The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

Christina Aben’s fascinating Ganduyan Museum in Sagada, northern Luzon

Written By: herbrunbridge - May• 09•10

Christina Aben at home in her museum

Founder and curator of the town of Sagada’s Ganduyan Museum, Christina Aben is a national treasure. But neither she, nor her family knows it. Through decades of meticulous collecting of tribal pieces, Aben amassed a spectacular collection detailing a vanishing Igorot (Philippines mountain tribes) culture. “When we were kids, we were always stepping over the stuff,” says her daughter Marina. “It’s really just mom’s hobby.”

 What passed unnoticed is that Christina was born with a curator’s eye for quality and rarity. Along with that, she has a designer’s eye for presentation. And she’s a natural raconteur, being able to tell each visitor was each piece in the museum is important. This one-room museum, sitting above the family’s coffee shop, is certainly one of the world’s great small museums, run by a passionate collector wishing to share her art and culture with the world. When we walked into the museum and asked her to tell us about it, she remarked “if you’d like to listen I certainly have the time.” 

As mentioned earlier, she has a designer’s eye for display, and her pieces have enough space around them to be appreciated as individual works, something that isn’t the case at the Bontoc Museum, which, although compelling in itself, remains something of a warehouse. Because she only has a limited space, she must choose what to display, and how to display it. And she’s an enthusiastic hostess who loves to share the meaning of her pieces within the entire Igorot framework. She’s erudite and informed, and loves to throw in the fact that she was a housewife with a high school education. So much for school. 

The world’s legendary art collectors, people ranging from Isabella Stewart Gardiner to William Randolph Hearst, bequeathed their collections to future generations, but were never accessible to the common people. Christina Aben is one of a special breed, someone who has created a vision, nurtured virtually in secret over decades, and was finally able to execute it. Like Bangkok’s Ban Phiphithaphan, another small museum run by a passionate collector-turned-curator,  Sagada’s Ganduyan Museum represents the best of a fascinating corner of the art world, inhabited by passionate collectors who gladly share their passion with the world while they can, without the benefit of public endowments.

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  1. Shaine Lisweg. Daskeo says:

    Rest in Peace Lola Christina. we will never forget you. And you will be always in our hearts. thak you for teaching us about your collections. We love you.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Rest and Peace Lola Christina. I will never forget you. You will be always in our heart.

  3. Whoa, woke up on the wrong side of the bed today, did we, Arthur? We’re always ready to provide better information on anything on which we report. If you do have pertinent information on the history of this museum, we’d be happy to report it, provided it’s not a screaming rant. Write something decent, and we’ll take a look.

  4. Arthur says:

    This museum was started by 2 Australians Pamela and Gary who collected most of the items and did the layout when nobody else could be bothered after they did all the hard work they were run out of town on complaints by jealous locals, christina stepped because the museum was located in her families building and now takes all the glory.

    Dont ever let a romantic story get in the way of the truth will you?

    Get your facts straight before publishing.

  5. Mariejoe Dulnuan says:

    at least u have started on something. keep on reliving your history especially your family history and museum, your grandchildren and other descendants will be proud of you.

  6. Weeqender says:

    Arguably art collections are best put into use when it’s shared with the public. Thanks for sharing this! 🙂

  7. We’ve been here with my fiancee just five hours ago. She is very detailed in presenting the things in museum. We’ve learned a lot from her and had a great experience knowing the history of ganduyan a.k.a. Sagada.

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