Seven years ago, when my family visited Bataan, on the peninsula once drenched by the blood of Allied freedom fighters, there has risen a living museum of Philippine customs and traditions reborn in a community now visited by Filipino and foreign tourists.
The customs and traditions of the Filipinos, from the 18th- to the 20th-century Philippines, is seen—thanks to costumed male and female cultural tour guides—in the reconstructed houses of stone, stilt houses built in that span, and the different dances performed by a dance troupe during the cultural night.
These houses were old and decaying architectural pieces of a bygone era and slowly fading into the background of urban life, according to Mabel, one of the weekend tour guides, who spoke her lines in impeccable Filipino.
She explained before her assigned 20-something group of weekend visitors, from different parts of the country and some from overseas, how Filipinos lived in as early as the 18th century, their manners and traditions—no smiles during picture taking to stress the character of the Filipino women of the era—and their lifestyle.
Some of the houses were opened to the visitors who had a quick travel back in time with Mabel who related how the Filipinos then lived in the different houses that dot the 400 hectares of bayside area fronting Bagac Bay on the country’s western seaboard.
The 27 architectural pieces were painstakingly reconstructed from different parts of the country and rebuilt, according to the tour guide, “brick by brick” and “plank by plank,” and now stand dazzling against a backdrop of verdant mountains as well as rain-fed rice fields and a running river that empties into the sea.
One of the houses is the Casa Candaba, owned by a prominent family in Candaba, Pampanga, used as the residence of the Spanish governor general when he visited the province.
The interior of the rebuilt house was sturdy but simple and devoid of external details, but the interior was neo-Gothic in influence—from the arches, brackets, to column details.
The weekend visitors were also shown the Casa Luna, built in 1850, originally owned by a prominent family of Namacpacan (eventually renamed Luna), La Union.
The immense symmetrical house was constructed on a square plan typical of the Ilocano balay a bato or stone house, with the ground floor used for carriages and store room for garlic, onions, and tobacco harvested at different times of the year.
The second floor, where the bedrooms are distributed round the grand living room, is shielded by the volada or short flight on the entire length of the façade.
The rear portion of the second floor is a grand dining room serviced by an equally large kitchen area with an azotea which is adjacent to the toilet and bath.
There is also the Casa Meycauayan, originally constructed in 1913 in San Fernando, Pampanga, which was constructed out of adobe stone on the ground floor and wood on the upper floor in the typical bahay na bato (stone house) style.
The original house was generally a classic example of the passive cooling ventilation adopted throughout the entire structure.
Continuous lower eaves are found throughout the top of the second floor sliding windows, and the lower windows or the ventanillas were also secured with decorative wooden grills.
The Paseo de Escolta, where many of the weekend travelers were billeted, is a strip of supposedly commercial structures which are replicas of the typical Escolta buildings in Manila, the country’s capital, during the early 20th century.
The structures in Casa Escolta, which has 17 rooms with individual toilets and baths, were built based on old photographs found in magazines.
There is also Casa Cagayan, which has, at present, four houses along the shoreline of the property which were originally from Cagayan province.
During the early 20th century, the wood houses were referred to as the Poor Man’s Houses—built on stilts with the three trunks in their natural shape used as posts and columns to give its residents extra space for relaxation, storage, and livelihood activities.
The afternoon tour is capped by a dinner either at the Filipino restaurant or the Italian restaurant, soon after a cultural show performed by the Las Casas Filipinas Dance Group that allows the visitors to have a glimpse of the different dances of the archipelago of 7,107 islands at low tide.
The dances include “maglalatik,” carinosa,” pandanggo sa ilaw,” “itik itik,” “sayaw sa bangko,” and “tinikling,”—the last a winner for the audience, when some are invited to make the rhythmic steps with “instant” dance instructors from among the young dancers, many of whom are college or high school students and out-of-school youth.
Like Mabel, others like Olive and Joy as well as Maylody Gonzales were very accommodating and ready with the necessary information travelers needed during the overnight weekend stay of the visitors.
Maximilian Santos, 7, of Toronto, Canada, was excited when he and members of his clan reached the community by private vehicle through 146 kilometers of the North Luzon Expressway and thickly asphalted roads of Pampanga and Bataan that snaked by the side of Mount Samat through tree-lined national highway.
”I’m excited, I want to swim now,” Maximilian told his grandfather when he heard the roar of furiously lapping waves after the tour of the stone houses that stand round village cobblestone streets that have witnessed visitors enjoying nostalgia and romance on horse-drawn carriages.
”It’s amazing,” his 3-year-old maternal cousin Mirko Alexander chased his line, to which the latter’s 5-year-old brother Mikhail Bernard agreed.
Felisa vda. de Dilon, 95, of Nueva Ecija, herself arrived in the community on a wheelchair with her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, but appeared happy to see members of her family, particularly the children, in-laws, and the younger generation enjoying the food at the Filipino restaurant.
Cris, Gerry, and Lui and their mother-in-law Maria Rosa themselves were having their day as Roel Roma and Hazel Corpus serenaded the family with two traditional Tagalog love songs and the Ilokano “O Naraniag A Bulan (Oh Luminous Moon).”
The four were joined by their respective spouses Francisca, Mary Anne, Lord Bernardo, and Amanidong as well as the three minors while the weekend winds blew softly through the second floor of the restaurant.
The walk back to their Casa Escolta house for the weekend, on rain-washed cobblestones, accented their time travel.
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