CHICAGO, Illinois (MindaNews / 31 July) – I’ve been to Chicago a few times, and every time I’ve visited this windy city, there’s one thing that I always missed to see: the Golden Tara of Agusan.
But this time, apart from my appointment at the Philippine Consulate Office in Chicago last Tuesday, 25 July, I have no other business. So with time to spare, I went to see the priceless image up close and personal.
My cousin Jofry Catoto, who is based in Chicago, his wife Ruby and their 12-year-old son Jaden brought me to the Field Museum, where the image is being kept for over a century.
The thought of seeing personally the Golden Tara of Agusan here in Chicago stemmed 15 years ago, when I visited the National Museum of Butuan and saw its replica.
My curiosity and interest grew further when I learned that it was found in the town of Esperanza, Agusan del Sur in 1917, where my great grandfather and my late grandfather settled in.
At the Field Museum’s Grainger Hall of Gems, the Golden Tara of Agusan was noticeably displayed on the front left plank. The 13th century Golden Tara of Agusan was placed in a glass box.
The management and curators of the Field Museum have given much significant value to this archeological find, noticing its location among other several exquisite exhibits at the Grainer Hall of Gem.
I’ve observed, if it’s not the biggest, it is the heaviest gold in shape among other displays. It’s neither a gold-plated metal nor gilded. It is solid gold, 21 karats and weighs 1.8 kilograms.
Quoting an article from the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), American anthropologist Henry Otley Beyer stated that the image was accidentally found by an unidentified woman. Some have suggested that she was a Manobo, after Beyer cited a statement by the ethnologist John M. Garvan, who mentioned that Manobo leaders claimed the image had been secretly kept by some members for many generations, until it was lost in a flood in the late 19th century (Kelly 2011, 262).
“The image was found protruding out of the mud on the left bank of the Wawa River, a tributary of the Agusan River, after a storm and flood. A local government official named Blas Baklagon acquired the image from the woman, and brought it to the attention of Beyer in 1918. Beyer, who was then chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of the Philippines and concurrent honorary curator at the National Museum, made representation to the American colonial government for the purchase of the image for the Museum. Unfortunately, this proved unsuccessful as the government claimed it had no available funds for this purpose. The Agusan Coconut Company eventually took ownership of the image from Baklagon, who owed the company an extensive debt,” the CCP stated.
The CCP added that in 1920, Dutch art historian F. D. K. Bosch, a colleague of Beyer, examined photographs of the image and briefly commented on them in a letter to Fay-Cooper Cole, then Southeast Asian curator at the Field Museum in Chicago (Cole incidentally had also conducted extensive ethnographic fieldwork in the Philippines).
“As word of the image spread, it sparked the interest of Mrs. Louise Adriana Wood, wife of Leonard Wood, then United States governor-general in the Philippines. Fearing that the image might be melted down for its value in gold, Mrs. Wood enlisted the help of Cole and Shaler Matthews, a professor in the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, to raise funds for its purchase. In 1922, the image was successfully acquired for the museum,” the CCP stated.
What’s the glory of this iconic find is that it is still intact and enjoyed by curious onlookers at the museum. Had this image remained in Agusan or somewhere else in the Philippines, it would not have existed until today. It could have been melted down and sold for gold value.
Sadly the same fate had happened mostly to the majority of pre-Spanish gold. An example was the Surigao Treasure. I couldn’t imagine that barely 20 percent have survived the melting pot. Some of these remaining precious finds are preserved by the Ayala and Bangko Sentral museums.
There was a call among the people of Esperanza, Agusan del Sur to put the Golden Tara of Agusan back to the town where it was found. But that sounds not feasible.
Filipino historian Ambeth Ocampo noted in his column at the Philippine Daily Inquirer that ”the image may have entered the Field Museum collection during the American colonial period, but it was not stolen or taken as booty in war. It was acquired for the museum and has been in its care for over a century now.” https://opinion.inquirer.net/122195/the-gold-tara-of-agusan#ixzz891FOvyuJ
The Golden Tara of Agusan reminded us that there was “Hindu-Buddhist that existed prior to the introduction of Islam and Christianity in the country.”
Staring at the image at the museum in Chicago, I conjured up the idea “that this may have belonged to the long lost kingdom of the forgotten past.”
Regardless of the veracity of the subject matter, I have fulfilled my bucket list of seeing the priceless, original iconic image of the Golden Tara of Agusan at the Field Museum in Chicago. (Roel N. Catoto / MindaNews)