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Explore Precolonial Gold Treasures From Surigao at This Exhibit

Priceless and historically important artifacts from the country’s two preeminent precolonial gold collections are coming together at the Ayala Museum!

Titled Reuniting the Surigao Treasure, this new exhibition adds a select 38 goldworks loaned from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) to around 1,000 gold items on permanent display at the Ayala Museum. This joint exhibit demonstrates the rich artistic traditions, complex social hierarchies, and sophisticated economic practices of the precolonial Philippines.  

Gold Surigao Treasure exhibition

Curated by former Ayala Museum director Dr. Florina Capistrano-Baker, this showcase brings to the Philippines a larger precolonial gold exhibit than another display, the successful joint exhibit in 2015 at the Asia Society Museum in New York City co-curated by Dr. Capistrano-Baker and Dr. Adriana Proser.  

“For the first time ever in the Philippines, these once-dispersed gold objects have finally come together in the exhibition Reuniting the Surigao Treasure here at Ayala Museum. Because of the collective effort between us and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Filipinos young and old alike, can visit, revisit, and marvel at these breathtaking objects, inspiring and reminding us of our country’s glorious precolonial past and what it says about us as a people,” said Mariles Gustilo, Senior Director of Ayala Museum, in her remarks during the launch of the exhibition.

Origins of the Surigao Treasure

Gold Surigao Treasure exhibition

(L-R) Ayala Museum Senior Director Mariles Gustilo, Ayala Foundation Chairman Fernando Zobel de Ayala, BSP Governor Eli Remolona, Jr., Ayala Foundation President Tony Lambino, and Exhibition Curator, Dr. Florina Capistrano-Baker at the opening reception of the Reuniting the Surigao Treasure exhibition.

A number of precolonial gold objects in both Ayala Museum’s and BSP’s collections can be traced back to what is popularly called the Surigao Treasure. On April 27, 1981, Edilberto “Berto” Morales, a heavy machinery operator working on an irrigation project in Sitio Magroyong, barrio San Miguel, Surigao del Sur, unexpectedly unearthed golden objects scattered along a 100-meter stretch of landfill quarried from a nearby mountaintop. Morales found objects as varied as a golden bowl and golden accessories such as bangles, necklaces, and waistbands. His find inspired a gold rush from May to July of the same year, when treasure hunters, dealers, and collectors came to Magroyong in search of more gold.

Reunion: Telling a fuller story

Among the objects included in the exhibition are those that come individually from either the Ayala Museum or the BSP collection but would tell a “fuller” story together. This includes the reunion of a massive, four-kilogram gold chain believed to be a Hindu upavita, or sacred thread (Ayala Museum) with its pronged finial (BSP). Also reunited are intricately woven gold waistbands with seven complete belts from the BSP collection and several partial and complete sashes and buckles from Ayala’s collection. Together, they tell the story of power and opulence in the ancient polity of Butuan in northeastern Mindanao, where the elite could afford stunning gold accessories. 

Gold Surigao Treasure exhibition

Another example is the reunion of a gold balance scale that likely belonged to a rich merchant (Ayala Museum) and a gold weighing scale pan (BSP). Along with other objects from the BSP collection, the gold weighing scale tells the story of an advanced culture that traded with neighboring polities before European contact. Other remarkable objects from the BSP collection include a 4.5-meter long kamagi chain consisting of 12 necklaces connected end-to-end and weighing almost 1.5 kilograms, gold bangles set with semi-precious stones necklaces consisting of susô beads, and gold finials.

“To see the collections is also to be grateful that institutions like Ayala Museum and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas not only want to protect this legacy but also work together to share them with Filipinos and the world,” said BSP Governor Eli M. Remolona, Jr.

Inspiring national pride

Gold Surigao Treasure exhibition

“The coming together of Ayala Museum’s and BSP’s gold collections represents another chapter of the great precolonial heritage of the Philippines. The collection of gold artifacts in the Reuniting exhibition is a testament to the ingenuity and artistry of the Filipino that has not been lost and is in fact still very evident today in all areas of our society.” said Tony Lambino, President of Ayala Foundation.

Ayala Foundation manages Ayala Museum as part of its Arts and Culture Division.

The new Reuniting exhibition opened to the public on May 17, 2024, and will run until 2027. For information, visit ayalamuseum.org/events