Forgive me if I’m about to sound like I’ve been living under a rock, but how is it possible that I’ve only heard of Gabii sa Kabilin now? A quick Google search shows that the cultural heritage event was started by the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation in 2007. This writer hadn’t even made it halfway through high school when that happened, so how had it been possible to get past that and halfway through college without ever having once embarked on what is arguably Visita Iglesia for history buffs?
Let me sell Gabii sa Kabilin to you like this: if you’ve seen Midnight in Paris, you’ll remember how Woody Allen spun and then subsequently tore down the novelty of nostalgia. Putting his hero smack in the middle of 1920’s Paris, in the midst of his own heroes F. Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway, Woody Allen declares of Paris: “…you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights, I mean come on, there’s nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe.” Later his hero learns how to live in present-day Paris, a Paris which he discovers is just as good and romantic as any other. Give it a few years’ time and any starry-eyed wanderer can say this of Cebu, thanks to cultural heritage events like this.
“Cebu should be famous for keeping in touch with its history.”
I’m probably overselling it, but if you go through the cluster of heritage sites scattered around the city, particularly the Old Cebu port area, it could actually be true. With the invention of industrial lighting, we have transformed each city into a star-map, and with the institution of buildings and events that do not trivialize history so much as honor it, humanity is capable of passing through space and time in seconds flat. From six in the evening to midnight, the doors are left open at places like Museo Sugbo, Fort San Pedro, and the 1730 Jesuit House. (In the six hour span of time that the event covered, these were regrettably the only places I was able to visit, making this piece ultimately poor reportage. I apologize.)
There are dozens upon dozens of places and things to visit and do, and honestly, if you barely get to cross anything off your list in six hours (like I did), that’s okay. There’s always next year. Tartanillas traverse the streets, and from time to time you will encounter someone selling local street food, for which the Philippines is universally acknowledged as being awesome. I actually wished that actors were hired to re-enact scenes of evening life in the older parts of the city (maybe there were), just to give the experience that extra touch of time-travel.
The variety of Cebu’s local heritage sites is also upped by events happening throughout the different sites. Think cultural dances, short film screenings, mini-concerts… the whole lot. Sadly, I was also unable to cover any of these events, but if you have all these things happening at the same time all throughout Cebu, I think that says a lot about how rich Cebuano culture is.
The highlight of Gabii sa Kabilin though would undoubtedly be the exhibits themselves. I was finally able to visit places that I haven’t been to yet, like the wonderfully-curated Museo Sugbo, which gives visitors an overview of Cebuano history up to the end of the Second World War, complete with memorabilia and artifacts. I also got to see places I’ve been to before in a new light (the night-lights as I’ve mentioned before) like the Jesuit House, which had been fixed up with a more homely atmosphere. The only things missing from that place, methinks, were fresh lumpia and the phonograph cranking up “Dahil Sa ‘Yo”, “La Vie En Rose” or the rousing “In the Mood.” I even got the surprise of my life when I scanned through the Jesuit House guestbook to find that a few weeks earlier the name of a popular Philippine poet of Cebuano origin, Gemino Abad, had been left behind.
I asked a friend of mine from school, who is much more of a history buff than I am, if he went to Gabii as well. He told me that he only managed to visit the Public Library with his family, and told me later that they didn’t do much else but bask in the library’s collection because… books, man. So even if he wasn’t able to see as much as Gabii had to offer, he was still able to discover something that piqued his interest in an institution that has been around for quite some time.
What he and I experienced is perhaps a close realization of what I perceive to be Gabii sa Kabilin’s goal: get people to discover how the past has affected present-day Cebu so much and take an interest in it.