Packed with Traditions
March 1, 2004 4:25 PM
Some cultures and generations have the burden of carrying traditions on their backs. Literally.
A new exhibit at SF State, "Carriers of Tradition, The Backpacks of the Northern Philippines," in the Hohenthal Gallery at the Treganza Anthropology Museum, illustrates exactly that.
A plethora of backpacks, some with decoratively dyed feathers and intricate bamboo weaves, sit in glass cases and don the walls of this exhibitional gem tucked away on the third floor of the Science building at SF State.
The artifacts are clustered in groups according to ethno-linguistic orientation, meaning by the ethnicity and language or dialect of the people.
“This is a place where students can learn about how culture is connected to materials, material culture,” said Yoshiko (Miko) Yamamoto, director and curator of the museum since 1988.
This exhibit focuses in paticular on 10 ethno-linguistic groups who reside in the mountainous northern Luzon Cordillera region.
“These backpacks were collected from the mountain providences. You can really see how they evolved with the topography,” Yamamoto said.
Though these groups live within close geographic vicinity, they speak drastically different dialects and have distinct ceremonies and practices.
The groups, namely the Apayao, Bontoc, Gaddang, Kalanguya, Kalinga, Kankana’ey, Ibaloi, Ifugao, Illongot, and Tigguian, utilized the backpacks for the transportation of rice, their staple crop and source o livelihood.
Other uses include the transport of meat and personal items, like forms of identification issued by the Spanish colonists and members of the American military occupation, including marriage certificates and ethnic affiliations.
Each village had one primary weaver, a male, and only men used the backpacks. Women used baskets cohesive with their different roles and chores; some of these are also on display in the exhibit.
But to the dismay of researchers and cultural enthusiasts, these practices are slowly being phased out and have, in a sense, become endangered.
“These traditions are dying," said Charisse Aquino, 23, a graduating senior and anthropology major, who has done fieldwork in the Philippines. "Tourists are coming in and trading Levi’s for these sacred artifacts. Tupperware is replacing the traditional baskets. The children no longer want to weave, they want to watch MTV."
The World Heritage committee, a subsidiary of the United Nations educational scientific and cultural organization, UNESCO, added the rice terraces of the Philippines Cordilleras to the World Heritage list in 1995.
This list places the Cordilleras in a category with other locations deemed worthy of “protecting its natural and cultural properties of outstanding universal value against the threat of damage in a rapidly developing world.”
There are 754 other properties all over the world currently represented on the list.
The exhibit exemplifies an attempt by scientists, specifically anthropologists, to capture the essence of the region, ensuring the propagation and furtherment of its environmentally adapted practices and culture.
“There is so much more to learn about the Philippines than just the stereotypes,” Aquino said.
Aquino and her fellow student, Christina Dastghiab, have helped put together the exhibition that is mostly composed of pieces from international collections.
With the aid and advice of faculty and staff, the students researched and worked with the artifacts to create the current display.
Admission is free.
The museum is located in SCI 377 and the exhibit is open through April 30. The gallery is open Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
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