought enlightenment. More than acquiring information about this and that, I realized that we, as story tellers, were trusted with stories which may already be forgotten or may not be written at all in history books. We have become students and teachers at the same time. This implied a responsibility to communicate valuable information, to reveal the authenticity of an interlaced past and present, to illuminate our roots and remember our ancestors, to expose some of the secret treasures of Philippine history, to be timeless in our acceptance and understanding.

Through story telling, we put value in our past and this allows us to move forward as locals and as nationals.

“Let’s imagine heritage for the future.”

In the Philippines, as in any country in the world, I believe we have much work, time, attention, and determination to dedicate our hearts into, because in our blood runs pluralities and layers of heritage and culture and centuries of influences and ethnicities – endless stories to share to the global scene.

Rosario Cruz Lucero, one of the Filipino writers I had encountered in my Humanities class in the university, beautifully constructed in her essay The Music of Mortar-on-Pestle:

Only when we look inward to our center can we expand the circumference of our artistic expressions. Only when we speak for and from our own native traditions can we convincingly speak to the people of other traditions.

Tell on.


Tour Inquiries & Special Requests

Cavite el Viejo Heritage Tourism Association

Facebook: CVHTA

Lean Aldea: 0923 238 9768

Lotlot Dizon: 0928 939 0917

Fundación Santiago

10/F BPI Bldg. Paseo de Roxas cor. Ayala Ave., Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines

Website: www.fundacionsantiago.ngo.ph

Email: fundacion.santiago.ph@gmail.com

Facebook: Fundacíon Santiago

Telephone: 02 696 24 57

 

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