Cebu,  a Port City in Prehistoric
and in Present Times

By:  Tonette Solatan-Panares 
SWU Museum Curator

          Cebu has no rich monumental structures parallel to Borobdor in Indonesia, or Angkor Vat in Cambodia, what it does have is the recently discovered San Diego treasurers, a Spanish commercial galleon  handcrafted somewhere in Consolacion, Cebu by local shipbuilders.  Above all these, are the material collection of prehistoric artifacts found in the hands of early local collectors, namely:  the late Leocadia Patalinghug Binamira and Mr. Rodrigo Velez who started collecting as early as 1920 is followed by Francisca Melendez Aboitiz, Leonor M. Echavarria, Mrs. Evelyn Ogarte, Dr. Lydia Aznar Alfonso, Mrs. Efefania P. Velez, Mrs. Rosita Arcenas, Mrs. Manuela Soriano, Mrs. Felisa Chiongbian, Mrs. Lulu Aboitiz, Mrs. Ma. Cristina C. Aboitiz, Atty and Mrs. Ricardo Benitez, Mr. Teody de la Torre, Mr. Benghong and Mr. Merelo Aznar.

          These collectors followed the trail and accounts of the University of San Carlos Field work expeditions undertaken by Dr. Rosa Tenazas in the areas of Cebu City, Bacong,  Negros even as far as Luzon at the Calatagan and Sta. Ana Sites. 

          According to Mr. Teody de la Torre, a well-known antique collector and dealer, Lydia Aznar-Alfonso, Leonor Echavarria, Paki Aboitiz and Evelyn Ogarte pursued antique collection with passion in the 1968 period.  They were at the grave site, from the crack of dawn to sun down.  It was Dr. Lydia Aznar-Alfonso whose heart and soul went into the retrieval of whole grave site excavations.  In Langtad, Argao in late 1969 she  retrieved 63 good pieces of early blue and white and celadons.  Followed by a series of other excavations, criss-crossing the whole island of Cebu and beyond.  Her being a doctor, doing fieldwork in population control and family planning enabled her to acquire properties that were probable sites rich of porcelain specimens.

          Noteworthy observation of Ramon Echavarria who witnessed and took part in both antique collection and research of the ceramic excavated wares in Cebu, define the range and disposition of the areas of prehistoric trade with mainland Asia.     

          First,  Siamese, Anamese and other Southeast Asian pottery is almost as plentiful as  the Chinese.  Second,   all the classic periods  of Chinese ceramic  history are adequately represented in the archaeology of the region.  Pots bearing the robust forms, glaze 'bibs', splayed footrims and flaring mouths characteristic of the T'ang  style, and specimens of olive and gray-green Yueh wares and white, translucent Hsing wares typical of the T'ang period, have been recovered, especially in southern Cebu and the western coast of Bohol.  Sung and Yuan dynasty porcelains have been found in great abundance  throughout the region---Tz'u Chou, Ting Ching Pai, and temmoku specimen, as well as a vast number of green-glazed Lung-ch'uan and Kinuta type celadon items of all shapes, shades, and designs. 1 Echavarria

          The Island of Cebu is the center of trade and commerce even during the time of its discovery by Magellan in 1521.  A Siamese junk paid tribute to Rajah Humabon and negotiated for its gold, slaves, and cotton among other rich material resources bartered with its porcelain, silk cloth, and other goods.  Indian traders have left behind its cultural imprint.  This can be seen in the rich semi-precious stones of carnelian, lapiz-lazuli, corals, and other stones.

          The Visayan Islands had earlier encounter with the Greek traders in 21 A.D. 2  (Felix Regalado and Quentin  B. Franco, History of Panay  (Ilo-ilo City  Central Philippines University , 1973) ed.,  Eliza B. Grimo, p. 78.) Its people enjoyed extensive trade contacts with other cultures.  Arabs, Indians, Vietnamese, Thais, Cambodians, Malays and Indonesians as trader or immigrants.3 (Echavarria)

          The Social mores and practices found in burial grave furnitures reveal customs and practices ---  the belief in life after death, hand tooled gold death mask, jewelries, alongside trade beads, swords with either deer horn handles even the  gold teeth peggings assume a rich noble Visayan Social tradition. Particular only to the Bisayan Islands.

