Interview with the Instructor of International Capacity Building on Safeguarding The Underwater Cultural Heritage 2014: Bobby Cuaton Orillaneda



Directorate of Cultural Properties and Museums, Directorate General of Culture, Ministry of Education and Culture held an underwater excavation program named on September 22nd to October 5th 2014 in Makassar and Selayar. This program is held to develop the capacity knowledge and skill for preserving the underwater cultural heritage in ASEAN specifically in Indonesia.

The participants involved are from domestic and neighborhood countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, and Thailand who mostly had involved in the past same program last year. The participants are also the ones who can or having the experience of diving.

This program also invites three capable instructors from last year program cooperating to teach, share, and help the participants in this program. They are Erb Perm Vatcharangkul from Underwater Archeology Division Thailand, Ros Anderson from Department of Maritime Archeology Western Australian Museum, and Bobby Orillaneda from National Museums of Philippines.

In this occasion, we were given a chance to interview one of the instructors, Bobby Orillaneda. Besides helping the other instructors and assisting the participants, he will specifically give lecture on the underwater simulation at Matoangin and later in Selayar.

For an overview, Bobby finished his bachelor degree in 1992 as a nurse from Velez College. He continued his study to University of The Philippines in 1998 and successfully earned his Master Degree on Archeology in 2000. Then since 2012 he started his PhD program at Oxford University on Maritime Archeology up to now. He has expanded his skills not only in archeology as in general but also in research, cultural heritage, Scuba Diver Instructor (SDI), Technical Diver-TDI (Cavern, Advanced Nitrox, and Decompression Procedures), History, Anthropology, Qualitative Research, and Academic Writing. Besides as the PhD candidate of Oxford University he now belongs also to the National Museums of Philippines.

The following is a brief interview with Bobby Orillaneda:

R: I notice that your undergraduate degree is from nursing faculty. How did you end up in the archeology faculty?

B: Its actually an accident, the archeology one. After I graduated, I was in early 20s, I applied to the state. Yet, during that time there was a restriction hiring the nurse, so it was hard to get a job as a nurse. So I ended up doing many jobs. I was librarian, insurance agent, lay out artist, editor. I transferred from one job to another job. I was depressed. I dont know what I want. Until I got attached to this project at the University of Philippines, it was AIDS project. When this program ended, the bigger funding office, decide to absorb me to go to the office rather than doing the project. When I was there, my job was to layout the magazine, so I was the layout artist. And when they saw that I can write and be the proof reader, I got the job and then there was an opening for another job as a supply officer. At that time, this was the permanent job at the university. So it was a part of my plan to go to school again and look for my master. That was the practice way; to be the permanent employee of the university and you got the chance to go to different school and you dont have to pay anything. One semester you only have to pay like 30.000 rupiah, very cheap. University of Philippines is the number one university in Philippines. So, it was a good deal. I tried to look for different courses. At first, I thought Id do film, Id do creative writing, I thought Id do journalism, and I thought Id do history. One day my cousin was also going to do a graduate studies and he asked me to go with him to the University of Philippines to take archeology. So we went to the school for his interview. After he was interviewed the interviewer though that I was also the applicant, so he called me to do the interview. I said to myself why not, nothing to lose. So I did the interview for archeology and I got accepted. My cousin didnt get accepted and he went for another course.

R : So, whats your specific tittle in archeology?

B : Its a Museum Researcher II at the underwater archeology section, archeology division, at the National Museum of Philippines. However, Im not officially affiliated with the museum right now because Im doing my PhD at Oxford University. So right now sometimes floating, either the university or the museum. But for this one, I think I represent the National Museum of Philippines, but this also a part of my thesis which my supervisor allowed me if I represent as the PhD candidate of Oxford University. You can use both, but my school is the Oxford Center for Maritime Archeology.

R : So after this, are you going to Oxford?

B : After this Im going to Vietnam for conference then China for another conference, and after that to Oxford. Im quite lucky this year, 9 countries in a year.

R : How long youre going to be in Oxford? How long have you been in Oxford?

B : Ive been 2 years in Oxford since October 2012 and supposedly, I should be finish on maximum April 2017, but they say Id be a very perfect man to finish on time.

R : So when you do your PhD there do you also teach?

B : The best thing of archeology PhD Oxford is that I dont need to go to class, to teach, I dont have to do anything but research. So thats why I did this (program) to get and improve my skill. This year I only spent three months there and 9 months in the 9 countries I said before. So thats better so I can spend my time with my family.

R : So whats your thesis?

