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Reinscribing P’u-tuan in the Metanarrative of Early Southeast Asia

Thursday, October 26, 2023 at 12:20pm

Rockefeller Hall, 374
Central Campus

Gatty Lecture Series

Join us for a talk by Nina Baker Capistrano, (Consulting Curator and Special Projects Consultant, Ayala Museum, Philippines), who will discuss reinscribing P’u-tuan (Butuan) in the metanarrative of Early Southeast Asia.

This Gatty Lecture will take place at the Rockefeller Hall 374. Lunch will be served, and this event is co-sponsored by the Department of History of Art, and by the Cornell Institute for Archaeology and Material Science. For questions, contact

About the Talk

Maps delineate the imagined contours of history and empire. Exclusion from cartographic representations thus marginalizes, blurs, and erases narratives and geographies. This paper attempts to recover and reinscribe the enigmatic polity of P’u-tuan (Butuan) on northeastern Mindanao, Philippines, in the metanarrative of Early Southeast Asia. The arrival of trade missions from P’u-tuan at the Chinese imperial court in the 11th century is documented in the Song Shih (Song History) compiled in 1345 from earlier sources. The early polity’s existence is confirmed as well by archaeological excavations conducted by the National Museum of the Philippines since the 1970s. Archaeologists suggest the existence of a port settlement actively engaged in maritime trade between the 10th-13th centuries at the mouth of the Agusan River near Butuan Bay. The archaeological record further suggests that commercial activities ceased and the settlement declined after the 13th century. The purported decline and ‘mysterious disappearance’ of Butuan is disputed in part by a glorious description of the king of Butuan in the 16th century written by Italian chronicler Antonio Pigafetta, who accompanied Ferdinand Magellan in the Spanish expedition that arrived in the Philippines in 1521. This paper re-examines early accounts, documents, and related concepts in light of material evidence from Butuan and neighboring cultures to gain insight into early interregional connectivities.

About the Speaker

Florina H. Capistrano-Baker received the PhD, MPhil, and MA from the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University. She was formerly museum director of the Ayala Museum (Philippines) where she is currently consulting curator and special projects consultant. Since 2000, her research has focused on Philippine specificities within a metanarrative of global exchange between the 10th-13th and 16th-19th centuries. Her book Philippine Ancestral Gold (Ayala Foundation and NUS Press, 2011) documents previously unpublished material suggesting early trade with neighbors in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. In 2015 she co-curated the exhibition “Philippine Gold: Treasures of Forgotten Kingdoms” at the Asia Society Museum in New York and authored the exhibition catalogue of the same title (Ayala Foundation and Asia Society, 2015). She is co-editor of the volume Transpacific Engagements: Trade, Translation, and Visual Culture of Entangled Empires, 1565-1898 (Ayala Foundation with the Getty Research Institute and Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz, 2021). Her scholarly work has been supported by grants from Columbia University, Ford Foundation, Asian Cultural Council, American Association of University Women, Japan Foundation, Locsin Foundation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Getty Research Institute.

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