Swords, Santos & Filipino Heritage

santos3After many years in Canada, Vancouver doctor Miguel Tecson, who was born and raised in the Philippines, felt well-adjusted to North American culture. But there was something missing.

“I felt like a marginal man,” says Tecson. “I could identify with both cultures, but I was never at ease with either one. There was a yearning for the Philippines.”

This feeling led Tecson, and his wife Julia, to begin collecting Filipino artifacts—from the Philippines, as well as China, other parts of Southeast Asia and Europe. When they began to collect pieces from their heritage, there were few Filipinos in Canada; now there are thousands, and Tecson wanted to share his collection.

“The children of Filipino immigrants are Filipino, but Canadian in their orientation,” adds Tecson. :They don’t know anything about the Philippines and we wanted to make these things available to that generation.”

The Tecsons donated their collection to the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia, and it was organized by that institution’s anthropology students.

The collection includes silver bracelets, wood and fibre containers and several ceramic pieces, including seven giant ‘dragon’ jars. There are also two Kris swords, which are highly-ornate, gilded swords made of steel, brass, copper and ivory and with wickedly serrated edges. Two other stand-out items are ‘bululs’, images of granary gods dating from 100-800 BC.

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Prior to the arrival of the Spanish traders in 1565, indigenous people worshiped before pagan idols, usually very roughly carved in human likeness. The Spanish quickly replaced those with figures representative of Catholicism, and these images were referred to as santos (Spanish for ‘saint’). Santos were wood carvings covered with a gesso-like layer, like fine plaster, which was meant to cover the grain to make the surface smooth and white before painting. The santos in this collection were made specifically for home use—at 6:00 pm every day, families would kneel at their home altars, before the santos, and call on the saints for spiritual or material aid.

Today, santos are molded from plaster or plastic. The older wooden ones are in great demand by collectors and museums, but imitations are so easily produced that the Tecson collection contains many that are worn out or damaged, which is proof of their authenticity. The Tecson collection offers a window on an ancient culture about which we know surprisingly little.

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Blitz Magazine, July 2001

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