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The Agusan image (commonly referred to in the Philippines as the Golden Tara in allusion to its supposed, but disputed,[1] identity as an image of a Buddhist Tara) is a 2 kg (4.4 lb),[2] 21-karat gold statuette, found in 1917 on the banks of the Wawa River near Esperanza, Agusan del Sur, Mindanao in the Philippines,[3] dating to the 9th–10th centuries. The figure, approximately 178 mm (7.0 in)[4] in height, is of a female Hindu or Buddhist deity, seated cross-legged and wearing a richly-adorned headdress and other ornaments on various parts of the body. It is now on display in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.[5]

Agusan image
Filippine, provincia di agusan, immagine hindu, statuetta in oro massiccio, xiii secolo.jpg
The Agusan image, 2016
Materialgold, copper and silver
Height178 mm (7.0 in)
Weight2 kg (4.4 lb)
Created1000 - 1300 BCE
Discovered1917
Esperanza, Agusan del Sur, Mindanao, Philippines
Present locationField Museum of Natural History
Culturedisputed

Since its discovery, the identity of the goddess represented by the gold statuette has been the subject of debate.[6] Proposed identities of the gold figurine range from that of a Hindu Sivaite goddess to a Buddhist Tara. Recent scholarship suggests that the image represents the offering goddess Vajralāsyā of the Tantric Buddhist tradition.[7][8]

IdentityEdit

H. Otley Beyer believed that the image was that of a Hindu Sivaite goddess, but with the religiously important hand signals improperly copied by local workmen. Thus it suggests that Hinduism was already in the Philippines before Ferdinand Magellan arrived, but also suggests that the early Filipinos had an imperfect version of Hinduism adopted from the Majapahit Empire. Natives back then were not converted into Hinduism, rather, they absorbed traditions in Hinduism while retaining their own indigenous Anitist religions.

A study of this image was made by F. D. K. Bosch, of Batavia, in 1920, who came to the conclusion that it was made by local workmen in Mindanao, copying a Nganjuk image of the early Majapahit period - except that the local artist overlooked the distinguishing attributes held in the hand. It probably had some connection with the Javanese miners who are known to have been mining gold in the Agusan-Surigao area in the middle or late 14th century. The image is apparently that of a Sivaite goddess, and fits in well with the name "Butuan" (signifying "phallus").

— H. Otley Beyer, 1947[9]

Juan R. Francisco on the other hand found the conclusion of Beyer regarding the identity of the golden image as questionable. Specifically, he questioned Beyer's assumptions that: (1) "Butuan" means "phallus (the origin of the name "Butuan" is still under discussion); (2) that the king of Butuan, being not a Muslim, should therefore be a Hindu of the Saiva persuasion; (3) that the existence of other Sivaite images discovered among the Mandayas (south of where the Agusan image was discovered) and in Cebu should support his conclusions regarding the female Sivaite goddess identity of the golden statuette. Regarding the last assumption, Francisco pointed out that the identity of the other supposedly "Sivaite" images mentioned by Beyer (all of which were destroyed by the fire that consumed the Ateneo de Manila Museum in the early 1930s) is also questionable, since John Carroll, who examined a photograph of the Cebu image, believed that it is an "Avalokitesvara, not a Siva".[10] Francisco, on the basis of the re-study of the gold statue, believed that it represents a Buddhist Tara.[11]

It seems likely that the image is a goddess of the Buddhist pantheon, in the Mahayana group. It is related to the concept of a female Boddhisattva, and at the same time the counterpart of the Hindu goddess (Sakti), as a Tara (or wife of a Buddhist god), which is a peculiar development of Buddhism in Southeast Asia.

— Juan R. Francisco, "A Note on the Golden Image of Agusan" (1963)[12]
 
Four bronze deities from a Vajradhātu Mandala and unearthed in Nganjuk, Java. These figurines share stylistic similarities with the Agusan golden image.

Another proposed identity of the Agusan image is the offering goddess Vajralāsyā, one of the four female deities located in the inner circle of a mandala called the Diamond Realm (Vajradhātu). Mandalas like the Diamond Realm Mandala of Tantric Buddhism are elaborate diagrams that represent the cosmos in a metaphorical or symbolic manner. Mandalas can be represented as two-dimensional (either temporarily drawn on flat surfaces, painted on cloth, or etched on metal plates), as three-dimensional sculptural tableaux, or as large architectural constructions like the Borobudur in Central Java. Three-dimensional mandalas are thought to have been used for sacred rituals involving the offering of water, flowers, incense, lamps, unguents, etc.

The Diamond Realm Mandala is one of the well-known and well-documented of the early Buddhist mandalas. Located at the center of such mandala is the Buddha Vairocana, surrounded by an inner circle of deities. The four cosmic Buddhas occupy the four cardinal points of the inner circle,[13] each of which is surrounded by four attendants, while the four offering goddesses sit at the inner circle's four corners. The four inner goddesses associated with offerings made to the Buddha Vairocana are Vajralāsyā ("amorous dance", sitting at the southeast corner), Vajramālā ("garland", sitting at the southwest), Vajragītā ("song", sitting at the northwest), and Vajramṛtyā ("dance", sitting at the northeast). In the outer circle are sixteen further deities, four arranged along each of the four cardinal directions, while at the interstitial corners are four more "outer" offering goddesses. The outer circle is surrounded by 1000 more buddhas and 24 deities who guard the boundaries, while four guardian deities protect the four portals at the four cardinal directions.

