There’s an interesting exhibit that opened last May at the National Museum branch at Fort Pilar in Zamboanga City. In the newly refurbished Structure D, with its newly whitewashed (?) facade, is a two section exhibition entitled: Trade and Exchange in Southern Philipines: Borderless Intersections of Geography, Culture and History.
This is an important exhibition, focusing on historical and contemporary trade as it put the spotlight on the very crucial role of Mindanao and the so called Sulu Zone in the historical development of southern Philippines, Southeast Asia and her relationships within the region and Europe and the modern setup in the context of borders and regulations.
And this is also quite important for me as I have an interest in the role of Sulu, when it rose as the regional emporium at the height of the muslim slave raiding in the middle of the 18th and 19 centuries that greatly shaped the Philippines but is not being discussed in textbooks.
The exhibit is located at the beautifully renovated second floor of Structure D with a grand staircase leading to it. With the backdrop of Spanish era brick walls, and wide, hard wood flooring, ‘Trade and Exchange’ engages the visitor in a setting that has an actual role in the historical trade. The first section focuses on the archaeological excavation of a British trading vessel, the Griffin that sunk off Sulu in 1761, just less than a year before the British invaded the Philippines.
It was carrying cargo with tea as the bulk of the merchandise (with porcelain utensils) from its trading post in China and en route to India and England. With it sinking off Sulu, shows the attempt of the British East India Company to establish a trading port in the Sultanate. At this section, images of the excavation are being shown, including a 3D model of the excavating vessel and several samples of porcelain cups and plates.
The second section shows contemporary trading and barter in Mindanao, showcasing the different tribes of this island and how they exchanged goods with other tribes, their way of living, products that have been traded as seen in the barter trade centers of Zamboanga City like Canelar.
READ MORE: Canelar, Zamboanga Cityâ€™s shopping mecca
This is an interesting exhibit. By next year, the middle structure of Fort Pilar that used to be in ruins, now rebuilt and will house another interesting exhibition gallery. I just hope that, eventually, the National Museum will finally mount an exhibition devoted to the Muslim slave raiding (link to my article above) that will focus on the role of the Sulu Sultanate, its trade with the British in their addiction to tea and how it shaped the Philippines: from attempts to fend off these raiders, the building of historical forts, fortress-churches and watchtowers, to the opening up of interior areas and development of present towns. I’m sure, this will be really interesting!