EMMIE V. ABADILLA
If you can’t travel halfway around the world to see the treasure of the Pharaohs and the kings of old, you can still admire over a thousand archaeological gold closer to home at the Ayala Museum.
I thought nothing more can impress me after I’ve been up close and personal with the solid gold mask of Tutankhamun in Egypt and the death mask of Agamemnon in Greece.
That was until I saw the Kinnari and the rest of the Gold of Ancestors on display at the Ayala Museum
By the gram, someone reckoned the trove will fetch about P23 Million. However, in terms of cultural value and historic significance, it’s priceless.
A solid gold halter – the Upavita “Sacred Thread” or “Sablay”, ten-pounds of gold woven into three layers of miniature balls a thousand years ago, stars in the collection. Slung across the chest for religious, healing and protection purposes, it was so heavy it broke the first mannequin on which curators put it on.
Dealers initially offered the artifact to then Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Laya for P4.5Million.
Considering that pre-colonial Filipinos don’t have much tools and that they have to hammer the gold to shape with their hands, the elaborate filigreed pieces must have taken them years to craft.
And fact is, most of the treasures, except for the funerary masks and bands buried with the dead to ensure them of a good welcome in the afterlife, were functional. Masters and slaves wore gold in their daily lives. Even the lowest of the low slaves wore gold ornaments. The country overflowed with gold in those days.
More than the Sacred Thread, what I loved most about the Gold of Ancestors’ collection was the dainty Kinnari – the winged celestial musician of Buddhism and Hinduism – in beaten gold.
I have seen lots of Kinnaris in the temples of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand as well as in museums all over the world. But this is not an imported Kinnari. It shows no Chinese, Indian or other foreign influence. It was how the ancient Filipinos imagined the angels of music in their time, though the being’s eyes are slanted and the lips are sensual.
The gold death masks also awed me. They resemble some of those I’ve seen in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens, though neither as haunting as the funeral mask of Agamemnon, the tragic Greek King of Homer’s Iliad, nor as grand as Tutankhamun’s mask in the Cairo Museum.
And how pre-colonial Filipinos – both men and women – adorned themselves! Before Magellan came, everyone in the archipelago must have looked like strutting jewelry stores!
They wore diadems, necklaces, neck chains, cuffs, bracelets, pectorals over their chests, anklets, belts and brooches.
Men sported one or two holes for earrings, while women had three to four. They wore the “panika”, the largest earrings, on the lowest hole, which is dubbed “panikaan.” Smaller earrings called “palbad,” “pomara,” or “dinalopang,” studded the upper holes while the “sangi,” is donned on just one ear.
But what really made my jaw drop was an array of chastity covers – triangles of beaten gold with ornate “repousee” flowers and designs which artisans raised by hammering on the reverse side.
While the chastity covers have holes on top for fastening to women’s waists, they are not chastity belts.
Apparently, they are simply placed on top of women’s sex organs – to hide or draw attention to a woman’s flower is not clear to me. It must be uncomfortable wearing such cold, clunky metal down there in an era where women haven’t even started wearing panties.
To my dismay, I found no explanation who wore them – singletons wanting to catch their men, brides-to-be, married women or whores – and if they were donned under skirts on specific occasion, to protect virgins, ensure the husband won’t be cuckolded when he’s away, or simply used for seduction.