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‘Alone/Together’ and Filipino cultural advocates

Apart from the romantic overtones of the film “Alone/Together” (written and directed by Antoinette Jadaone), the movie also shows the travails of cultural advocates in their endeavors to enrich Philippine history and culture.

The work of cultural advocates is twofold: the production of new materials and the promotion of existing information on culture and history. Producers include artists, historians and archaeologists. Promoters include museum curators and organizations that ensure the dissemination of these materials.

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In the movie, Tin Lazaro is an aspiring museum curator, and Alex Castro is an aspiring artist. Both switch careers because their cultural work was not deemed viable or a priority in the so-called “real world.”

The difficulties illustrated are accurate. Data required for archaeological research is attained by spending weeks to months in areas where earlier cultures once thrived. These include the highlands in Kalinga and Ifugao; the small islands off the coast of Mindoro, and caves in Palawan and Cagayan Valley. When I was an archaeology student, many of my classmates who worked full-time had to postpone attending archaeological excavations because they were not permitted to be away for so long. Funding was also another problem for many. Some went on leaves of absence from class to save up for these endeavors. Thus, Tin’s and Alex’s momentary shift in careers to the corporate world was very relatable.

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Another difficulty in cultural research is the analysis of archaeological materials. A colleague of mine, in pursuit of her master’s thesis, asked for technical assistance for the analysis of archaeological human remains from a laboratory in the United States. This was not granted. Unperturbed, she found a local company with similar equipment, but was exclusively for industrial use. Because the appropriate scientific equipment was not readily available to analyze peculiar artifacts, she adjusted her methodology to one that did not require the use of such equipment.

Despite this, her study contributed new information on the prehistory of a municipality in Northern Luzon, where the artifacts originated. However, her original proposal remains unfinished, and the information that could have been provided with the accessibility of the proper equipment would have been equally important.

This predicament is also reflected in the movie when Tin sees a Bulul carving on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Many other Philippine artifacts that can be analyzed in the Philippines remain inaccessible. There may be gaps in Philippine history that can be filled with the availability of these materials.

Nonetheless, the movie ends on a high note for Tin and Alex. Both were able to reignite their passion for cultural work after almost losing hope, just like many archaeologists, who, despite challenges, completed research materials on Philippine history and culture that are celebrated not just by the Filipino people but also the whole world.

Recent groundbreaking archaeological studies in Callao, Cagayan, in Rizal, Kalinga, in the Tabon Cave in Palawan and other archaeological sites in the Philippines have changed the course of the history of Southeast Asia. These are invaluable contributions to Philippine prehistory that would have never come into fruition if there was a dearth of archaeologists in the Philippines.

The film shows that it takes grit, patience and, above all, perseverance to thrive in the realm of Philippine art and culture. Emerging archaeological, cultural and historical research must always be recognized and appreciated for the time and effort expended to provide information for the enrichment of Philippine art, history and culture.

Struggling Filipino cultural advocates must remember that they produce information that the whole world and future generations can enjoy; thus, their dreams are never worth giving up, no matter how harsh the “real world” may be.

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Kathleen Tantuico is an alumna of the University of the Philippines Archaeological Studies Program and the Ateneo de Manila University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology Cultural Heritage program. She is also a founding member of Tuklas Pilipinas, an NGO formed by archaeologists who aim to promote heritage literacy.

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