There’s a curious little icon on the map of an old fort. It meant that there’s a historical site, sitting on the north eastern side of El Nido, just right smack in the town of Sibaltan. I would ask some people in El Nido town but not many people know about the significance except my landlord where I’m staying. “There’s a Balay Cuyonon Museum there you should see. It tells all about the history of the place”. When we got settled in Sibaltan’s Guard House, our caretaker, Bulanday led us to the grounds of the museum situated by the beach.
Discovering an Ancient Community
It was way back in 2010, through the University of the Philippine’s Archaeological Study Program (UP-ASP) activity in Sibaltan, involving mostly of students from University of Washington (UW) and some participants from South East Asian countries and Korea, when they discovered remnants of a trading community living in the area dating from 500-1000 AD. Lace Thornberg from UW and Mindy Ceron from UP-ASP set up an exhibit at the town’s Barangay Hall, through the direction of Dr Victor Paz to share what the team have uncovered.
The Making of Balay Cuyonon
Lace Thornberg returned a couple of years later to help out in expanding the Museum through several workshops and documenting the history and culture of the town. They built Balay Cuyonon Museum in a few months with the help from donations and the community bayanihan. A lot of the locals spent their weekends tending the grounds and the herbal garden by the Museum. The Balay Cuyonon Musuem just opened last December 2012.
A Glimpse of the Cuyonon Way of Life
It was an overcast and windy day by the Sibaltan Beach. Bulanday led us to a couple of huts which we were told were a typical Cuyonon house. Cuyonon refers to the elite ethnic group found at the northern and central Palawan originating from the Cuyo Island and surrounding islands found North East of Palawan. It also refers to their native language.
The Balay Cuyonon Musuem is a replica of a Cuyonon house, inside we found items that a typical household would have. From cooking utensils, grooming items, lamps and hunting gears. Along with those items are their Cuyonon names and descriptions. It’s interesting how close the Cuyonon word Lamparang actually resembles the English “lamp”. We noticed the room divisions from the living area, sleeping room and the kitchen. The whole house was breezy and I could imagine how comfortable it is to sleep there. Bulanday told us some of their guest actually prefer to stay here which I wouldn’t be surprised, it’s a one of a kind museum by the beach surrounded by palm trees and the only one within a 5-hours drive in all direction.
Mangroves by the Beach
Sibaltan is such a small town there is actually very little to see in the mainland. From the Balay Cuyonon there’s the Ursula Beach Resort a short walk to the north. They rent out some wind surfing equipment and serves food.
Go down south past the main town plaza and find a wonderful stretch of beach full of mangroves. There are also a few houses there with some friendly locals to talk to. We walked further to find a brackish river surrounded by mangroves. We thought this would be a good place to kayak. One of the fisherman we talked to said it’s about a kilometer long. If it wasn’t late in the afternoon, we would have brought our kayak here. As such, we just enjoyed the sight of mangroves poetically bending and spreading its branches to the sky, the shy locals and many stray dogs just lazing around the beach.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.