The Tibetan scholar Rob Linrothe was one of the first to recognize the Agusan image as Vajralāsyā, who is always shown with her hands on her hips.[14] Florina Capistrano-Baker agrees with this conclusion, noting the similarities in style between the Agusan golden image and the other statuettes belonging to a three-dimensional Diamond Realm Mandala set such as the four bronze deities discovered in Nganjuk, Java (believed to represent the four offering goddesses of the outer circle). The shared characteristics between the Nganjuk figurines and the Agusan golden image were already suggested back then in 1920 by the Dutch scholar F. D. K. Bosch, however it was ignored at that time because no illustrations of the bronze figurines were presented. Recent scholarship is now re-evaluating the relationship between the Agusan golden image and the Nganjuk bronze deities as they are believed to have been made around the same time (10th-11th centuries).

Although study of the relationship between the Agusan Vajralasya and the Nganjuk offering goddesses has been overlooked, it is clear that the Agusan image belongs to the same genre.

— Florina H. Capistrano-Baker, "Butuan in Early Southeast Asia", Philippine Ancestral Gold (2011)[15]

One of the factors that makes the identification of the image by scholars difficult is the fact that it has no specific iconographic attributes. The goldsmiths in the Philippines knew of Hindu and Buddhist artistic conventions, but did not include motifs which would identify them as specific deities. Philippine goldsmiths may have done this intentionally to maintain their ethnic identity.[16]

HistoryEdit

The Agusan image was discovered in 1917 by a Manobo woman named Bilay Campos. It was stolen from a hidden chest inside her traditional Manobo house. The tribe of Manobo to which Campos belonged viewed the image as a diwata, a deity that protected their ancestral domain's rain forests and waterways.

The artifact later came in the possession of the area's governor, and was later sold to a multinational company, to whom the governor was indebted. For unknown reasons, the artifact eventually was put up for auction, prompting H. Otley Beyer to demand that the Philippine government purchase the artifact for the collection of the National Museum of the Philippines and the Filipino nation.[citation needed] Due to financial constraints, the Philippine government was unable to purchase the artifact. It was then purchased by the Field Museum of Natural History of Chicago, Illinois in 1922 for a sum of approximately 4,000.00. According to the Field Museum, the artifact was purchased to save it from being melted due the Philippines' financial difficulties, which may have led to the extraction of gold from the artifact to aid in the country's financial problems. The purchase was funded through a campaign in Chicago to buy the artifact, with the aid of the American government, which at the time was also the colonial government in the Philippines. By 2010, the artifact's price has risen to approximately ₱ 1.5 million.

RecoveryEdit

The artifact has been a source of conflict between Filipinos and Americans for many years, and many Filipino scholars have demanded its return. It is seen as a national treasure of the country, unreported during the time of its discovery, and sold to Americans during a period of national financial difficulty leading to the inability of the Philippine government to purchase the artifact when it was auctioned. Scholars have argued that if the reason the Field Museum took the artifact was due to fear of it may have been melted down, then the Field Museum should return it, or at least allow the Philippines to purchase back the artifact since the scenario that involves the image being melted down for its gold is unlikely.[17][18]

Also mentioned is how the artifact was bought by an American museum during a time when the Philippines was in financial duress and under the colonial government of America. One of the major advocates for the return of the Agusan image is former Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who made his last privilege speech specifically for the purpose of advocating for its repatriation to the Philippines.[19] The Field Museum in Chicago has stated that it may return the golden image if it is "strongly requested" by the Philippine government.[20][21]

In April 2018, a documentary from GMA Network featured the Agusan image, this time showing the people of Agusan del Sur supporting the repatriation of the figurine.[22] Scholars have also found a document proving the Philippines' right to claim the artifact.[23] The scholars, in partnership with the government, have been tasked to pursue the Philippine claim on the golden image, which remains on display in the Field Museum in Chicago, United States.[24][25]

