Beyond the Portrait’s Gaze (Part 2)

This random sampling of the mestiza dress from different periods in our nation’s saga should give us a good grasp of how the traditional garb evolved. I am not an avid Filipiniana wise-owl but when given an opportunity, I appreciate listening to and participating in discussions that help us make sense of the kind of lives led by our forbears. After all, culture is said to be a palliative for us suffering from the wearisome profiles of power, glam or economic might touted by the media.

My last article showed how women from different decades of the 19th & 20th centuries wore the Maria Clara outfit. One visual showed how the dress looked like in 1887 and another showed how my grandma wore it in 1916. At the end of the 19th century, many Filipinos joined the resistance movement against the U.S. They did not want another foreign oppressor. To be seen as a ‘resistance fighter’ was as cool as joining the people’s revolution at EDSA.

Here is a photo of a man in a native hat or salakot. Beside him is an indignant but demure looking Filipina in Maria Clara dress. She is holding a rifle (possibly a Krag Jorgensen) and she is wearing a cartridge belt. Notice that she is in knee-high boots. At their feet lies a large dog who seems to be at ease with the photographic equipment in front of them. The photographer must have been their friend if not comrade-at-arms. Only the ilustrados or educated elite could afford such commodities at the close of the 19th century. This partly torn photo must have been taken in 1898 or 1899. During that time, my Grandma Maria in Bulacan was still wrapped in all kinds of strips (bigkis, lampin,balabal etc.) to protect her from the ‘lamig’. On the other hand, unruly children were hushed by mere mention of  the phrase “ayan na ang Amerikano!” Country folk viewed them as  some kind of bemedalled alien military monsters. My Grandma Maria’s older siblings were still studying the ‘Kartilya ng Katipunan’.   

In my opinion, the couple with their ‘attack dog’ in the photo posed for posterity. It was ‘wise’ (intelligent,smart & radical) to be against American rule. There were basically two sides of the political divide: the pro and the anti U.S. Today, both the U.S. and Philippine Army just recently flexed some military muscle in the light of the Spratleys issue.

 Dito sa larawan, maliwanag na pinahiwatig and pagkakaisa ng mga Pilipino maging babae man o lalake. Ang bawat isa ay kaagapay sa anumang problema o krisis. Pantay-pantay ang turing sa isat-isa at ang kapakanan ng bawat isa ay mahalaga. Each should look after the interests of another and a wife should be supportive of her spouse.

Today, that native garb that doubled as a combat gear will not protect one from the many struggles we face. Vector born diseases, rising prices of commodities, typhoons, floods & pressure from social commitments and so on are all over some people’s faces. Do not take the bumper sticker that says ‘Real Men Pray’ for granted. Everybody needs to pray these days and seek protection from our Lord Jesus.

I will continue my semi-academic retrospective in the next article.   


“Filipinos at War” (photo exhibit), Filipiniana Section, UP Main Library, Diliman, Q.C., 1998.


About cathydeleon

I was a student of the late Constancio Bernardo and Jose Joya. I also had the privilege to have Rod Paras Perez, Napoleon "Billy" Abueva, Romeo Mananquil, Rafael Asuncion, Virginiaflor Agbayani and Lito Carating as my mentors. Larry Alcala's work at the Commission on Audit was done with a little help from me and another fine arts graduate. It was as well a privilege to meet many well known Filipino artists like Juvenal Sanso, Nena Saguil, Cesar Legaspi, Ang Kiukok, Onib Olmedo, Boy Rodriguez, Norma Belleza, Jerry Araos, Fred Baldemor, Esmeraldo Dans, Dave Aquino, and many other equally prominent visual artists. After a few years of working in a gallery, I took up graduate studies and finished my M.A. degree. Consequently I took up Philippine Studies (Philippine Society and Culture). The course was a consortium between the UP Asian Center, UP College of Social Sciences & Philosophy (CSSP) and the College of Arts & Letters (CAL). I finished my Ph.D. degree a few years ago.
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