In the words of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal—“Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan [He who does not look back from where he came will never reach his destination].”
It has been almost 300 years, yet the meaning of those words have never been more important especially for a country that seems to be losing its cultural identity amidst its pursuit of progress and all the modern developments.
Inspired by Germany’s renowned “Lange Nacht der Museen [Long Night of Museums],” which is celebrated all over Europe, the province of Cebu continues its own tradition of “Gabii sa Kabilin,” or “Night of Heritage,” which is held every last Friday of May.
Only in Cebu
The Gabii sa Kabilin is a project of the Ramon Aboitiz Fondation (RAF) Cultural Heritage Unit, and is considered as the only event of its kind in Asia that encourages the public to visit museums and appreciate their position as a venue for cultural understanding and fun and dynamic learning.
It is held in line with the month-long celebration of National Heritage Month (NHM) and in partnership with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).
This year 33 participating museums, galleries and heritage sites in the cities of Cebu, Mandaue, Talisay and Lapu-Lapu opened their doors to the public for seven hours, and featured exhibits, food fairs, and various performances that residents and tourists can enjoy while immersing themselves in the rich past of the province at the same time.
For a minimal admission fee of P150 visitors can access as many highlighted sites as they want, including unlimited rides in designated buses and horse-drawn carriages called tartanillas all over participating Cebu cities.
Rediscovering our heritage
It was a misty Friday afternoon in the city of Cebu as the opening program of Gabii sa Kabilin was held at the Bradford Memorial Chapel in Osmeña Blvd., in celebration of the site’s 100 years of existence, which was marked as an important milestone in the religious history of the province.
The outdoor setup highlighted the first cultural spot of the evening, the Bradford Church, which is the only protestant church in Cebu, and was declared a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.
At 5 p.m., visitors, organizers and important guests of the event gathered in front of the chapel and were greeted by solemn hymns of the choir. RAF’s executive director, Dr. Jocelyn Guerra, then addressed the public as she explained the rationale behind the event.
“This event will help us rediscover who we are and promote cultural awareness in the province of Cebu,” she said.
This was followed by a message from Margarita Osmeña, the vice chairman of Cebu’s Cultural and Historical Affairs Commission.
“Going to museums and cultural sites beats going to the mall. Instead of going to beaches and restaurants here in Cebu, families and visitors can tour around these places and appreciate the history and culture of the province. We live and breathe this everyday but we do not appreciate it until it is pointed out to us. Our soul is in our history, so let us show our soul and let Gabii sa Kabilin grow,” Osmena said.
And despite the drizzling rain, the enthusiasm of the guests and participants endured as Mayor Michael Rama of Cebu City led the group to the Cebu City Hall, where he toured the commissioners of NCCA, as well as to formally open the Gabii sa Kabilin celebration with a ribbon-cutting ceremony together with NCCA Chairman Felipe de Leon Jr.
The city mayor, the commissioners and other guests moved forward with the night-long event, passing by Magellan’s Cross, which was just in front of the city hall. The huge structure was a reminder of the Spanish colonization, during the time when Ferdinand Magellan had a similar cross planted on Cebu soil to signify the arrival of the Spaniards in the Philippines.
The Basilica Minore del Santo Niño was the next stop, another religious structure of Cebu City where people can light candles and say a short prayer in its huge courtyard.
The group finally made its way to Plaza Hamabar on Mabini Street where the statue of the first Filipino Christian chieftain stands, Rajah Humabon was built.
Evening of a beautiful yesterday
Since 2003, Proclamation 439 was signed to declare May as National Heritage Month to be spearheaded by the NCCA. The commission has since launched Taoid, an Ilocano term for “tawid,” which is “a heritage conservation project recognizing and celebrating different aspects of our national culture and heritage.”
This year’s theme, “Weaving Our Stories, Treading Our Paths,” is aimed at giving Filipinos “a glimpse of the legacies of the past and the future.”
The launching of Taoid in Cebu was led by Rama, and he delivered a speech that was reminiscent of his childhood days in Cebu City.
“This [Gabii sa Kabilin] is about yesterday, and here we are today, and tomorrow, we do not know. But whatever it is that will happen tomorrow, we are sure to make it happen. This is where we are. It has to be embedded in our hearts, chiseled in our minds. So that these young men and women, will take care of what was the glory of the past, and nurture it, savor it, work on it so that when we are all gone, no one will curse us for not taking care of the beautiful things that had happened before,” the Cebu City mayor said in his speech.
He dubbed the event as “an evening of beautiful yesterday,” a perfect description of the Cebu’s abundant past and how the province has evolved to be proud of their roots and heritage.
The launching was followed by an original Sinug dance performance by the Turang Dance Troupe right in the middle of Mabini Street.
Across Plaza Humabar was the Cathedral Museum of Cebu, where a private dinner was hosted for distinguished guests and city officials. The cathedral museum that was once a convent featured relics from various parishes of the Archdiocese of Cebu, with a gallery dedicated to Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, the former archbishop of Cebu.
Too many sites, too little time
It was impossible for almost everyone to tour all the 33 participating sites in the province. As said by Osmeña in her speech, “This is not a race. If you are not able to visit all the sites, you can always come back next year to enjoy the rest of what Cebu has to offer.”
True enough, locals and tourists took their time in touring each location, appreciating the relics that have survived decades, reminding the people of their intricate history that led them to their present existence.
With barely three hours left, The Sunday Times Magazine joined a group of media to visit a few of these interesting heritage sites.
The Yap-Sandiego Ancestral Home in the old Parian district was packed with spectators as they featured Spanish and Filipino dance numbers by the Sandiego Dance Troupe just outside the historical structure. Going in the Spanish-inspired house-museum, old pictures, furniture and old memorabilia gives its guests a feel of the 18th and 19th century lifestyle of Cebu.
The group then went on to the Museo Parian and Jesuit House where an old couple singing Cebuano folk songs greeted its guests at the entrance. The heritage site showcased the past culture of the Parian district, as it was once the economic center of Cebu City during the Spanish period. The structure that was built in 1730 was also a former residence of Jesuit missionaries who were stationed in the Diocese of Cebu.
It was an hour before midnight when STM reached Museo Sugbo, the largest museum in the province of Cebu. Prominent Cebu names such as the Rama family clan were featured, as well as 14 other exhibits and galleries that traced Cebu’s history from pre-colonial until the Japanese periods. Looking at some centuries-old artifacts of the city gave its viewers more appreciation to the modern life being enjoyed by the current generation.
Last stop was the Don Sergio Osmeña Memorabilia and CAP Art Gallery, located only meters away from the first stop at Bradford Church. The ancestral house of the only Cebu-born president of the Philippines, Don Sergio Osmeña Sr., featured his personal belongings, book collection, documents and old newspaper clippings from his presidency, as well as his old Cadillac, which was displayed inside his old bedroom.
Old photographs of the late president with his family, colleagues and friends gave the viewers a glimpse of the old political events that went on during his presidency.
The CAP Art Gallery showcased paintings and three-dimensional structures from college students all over the province, all of which are vibrant and colorful, much like Cebu’s history and cultural heritage.
A breath of relief filled the cool, night breeze of Cebu as the evening of culture, history and heritage ended. It was a long and tiring evening for most of its guests and residents, but it gave everyone a sense of pride that can only be taken from a rich historical past that made Cebu into what it is now—joyous, festive and proud.