LONDON—After more than 20 years, the journey of an Igorot house and granary from the Philippines to the United Kingdom, and back to its native land, has officially come full circle.
This occurred after a symbolic turnover from the Horniman Museum and Gardens to the Philippines through the Philippine Embassy in London and the Pooten family in June.
Consul General Senen T. Mangalile said that the embassy in the European country has taken the promotion of the Philippines’s culture as a “serious duty,” not only “for the benefit of the British and other nationalities living there, but…[also for] second- and third-generation Filipinos born and raised in the UK who know very little about their rich cultural heritage.”
Mangalile emphasized the embassy’s efforts to collaborate with the Filipino community in promoting Philippine culture in the UK, and in cultivating a deep understanding and appreciation of the tapestry of cultures that exist in the archipelago.
Richard Pooten, former president of Igorot UK and current custodian of the house and granary, related that “for me—a migrant from the Philippines—to have been a part of an exhibit showcased in the British Museum among the backdrop of humanity’s greatest finds, was a huge honor and a great privilege. I am so proud to have been a part of that history and to be here thanking the museum, and the Philippine Embassy for their coordination and consideration selecting our Cordillera culture to be featured as an exhibit.”
Following his speech, Pooten delivered an oggayam—an Igorot prayer—as an expression of gratitude to all those who made the British Museum exhibition a reality, and for the safe journey of the Igorot house and granary back to the Philippines.
ACCORDING to Pooten, a certain Timmikpaw Bantullay, who was known as an influential figure in the Cordilleras, originally built the Igorot structure in the 1920s solely to function as a granary. Bantullay was a mumbaki, or Ifugao spiritual leader. He built the house and granary, one of several, and was handed down to succeeding generations in his family.
In World War II, the house and granary was used as a home for an American soldier who had fled Japanese captivity in Bataan. After the war, it was converted into a house with a fireplace and a rear shelf.
“As you can see, the Igorot granary has both a colorful and rich history,” said Pooten. “It [had a] functional and practical use, but was also significant, [as] it served as a conduit shelter for soldiers during the [war].”
THE Igorot house and granary was the pièce de résistance of the embassy and British Museum exhibition on Philippine rice culture in 1996 called Stairways to the Sky: Rice and Life in the Philippines. It was considered a fine example of the country’s indigenous architecture and provided a valuable glimpse of an important part of daily life in the Philippines’s Cordillera region.
The Duke of Gloucester formally opened the exhibition on April 25, 1996. Its run was extended for one more year as it drew crowds of diplomats, Filipinos, scholars and culture enthusiasts from all over the UK.
Following the conclusion of the exhibit, the Igorot house and granary changed hands from the British Museum to the Horniman Museum because of the lack of archival space to properly store the structure. It was then kept in storage until 2003 when then-Ambassador Edgardo B. Espiritu thought of having it featured at the embassy grounds in Kensington Gardens for people to view and appreciate.
However, when the embassy moved its chancery to Suffolk Street in 2007, the lack of an ample space to showcase the abode led to the decision to turn it over to the family of Pooten, who then served as Igorot UK president.
To protect the Igorot house and granary from the ravages of the fickle British weather, the Pooten family decided to finally bring home the Igorot house and granary, as it currently stands as a key feature in the family’s resort in the Cordilleras. DFA