Just after the successful staging of his play, Kundiman Party, playwright Floy Quintos has his curator’s hat on once more, carefully putting together pieces that will go into an exhibit titled “Anting-anting: The Secret Soul of the Filipino”. The exhibit, including pieces from the collections of Jaime Laya, Monchet Lucas, and Ron Allanigue, will be featured in one of the major museums of Paris, Musee du Quay Branly-Jacques Chirac in March 2019.
Quintos has held a similar exhibit in 2015 at the Yuchengco museum titled Pinoy Power Packs: Agimats, Anting-antings, and the Stories they Tell. While his main audience was composed of Filipinos, the challenge this time is to make it easily understandable to a predominantly French crowd. It is the story that takes the spotlight, says Quintos about this latest exhibit.
His fascination with these amulets started almost eight years ago, when a young, street-smart, anting-anting believer named Michael randomly entered his antique shop Deus in Ermita and sold him some pieces. “‘Sir, bumibili ba kayo ng anting-anting?’” Quintos recalls being asked and jokes how he was drawn to Michael for being a ‘cutie pie’. Bringing out the anting-anting pieces, Michael began reading their meanings to an awed Quintos who couldn’t help but ask, “Hard core ka?” and the young man said yes, saying his grandfather and father were believers, too. Michael even went as far as showing Quintos his invisible tattoo that can only be seen in the dark. “It was so freaky! Then he asked me ‘Kuya gusto mong makita yung video na tinataga ako?’ I said ‘nooooo’. That was where I drew the line,’” Quintos laughs.
This same fellow accompanied Quintos and the museum’s French representatives to the popular sources of anting-antings—Banahaw, Batangas, Cavite, and Quiapo.
The pieces –-comprised of naked Sto. Niños, medallions in metal, wood, and a select number in ivory, as well as shirts with animist illustrations and pig latin inscriptions—serve as tangible counterparts to the arcane, often non-linear lore behind the collection. The value of the exhibit lies not so much in the pieces—as most are affordable and easily accessible—but in the stories they carry.
The story of the lonely soul
Anting-anting tells the story of the Filipinos’ animist past and our ancestors’ uneasy acceptance of Christianity when the Spaniards came. They found a compromise by fusing both beliefs, and the anting-anting or amulet became a testament to this new hybrid religion. “We’d like to associate anting-antings with potency, money, and wealth but all these came much later. The whole concept is about pagbabalik loob,” explains Quintos, the phrase reflecting our conversion from our animist roots to our colonial brand of Catholicism.
The exhibit begins with the omnipresent animasola amulets that features a winged eye inside a triangle. “That’s the winged eye flying in the eternity of the universe—that’s [believed to be our] first bathala (God),” says Quintos. “This winged eye is bathala’s first form, and they call him the animasola, the lonely soul.” In the world of the mag-aantings, it is believed that it was bathala who created the divine trinity--the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-- from his sweat.
Another set in the exhibit features the incarnation of the animasola into its human form -- a nuno or an old man. For some time, the three divinities lived in paradise not knowing the nuno existed until one day they finally meet the old man and wanted to baptize him. What happened next was an encounter between Jesus and the Nuno, the latter refusing to be baptized because, after all, it was he who created the them.
“The story is a whole metaphor for the way we’ve attacked Christianity, that we are nominal and we are animists. So this whole medallion and all its forms, for me really, tells the story of Philippine Christianity and how we look at animism as above the established religion,” expounds Quintos.
He adds: “The story is non-linear so it happens when it happens. You cannot understand anting anting on one level. Something is happening here and there. It’s like magic realism, anything can happen.”
Bathala in many forms
Apart from the animasola and the full story of the Nuno encounter, the exhibit will also feature the different amulets showing how the animasola assumed many forms—as waksim, the water god; as infinto, the warrior god; as infinita, the female god; as infinitong nagkukubli sa bato, among others.
It will also display T-shirts and handkerchiefs and head scarves on loan by collectors and by relatives of the members of the Lapiang Malaya, the infamous group of 350-strong peasants who stormed Malacañang in 1967 demanding agrarian reforms. Armed with just bolos, amulets, and t-shirts with pig latin inscriptions and anting-anting illustrations worn underneath their uniforms, the Lapiang Malaya members were soon rounded by the Philippine constabulary and shot at. History records 33 deaths and 47 wounded while the rest were charged with sedition.
While there will be select pieces in ivory, most amulets will be in the form of the more common metal, wood from dignum, and t-shirts and handkerchiefs—all referred to by Quintos as materials that the masa can acquire or afford. “Anting anting is something you would not find on the ilustrados, instead you will find it on the bandits, rebels, and farmers,” Quintos says.
Anting-anting will coincide with exhibits from three other Asian countries: Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam. It will open with an intriguing Quiapo festival where an installation of thousands of Nazarene panyos will be on display along with colorfully robed Sto. Niños. There will also be other cult objects for wealth, love, and sex but the amulets will be the main show and will be accompanied by a video that will tell their story in animation.
The story of the Filipino Anting-anting is a challenging one to tell a foreign audience but it is a story Quintos has pursued, researched on, discussed, and made tangible through his own collections and through his exhibits in museums here in the country through the years.
“I love them as art objects. I started collecting but what I’ve grown into gradually is seeing the object as stories--as wealth of our knowledge, our lore, our psyche, who we are as a people. On the outside they are fabulous but for me it’s really [about] the story,” Quintos concludes.
It’s a story Quintos knows so intimately, it seems he was destined to tell it. As one of our lasting legacy stories, the anting-anting has finally found its storyteller.
For more information on the anting-antings, Quintos recommends a book by Dennis Villegas from Vibal Publishing, as well as one by Nenita Pambid from the UP Press.
Photographs except last image by Joseph Pascual