A highly coveted 18th-century map of the Philippines goes under the hammer this weekend in Manila and is expected to fetch over P25 million—an estimate based on its desirability, excellent condition and the price fetched for the last one sold in London in 2012, which was P12 million. Another copy of this map, of which less than 20 are known to exist worldwide, will also be auctioned in the UK this month, though I have yet to receive the image and condition report requested from the auction house.
This early, I’ve heard grumbling from well-meaning but ignorant people who insist this important cultural artifact should rightfully be owned, acquired or, worse, appropriated by the State for the enjoyment and illumination of all Filipinos. The good news is that Mel Velarde, who acquired the P12-million map in 2012, has donated it to the National Museum. Online whiners should be reminded of the commandment not to covet their neighbor’s goods; they can either pay the auction price, or be happy, as I am, appreciating a high-resolution copy downloadable free from the Library of Congress.
It is a pity that media hype generated around the map missed an opportunity to rewrite Philippine cartography by renaming the Murillo Velarde map into the “Velarde-Bagay” map, to recognize not just its Jesuit cartographer, but also Nicolas de la Cruz Bagay, who engraved and printed it. Filipinos should recognize this little-known printer who proudly identified and signed himself in the 1734 map as an “Indio Tagalo.” While we are at it, perhaps Filipinos should actually start referring to this significant map as the “Velarde-Bagay-Suarez Map,” to include and highlight Francisco Suarez, another forgotten “Indio Tagalo” who drew six, or perhaps even nine, of the 12 panels that decorate the sides of the map.
People who don’t normally visit an auction house preview have been making a beeline to Leon Gallery to see this map. While studying the map last week, I overheard someone ask where the disputed “Scarborough Shoal” is on the map. It was Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio who challenged China’s “historical claims” to our side of the West Philippine Sea by pointing out that the disputed shoal is clearly indicated in the 1734 Velarde-Bagay-Suarez Map, and China has been unable to produce or even fabricate an older map to prove that the shoal is within their territory.
However, you will not find “Scarborough Shoal” in this map, because it is depicted under its older original name, “Panacot,” together with two other shoals with suggestive names, “Galit” and “Lumbay.” Seafarers who ran aground on these shoals met disaster leading to loss of life and property, hence the names that are timely then and now: Galit/Anger, Panacot/Threat and Lumbay/Sorrow.
This map is not just geographic, showing land formations and the names of over 900 towns, cities and villages; it is hydrographic, showing important rivers and waterways that, in pre-Spanish times, connected rather than separated our archipelago of over 1,000 islands before the introduction of the wheel, roads and bridges.
Equally important are the side panels that ornament the main map of the Philippines, supplementing it with detailed maps of Manila, Cavite, Zamboanga and Guam, which was once administered from Spanish Manila. Different people are depicted in the side panels, among them “Cafres” [black curly-haired natives of Africa, not the mythical giant with a cigar that inhabited trees and was feared by people]; and “Canarin,” or men from Mangalore, Lascar, or mariners from India and traders from Ternate, Malabar and Armenia. All these jostled with native Pinoys or Indios, mestizos or half-breeds, Chinese and Japanese, making Manila a very busy and cosmopolitan trading port that connected with Acapulco during the centuries that the Spanish galleons plied the route. The galleon trade made both sides of the world meet in what is now recognized as the first true globalization from the late 16th to the early 19th centuries.
Some spoilsports will rightly argue that the Velarde-Bagay-Suarez map is old and obsolete in the age of satellite imaging, Waze and Google Earth. But I believe that every Filipino student should know about it, not only because it strengthens our position against China’s intrusion, but also because it’s an artifact that provides a lot of fun, information and pride in the indio-genius that is the Filipino.
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