Brief ethnohistory of Kapampangan furnishings and sculpture in Betis, Guagua, Pampanga
By Joel Pabustan Mallari with Arnel David Garcia
One of the many specialized crafts known in the
Betis’ role in
As mentioned by John Larkin in his book The Pampangans, Betis was one of the 11 most important towns (with Lubao, Macabebe, Sasmuan, Guagua, Bacolor, Apalit, Arayat, Candaba, Porac and
In the district of Betis, the village which produces most if not all of the sculptured pieces and wood carved furniture comes from Sta. Ursula. This village, said to be the oldest, is located on the old riverbank area. It was known before as Paglalabuan, as well as “pulu”, “danuman”, “sadsaran”, an “island”, a “water edge community” and a “port”. An old placename found among old maps and also as part of an oral folk history it literally meant a deposition area of silt. The local folks say that, as the 1980s, pieces of old Chinese blue and white porcelains were found at the bottom the river. In the 1970s after the great flood of 1972, a tsunami (probably the great tsunami of 1976) struck Bataan’s eastern coastline causing the rivers of Pampanga particularly the Pasak River to the drain of water, exposing the step-like slopes of the riverbank’s bottommost section and revealing old wrecks of submerged ships and carrier trucks which look like the vehicles used in the last World War.
The old folks in the area believe that their village is the oldest in the tradition of pamandukit (woodcarving) and pamaganluagi (wood working) in the Kapampangan province. Besides, it is also known as a home of the old dadaras (or mandaras, the traditional bangka makers). In the past they supplied most of the various bangka (boats) in Pampanga and nearby coastal and riverbank villages in Orani, Dinalupihan, Samal, Hermosa, Abucay (which also produced this type of boats), all of Bataan, Kalookan, Malabon, Navotas (especially in Sta.Cruz), Valenzuela, the provinces of Rizal and Bulacan (Pamarauan, Hagonoy, Binuangan), Cavite, Batangas and as far as Mindoro. Their boats were carved out canoe types known before as balutu (var. baroto). Collective memories of old folks (boat makers and woodcarvers) in this district and nearby areas still remember the time when the supply of logs and other timber materials flowed along the old Betis River (various tributaries of this old river were called “Ilug Palumo”, the downstream part of the now Pasak River; and Karalaga River for the part running from Sta.Ines going to Plaza Burgos, the one that connects with the old Dalan Bapor River in downtown Guagua). This supply came from the forested upper Pampanga area and eastern Bataan along the foothills of the
Pampanga 17th-18th century folk fine arts
Philippine furniture absorbed artistic influences from different cultures who made contacts with the islands. As Professor Regalado Trota Jose noted, many 17th century pieces manifest touches of Chinese design, while later 18th century pieces are known to have inlaid designs. Rococo forms, fashionable European trend from French, Victorian and new American designs became prominent. Furniture craft achieved a level of excellence during the 17th and 18th centuries.
“In the matter of carving images, altars, church ornaments,furnitures, inlaying with mother-of-pearl, bones, and other hardwoods, gilding with gold leaf, exacting carpentry, decorative art, and design, painting of religious motifs and theatre drop curtains, the people of Betis during the 17th and 18th centuries again are mentioned here to be easily the masters in the art of their own”.
By the 19th century, furniture makers were producing works in Peñaranda, Nueva Ecija; Baliuag, Bulacan; Paete, Laguna; Bacolor and Betis in Pampanga; and in Malabon area. A contemporary influence of classical tradition of woodworking in sculpture and furniture began to be felt in the 1950s brought about by Juan Flores, a native of Sta.Ursula. Born on the 9th of Spetember 1900, he became a famous sculptor and furniture maker at a young age. He learned the crafts of carpentry and wood carving, furniture making and sculpture, especially the making of malasantos. He was so talented that his reputation grew in the national art scene. He once made a bust of President Manuel L. Quezon, and that of Secretary of Justice and Finance Gregorio Araneta. He was able to study the malasantos and antiques all over the
Betis’ “Modern Antiques”
Travelers along the highways of
The old tradition of boat carving apparently started the tradition of pamandukit and pamaganluagi in the province. Many of the last generation of matenakan dadaras in this old village with families still living here are known to have prospered in the field of pamandukit and pamaganluagi in the country today. As Tatang Salvador Santos Gatus (53 yrs.old, son of a matenakan dadaras) quips, “matenakan la king obrang dutung, ania dakal anluagi, dadaras at mandukit ka ring tau keti kanita pa man”. Thus the art of fine woodworking and sculpture was already flourishing even before the time of the master sculptor Juan Flores. At the height of the Huk movement in the province, this barrio used to have a talipampan as “alipagpag” or “alipatpat” after the noisy activity of boat making and woodcarving in the area. The term baul was already recorded by Fray Diego Bergano in his compilation of early 18th century Kapampangan glossaries as “a thing manufactured in a rough stage, like a banca or a wood carving, or a sculpture not yet perfected…”, which consequently confirms the antiquity of both industry of boat making, furniture making and sculpture in the Kapampangan region.