(This is the second part of a three-part series that I wrote for The Freeman. This was published on August 31, 1993, with accompanying photos taken by photographer Tonee Despojo.This special report was spurred by archaeological finds in Camotes.–Candido O. Wenceslao)
We visited in 1993 the place that became the center of the treasure hunt in Maktang, Esperanza in 1974. It was located near the shoreline and beneath the rows of coconut trees that abound in the Camotes Islands.
Emie Carcellar, a Seventh-Day Adventist minister who grew up in Maktang, pointed to us the strip of land where holes were dug up that time. The area is now covered with vegetation although some holes left uncovered can still be found in some places.
The diggings, however, were not limited within Maktang but were also in other nearshore barangays. Although the digging frenzy ended a few months after it started, the treasure hunt continued sporadically and again reached fever-pitch proportions in 1991.
The search actually covered a wide area, from Lanao Lake in San Francisco town in the northwest, to Cansoting in barangay Mercedes, Maktang and up to Taglibas in barangay Daan Paz in the northeast. The places where the artifacts were found were all near the shoreline.
Poro councilor Ronald Carcellar, son of Emie and chairman of the town council’s committee on tourism, accompanied us to the different sites together with other municipal officials like Councilors Giligorpo Ilaida and Jose Celedonio.
As far as we can ascertain, the new wave of diggings were financed by people from Leyte and by some local personalities. A treausure hunter who did not want to be identified and whom we would refer to only as Pedro told us that the money involved was by the thousands of pesos. It was provided to them by a town official of Pilar.
Pedro told us about the hardships they encountered, especially during those times when food became scarce in the digging site. But apparently, the sacrifice paid off because he had been heard to have boasted to his neighbors in barangay Paz that he could buy them off if he wanted to using money from some of the precious find they got from the diggings.
As is usual in this kind of undertaking, the diggers kept their cards close to their chests, especially with regards to jewelry and gold. But some of those we visited showed us things that gave us a glimpse of the impact of the find on Cebu’s history.
TEETH WITH GOLD
Jose Gonzaga, who now lives in a barangay a few kilometers from Maktang, was one of those who joined the search in 1974. While he might have disposed many of the relics he got, he and his wife Quintina were able to keep some of the priceless ones.
The most important: two teeth with three spots of gold forming a triangle embedded in each one of them. The teeth looked like upper pre-molars, which do not easily fall off from the skull when exposed to the elements.
The find is important if taken within the context of an earlier claim that the Battle of Mactan between the forces of Ferdinand Magellan and Lapulapu happened in Maktang, Esperanza. It bolsters the contention that a settlement existed in the area long before the Spaniards came.
Here we quote Pigafetta, the writer who accompanied Magellan in his historic voyage to circumnavigate the globe in 1521. Pigafetta’s description of the places they went to and the people they met could provide us with an insight on the teeth with spots of gold.
He wrote about the two kings they met when they were anchored near an island he called Mazaua (Limasawa island, which is located in the southern tip of Leyte). He named the kings as Raia Colambu and Raia Siaui.
Raia Siaui was said to be the king of Butuan and Calagan and was the visitor of Raia Colambu. He was described by Pigafetta as “the finest looking man we saw among those people.”
Here is a portion of what he wrote on Siaui:
“At his side hung a dagger, the haft of which was somewhat long and all of gold, and its scabbard of carved wood. He had three spots of gold on every tooth, and his teeth appeared as if bound with gold.”
Pigafetta did not say Colambu was decked with gold, especially on his teeth. His subsequent descriptions of the other kings including Humabon did not mention them having spots of gold on the teeth like Siaui.
Some historians consider the gold display as a kind of status symbol. Thus, while it is possible that the teeth found in Maktang are not that of Siaui, it could be from somebody with the same social status as he and who lived at a time prior to, during or a little after him.
