08:54 PM August 6th, 2013

By: Ambeth R. Ocampo, August 6th, 2013 08:54 PM

To devout Filipino Catholics, a scapular consists of two rectangular pieces of brown cloth or plastic attached to a string worn around the neck, with one piece hanging down the chest and the other down the back. Often scapulars are associated with the Virgin of Carmel (or in Spanish, Nuestra Señora del Carmen), whose image is found on the pieces, though I have seen bigger scapulars in red or green with different markings for some other devotion. To members of religious orders, a scapular forms part of their habit or particular garb. It consists of a long piece of cloth worn over the head, to hang by the shoulders (scapulae in Latin), with one part on the front of the body and the other on the back. Its practical purpose in the Middle Ages was to act as an apron for work; it kept the tunic clean. Today, it has taken on a devotional or sacramental meaning as the “jugum Christi” (yoke of Christ).

In another time and another place, I wore the Benedictine monastic garb whose distinctive feature was a scapular with a hood. Adapting to the Philippine climate, the habit was white and made of synthetic fabric. In Europe, I wore the traditional black habit in wool to keep warm in cloisters with inadequate heating. Once, I noticed that there were other religious orders or some secular priests in the Philippines who wore the exact same habit, but you could always tell the Benedictines from the others because their hands were modestly tucked under the scapular. My mother noticed this habit and asked me if I had injured my hands.

That question reminded me of Napoleon’s portraits where his right hand is tucked under his waistcoat. Those questions cropped up again last week when I referred to a famous photograph of Gregorio del Pilar aka “Heneral Goyo” and “The Boy-General,” who had his hand in his coat.

Perhaps Del Pilar was copying Napoleon, whose historic victories are an inspiration to all soldiers. Other explanations for Del Pilar’s pose were that he was scratching his chest or calming an ulcer; he was fondling a locket suspended from a necklace or winding his watch; his hand was crippled, deformed, or recently injured; he had bad fingernails; the photographer made him pose that way to make him look taller or give him more dignity beyond his youth. If this were a multiple-choice question, we could add “none” or “all of the above” as possible answers.

Yet the most intriguing comment to last week’s column was: Del Pilar’s hand-in-coat pose suggested that he was a mason. If Del Pilar followed the example of Andres Bonifacio and read “The Lives of the Presidents of the United States,” he would have heard of George Washington or seen an illustration of Washington with his hand in his coat. Washington was among the masons of the Anglo-Saxon tradition who practice the “Sign of the Master of the Second Veil.” As a sign of fidelity, they place their right hand on the left breast.

That would have been plausible, but then most Filipino heroes of the late 19th century were affiliated with the European (Spanish or French) “Orient” branch of masonry. Did they practice the same hand signs as their Anglo-Saxon brothers? Marcelo H. del Pilar, Goyo’s uncle, posed in his most famous photograph with Jose Rizal and Mariano Ponce with his hand in his coat. Is this also a masonic sign, or are we overreading? Then there is the question of Heneral Goyo’s age. Wasn’t he too young to be accepted as a mason?

Like most issues in Philippine history, the questions can be more engaging than the answers.

Fortunately, the only monument of Heneral Goyo based on the photograph that has generated so much discussion is to be found in his birthplace in Bulacan. There are more depictions of him on horseback. Equestrian monuments also have their hidden signs or meanings. If the horse has two hooves raised, it means the person depicted died in battle. If only one hoof is raised that means the rider was mortally wounded and died outside battle. If all four hooves are on the ground, the rider was a military leader or soldier who did not die in battle.

Unfortunately, not all artists follow this iconography. There is a painting of Napoleon on a white horse with front legs in the air, making for artistic movement. Some say Napoleon died of poisoning, while in exile. Emilio Aguinaldo is always depicted on a horse with one front hoof in the air, though in Fort Aguinaldo the horse’s hind leg is up. Now what does that mean?

While historians are grounded in archival and library research, art historians add iconography to their bag of tricks. This concerns the identification, description, and interpretation of the content of images. Then there is semiotics, or the study of signs and sign processes. What appear to be trivial questions on the way our heroes posed in pictures and how they are depicted in art raise more essential questions about memory, commemoration and representations of the past.

As the Department of Education is finalizing its K to 12 curriculum, the National Historical Commission continues to preside over official commemorations, monuments, sites, and even money and coins to remind citizens of the story of the nation. Textbook history and official history tell us what to remember. Now we ask: Why do we remember?

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