By Anna Valmero
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, PALAWAN— A visit to Palawan should not only lead you to its pristine white sand beaches, but also to the rich cultural heritage of its 1,700 islands.
To familiarize tourists and even returning locals to the cultural traditions of the country’s last frontier, the provincial government opened up to the public the Palawan Heritage Center last week.
“Through the Heritage Center, we aim to preserve and promote the cultural diversity of Palawan. There is more to Palawan than our beaches, we have a diverse population with roots from various ethnic tribes, allowing us to flourish as a melting pot of culture in the Philippines,” said Governor Abraham Khalil Mitra.
Mitra added that visiting the Heritage Center will be like a one-day visual tour about the province and hence it is a must-stop for tourists who wanted to expand the itinerary of their visit for less-known but interesting destinations.
European Union Ambassador Guy Ledoux was among the first to tour the Palawan Heritage Center, together with Mitra and other provincial officials. Locals were also able to join the guided tour on the day of the center’s opening.
Mitra said he believes the Heritage Center will be a big boost to local tourism as hotels and resorts will be told to include the destination in their city day tour packages, alongside the Puerto Princesa Underground River, Baker’s Hill, Tiangge-tiangge, Honda Bay and Irawan Crocodile Farm.
First-timers in the center would be greeted by a short history of the province. According to the display, Palawan was called by various names such as “Palao-yu” or “land of the beautiful,” safe harbors to the Chinese; “Palavas” to the Hindu Indians for its abundant plants and “Paragua,” the Spanish term for umbrella or land of promise by Spanish chronicler, Pigafetta.
The new museum houses various jewelry and shaman artifacts from Palawan collectors, interactive 3D displays and life-size wax figures of ethnic tribes such as Cuyonon, Palaw’an, Tagbanua, Batak and Tao’t Bato, said to be the original descendants of the country’s longest and thinnest island.
Other notable displays include a replica of the Tabon man skullcap and Manunggul jar (the originals kept at the National Museum in Manila). The burial jar has elaborate designs with human figures on the cover with arms crossed while riding a boat, indicating a journey of the soul of the departed. The discovery of the jar indicated that early Filipinos have a concept of after life, said noted historian Ambeth Ocampo in one of his public lectures.
Among the centuries-old jewelry include early green and blue glass-type beads from Palawan found in 1970 by archaeologist Dr. Robert Fox, who also excavated the 22,000-year-old Tabon man in the province. The glass beads were introduced in the Philippines between 100-500A.D., diminishing the trade of semi-precious stones.
There is also a display of a bark cloth beater, which was made by Palawan from cylindrical stones and used to soften and flatten tree bark for clothing. These were found in Sa’gung Cave on the southern part of the province.
Another notable artifact in the heritage Center is called the “silet” from the collection of Jojo Orcullo. Silet figures are sculptures in the image of people used for healing rituals to draw out and absorb bad elements from the sick person.
For the first ten days of its soft opening, the Provincial Culture and Arts Office will not charge entrance fees to locals and foreigners. By the first week of July, entrance fee charges will be P10 for students and senior citizens with ID and P30 for adults. For more information, call (048) 4347524.
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