Just as with old churches, I am equally fascinated and doubly charmed by old houses. It pleases me even further when they are still inhabited by descendants of the original owners and not converted into a government office or restaurant or what-have-you. I still think about all those gorgeous ancestral homes in Silay (Negros Occ.) and how much I regret not setting aside time from work to venture beyond some of those iron gates, managing only to admire them from across the road or through the car’s dusty window.
So to say that exploring the ancestral homes in Bohol was a treat for me would be a gross understatement. It was quite the honor. When you cross the threshold of an ancestral home, you are never just a tourist satisfying a curiosity. You are, above all, a guest of the family and of their forefathers.
We learned much of what we know about the BAHANDI or Baclayon Ancestral Homes Association from our lovely hosts at the Mendez Homestay, but also from a lady we met who operates a homestay of her own. It was in her living room where she recounted how the ancestral homes along the main highway were threatened by demolition due to a road-widening project. So in 2002 the BAHANDI (bahandi is actually Visayan for treasure or inheritance) was founded to protect these homes. Thanks to their tireless efforts, not only were the beautiful houses spared from the wrecking ball, but so was the cultural heritage of Baclayon. Today the BAHANDI continues to organize local cultural events, support locals engaged in traditional arts and crafts, conduct educational campaigns on culture and history in schools, and advocate the preservation of historic buildings.
Everything in the house tells a story. Even the width of the hardwood floor planks reveals the wealth of the family (the wider, the wealthier). But best of all are the stories you weave together from the personal mementoes left behind by generations past: the frayed baros carelessly hung on the walls; the worn piano keys and chess sets; framed portraits and sepia-toned photographs, rickety furniture you wouldn’t dare sit on; gorgeous aparadors next to canopied beds, doilies underneath antique porcelain figurines; religious icons that came in sizes smaller than my thumb to taller than my 6 ft. dad; books that threatened to trigger my allergies if I so much as lay a finger on them; vintage green and amber glass bottles, chipped clay pieces, walking canes and other odds and ends.
Most of the houses are of typical bahay-na-bato design, with the use of stone limited to the lower level for the foundation. The upper levels are built using wood, bamboo and other native materials. A staircase (a showcase in itself) leads you up to the large and airy main room with high ceilings. This is the most important part of the house serving as both dining and living area, and from where large doors lead into the bedrooms and the kitchen. Window sills with sliding capiz & wood shutters make up most of the upper level facade with shuttered ventanillas (smaller windows) just below it decorated in pretty iron grillwork.
I appreciated the quiet grandeur of these stately homes; devoid of the lavishness that most ancestral houses elsewhere display. But I appreciated even more the respect the locals have of the gifts of the past and the pains they've taken to preserve them. With the mass development of suburbs all over the country boasting of modern and western designs, I take comfort in knowing that houses like these which make up our national identity are fiercely protected.
So here are the Baclayon ancestral homes we had the pleasure of visiting. The information I'm providing here is taken from chats with members of the family supported by facts found in the BAHANDI 2008 calendar. Each house is as unique as the stories they tell. Instead of trying to describe each one in detail (I'd have to dedicate a whole post per house if I did), I'll let the pictures do the talking, in the hopes that you are treated to an enticing sneak preview at the very least.
1. The Malon House is currently the home of 6th generation Malon family and was the site of many political meetings between former Pres. Carlos Garcia and Juan Malon who was then working at the municipal hall. It was originally T-shaped and built in the late 19th century, but the wing that extended into the sea was destroyed by a typhoon in 1968. The house had a large and sunny living room where I found amidst the timeworn sundries, chocolate tablea covered in dried leaves. Not a stranger to the delights of homemade tablea from the provinces, I asked if they were for sale and bought some to take home. It was a week later during a beach trip with friends that I used them up to make hot chocolate for everyone at breakfast and wished that I had bought more. (Poblacion; 2 Fan Rooms, 3 Beds at P600 per person. Contact: Ms. Cecile Camba 038-5409514 / 0910-3387033)
3. The Mangrove House is so called because the rear part of the house is built on stilts and is nestled in the mangroves. It is there in that hut above the murky waters where all BAHANDI meetings are conducted. To get to the hut on stilts, you pass through one of the most charming native kitchen I have ever seen (see bottom row of collage). (Baliaut, Poblacion; 1 Fan room/3 Beds at P500 per person; Contact: Ms. Telly Ocampo 038-5409030 / 0920-2097558)
I've included the contact information for these homes should you be braver than I am (I'm a scaredy cat with an overactive imagination!) and would like to experience living in an ancestral home. If you'd like a list of the other homestays and their contact details, send me an email and I'll be happy to send it to you. :)