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[Ilonggo Notes] Talibongs of Panay – beautiful and lethal

The binangon, or bolo, is the all-around utility blade that can be found in practically all Filipino homes. It is commonly used for opening coconuts, cropping shrubs and firewood, slicing meats, chopping bones, or even as a can opener. Several towns in Panay provinces – Iloilo, Aklan, Antique, and Capiz – are known for their skill in metalsmithing and bolo-making. I rarely gave bolos a second look, until I saw the coffee table book A Warrior’s Armament and Ornament – the Edwin R. Bautista Collection of Philippine Bladed Weapons (Museo ng Kaalamang Katutubo [MUSKKAT], 2020).  

The book showcases the personal collection acquired by Ilonggo born-and-bred Bautista, an engineer who serves as UnionBank’s top honcho. He tells of his fascination with the blades and the collector’s journey, starting out with a gift from his Lolo; that talibong was a gift from a Panay Bukidnon chief whom his grandfather befriended during the Japanese Occupation. 

The book boasts several scholarly yet fascinating pieces by top Pinoy weapon collectors and curators – Patrick Flores, Eusebio Dizon, Lorenz Lasco, Narciso Tan, Corazon Alvina. Far from being plain, unadorned, and utilitarian, the 163 pieces in the Bautista collection are works of art, and symbols of status, power, and influence. Lasco describes the talibong as having a pommel with either a figural deity with a long “chula” (a Sanskrit-Malayan word indicating a figural mystical horn) or another stylized figural deity. Bautista also traces the Hindu-South Thailand-Bornean Datu-Panay Bukidnon connections through the pieces in his collection – and thus portraying them as cultural symbols and artifacts of note.

So, with that in mind, I re-visited displays of these weapons at several places —the Philippine Economic History Museum, the Museo Iloilo, and the Museum of Aklan. The Museums have a few talibongs in their displays, as part of the native crafts section or as weaponry of the Panay Bukidnon (upland minorities).  However, the way they are displayed, the lighting, and the curatorial information is sparse.  

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