          Cebu is the capital of the Bisayan Pintados, an island known for its trade of gold, and slave.  The term Bisayan is synonymous to the term slave, as slave hunting was practiced in Cebu. 4 (Filipino Heritage)   When Magellan landed in Cebu in 1521, a Siamese junk was moored in its port loading gold, slaves and other goods.   Enrique, a slave bought by Magellan in Malacca who was instrumental in the discovery of the Philippines, and the man who 1st circumnavigated the world, must have used a language commonly  spoken in the areas of Sugbu to interpret for Magellan and Humabon when he landed in 1521, thus a claim that Enrique was a Cebuano by origin of birth  is an interesting footnote of history according to former Secretary of Education Alejandro Roces who used Pigafetta's  Chronicle  as his major source and reference in a recently concluded Press Conference at Cap Osmena Memorabilia last October. 20, l996.

          Nowhere else in the Philippines has a greater concentration of ancient porcelains.  Beyer referred to Cebu as "truly a mine of ancient porcelains and other artifacts of pre-Spanish times."  Beyer's own collection of pottery finds originating from Cebu numbered, by his own account, more than 1,200 whole or  nearly whole specimens, in addition to more than two tons of ceramic fragments.  He further states that numerous porcelain collections gathered at the island were shipped out to the United States, France, England and Japan during the 1920's and 1930's.  5 Echavarria

         Cebu in Pre-history, as a port city opens a great panorama of a rich cultural legacy.  Excavated material artifacts and heirloom pieces preserved in the collection of Dr. Lydia A. Alfonso 's  basement for the last 30 years is now the centerpiece of the most extensive and complete testimony; evidence  and proof that Cebu was a port city then as it is a bustling port city today.  It is a gateway from Central Philippines of trade and commerce not only to Asia and the Asia Pacific but to the  whole world.

          The transfer of the LAA Collection to the family owned University -- the Southwestern University Museum on loan -- has provided its students primarily with the opportunity to understand history and culture from a closer perspective.  The  program of interactive learning through  a General Museum,  the Filipiniana Research Center vis-a-vis the Multi-media Center enable them to touch base with the true significance of their indigenous roots; Cebuano in particular, yet Filipino in general.

          For the SWU students,  tourists and other guests, the Museum have established  a link not only in the pre-historic Neolithic material artifacts whose forms and designs resemble  today's export tradeware of fashion accessories, gifts, toys,and housewares  but  also of the Hispanic Liturgical Collection, 18th Century Furnitures,  Paintings and Sculptures of Cebuano and other Visayan Artists.

          Cebuano Exporters, and Foreign importers frequently converge in Cebu for trade fair exhibition showcasing Cebuano craftsmanship.  These works reveal a close affinity with designs found in the  unique terra-cotta angle pots and other forms,  Anamese, Siamese, and Chinese porcelain trade wares and excavated   hand tooled jewelries found in Cebu.

          Even today, some new burial site somewhere on the island are being discovered and hoarded by diggers.  Thousands of excavated ceramics pass through the hands of Cebuano "antique" peddler every year, the majority of them being sold to private collectors here and abroad or to dealers from Manila.

          Martaban Jars, limestone  burials jars from Sultan Kudarat in Cotabato or heirloom  silver jewelries  from Jolo transfer hands in Cebu.  Again this proves  that Cebu is  a  transshipment  point to the world.  It does not assume that its origin is from Cebu, what it does assert is the fact that access to these available rich material resources passed through Cebu as a port center, a city  proud of its leadership in commerce and industry even as early as pre-history circa from the 7th to 9th Centuries up to the 12th-15th even up to the 18th on the 21st Century and beyond.

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