By: | May 28th, 2016

For last Friday’s Gabii sa Kabilin, the annual night tour of Cebu’s heritage sites, I preferred to just stay at Palm Grass Hotel, the heritage-themed hotel located near the corner of Junquera and Sanciangko streets in the historic downtown area. This was the first time that the hotel took part in the Gabii sa Kabilin,

So what was there for the usual museum-goers and heritage buffs to see in a hotel strangely located in the former red light district of Cebu?

Well, Palm Grass claims to be the only hotel that focuses on Cebuano heritage not just for its look and ambience; it also aims to promote it as a matter of corporate advocacy. The hotel is, after all, owned by the heirs of Don Isidro Guivelondo, the Spanish mestizo lawyer from whose house was planned the Tres de Abril uprising, the first revolt of the local Katipuneros led by Leon Kilat in Cebu.

In fact, the hotel’s Galeria Independencia, a history-themed exhibit hall right above the hulatanan or lobby at the second floor, is dedicated to all the local heroes and martyrs who resisted the Spanish colonization from LapuLapu and Tupas during the period of contact to Leon Kilat and Heneral Arcadio who led the Revolution in Cebu 1898.

The entire glass wall facing the street is etched with the names of more than 300 known members of the Katipunan who fought the Spaniards in Cebu during the Revolution in 1898. A montage of photos in different frames on the other wall features pictures of Leon Kilat, Luis Flores, Arcadio Maxilom, Justo Kabahar and other heroes as well as scenes of Cebu during the Spanish era.

Flanked by the KKK flag of the Katipunan and the flag of the Philippine Republic is Felix Catarata’s painting depicting the first celebration of Independence in Cebu at the grounds of the Cebu Cathedral in December 29, 1898. This was a painting rendered in the same style of Eugene

Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People” and Juan Luna’s “Spoliarium,” which inspired the artist from Bogo.

The gallery also features reproductions of native swords or pinuti and amulets used by the Katipuneros to embolden them to fight the better armed enemy.

The latter includes a copy of Leon Kilat’s vistidora marked with religious symbols and Latin inscriptions that were believed to work like a bulletproof vest during battle.

Various ethnic musical instruments from Mindanao including a kulintang exemplify culture untouched by Western influence. In one corner, traditional cooking and farm implements used to this day are displayed.

On the high walls of the hotel lobby also hang my own wood mosaics in gold leaf featuring a woman holding freshly harvested corn and a fisherman carrying his catch. Beside it is a flock of birds in the same wood recycled from the construction pile and gold leaf.

I also designed the lobby’s fountain consisting of three clay jars or banga placed on top of each other, with water running down into a huge basin from its brass faucets.

The soft murmur of water add to the zen ambience in the lobby, where classic and popular Cebuano songs are also often played. It’s perfect background for when you are savoring Cebuano dishes or just having puto and sikwate at the lobby’s café named after Lumaya, the legendary precolonial warrior of Cebu.

One may also read or buy books on local history and culture displayed in bookshelves at the lobby. Some of these are rare books by prominent Cebuano authors like Resil Mojares or Simeon Dumdum that are no longer displayed at the usual bookstores. Anthologies of young Cebuano poets are also available.

Rooms and suites in the hotel are named after Cebuano heroes and the hallways feature stencil art based on archival photos by local graffiti artists.

Also decorating the rooms and hallways are digital art on historical and heritage themes by industrial design students of UP Cebu who were assigned to Palm Grass as interns when the hotel was still under construction.

During the Gabii sa Kabilin, visitors were entertained with a screening of the uncut version of Jerrold Tarog’s “Heneral Luna” outside the hotel. They also tried out playing the sungka, a native game of Sanskrit origin, winnowing and pounding rice with traditional lusong or mortar and pestle.

A string and flute quartet performed Cebuano songs while a demonstration of eskrima, Cebu’s ancient art of stick fighting, was performed at the function hall. There was even a fire dance demonstration at the entrance of the hotel.

Native snacks and traditional Cebuano cuisine were also offered to guests and tour participants. But they could also just have a sip of lemongrass tea, roasted corn coffee, or a bottle or San Miguel to cap the long but enriching night’s walk down Cebu’s memory lane.