Lessons from History of Architecture: What I Perceive As Truth May Not Be The Truth At All

A huge part of the beliefs ingrained in my subconsciousness is there because I live in the Philippines. I would have a different set of beliefs or truths if I live in Japan or was born in India.

What if I grew up in a Muslim environment?

Taj Mahal, India
Taj Mahal, an example of Saracenic Architecture

If I was born in a Muslim family, I would most probably be a Muslim too and I will grow up going to mosque that are adorned with abstract patterns. Because for Muslims, any form that depict human or animal figure on or in a mosque is considered as idolatry. Hence, their places of worships are always decorated with abstract art. So, if I grew up in that kind of environment, I will consider human or animal statues in a place of worship as idolatry.

What if I grew up in Japan?

If I was born in Japan, I will grow up being surrounded by Shinto shrines wherein statues of animals (like kitsune and shika) stands on the site of the shrines. If I grew up in that kind of environment, I do not consider that I am committing idolatry because I do not worship kitsune and shika. Kitsune simply serves as a guardian of Kamis while shika is a direct messenger to sun goddess, Amaterasu.

What if I was born into a family whose religion is Roman Catholic?

If I was born into a family whose religion is Roman Catholic, I will grow up going to a Catholic Church every Sunday and being surrounded by statues of Jesus, Mama Mary, and other saints. My belief would be that even though there are statues in our church, we do not commit idolatry because the statues serve as a visual reminder and a way to connect. As BBC writes, “Catholics do not worship Mary or the saints, but ask them to pray to God on their behalf. This is known as intercession.” We are not committing idolatry because we know that we are worshipping God.

So what does this all mean?

This essay will not answer the question, who’s beliefs are more right or more wrong because as I was studying the architecture of different countries, I began to realize that what I perceive as truth may not be exactly the truth at all but it is only considered as truth because its what a collective group of people in my area believed in.

My current truths are shaped by the people and the built environment around me. But it may not be the truth at all.

So what’s the truth? Honestly, I don’t know and I have no intention of wasting my energy on finding out what’s the real truth.

But I am writing what I noticed here today because I know that having this kind of awareness—that what I perceive as truth may only be a truth because that is what most people in my location believed in—makes me more empathetic, understanding, and open-minded to other people who do not share the same beliefs as I am. The people who do not share the same beliefs as I am, they grew up in an environment that told them that this is what’s right and what’s wrong, just like how I am, hence I do not have the right to judge them for that because what I believe in may not be even the truth at all.

Culture shapes architecture and the built environment, in turn, is what shapes the beliefs of the future generations of that land. For instance, the Shinto shrines of Japan are established by people who are now centuries dead. But Shintoism is still practiced because the tangible idea of what they practice in the past is still here in the present and hence, they continue to shape the beliefs of the Japanese people.

We are largely shaped by our environment and sometimes, it makes us a bit more kinder if we have that kind of awareness every time we interact with someone.

Princess Mononoke and Its Context

I’m deeply fascinated by the film Princess Mononoke. A fellow intern, Sam recommended this film to me. According to her, the film had influenced her to take her advocacy seriously. Currently, she is part of various organizations for the environment and an intern for Magwai, a company that produces reef-safe sunscreen.

Princess Mononoke has indeed the power to nudge audiences into caring for the environment deeply than ever. However, when I watched it, maybe because of my artist training, I noticed subtle details in the film that shows the rich history and culture of Japan.

SHINTOISM

World Religions: Shinto in Miyazaki's 'Princess Mononoke'

Japan’s oldest religion, Shintoism’s core belief is humans in connection with nature. Thousands of Kami (Japanese gods), that takes the form of the thing or animal it represents, made up the pantheon of Shintoism.

KAMI

In the film, humans recklessly cut trees and kill animals- an indication of disconnection to Kami. Hence we see the Boar god getting eat up by its hatred and starts acting like a wild animal, unconsciously destroying villages.