In the strip of land in Maktang mentioned earlier, there is a cement tomb the size of which is 2 feet by 4 feet by two feet. The land was once owned by Apolonia Carcellar, mother of Emie and grandmother of Ronald.
Emie explained that he decided to put up the tomb after skeletal remains were found one after the other at the diggings in 1974. The skeletons were strewn all over within the rows of coconut trees near the shoreline.
Municipal secretary Rolando Rojas described the skeletal remains as “tag-as nga mga bukog, dagko ang kalabera.” He expressed the opinion that the area must be the site of a mass burial.
When we went there, we discovered that the original tomb had been tampered with by diggers that they said were from Mindanao. The destroyed portion of the tomb was later cemented again after the skeletal remains placed inside were examined.
We decided to open the tomb again by making a hole in the cement. The skeletal remains had become fragile and yellowed with age. What we saw were skeleton and skulls broken to pieces and heaped inside the tomb.
Carcellar called our attention to fragments of jawbones that were larger than that of the average Filipino and chin bones shaped more like that of Caucasians. But it is hard to check the veracity of the claim since the skeletal remains had become more like pieces of jigsaw puzzles.
Carcellar said that as far as he knew, there never was a cemetery in the area where the bones were found. That they were strewn there is another mystery that was still to be answered.
Without a definite study from experts, the discovery of skeletal remains near the shoreline of Maktang made many people believe the claim that the Battle of Mactan happened there. The idea that bodies of Spaniards, possibly together with that of Magellan, and native warriors who fought them were buried there caught the fancy even of local government officials.
ANTIQUE PORCELAIN WARES
The most common artifacts found in the 1974 and subsequent diggings were Chinese porcelain wares dating possibly as far back as the pre-Spanish times.
Pedro, a resident of barangay Paz, showed us big and small bowls that he said were taken from their diggings in Cansoting. One of them, a white bowl, had been broken to pieces but was glued whole again. There was a broken piece that he said came from an area near Lake Danao in San Francisco.
We tried to compare the quality of the bowls shown to us in barangay Paz with that owned by the Gonzaga family found together with the teeth in Maktang. They apparently came from the same source because of the manner with which they were made.
Aside from the bowls, jars, locally know as tibod, of different sizes were also found. It was in some of them where such valuable finds as jewelry made of gold were discovered.
Carcellar described the jar found in their lot in Maktang as very big, its height reaching up to his hips with its outer surface having designs resembling that of a dragon. He stressed that they had sold the jar although he believed it still might be found in Camotes.
There have been theories that the jars and other porcelain wares date as far back as the Ming dynasty, which flourished in 1368 up to 1644. There is therefore a possibility the artifacts were part of the flourishing barter trade between an old settlement in Camotes and Chinese traders.
The proposition, however, was also a bit shaky. The Ming dynasty was recognized for the high quality of its products, particularly porcelain wares. These were described as rich, decorative polychrome wares.
The bowls and the jars, however, seemed lower in quality. But there is the possibility this might be due to their being exposed to the elements. Or is it possible these were made before the Ming period when the quality of the porcelain wares had not yet been perfected.
Lola Apolonia, who is in her seventies, became animated when we talked about the diggings in 1974. She admitted that, as owner of the lot were the artifacts where found, she got her share.
She was given 36 pieces of what could be part of a jewelry collection. They were small ones made of gold, round and with small holes in the middle. She could not tell what and how much the diggers got.
For their part, the Gonzaga family is still keeping a medallion upon which was engraved the figure of Jesus Christ on a cross and women kneeling. The other side of the medallion had the figure of the blessed Virgin Mary engraved on it.
There was also a kind of a cross made of the same metal (brass?). The cross had two horizontal bars instead of one. We talked with some church officials on the origin of the cross and the medallion but they said they didn’t know anything about it.
The other artifacts in Gonzaga’s possession are a bracelet made of stone and a piece of very hard blue stone sharpened at one tip. Carcellar said it may have been an ancient stone implement.
(Part III: Conclusion)