That was Dr. May Jurilla’s opening line when she gave a short lecture on the history of books and publishing in the Philippines last March 22 at the Ayala Museum. The comparative literature professor, who has a PhD in Philippine Book History, was given the privilege to rummage through the Filipinas Heritage Library Collection. I assume if she were given the opportunity, Dr. Jurilla would have recounted the story of every gem she found. And if the Book literally churned out volumes, the formed collection would be larger and richer than the U.S. Library of Congress. Given that the allotted time had very limited shelf space, a selection had to be made. Here are just some of the interesting points and pieces she highlighted:
Proceso de la Demanda de Dulidad de Matrimonio. Visayan Manuscript, 1647.
This documents the proceedings of a divorce between Dona Maria Mutia Metiene and Don Bernardino Dimabasa. The Dona recounts incidents of domestic abuse, including one night when she had to leave her house and flee to safety by jumping through a window. She won the case. She was also cleared of being an excomunicado. What is more interesting about the manuscript is that it contains the only record of pre-Hispanic Visayan baybayin (letters), which the ex-couple used to sign their names on the document before parting ways.
Historia General de Philipinas by Juan de la Concepcion. 14 Volumes. Manila, 1788-1792.
What makes this early comprehensive history of the Philippines is not what it contains, but rather what contains it. This book is bound by vellum, which was one of the more frugal options at the Bookbinder’s in those days. It was clarified that vellum is very different from parchment. Parchment makers source their material exclusively from sheep. Meanwhile, vellum may be made of sheep, cow, goat, or even rabbit skin. It’s economical yet sturdy. The artifact in the museum proves that it can keep your precious book safe for centuries. Vellum, anyone?
Ninay (Costumbres Filipinas) by Pedro Alejandro Paterno. Madrid: Imprenta de Fortanet, 1885.
In the good old days, one needed to pass by two places in order to obtain a book. The bookstore as we know it did not exist then. You first had to visit the bookseller where you purchased the unbound, uncut manuscript. Then, off you went to your favorite bookbinder to have it covered in the material and design of your choosing. The finished book had uncut edges. So, the first reader had to cut the paper every time he or she wanted to turn to the next page (the idea of old fancy letter openers makes so much sense after you learn that piece of information!). Anyway, around half of the pages of the Ninay copy in the Filipinas Heritage Library Collection remain uncut. Perhaps the owner of the alleged first work of Philippine fiction didn’t find it as interesting as he or she expected it to be.
Revelations of the Book is the first of a lecture series on the Book that the Filipinas Heritage Library and Ayala Museum plan to continue throughout the year. The next talk is set for May 2014. Fully Booked Discount Card holders enjoy 50% discount on the Ayala Museum entrance fee all year-round. Fully Booked Kidscount Card holders are eligible to 10% off on the different Ayala Museum stART! activities this summer. You may check www.facebook.com/theayalamuseum or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.