Learning from Museums

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[Post by Janet Smoak]

Museums that focus on community, culture, and a shared history are my favorite places to learn about others. And the guided tour of the Balay Cuyonon was inspirational.

IMG_5016Though I was in a place completely foreign and unexpected, when it came to learning about a culture, I did so in the exact same way I share who I am in my museum setting. Museums are common denominators in story-telling–the same tools, the same presentation style, different words and examples. The other cultural sites we visited were the same. Learning cross-culturally has no language barrier.

We embarked on this grant to understand and develop cultural heritage tourism through an exchange with the Cuyonon; understanding that the way we impart information has no language or experience barrier is the true value I received.


Summed up with love

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[Post by Angela Flemming]

My travel to Palawan was a beautiful experience that I will never forget. It was wonderful to reunite with the group of Palawan delegates who traveled to Suquamish last fall. Their visit to Suquamish held special significance for my family. My mother, who is from the Philippines, had the opportunity to host them for an evening and was able to speak with them in her native dialect — a chance she does not often get living in Western Washington.

Kate, Kirsten Mae, Cindy, Charmagne, Hannilyn, and Angela

The entire trip to Palawan was a comfortable and enjoyable time — but it wasn’t until I had been home for several weeks after visiting that I realized I was absolutely in love with the people. The moment we set foot on their sand, they made us feel welcome and at home. These are friends that I will never want to forget and it is this experience that makes me tell even my family in the Philippines that we need to go back to visit Palawan.

It’s a given that the beaches were beautiful and the sites wondrous; we were in the Philippines, after all. Every day of our visit included trips to amazing locations on the island that I would have never dreamed of. I am so glad that I was given the opportunity to visit along with other Suquamish delegates. We traveled there with little, in order to leave as minimal an impression as possible on the land; traveling light was also necessary, because we were flying on small planes. We were fed food from the land that was simple, clean and elegant and every morning I woke up energized and excited for the day. By night, I was tired and ready for sleep because there were so many activities to take in.

We did so many things during our stay, including a visit to Ille Cave, the Palawan Heritage Center, a day of island hopping in El Nido and much more. What I remember the most out of this whole experience is how welcome I felt. I felt like I was visiting family and friends and they couldn’t wait to share and brag about their heritage to me. I couldn’t wait to watch, listen and experience it for myself. This feeling of not being an outsider is what will make me come back as often as I can afford; and I can’t wait to share with my family. “Balik, balik” or “come back, come back” was what many of the locals told us as we left and everyone among us said that we will be back.

Pusong Mamon

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[Post by Kah-Ty-Ah Lawrence]

I am going to the Philippines. As the departure date draws closer, my interest in Philippine culture grows. I am reading an array of books, one of which expands on cultural differences between the United States and the Philippines. In a country that is dominated by machismo culture and the Catholic religion, one book says, a woman’s most important role in life is being a mother.

While standing at the bakery in New Ibajay, Palawan, looking at the shelves of bread and treats of all shapes and sizes, the connoisseur in me has absolutely no idea what to pick. Trying to make an extremely calculated decision off of nothing, I turn to my Pinoy crush and ask for his opinion on what I should choose. After much translation he finally suggests the pusong mamon and says, “This is the heart of the Philippines!”

The group slowly files back into the Jeepney after filling their orders of treats and sweets from the bakery. As I sit down and open my bag of mystery treats, I bite into the pusong mamon having no idea what it is going to taste like. It’s delicious and firm but, soft with very subtle sweetness to it.

Although a Pinay woman’s most important role in life is seen as being a mother, it is a highly respected role. I have come to learn that pusong mamon is the symbol for the Pinay mother. She is a woman who slides easily from the high demands of a husband to the needs of young children and disciplining teenagers so gracefully. She is a woman who is firm when she has to be, yet soft and sweet on the inside. I was warmed by the connection between women and this food to understand how representative pusong mamon is of the Pinay woman. She is going to change, but she is going to maintain her traditions as a 21st century woman.

A day long journey to Sibaltan is worth the effort

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[Post by Leonard Forsman, Suquamish, WA]

On January 22, we left on a van ride from Puerto Princesa to Sibaltan. The first stop was at the town of TayTay, home to a great restaurant and a 17th century Spanish Fort St. Isabel. The fort is run by a graduate of Palawan State University who is working to expand a small museum in the scenic fort. After leaving TayTay, we stopped briefly in El Nido before heading over the mountain to Sibaltan, our home for three days. After a total of 8 hours on some pretty rough road, we arrived to a traditional welcome dance and meal presented by the townspeople and their beautiful young people. Coconut juice and fried bananas were just a few of the treats.