KODAMA

Pin on Studio Ghibli

These little white things called Kodama, or “tree spirits” in English, appear in forests as a sign that the forest is healthy. Kodama is one of the many Kami mentioned in the film and has its origin from Shintoism as well.

At later part of the film, when the forest is about to die, many Kodama falls from above- a sign that they had disturbed the spirit.

LEPROSY

The Complicated Power of Princess Mononoke's Villain, Lady Eboshi

In the earlier history of Japan, they considered leprosy as a punishment from the gods. As a result, they placed people who suffered from this disease in isolated facilities. In the film, they were not banned from their hometowns. Instead, they were given shelter and jobs.

A REMINDER

Although the film is relevant wherever you are, Director Hayao Miyazaki created Princess Mononoke to remind the Japanese of their Shintoism roots. Moreover, Studio Ghibli released the film in 1997, a time when Japan is ‘modernizing’ after being devastated by World War II. Miyazaki hopes that his fellow countrymen would not forget where they had come from.

THOUGHTS

This film had completely blown my mind. One must have a profound understanding of their culture and their people to create a film with such a rich historical background. Aside from its not-so-subtle environment advocacy, Princess Mononoke reminds its audience that hate plus hate does not equal peace. Actions of hatred do not end when you had hurt someone you hated, it will indirectly affect another, and so on. It will never end. Instead, as what is constantly being emphasized during the film, “View the world with eyes unclouded by hate.”

Likhaan Workshop: Paglalala ng Sombrerong Buntal

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Likhaan Workshop: Paglalala ng Baliuag Buntal Hats. Source: Baliwag Buntal Enterprises Facebook page

Last September 2019, I had the privilege of meeting Tita Rosie Bautista, the owner of Baliuag Buntal Enterprises. Through a workshop held at Likhaan, center for the traditional arts and culture of the Philippines, I experienced firsthand how to create or lala a baliuag buntal hat.

A quote that is popular to Filipinos, “Habang buhay, may pag-asa. (As long as you are alive, there is hope.)” is the opposite of what Tita Rosie shared to us, “Kapag may pag-asa, may buhay. (When there is hope, there is life.)” 

When she shared her journey to us, I realized that the quote is her. The quote represented her journey.

Tita Rosie took over the Baliuag Buntal Hats Enterprise despite “not being good at numbers”. Years later, she joined a contest and won one hundred thousand pesos as a cash prize which she used to fund the materials that will be used by the inmates in Bulacan. She helped the inmates to earn and gain a new skill. The inmates were trained for a a few days on how to lala a buntal hat and started to create hats which earned them 500 pesos for each hat made. The program for the inmates ended after four years “with no reasons why”.

One thing that Tita Rosie emphasized is that the market for Buntal Hats is huge. The only problem that she has is the lack of workforce, especially young people on the workforce. She hopes that young people would be interested in creating Buntal Hals. Moreover, a lot of undergraduate students from University of the Philippines and University of Santo Tomas visit her in Bulacan for their theses. She mentioned that there were several times when she took leave of absences from work because students from Manila are coming over to see her. Tita Rosie firmly believes that she had to give time to the youth, “Dahil ang mga kabataan ay ang mga pag-asa ng bayan. (Because the youth are the hope of the country.)” She said.

She expressed her gratefulness towards Intramuros Administration and Likhaan for organizing the workshop and to us, for taking the time to come and learn. The workshop became an opportunity for all of us to recognize and discover Buntal Hats and experience making one.

Also, I am grateful to Intramuros Administration and Likhaan for organizing workshops that showcases the Philippine Arts and Crafts Industry. Everyone was so happy to learn something new and to learn about this craft that possesses the intricate skill of Filipinos. Everyone was proactive in learning and asking questions. For that moment with a sea of strangers, I felt that we became a community.

Currently, the Intramuros Administration offers live webinars about Philippine culture and history.