[Thinking Through Design] Exploring this culture space in Intramuros

Pamela Cajilig

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[Thinking Through Design]  Exploring this culture space in Intramuros
By featuring artisan products linked to our pre-colonial roots, The Manila Collectible Co. offers an alternative view of Filipino artistry

Entering The Manila Collectible Co.  (TMCC) in Intramuros, one immediately feels that it’s not your usual Filipino handicrafts store. There are no Barong Tagalogs, baro’t sayas, and jeepney magnets here – artifacts of an often Tagalog – and often, even Manila-centric idea of being Filipino.

Instead, the space is filled with crafts from ethno-linguistic groups that are often left out of official and everyday conversations about Filipino identity. There is a section for the multi-colored and dream-inspired T’nalak by T’boli weavers. There are shawls, scarves, runners, and skirts by Ifugao weavers using ikat, a resist dye technique similar to tie-dye. 

SPLASH OF COLOR. Take your pick from these vivid designs

The front of the store features a reproduction of the Boxer Codex, a late 15th Century manuscript filled with detailed illustrations of clothing worn by the Zambals, Pintados, Pampangos, Tagalogs and other groups, prior to colonization by the Spaniards. Beside this is a shelf dedicated to large and small reproductions of the Laguna Copperplate Inscription, the earliest known written document found in the Philippines, dated April 21, 900 CE (It was a Monday) – and there’s so much more. 

STOP BY. You never know what tiny trinket in a small corner might be your next take-home treasure

In short, the constellation of merchandise at TMCC celebrates our rich cultural heritage that has been dwarfed by overemphasis on our colonial experience.

(READ: ‘The Forgotten 10’: Images of a slowly fading culture)

Charisse Tugade, the lively and engaging owner of TMCC, has a unique undergraduate background in Visual Anthropology and Marketing from San Francisco State University. This was enriched by further work in the field of cultural heritage.

TMCC opened its doors in June last year. Charisse explained the inspiration for the store relates to the desire to understand her Filipino heritage. “I grew up in the States and I realized I really need to search for my roots and who I am,” she says. 

MULTI-CULTURAL DISPLAY.  Examples of dress from ethnolinguistic groups in Mindanao and Northern Cordillera flank a replica of an illustration from the 'Boxer Codex,' a manuscript from c.1595 containing detailed drawings of various ethnolinguistic groups in the Philippines and other cultural groups in Asia.

Over the course of several years, Charisse realized that she could combine her interests in indigenous groups, museology, marketing, travel, and event planning into one major endeavor. Streamlining her activities became important especially after having two kids and being constrained to travel.

“I decided to set up a space in Manila that’s basically a culture space. It is a museum, a one-stop shop, and a place where there are events and tours that have to do with Pre-Hispanic history, indigenous groups, and artisanal stuff,“ explained Charisse. Being a culture space also involves creating a sense of community by inviting visitors to hang out and participate in activities, such as tours and Kiddie Archaeology. “This is how we’re different from just being a store in a mall,” she added.                                   

The commercialization of indigenous artifacts come with certain problems, such as misrepresentation and manipulation of the communities who produce them. For example, some communities that sell their wares do not get a fair market price. Charisse’s careful curating of merchandise and other efforts try to mitigate these problems. For example, she ensures proper representation and fair trade among artisans who supply her store with their crafts. 

ORIGINAL. Items are lovingly made, and artisans given a fair price for their work

Artisans such T’boli weaver Agustin Sudaw are encouraged to sign their weaves with their names, to give these a sense of personal context, as well as to encourage quality. Maintaining fair price and quality of the weaves is also a way of giving due respect to the sacredness with which the T’boli regard their weaving practice.

TMCC staff are encouraged to learn about indigenous groups in the Philippines and appreciate pre-colonial roots so chats with customers can also double as opportunities to educate. “Sometimes people want to buy a traditional design and they want to make it a table runner. Then we say, you know that’s sacred, not really a good idea,” Charisse explained. “When people are conscious of the objects they buy, they have a deeper appreciation of it, then they tell other people about it, and that’s how the it all spirals.”

TMCC is nestled behind the Manila Cathedral. The store’s location in Intramuros serves as a poetic counterpoint to the colonial heritage that surrounds it, a reminder of a rich and vast cultural heritage that is all too important to deserve mere snippets in the pages of our history books. – Rappler.com

The Manila Collectible Co. is located at Villa Blanca Building, Cabildo corner Beaterio, Intramuros. Find them on Instagram @manilacollectible

 Pamela Cajilig specializes in business and design anthropology; her graduate work has focused on the cultural significance of everyday clothing. She is also Co-Founder and Principal of Curiosity Design Research, an organization that helps non-profits and companies use design as a platform for inspiration, solutions, and social change. 


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