THE VIEW FROM RIZAL
“Is history really nothing more than gossip?”
This was the question that crossed my mind when I saw some posts in social media last week which were going viral. It had to do with a remark made by a young local celebrity. The actual remark was confusing, and had to do with history being nothing more than gossip and that we really do not have a way of finding out the truth about what happened in the past.
We do not know if the remark was said seriously or was made in jest. The fact is, it created a major uproar and elicited a significant amount of angry response.
The best response came from esteemed historian Ambeth Ocampo. In a note quoted in mainstream and social media, Ocampo said, “History may have bias, but it is bias based on fact, not on opinion”. We agree. We laud the painstaking, self-sacrificial work that historians do to discover and uncover facts which, when pieced together, present a valuable picture of our past.
We recall that history in its various forms – Philippine, American, World – was not among our favorite subjects in school. We considered it boring since it was nothing more than just memorizing names of people and places, events and the dates during which said events took place.
Despite our dislike for this subject, we knew that what we read in history books were the product of research. We occasionally had teachers and professors who interpreted the events in history in vivid and dramatic ways. On those rare occasions, we saw History as the unfolding of important events that brought us to where we are today. With that kind of realization, we could not help but treat history with much respect and reverence.
We knew it was more than just gossip. It is the story of people, communities and nations of which we are a part.
What’s the value of knowing this story?
Dr. Peter Stearns, history professor at the George Mason University in the United States gave several reasons why knowing this story is important.
First, history helps us understand people and societies. Second, it helps us understand change and how the society we belong to came to be. Third, it gives us lessons on courage, diligence or constructive protest. Fourth, it provides identity.
The fourth reason perhaps means history gives us a way of knowing and understanding who we are.
It seems this was what happened to a famous Rizaleño, national artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco, noted muralist who lived in the lakeside town of Angono.
History has it that in March 1965, the then-young Botong was on a field trip with boy scouts in the hilly area in the shared boundaries of Angono, Binangonan and Antipolo. On that historic day, he discovered rock carvings which appeared to be elaborate drawings of people and animals. He then reported his discovery to the National Museum.
Those rock carvings turned out to be pre-historic, dating back to the neolithic era or 2,000 years before Christ was born.
The rock carvings are now known as the Angono-Binangonan Petroglyphs and which are considered the oldest form of art in the country.
Is it possible that his discovery of the rock carvings helped the young Botong better understand his identity as an artist? Did that moment open his eyes to the possibility that he was a descendant of the first artists of this country? Did his encounter with those ancient works of art carved in the hills of his hometown cement his resolve to pursue his passion which eventually enthroned him as the country’s most remarkable muralist?
No doubt, that encounter with the past – with history – had a lot of impact in the then-future national artist. It helped him discover his identity which inspired him to pursue his destiny.
When one studies the history of the petroglyphs, one fully understands why Angono became the home of the country’s most famous and revered artists. The town is, after all, the home of the country’s very first artists and the shrine of the country’s first recognized work of art.
These are facts.
They are not the product of gossip.
When we imagine that dramatic encounter between Botong and the rock carvings, we are compelled to treat history with greater reverence.
We realize that it is the people who understood history who achieved their destiny.
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