On this first day, I could see that the people of Sibaltan prize their young people and their extended families. Spanish cultural influences are subtly noticeable, but a strong connection to their Cuyonon ancestors is evident. It was refreshing to see a community so unified and relatively isolated from intense forces of acculturation faced by many aboriginal cultures, including my own people, the Suquamish Tribe.

Blessed to be Visiting the Philippines

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[Post by Angela Flemming, Suquamish, WA]

Anxious, excited, feeling blessed… I’m not sure what those emoticons look like but I am so happy that I have been blessed with the opportunity to finally make a trip to the Motherland.  I was chosen to be a delegate with the Suquamish Tribe in Palawan, Philippines. What I can bring to the table is my unique experience as a 2nd generation Filipina that has worked nearly ten years in the Grant world for Tribal Government, has lived my whole life in the Suquamish and Kitsap Community and yet can give a neutral perspective. If they don’t need my perspective it probably doesn’t hurt that I understand a great amount of Tagalog and can possibly help with translation, if needed.

I was given the opportunity to open up my home and host a dinner for the delegates from Palawan.  Though I had no idea what I was getting myself into it ended up being very comfortable and a lot of fun.  My mom, Rosenda, enjoyed herself the most though.  She didn’t want the night to end.  I loved seeing my mom engage with everyone as well as there is not much more that brings her pleasure than when she can impress with her cooking; and impressed they were.  She was so animated and excited to chat with everyone and everyone got along so well. You would have thought they were long lost friends.  I’m happy to say that she will be joining us as we now go and visit the Philippines.

I’ve been trying to take a trip to the Philippines for many years now and am so excited that I FINALLY get to go but as excited as I am, I can’t say that I’m truly ready to leave.  I did go get my inoculations; I just have not packed yet.  We leave in a couple of days!

I can’t wait to experience the Philippines first hand and what’s extra special is that my mom and I extended our trip in order to visit our family.  We will travel to Palawan, fly back to Manila and visit family that we have near there and we will visit our family located in a remote village in Leyte.  I look forward to experiencing the beautiful Palawan Island with it’s wonderful history and people.  I can’t wait to check on my family in Leyte, meet my relatives by Manila and meet my Godchild, Precious Amethyst.  I hold my hands up to the Suquamish Museum Board for allowing me this rare opportunity and I thank the Creator for continually blessing me.

Salamat Po

Questioning Collaboration

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As an intern with Ancient Shores, Changing Tides, I interviewed several of the participants about what they hoped to achieve by taking part in the Museums Connect exchange. Answers included cross-cultural understanding, new exhibition and storytelling techniques, and enhanced understanding of local heritage. All noble causes, but I was skeptical at first. What do an established museum in the United States and an underfunded museum in the Philippines have to teach each other? Luckily, I was able to journey across the Olympic Peninsula with the delegates from Sibaltan and their Suquamish hosts. After two days of touring heritage sites on the Olympic Peninsula, sharing meals, and swapping stories, it was apparent that they would reach their goals.

Since the delegation’s visit, my involvement with Ancient Shores, Changing Tides has been more peripheral, so I am eager to catch up with the participants midway through the grant. I am particularly curious about the progress they have made toward their goals, and whether their desired outcomes have changed after the first visit.  Of course, I can and will ask them about this, but first I would like to share a few questions and musings about the benefits of community museum exchanges:

How does a cultural exchange program such as Museums Connect strengthen the implementation and functioning of community museums?

Ancient Shores, Changing Tides project leader Lace Thornberg has identified six principles to which community museums aspire: they 1) are committed to social justice, 2) place a strong emphasis on training local people to preserve the collections and manage the museum, 3) are built by activist leaders, through a participatory approach with an emphasis on collaboration, 4) preserve both material cultural heritage and intangible cultural heritage, 5) link the past with the present, promoting community identity and cultural regeneration, and 6) collaborate, cooperate and share best practices. Both the Suquamish Museum and the Balay Cuyonon can be characterized as community museums, founded by and for community members as places in which to shape and share their histories and identities. Museums Connect has presented these museums with the opportunity to fulfill the sixth principle: collaboration, cooperation, and sharing best practices. This principle may seem a little surprising; community museums should focus on the local by definition, so how does collaboration and sharing with other communities contribute to their missions? I’d like to know more!

Maybe you can help answer some of these questions:

  • Why are collaboration, cooperation, and sharing best practices especially important to community museums?
  • How do these activities support the other five principles mentioned above?
  • How does international travel strengthen this collaboration?
  • In what other ways can community museums effectively collaborate, cooperate and share best practices?

Add your comments here, or click over to the Ancient Shores, Changing Tides Facebook page to contribute to the conversation!


