The Sorsogon Provincial Museum is right smack in the middle of the city. It is a few steps away from the ever bustling Capitol Grounds. Fewer steps, even, from the Provincial Gymnasium which, on regular days, is anything but quiet.
You wouldn’t know that you’re in the midst of all the busyness, though, the moment you step into the museum. The building itself is part of the story. Built in the early 1900s, when the Americans occupied the islands–it used to be the Sorsogon Provincial Hospital. When the hospital had to move to somewhere more spacious, the building served as temporary shelter for a host of government offices. Eventually, it became a forgotten part of history, in an almost forgotten part of town.
In 2009, after much lobbying, looking for funds and laborious restoration, it finally became the Sorsogon Provincial Museum. The Kasanggyahan Foundation and the Sorsogon Arts Council–through the late and lamented Tootsie Jamoralin–was at the forefront of the project. They made sure that the turn-of-the-century structure remained faithful to its original form: a stylized bahay na bato (stone house) with wide, sweeping windows, high ceiling and a courtyard. Part of the original flooring–polished wooden planks hewn from enduring hardwood–was retained.
The museum is divided into three galleries. Gallery One displays burial jar covers, hunting tools and shards of jars discovered in caves in Sorsogon. Among others, the artifacts tell of the Sorsogon of our prehistoric ancestors, when life was dictated by the elements and the rising and setting of the sun.
Gallery Two is of a more genteel, more colonial era. It displays everyday things from the Sorsogon of my mother’s stories. There’s a display case of baby booties, keys and crayons plucked out of the 1920s. There are rows of charcoal-fed flat iron, a humongous metal wine container, wooden chests, bottles for storing fermenting vinegar, tools that paint a picture of long, happy hours spent in the kitchen.
Gallery two opens into Gallery Three, which continues the turn-of-the-century-everyday-Sorsogon theme. A polished round narra table—carved from a whole trunk—dominates a portion of the gallery. On it is a collection of oil lamps that must have lit up many moonless nights, when electricity wasn’t a necessity. Also in Gallery Three are reproductions of old photographs of Sorsoganons living in more idyllic times.
There are other areas as well. One room—the library—holds the collection of Mr. and Ms. Magazines donated by its founding publisher, Eugenia Duran-Apostol. She is the same journalistic genius behind The Philippine Daily Inquirer. Ms. Apostol is, of course, a Sorsoganon. One corner also displays memorabilia, including props and costumes, of the Sorsogon Arts Council.
Past the courtyard and near the library, is the section devoted to the “natural” Sorsogon. One corner features a replica of the butanding (whaleshark) which frequent the waters of Donsol from October to May. (The butanding is largely credited for putting Sorsogon on the country’s tourism map.) A veritable seafloor of off-white sand beneath the faux butanding is an invitation to explore the province’s wonderful beaches. Whalebones are also on display—proof of the rich marine life hereabouts. Prints of the various tourist spots in the province complete the section.
Admittedly, the Museum is still in the process of building its collection. There are artifacts yet to be displayed, pieces still to be pried from private collectors. Still and all, the museum does its best to tell the story of Sorsogon. By weaving together colourful vignettes, it gives us a peek into what life was then, and how lucky we are to have such a heritage.