The Manunggul Jar: A Relic of Philippine History
When I recently visited the National Museum of the Philippines located in the country’s capital, Manila, I became more interested with the artifacts located at the Archaeology section of the museum. The first object that caught my eye was the Manunggul jar, a secondary burial jar that has existed since the late Neolithic Period (895-775 B.C.) in the Philippines.
I chose the Manunggul jar as an object of study for this particular paper due to its interesting features and historical implications.
Detailed Information and Description
The Manunggul jar is largely made from clay and it measures 51.5 cm wide and 66.5 cm high. Its embossed, curved designs especially those at the upper portion of the jar were painted in pure hematite and iron (National Museum Information).
There are two human images riding a boat located on top of the jar’s cover. The first human image, holding an oar with a missing blade, is situated at the back area. He seems to be steering the oar rather than paddling the boat. The second human image, with arms folded across the chest, is situated at the front. Both human images seem to have a band tied over their heads down to their jaws. The image of a head complete with carved eyes, nose and mouth is also seen at the front area of the boat.
The two human images were said to symbolize two souls on a voyage toward the afterlife. The arms folded across the chest of the second human image and the band being tied from the top of the head down to the jaw, on the other hand, represented the Philippine tradition of arranging a dead body (Chua 1-2). The three main features of the Manunggul jar is composed of the boat itself, the boat driver and the soul. This was based on the Austronesian belief wherein the soul of a human separates from the body after death and returns to the Earth in another form for the purpose of looking after his or her descendants. The souls were believed to travel through boats just like the one depicted on the jar’s cover (Chua 2-3).
The “ship-of-the-dead” image in the Manunggul jar was found to have close similarities with the ship motifs of woodcarvings found in Taiwan, East Timor and other places in South East Asia. Such ship motifs were seen during ancient funerals using boat-shaped coffins (Tan 89).
Brief History and Implications
The Manunggul jar was discovered in a cave at Lipuun Point, Quezon, Palawan on March 1964 by a team of volunteer workers from the United States Peace Corps headed by Victor Decalan and Hans Kasten. Since the late Neolithic Period, the jar became one of the important archaeological artifacts associated with the culture depicted in the Tabon Cave of Palawan (Chua 2). Dr. Robert Fox, together with his team of archaeologists, was able to obtain the jar and placed it at the National Museum of the Philippines for display and safe-keeping in 1964 (National Museum Information).
The Manunggul jar was regarded as a work accomplished by an ingenious artist and master potter (National Museum Information). It was also deemed as an artifact depicting the significance of water bodies such as seas, lakes and rivers as a means of transportation, trade and communication during the time of the country’s ancestors (Chua 2). The jar was also considered as a strong connection between the culture and archaeology of the past and the present.
For me, the Manunggul jar was a perfect illustration of the creativity and sense of artistry of the Filipino people. The fact that Filipinos are natural risk-takers and adventurers was also embedded in the elaborate designs of this artifact. The Manunggul jar also depicted the Filipino values of respect for one’s soul, compassion, nationalism and faith. Consequently, the jar served as a living reminder of the country’s rich history and culture since it existence during the late Neolithic Period.
The Manunggul jar is considered a living evidence of the Filipinos’ shared cultural legacy with their Austronesian ancestors since marks of their tradition and culture were seen in various areas of the Philippines and in numerous ethnic tribes (Chua 2).
Indeed, the Manunggul jar served as a representation of the National Museum’s responsibility in preserving the Philippines’ rich cultural legacy. It was also a potential proof of how art can reflect a country’s history, tradition and culture, no matter how simple or intricate its form is.
Chua, Michael Charleston B. “The Manunggul Jar as a Vessel of History”. KasPil1 Readings for
De La Salle University, Philippines. 2007
National Museum Information. Manunggul Jar (Manunggul Cave, Lipuun Pt., Palawan; 895-775
B.C.). Archaeology Department, National Museum of the Philippines, January 2017 (by Personal Acquisition)
Tan, Noel Hidalgo. “Rock Art Research in Southeast Asia: A Synthesis”. Arts, no. 3, 2014, pp.