Thursday, February 17, 2005

Land of Sacred Jars IV

From the unanimous testimony of eye-witnesses, the sacred jars were not particularly comely in appearance. They were of medium to small size like ordinary water or wine jars, and de Morga describes them as having a brown color. They definitely, then, were not celadons or porcelain, which were recognized by the Europeans and the whole world as the finest type of ceramic.

Indeed the extant evidence shows these pots were not even stoneware, but only simple earthenware as you might find anywhere in the world. If you had no other information about these pots, for example, that they were made of the primal clay of Sun and Moon, they would appear nearly worthless. No other explanation would suffice as to why kings would refuse any offer for these plain clay containers.

The confusing point of the matter is that the Tokiko also mentions fine Rusun wares including celadons. Archaeological discoveries over the past few decades have shown that the country was indeed a destination, and possibly even a source, for many fine Chinese-type porcelain pieces. In fact, the Philippines has one of the world's greatest collections of Sung dynasty celadons and the highly-prized Shu-fu wares used by the Mongol royal family and the few others that received it as gifts.

However, the Tokiko does seem to distinguish the porcelain from the tea canisters and jars that commanded such high prices.

Of pottery vessels of Luzon, there is a large variety. As a rule, poeple call only jars (tsubo) and tea-canisters (chaire) Luzons. Owing to the fact that all other articles of Luzon bear out a similarity to those of Hagi, Karatsu, Seto, Bizen, Tamba, Takatori, Higo, Oribe, and Shino, Luzons are erroneously believed to be restricted to the above two articles...The tea canisters of Luzon are of the best quality.

-- Tokiko II

The author goes on apparently describing more Chinese-influenced porcelains, which may or may not have been made on Luzon, to the plain but highly-valued tea-canisters and jars. He mentions one tea-canister he found with Chinese characters suggesting the word Lusung-chi "made in Lusung." The "genuine" Luzon tea-canisters were said to have concave bottoms and to be compact and dense.

The more recent pottery-making traditions of the Philippines concentrated around two main types with close links to styles used in Vietnam. These were the older Sa-Huyhn-Kalanay ware which lasted about 3,000 years and the more recent Geometric pottery, sometimes called "Bau-Malay" which arose around the seventh century. Older pottery though dates back to the early Neolithic or Mesolithic and is characterized particularly by burial jars and associated ware.

Although de Morga states the tea jars were no longer made in the Philippines during his time, in the northern reaches of Luzon which had resisted Spanish colonization, the Kalinga and other peoples continued to make earthenware pots. Later this tradition was revived in other places.

The ordinary medium to small-sized wine and water jars often called volnai, bolnai, etc. may be the boioni mentioned by Froez. These tend to be of globular shape and brown or dark reddish in color.

In addition to the rokuro mark used to identify jars that were made in Luzon, other marks indicated jars made in Japanese kilns but with Luzon clay. Those made in the Imbe kiln had the mark , those from the Bizen kiln had this mark: , while tea-canisters from the Bizen kiln made of Rusun clay had the following mark repeated three times: .

The Tokiko says these markings are in the Rusun-no kokuji "the national writing of Luzon." Indeed, the symbols for Luzon clay do resemble characters in the baybayin script. These include the characters for la in Kapampangan, Tagalog, Bisayan and Ilokano, the na character in Kapampangan and Tagbanua, and the ka character in Tagbanua.

In addition, these characters also resemble the symbology that we mentioned before. I stated that the rokuro spiral would represent the dragon clan, while the "T" symbols used for Rusun clay, would stand for the cosmic tree and by implication the bird clan.

Some examples of these holy jars have been found in Japanese collections. One piece brought from Japan to the Ethnographical Museum matches quite perfectly the description provided by de Morga. It is of brownish color earthenware and small in size. De Morga says of the clay pots purchased by the Japanese that they "overlay them externally with fine gold embossed with great skill, and enclose them in cases of brocade."

In a similar way, maybe to compensate for their unsightly appearance, the Sultan of Brunei's talking jar was "generally enveloped in gold brocade."

The Ethnographical Museum piece was said to be made of composite pieces welded together with the joints, apparently at a latter time, overlayed with gold. In the certificate that came with the jar we find an interesting notice on the sacred nature of this pottery.

"This earthen vessel was found in the porcelain factory of Tschisuka in the province of Odori, in South Idzumi, and is an object belonging to the thousand graves.... It was made by Giogiboosat (a celebrated Buddhist priest), and after it had been consecrated to heaven was buried by him. According to the traditions of the people, this place held grave mounds with memorial stones. That is more than a thousand years ago. ....In the pursuit of my studies, I remained many years in the temple Sookuk, of that village, and found the vessel. I carried it to the high priest Shakudjo, who was much delighted therewith and always bore it about with him as a treasure. When he died it fell to me, although I could not find it. Recently, when Honkai was chief priest, I saw it again, and it was as if I had again met the spirit of Shakudjo. Great was my commotion, and I clapped my hands with astonishment; and, as often as I look upon the treasure, I think it is a sign that the spirit of hakudjo is returned to life. Therefore I have written the history, and taken care, of this treasure.–Fudji Kuz Dodjin."

-- translated by Austin Craig

The Datu of Tamparuli filled his jars with water and dispensed it to the sick across the country. The Sultan of Brunei was quoted as saying that his sacred pot howled during the night of his first wife's death, and made similar noises before any unfortunate event. Craig also notes: "St. John states further that the Bisayans used formerly to bring presents to the sultan; in recognition of which they received some water from the sacred jar to sprinkle over their fields and thereby ensure plentiful harvests."

These humble pots were minature models of the Primordial Hill, Mt. Mandara, Mt. Meru, Mt. Eden and other variations of the great holy volcano with a caldera lake -- the Krater. They combined the clays of Sun and Moon or were said to be made by the Sun and Moon gods. Like the Holy Grail, they were imbued with spirits that aided or even guided the owner. Tabooed for millennia, they were now put on sale to the highest bidder.

Paul Kekai Manansala