Visiting a heritage house always gives you a glimpse, not only into the former residents' way of life, but also into a culture's colorful past.
I'm lucky I live in a place where a few heritage houses still stand, and in Silay City in the Philippines, I have been into a couple of its heritage homes, such as the Balay Negrense and the Jalandoni Mansion, and, of course, there's The Ruinsin the neighboring Talisay City. But the latter is actually a hollow remnant of a mansion, bereft of furnishings and soul.
Luckily, I was able to visit the most famous heritage home in the Negros Island: the Gaston Family's mansion in Manapla. Together with my family, I dropped by one morning to visit Monsignor Guillermo 'Gigi' Gaston, who lives in the mansion. Compared to other heritage houses, which are now museums, the Gaston Mansion in Manapla is still a residence.
It has been featured in several period movies, the most famous of which is the classic Oro, Plata, Mata.
But across the Iloilo Strait, in Panay Island, specifically in Iloilo City, there are a lot of heritage homes, too. And during our trip to Iloilo City to watch the Dinagyang Festival, we dropped by Camiña Balay nga Bato in the Arevalo District of the city.
This heritage home of the Melecoton-Avanceña family was completed in 1865 (after a five-year construction), and stands on Osmena Street in the Arevalo District of Iloilo City, Philippines.
Thanks to my friend Wendy, a native of Iloilo, for suggesting this tourist spot as one of our stops during the Dinagyang Festival. We were able to tour this home and enjoy a cup of tablea tsokolate. And thanks to Manong Junior for driving us around Iloilo that day.
(This ancestral home is open to the public, and visitors are advised to call in advance to reserve if they're coming in large groups. I just called an hour before our arrival to make sure they were open that day; and since there were only the three of us, we were immediately welcomed when we got there.)
(The bust on the corner is that of Ramon Avanceña, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines from 1925 to 1941 during the American Occupation. He was appointed to the Supreme Court by the US President, Calvin Coolidge. Justice Avanceña resigned at the start of the Japanese Occupation.)
(Even before the Spaniards came, local Philippine tribes already knew how to weave colored fabrics using banana, abaca and other indigenous materials, which they dyed into various colors. The more colors your woven fabric had, the more difficult it was to make. That's why only the rich tribe members could afford to wear such multi-colored costumes and had draperies in their homes. The Avanceña family made their fortune from weaving, and you can actually buy these woven fabrics, which you can wear as 'patadyong' or wrap-around dress.)
Mrs. Luth Saludes Camiña, the 4th generation member of the Melecoton-Avanceña clan and the lady in charge, welcomed us into her ancestral home. After I told her I was from Victorias City, she told me that she bought a lot of railroad ties from Victorias to make wooden floors because the molave wood from those ties were very strong and sturdy.
(The family's collection of bowls and plates include from the 12th- and 13th-century bowls, Mings, celadon, Vietnamese ceramics, and other priceless potteries. This proves that trade between the Philippine tribes and neighboring Chinese and other Southeast Asian settlements was active and flourishing centuries before colonial powers arrived in the Philippines.)
Looking at these centuries-old earthanwares, I think the makers didn't expect the user of their products to eat much. Perhaps, they underestimated some people's huge appetite.
(This piano, according to Mrs. Camiña, has been providing entertainment and musical lessons to the family since 1895. During the American Occupation, this musical instrument was probably busy every night entertaining American generals and soldiers, whose night life might have been limited to singing and dining at an illustrado's house, as well as spending time with local lasses and mosquitoes in the dark. Ha-ha-ha!)
So if you're visiting Iloilo City in the Philippines, I highly recommend you drop by Camiña Balay nga Bato (Camiña House of Stone). You'll be able to get a glimpse of Iloilo's rich cultural past as well as the taste of homemade tablea tsokolate and pancit molo.
Here's the heritage home's Facebook page for details. More photos of Balay nga Bato in my blog.