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[Post by Mariel Francisco, Puerto Princesa, Palawan]

Before the visit I already expected that there would be a lot of difference between the two places, which was the main purpose of the visit: to share the culture of each community. I learned several new things that amazed me. When I arrived the first things I noticed were the advancement of all people when it comes to technology and that the government and the people worked together to implement the law. I’m so curious how they do that and what people think about it. I also noticed the cleanliness of the place: not one fallen leaf and the traffic was so minimal.

I want to list 5 things that amazed me so much:

The first one is that we saw Filipinos everywhere and anywhere. It’s kind of amazing that when they see you and know that you are Pinoy they smile at you and talk to you, even though you come from different parts of the Philippines. And you know that they are so happy to see their kababayan and to help and comfort them in a new place.

Second, I know that US is a federal state but, then again, they recognize their tribes such as the Suquamish tribe. That they give them the right to their own village is really amazing. They can preserve their culture, land and all things around them that they own.

Mariel interviewing Lydia Sigo.
Mariel interviewing Lydia Sigo.

Third, the fishing ground was great. I wish we could do that in Sibaltan and apply what they have when it comes to protecting their fishing ground. We have beautiful sights in our place, but it’s a preservation area and mostly a tourist spot,not a fishing ground for the fishermen tto use as a source of living. I’m so impressed that they can get the fish or clams just near the land where the village is even though they are not farmed. The season determines what they can get and which area is allowed. We are thankful that they allowed us to witness how they do that. I hope we have that total implementation for those so people don’t forget their responsibility to protect the sea so that they don’t need to go far just to catch fish.


Mariel with Chief Kitsap Academy student Lacey Hawk
Mariel with Chief Kitsap Academy student Lacey Hawk

The school is the fourth thing that amazed me. The kids were taller than me and they thought that I was younger than my age, which made me happy. The school was one of my favorite stops since I always looked forward to visiting and it happened! As an education major, who exposed with the same environment I tried to search for new approaches and strategies to use. I am happy we were given time to talk to students and tour their school, even though I wish we had much longer. I wish we had had time to observe one of their classes as well. I have already had time to talk about what I saw with the principal of the laboratory high school in PSU and she was impressed. According to her, there was a time in the past that each teacher had their own classroom and the students were the ones who went to each room. But since it’s an experimental school it depends on the needs of the students they change it. I also loved the concept of their library and the iPod thing which is so useful for the learner. I wish we had that. In addition, their urge to teach the young generation to learn their native language so that they can preserve it is remarkable.


Group touring the Suquamish Museum
Group touring the Suquamish Museum

Last but not least, the museums: We have visited a lot of museums since our first day in Seattle. What attracted my attention was when there were things or materials they used that we have the same in the Philippines. It’s kind of amazing to realize how our ancestors were so smart that they came up with these things and used these materials for so many situations! Miles away we have also ancestors who used the same things! The good examples are the basket, paddle and canoe. They have different design sometimes but the same use. It’s curious to me that so much is the same time. How did that happen?

We know that it’s normal that we have a lot of commonalities with other Asian countries. Maybe these similarities happened during during the time they were traveling with canoes and had no concept of country, or some other time they met but we don’t know. Its weird how miles away they have the same way of living for quite sometime.

I also loved the long house inside the museum. It’s big so you need a large space to fit that in the museum.I actually prefer the Balay Cuyonon since it is an actual house. It’s more interesting since it can be used. And the life of people in Sibaltan is mostly the real village of our group of people in the past. I am so proud that they preserved and sustained it.

I am also thankful that we had a chance to actually see the working area of archaeologists in the Burke Museum. It was a privilege. That thank you so much to Peter, Laura, Lace and all the people working down there who were so excited, happy and giving of their time to show us their collection about the Philippines. The most remarkable thing in the collectionwas the original Filipino flag, because it’s our pride and it so symbolic to us that they have it. It was the first time that I saw that the color of the other side of the flag is green instead of blue. They really took care of it, and not only that but also their other collections. I was also amazed with how they arranged the collections area. I talked to Sir Jun about whether we could have the same cabinet in the PSU Museum and the only answer I got was that we need a big fund for that.


I would like to thank all the people who made this project possible. Lace, who is hands-on in everything and became our mother during the visit. Peter, for letting us visit the Burke Museum, joining us and sharing knowledge with us. The people of the Burke Museum for giving us time and sharing us what we have that you tried to take care of it. To Wade and Mary, who were always there to assist us and document everything. To Janet Smoak for leading us and welcoming us to the Suquamish tribe. For the Suquamish people who gave us time to share their food and culture. To the Filipinos in Seattle who were always willing to assist us. To all the people behind this project, thank you so much for giving us your time and sharing with us your way of living.

Thank you so much