I remember a conversation in 92 with a Swiss doctor wherein he shared with me an insight I will never forget. He had said, any society, be it advanced, developing or primitive, always pays homage to its deities first, its heroes second, and lastly, its history. He added, this is why in Europe, if one were to look, plaques and statues can be seen even in the most unlikely places. These either commemorate important events, places, and people who’ve contributed to its long history.
True enough, if one were to really observe closely, even the smaller towns have their own postcard tales and records etched in markers on famous houses and street corners. In some cases, you would find yourself sharing a bench with granite figures. Their local pride, worn on their town’s sleeves.
However, some can be grim reminders of the past. In one Köln sidestreet, I had seen a section of a railway track that led through a wall. When I asked, my host narrated that it was to remind everyone that the piece of track was the site, and what remains of the outbound train network where the last batch of Jews rode in when they were sent to the concentration camps during the dark days of Europe. There had been no words or marker on this one, just track section in the middle of the road. It spoke for itself.
On the side of a park in Utrecht, Holland, there’s a simple grey statue of a girl facing a busy intersection. You could bump into it if you didn’t watch out. A swastika had been painted on its base years ago, and it had caused great furor in the city. It was Anne Frank’s.
I firmly believe that people everywhere carry a piece of their history with them, tales upon tales that largely make each of us distinct. As each converge upon any city, their people-stories of culture, woes and triumphs, skills and race, are blended into that melting pot, and through the years emerging as that city’s identifying mark. This intangible element which binds our past with our present, as we all forge and plan ahead, is where the sense of nationhood is born. Simply put, this abstract (which everyone so likes to mouth so much) means being proud and constantly aware of our origins, and how we have evolved as a people or a Dabawnon.
This is why, for the likes of me, I cannot fathom why historical sites and buildings in Davao City are indiscriminately being torn down to give way so that modern edifices can take their place. Surely, as the largest city in the world, we can afford to spare a few significant lots because we have so much space!
While others go at great length to weave their way around heritage or memorable sites (which tell future generations how far we have come), why we seem to just bulldoze our way like a bully to get what we want is beyond me. If that last part were true, who then has a final say on this. We are practically bulldozing the past is more like it.
Pretty soon, a totally different face of this city will emerge, beautiful perhaps and at pace with the rest of the modern world, and with no trace of what we once were. Modern yes, with no sense of history. Posterity be damned.