KASAMA Vol. 19 No. 1 / January-February-March 2005 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Cordillera Cultural Heritage Collections in Australia
Treasure-hunting in our public libraries, museums and galleries

by Dee Dicen Hunt

Last quarter I promised to include some library information in each issue of 'Kasama'. The Igorot International Consultation scheduled for 2006 in Melbourne gave me the perfect reason to look for writings and artefacts from the Cordillera, the ancestral land of the tribal peoples of northern Luzon, that are in the collections of Australian public institutions.

I began my search for the photographs taken by Eduardo Masferre who is considered by many to be the finest ethnographic photographer of tribal life in the Cordillera. I knew that the Smithsonian Institution in the USA holds a collection of his work, as does his family of course, and when I last visited, there were some pieces exhibited in the Bontoc Museum in Mountain Province, Philippines. But, to my delight, on searching the National Library of Australia (NLA) catalogue, I found a reference to copies of his photos held in Australia! There are 33 'vintage exhibition prints', some hand coloured, of photos he took between 1934 and 1953 which were acquired by the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

Masferre was born in the Cordillera; his father was Spanish, his mother, a Kankana-ey from Sagada where Eduardo grew up. From the age of 5 years he studied in Spain and eventually returned to live in Sagada till his death in 1995.

Totalling more than 1,000 images, most of his photographs were taken from '34 to '56. 'My husband would hike mountains and cross rivers with his bulky camera just to take pictures of what he foresaw were images that will soon be gone,' his widow Nena said. 'He was very strict with his negatives and if the results were not good, he would go back again to the place.'
Copyright restriction does not allow reproduction of his pictures but here is a photograph of the man himself which accompanies a biography online at

My other fortuitous discovery was the Otley Beyer Collection (Philippines) at the National Library website In 1972 the NLA in Canberra acquired the library of Professor H. Otley Beyer.

Henry Otley Beyer was an American scholar, teacher and collector, who spent most of his adult life in the Philippines. He first traveled to the Philippines in 1904 to join the Civil Service, and from 1905 to 1908 he was sent by the Bureau of Education to study the Ifugaos of Banaue. He then traveled in Asia, Africa, and Europe, furthered his studies at Harvard University in the USA, and returned to the Philippines in 1910.

In 1912, Beyer married Lingayu Gambuk, the beautiful 16-year-old daughter of the chieftain of Anganad village who belonged to the kadangyan or Ifugao aristocracy. Their only son, William, was born in 1918.

Beyer was appointed ethnologist in the Philippine Bureau of Science and part-time head of the Philippine Museum. He lectured in anthropology at the University of the Philippines in 1914 and became a Professor and Head of Department in 1925. Beyer received a number of decorations, honours and awards for his sixty years of scholarship.

A substantial part of Otley Beyer's library held by the National Library of Australia is comprised of carbon copies of the bound volumes of typed manuscripts, indexed and mostly unpublished, known as the Philippine Ethnographic Series which is considered Beyer's major work. It was compiled by Beyer and his assistants mainly between 1906 and 1918, with some later additions up to the 1930s. It records Philippine life in the early part of the 20th century before American influences had reached the rural areas.

Much of Beyer's library was lost during the Second World War. The Japanese initially allowed Beyer to continue his studies, but he was later interned. The copies of the Philippine Ethnographic Series acquired by the NLA were the only full set to survive. The originals were destroyed in 1945 during the street fighting in Manila as the Japanese occupiers retreated. The NLA has since had the 160 bound volumes published on microfiche, enabling Philippine libraries and others to have copies of this valuable resource.

This series is complemented by a collection of photographs which show Philippine ethnic groups, costumes, houses, weapons, agriculture, religious and art objects and domestic life. They also date from the period 1906 to 1918, and many were taken by Beyer himself. They are now much faded, but have been copied onto microfiche for preservation.

The collection also includes a number of significant titles on American colonial and foreign policies, maps of archeological and tektite sites, and some rare items of Filipiniana, including works by Rizal, Isabelo de los Reyes, Pordo de Tavera and Pedro Alejandrino Paterno.

When Beyer died in 1966, two funereal ceremonies were held - one in the Ifugao tradition lasting several days, the other a Christian service and burial in the grounds of his home in Banaue.

Eduardo Masferre and Otley Beyer left behind unique collections with which we can appreciate the complexity of social inter-relationships and connectedness with the natural environment of everyday tribal life in the first half of the 20th century, and from these have a better understanding of the cultural fabric of civil society in the Cordillera today.

When you get an opportunity to visit Canberra, your first outing should be to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and from there it is but a short journey to the National Gallery and the National Library where the Masferre and Beyer collections are held.


'Preserving Masferre's photographs', Desiree Caluza, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 28 July 2004.

'Sagada's Masferre remembered', Desiree Caluza, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 1 July 2003.

'Photog Eduardo Masferre expires', Philippine Daily Inquirer, 4 July 1995.

'Beyond the mountains', Gill Gale de Villa, The Philippines Starweek, 2 July 1995 reprinted at

H. Otley Beyer Virtual Museum at

'An American in Manila: Otley Beyer and his collection at the National Library of Australia', Andrew Gosling, National Library of Australia News, July 1997, pp 6-8.