Appreciating Cata-al Museum

- Maria Eleanor E. Valeros () - May 29, 2010 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - “When you go home, tell them of us; and say for your tomorrow, we gave our today.”

This is the most logical, sensible line I reaped in connection with espousing war museum culture, after having been given the chance to drop by the Cata-al World War II Museum in Valencia, Oriental Negros recently. So much have been written about this house museum so that penning this would be irrelevant had it not been for a question my companion raised in tune to my visit.

“Nganong dili naman lang ni pangsunogon El? Magbalikbalik man ang atong pain ani?” he asked.

Pardon the bloke! But he did find it eerie, spooky and nauseating to be recalling war-time episodes and their accompanying memories through the vintage items and implements displayed in glass casings at the Cata-al Museum – from the “Big Mamas” to the Arisaka rifles (yes, the one with the horrible bayonets).

Though the museum was started by the now 86-year-old war veteran Porferio Cata-al, Sr., he only has over 20 World War II items in there. It is his son, Felix Constantino “Tantin” Villa Cataal (who has about 400 items ranging from weapons and ordnance to medals, badges, uniforms and other personal effects; coins, mess kits, binoculars, a 108-year-old Eastman Kodak camera; even a phonograph that’s still functional, assorted books, among many other vintage items), who is the consummate historian and passionate collector.

Further, I’m all too glad to have finally learned that one thing written about the Cata-al Museum was just a product of the lack of confirmation with Kuya Tantin. When I asked for the “mummy” Japanese which was reportedly made to sit at the passenger’s seat of a Willy’s at their front yard for the purpose of scaring away crooks, Kuya Tantin clarified that it’s a “dummy” and that previous visitors cum bloggers might just have hearing problems; thus, very bad in spelling.

The thought of a mummy initially gave me the goose bumps, but as soon as I got lectured by Kuya Tantin on the dynamics of the bailout device system for combat pilots as well as taught on how to adjust the angles of a mortar launcher, my heart began swelling with pride at the thought of many people like the Cata-als who have demonstrated deep interest in preserving these memorabilia as they put aside the hurts.

In line with the International Museum Day on May 18, again this colleague of mine who is openly against war museums, questioned me as to this penchant for such.

Of course, he made sense when he asked why do we keep remembering hurtful past or keep memorabilia of things that sent us into pain one moment in time when these could have long ago been reduced to ashes, buried along with the rancid memories. 

However, there is this reality that history is and will always be with us. Kuya Tantin, for example, is interested in studying history to prevent the past from ever happening again. This stems from the plain truth that in wars, there aren’t clear winners – just sure losers. Also, many other WWII vintage item collectors find it silly to be burning any mementos of a hurtful past as the act would only mean erasing the symbol but not truly deleting what actually occurred during WWII – like colonialism and the atrocities.

Neither is it possible to, altogether, deny that there was a war just because no more books or no more items could be seen after burning such. And just because Kuya Tantin collects it doesn’t mean that he believes in war and revolution. He said that he is not collecting the ideology. He is collecting history; compiling snippets of the memory of men and women who felt strongly about their homeland to the point of fighting and dying for it.

Collecting memorabilia has to do with Kuya Tantin’s desire in “owning a piece of history.” I think this is one of the weakest links we have as a nation. We don’t appreciate war museums because we lack connection with history and we don’t see its relativity in the strengthening of public education.

Moreover, a travel to a particular place should supposedly have started always with a museum tour in there. But so far, museum culture ranks among the least of the priorities of local government units despite its values – putting a premium on the broadening of our grasp on other people’s cultures; and in acknowledging its significance in research and publications in connection with continuing studies, community work and advocacy.

It has been said that history lives to refashion the conscience of a nation. Through war museums, we are encouraged to understand it is our duty to tell our offspring of them - our heroes - that for us to see and enjoy our bright tomorrows, they willingly gave up their today.

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