Sunday, November 27, 2005

Glossary: Pandanan Wreck

The Pandanan Wreck was discovered in 1993 by pearl diver Eduardo Gordovilla off the southern coast of Palawan.

The wreck yielded 4,722 artifacts including an exceptional number of very well-preserved ceramic pieces. Other items found included pearls, iron cauldrons, metates, bronze cannons, semi-precious stones, copper coins, lamps, mirrors and weighing scales.

Radiocarbon dating of the ship indicate a date of 1410 CE, but excavator Eusebio Dizon believes the ship dates to Ming emperor Yung Lo's period based on copper coins found in the wreck. Some researchers think the date is not earlier than 1450 based on pottery found with the vessel.

Whatever the exact date, the find gives valuable insight into the level of inter-Southeast Asian trade before the intrusion of European fleets.

The ship seems to have been either headed from Lusung or Sulu to Brunei, or on the opposite journey from Brunei to Lusung/Sulu. If we look at the metates as possible products of Lusung, then the former proposition seems more likely.

About 75 percent of the cargo on the Pandanan wreck was of Central Vietnamese origin, mostly from the kingdom of Champa which had not yet suffered from the Annamese invasion of 1471. There was small amounts of northern Vietnamese and Chinese goods.

Both the Ming dynasty and later the Mac dynasty of Vietnam seem to have viewed foreign trade during this period as not profitable.

Trade in Chinese antiques began to flourish after the Ming dynasty clampdown as did the flow of Thai and Vietnamese pottery. It is somewhat ironic that the dynasty which launched the vaunted treasure fleet of Zheng He at the same time contracted and eventually ended its trade empire. There may well be a link between the attempts by Zheng to reduce Lusung, his treasure ship voyages, the eventual Ming trade ban and the subsequent rise of the Luções in the Chinese antique trade.

Treasures from the Pandanan wreck

Pandanan dishes decorated with the qilin, the Chinese mythical "unicorn." The ship contained a small quantity of Chinese blue-and-white ware of the Interregnum period, and a few Sukothai wares.

Champa's relations with Lusung during this period reminds us that thousands of years earlier the same region seems to have strongly influenced the Philippines through the Sa-Huynh culture. The lingling-o motif of the Philippines is related to Sa-Huynh, and Wilhelm Solheim has suggested the existence of a pottery tradition that he calls Sa-Huynh-Kalanay linking parts of the Philippines with central and southern Vietnam.

The Philippines was naturally positioned to act as Champa's (and China's) gateway to the rest of insular Southeast Asia. During the Sung dynasty, when Sanfotsi/Zabag was at its peak, the Philippines collected an enormous cache of Sung dynasty celadon, possibly the greatest in the world, including many superior pieces. In Yuan dynasty times, the Philippines was one of the only places in the world to have received royal Shu-fu wares of the Mongol court. The Philippines may also have the world's largest concentration of Thai celadon even more than Thailand itself.

Although it had Chinese-style compartments separated by transverse bulkheads, the Pandanan ship was mostly of Southeast Asian type construction. The hull was V-shaped with a keel and the planks were edge-fitted and joined with wooden dowels. No iron nails were used. The compartments were not water-tight as on contemporary Chinese vessels but instead drained bilge water into the lowest part of the hull. The ship was constructed of tropical hardwood, which also happened to be adopted in the building of Zheng He's treasure ships.

About half the artifacts from the wreck are owned by the National Museum of the Philippines with the other half sold to private collectors.

Paul Kekai Manansala