See alsoEdit

SourcesEdit

  1. ^ Francisco, Juan R. (1963). "A Note on the Golden Image of Agusan". Philippine Studies. 11 (3): 390. ISSN 0031-7837. JSTOR 42719871. The question of its identification is still undecided.
  2. ^ "109928 Agusan gold figure | Philippines | The Field Museum". philippines.fieldmuseum.org. Archived from the original on 30 May 2019. Description: Agusan gold image of Hindu deity [figure Devi, goddess. A.D. 1000-1300. 4 1/2 pound, solid gold figure of a Hindu or Buddhist deity]
  3. ^ Francisco, Juan R. (1963). "A Note on the Golden Image of Agusan". Philippine Studies. 11 (3): 390. ISSN 0031-7837. JSTOR 42719871. It was found in 1917 on the left bank of the Wawa River near Esperanza, Agusan, eastern Mindanao, following a storm and flood
  4. ^ Field Museum of Natural History. "FMNH 109928". collections-anthropology.fieldmuseum.org. Archived from the original on 1 June 2019. Statue [figure] is about 178 mm in height (FMNH A109928).
  5. ^ "109928 Agusan gold figure | Philippines | The Field Museum". philippines.fieldmuseum.org. Archived from the original on 30 May 2019.
  6. ^ Capistrano-Baker, Florina H; Guy, John; Miksic, John N (2011). "Chapter 4 - Butuan in Early Southeast Asia". Philippine ancestral gold. Ayala Foundation ; NUS Press. p. 251. ISBN 9789718551745. OCLC 724647223. From the time the Agusan image first came to light, the identity of the female portrayed has been the subject of conjecture and contention.
  7. ^ Orlina, Roderick (2012). "Epigraphical evidence for the cult of Mahāpratisarā in the Philippines". Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies. 35 (1–2): 165–166. ISSN 0193-600X. This image was previously thought to be a distorted Tārā, but was recently correctly identified as a Vajralāsyā (‘Bodhisattva of amorous dance’), one of the four deities associated with providing offerings to the Buddha Vairocana and located in the southeast corner of a Vajradhātumaṇḍala.
  8. ^ Weinstein, John. "Agusan Gold Vajralasya". Google Arts & Culture. Archived from the original on 1 June 2019. Scholars think that the statue may represent an offering goddess from a three-dimensional Vajradhatu (Diamond World) mandala.
  9. ^ H. Otley Beyer, "Outline Review of Philippine Archaeology by Islands and Provinces," Philippine Journal of Science, Vol.77,Nos.34 (July–August 1947),pp. 205-374
  10. ^ Francisco, Juan R. (1963). "A Note on the Golden Image of Agusan". Philippine Studies. 11 (3): 395. ISSN 0031-7837. JSTOR 42719871. The problem here is that the images referred to were destroyed in the fire that consumed the Ateneo de Manila Museum in the early 1930s. Their identity is at best questionable, since John Carroll, who examined a photograph of the Cebu image, believes that it is "an Avalokitesvara, not a Siva"
  11. ^ Francisco, Juan R. (1971). "Reflexions on the migration theory vis-à-vis the coming of Indian influences in the Philippines" (PDF). Asian Studies: 312. There is the now famous Agusan image, which was originally identified as Saiva in orientation by Beyer, but which I identified as a Buddhist Tara on the basis of a re-study of the image.
  12. ^ Francisco, Juan R. (1963). "A Note on the Golden Image of Agusan". Philippine Studies. 11 (3): 400. ISSN 0031-7837. JSTOR 42719871.
  13. ^ Capistrano-Baker, Florina H; Guy, John; Miksic, John N (2011). Philippine ancestral gold. Ayala Foundation ; NUS Press. p. 253. ISBN 9789718551745. OCLC 724647223. The four buddhas who surround Vairocana are Aksobhya on the east, who gestures toward the earth; Ratnasambhava on the south, who displays the gesture of charity; Amitabha on the west, in meditation ; and Amoghasiddh on the north, making a gesture indicating fearlessness.
  14. ^ Capistrano-Baker, Florina H; Guy, John; Miksic, John N (2011). "Chapter 4 - Butuan in Early Southeast Asia". Philippine ancestral gold. Ayala Foundation ; NUS Press. p. 253. ISBN 9789718551745. OCLC 724647223. Tibetan scholar Rob Linrothe identifies the Agusan image as one of the four "inner" offering goddesses in a three-dimensional vajradhatu, or Diamond World, mandala.
  15. ^ Capistrano-Baker, Florina H; Guy, John; Miksic, John N (2011). Philippine ancestral gold. Ayala Foundation ; NUS Press. p. 254. ISBN 9789718551745. OCLC 724647223.
  16. ^ Miksic, John Norman; Yian, Goh Geok (2016). Ancient Southeast Asia. Routledge. p. 415. ISBN 9781317279037. One of the most spectacular antiquities ever found in the Philippines is a gold statue found in Agusan in 1917. It closely resembles Indic deities, but has no specific iconographic attributes. Several objects in the Locsin Collection show that goldsmiths in the Philippines knew of Hindu and Buddhist artistic conventions, but did not include motifs which would identify them as specific deities. Philippine goldsmiths may have done this intentionally to maintain their ethnic identity.
  17. ^ "Agusan Gold Vajralasya". Philippine Heritage Collection. Field Museum of Natural History.
  18. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6uaS8lcygw
  19. ^ "Agusan Gold Vajralasya". Philippine Heritage Collection. Field Museum of Natural History.
  20. ^ "Agusan Gold Vajralasya". Philippine Heritage Collection. Field Museum of Natural History.
  21. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6uaS8lcygw
  22. ^ "Agusan Gold Vajralasya". Philippine Heritage Collection. Field Museum of Natural History.
  23. ^ "Agusan Gold Vajralasya". Philippine Heritage Collection. Field Museum of Natural History.
  24. ^ "Agusan Gold Vajralasya". Philippine Heritage Collection. Field Museum of Natural History.
  25. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6uaS8lcygw