Sulu’s Power and Culture at Yuchengco Museum

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byCassie Cheng

Power is the central message of the exhibit Beyond the Currents: The Culture and Power of Sulu ongoing at the Yuchengco Museum in RCBC Plaza, Makati City. Rare Tausug suits of body armor and weapons of power and defense highlight the strength and might of the Sulu Sultanate during the 18th and 19th centuries. This was the period when the Sulu archipelago was a major trading zone, as it bridged two worlds and lay at a most strategic point for maritime trade. The exhibit tells the story of power wielded over European expansion and commerce (the Spanish, Dutch, and British) in relation to the Chinese trading zone during an era when the China trade was strong and profitable. In order to have goods to barter for Chinese tea, the British traded firearms to Sulu in exchange for its sea and forest products. The Chinese meanwhile bartered their goods for native products such as mats, yellow wax, lake wood, tortoise shell, and the famous Sulu pearls. To Sulu went textiles and other imported manufactures and, of crucial importance, guns and gunpowder which contributed to Sulu’s physical power.

The exhibit presents the independent Sulu Sultanate’s culture and geographical reach through kinship and intermarriages, and as the heart of a trade zone, market center, and regional power. Through the Sultanate’s alliance with other nations and successful engagements in both war and diplomacy with the colonizers, Sulu has survived attempts at colonization by the Spaniards for more than three centuries.

Beyond the Currents, curated by a team led by Abraham Sakili, PhD and Ramon Villegas, also presents the culture of the various indigenous inhabitants of Sulu such the Tausug, Sama and the Badjao. Highlighted are archival photos, prints, tradeware ceramics, maps, jewelry, textiles, and ritual objects of defense gathered from private collections and museum partners like the National Museum, Lopez Museum, and Ayala Museum.

The exhibit gives an alternative picture of Sulu, and can help address, in the midst of the present volatile Mindanao situation, the urgent need to institute social justice, lasting peace, and meaningful development in southern Philippines.

Beyond the Currents: The Culture and Power of Sulu runs until September 24, and may be viewed Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Yuchengco Museum, RCBC Plaza, Corner Ayala & Sen. Gil J. Puyat Avenues, Makati. For more information, call 889.1234 or visit


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