How challenge can create something beautiful?
By Dr. Rebekka Volmer
Flexibility and adaptability are Philippine values and part of Pinoy pride. But what were the driving forces pushing our ancestors to develop these characteristics deep serrated in our culture?
Exploring the past of our culture, a team of archaeologists from the University of the Philippines, headed by Dr. Alfred Pawlik and Dr. Rebekka Volmer, were excavating in caves in Illin Island, San Jose, Occidental Mindoro. These caves were once inhabited by humans already 30,000 years ago. These first islanders were probably the Negritos, who are the ancestors of aboriginal Filipino groups like the Aeta.
Similar to indigenous people today, humans were using stone for making their tools. Stone tools are used for more than million years, used to butcher prey, developing in variety of tools for different purposes. One type of stone tool is a so-called adze, used to process wood or digging in the earth. Adzes are similar to axes, but at right angles to the shaft of the tool instead of a plane shaft.
Adzes were also used by the first Filipinos at sites in Mindoro. But instead of stone, these adzes were made of totally different material. People were using a tridacna shells. These shells were collected at the shores, and the fragments have been shaped into an elongated adze blade at one end, while the other end had been ground to manufacture a sharp working edge.
The find also dates back the first contact between the Philippines and other Austronesia-speaking peoples. Shell adzes can be found also in Eastern Indonesia and Oceania. Archaeologists think they are exchanged by people through sea-faring.
Today, adzes are still used in the Polynesian region, and made of stone tight to a wooden handle. Since they are used for the making of boats, this was probably also the case for first humans in Mindoro.
The reason why first islanders were using shell instead of stone was the lack of hard stones in the environment. Humans were already tackling the challenge and demonstrating the flexibility and adaptability crucial to survive in tropical environments. Although Pinoys today are not directly related to the first settlers in Mindoro, we can still observe that these values are incorporated in our culture developed from survival in a challenging environment.
Filipinos were facing many challenges throughout their history, such as being occupied and exploited by powerful countries. However, their extraordinary ability to make something out of almost nothing was based on tackling the harsh environmental challenges of the Philippine Archipelago, such as finding new material to produce a working adze. And isn’t a shell adze more beautiful than one made of stone?