B : Its a quite long title but its about understanding the maritime trade pattern in 15 century in Southeast Asia. Ill be focusing on three shipwrecks, one in Thailand, one in Malaysia, and one in Philippines. I didnt get one in Indonesia because not many shipwrecks in Indonesia that have been excavated.

R : Hows the progress of your thesis now?

B : At Oxford you have to go with three papers. After your first year you have to submit your paper to the university without your name and number and youll have two professors to read the paper who you may or may not know. So, it would be more objective. You can recommend but the university will decide. Luckily, Ive passed that and after that youll have the second paper called transferred paper which will make you eligible for D Phil or Doctor Philosophy student. After you pass your transferred paper and your second year, youll come to the confirmation paper which if you pass that you will be confirmed to graduate. After you pass that you will be given at least 6 months to finish that but I dont think I can finish that in 6 months. Its very rare. Now Im in progress to finish my confirmation letter.

R : For this program, whats your preparation?

B : Since 2009 I was involve in Foundation Course by UNESCO. Its a six weeks course. We talk about theory about archeology, methodology, conservation, and exhibition. Those were finished in two weeks. And the next two weeks, we dive focusing on the recording site. Because we follow the international standard by UNESCO so we dont excavate. So what we practice here is basically what we did in the UNESCO course. So I was in the first batch; two weeks theory, two weeks diving, and two weeks for the preparation for poster making. Poster making means we present to the public about the project. So since then I was lucky enough to be hired as the trainer for the next batch because they want to develop the Southeast Asia trainer. I taught subject on ancient ceramics which I am also specialized on Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and a little bit of Myanmar ceramics. Then I got invited also for the third batch of trainer. So that experience since 1999 until now, has in a way equipped me to teach and to train divers. For me paying it forward, what I learn I have to pass on because right now there are not many maritime archeologist in Southeast Asia so were trying to develop one. And I was lucky enough to have the chance to be developed. So now Im passing that chance to the new divers at least develop their competency to be the maritime archeologist and hopefully it goes on, especially in Indonesia that still having minimum number of divers. Meanwhile, it is so important beacuse Indonesia is one of key countries when it comes to maritime archeology in Southeast Asia because of its richness. There is a strong archeology culture here and I really command the government for supporting the program like this

R : As you were the trainer last year, what are your personal target for this year?

B : Actually developing further what participants have learned last year because last year it was only the orientation. This time although there are new students but the early student can get further development and apply it. So furthering the knowledge and acquiring more skill in maritime archeology.

R : How do you see the difference between last year and this year program?

B : Last year is more about orientation about what maritime archeology is about. This time is further than that. It will entail more recording technique and possibly recovery the objects.

R : Compared to Thailand and Philippines, In case of maritime archeology capacity, Indonesia is still left behind while Indonesia is actually an archipelago state. What do you think the most challenging thing in building that capacity?

B : Thailand is indeed quite develop. But Philippines and Indonesia is little bit the same. Philippines only have one unit with 6 people in it for the whole country. So I think the most challenging part of this is that the political will. If the government is willing to support then there will be always maritime archeologist to do their work. In relation to this is the funding, you cannot develop people or sources without the fund. So if the government still support and fund it then the discipline will always develop.

R : As my education background is not archeology, when I heard about the definition of excavation is that it is something destructive, so how does it work?

B : Yes, in a way archeology is destructive because the archeology resources is not renewable. Once you get it, there is no way turning back. So thats the possibility in archeology to get all the data from the site because we knows we can never go back. Not only the data but the whole context as well. Not only the cultural material but also the natural environment. So, archeology for me is story telling. We tell story about what happen in the past, but it uses science as your evidence. So, I guess we have the obligation to make the best work as we can so we can present the most accurate one. We never know what happen in the past but using our skill, training, and science to have the more accurate data about the past. Thats what I like about archeology and thats why I love the exhibition because what we did is not only for us but for the public. I love it but more academics dont realize that. What they do is making paper, submit it to the journal and thats it. I dont think thats the whole story of archeology. It should be disseminated to as many people as possible.

R : Ya. Because I think, specifically to the underwater excavation, it is ironic in a way that our intention to preserve is implemented in a destructive way or activity.

B : Yes I agree with you. Therefore it should be in balance. For site that isnt threatened, I dont think we should preserve it. But if it is threatened by people or natural catastrophe, thats when we in urgent to preserve it.

R : So what is the long term goal of underwater excavation?

B : I think the final goal will be the cycle of research. Once you have the site, you plan what you are going to do with the site, implemented the plan, conserve, preserve, exhibit, and then publish. I think thats the final goal which later leads to the public information.

R : Ok, so I think thats the end of our conversation. Thank you very much.

B : Yes, thank you very much

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