Ancestral houses

Living in history: Baclayon residents in Bohol band together to save the town’s ancestral houses*

Written by Marianne Tocmo (Business Mirror)
Saturday, 19 June 2010 17:30

Baclayon, in the eastern part of Bohol, is the first municipality established by the Spaniards where one can find the historic Baclayon Church, as well as many ancestral houses. Originally called Bacayan—because travelers used to detour (bacay) around a rocky cliff along the shore to avoid going over the top of the cliff—the town was founded in 1595 by two Jesuit priests, Fr. Juan de Torres and Fr. Gabriel Sanchez, who also built a stone church, which is considered the oldest stone church in the country.

This sense of history isn’t lost on the town’s residents, who have formed a neighborhood organization, the Baclayon Ancestral Homes Association (Bahandi), which organizes various cultural events advocating the preservation of historical buildings in Baclayon. The group has found a supporter in philanthropist Bea Zobel de Ayala Jr. through the Ayala Foundation, which has helped mount these cultural events from traditional singing contests to fiestas.

The association’s name, which means “treasure” in the local dialect, is composed of homeowners of Spanish colonial houses in Baclayon, who banded together to save their homes from demolition when the province embarked on a road-widening project in 2002.

“Bahandi is more of an advocacy. We are focused on the homes. Ownership may change, but it is the home that we are protecting,” says Stelita Gonzaga Ocampo, the owner of the Villamor ancestral house.

“The organization started with a struggle,” she recalled. “When there were already heavy equipment in front of us, that’s when we jolted. That’s the time we realized we cannot live knowing that the ancestral houses would not be there. This was not built overnight; it is a legacy, and we must preserve this legacy,” she recalls. “You could not claim Baclayon as an old town if there are no ancestral houses.”

These ancestral houses, some constructed as early as 1853, are within walking distance of each other and the Baclayon Church. Bahandi has created a “home-stay” program that provides tourists not just with board and lodging but, more important, by working and living with a Boholano family, they get to know firsthand the Boholano lifestyle and culture.

“Iba talaga mga bahay dito compared to Pampanga or Bacolod. Mansion kasi ’yung sa kanila. What we have here are vernacular houses, the working man house,” Ocampo points out.

Built by a trader, Ciriaco Villamor, and his wife, Agrifina Buhion, the Villamor house in Bali-aut, Poblacion, Baclayon, Bohol, is one of the oldest ancestral houses in the town, having been built in 1895. With a rectangular geometric style, the two-story house was changed from nipa to galvanized iron because of a strong typhoon in 1986.

“The ground floor before was a store, a garage and a bodega. But when one of the couple had a stroke, he had to be transferred down, that’s why downstairs there’s a room and a kitchen. The sisters of the Workers for Christ are occupying the area today,” Ocampo says.

The entrance to the house is through a middle doorway and a wide wooden stairway—with steps, handrails and balusters all made of hardwood and top-floor rails with geometric designs—leads to the upper floor. The spacious living room is highlighted with wide windows with shutters that are made of wood and traditional capiz shells that allow light to come in even if closed.

On one side of the room is a framed painting of the original couple, showing the matriarch donning a Maria Clara gown and the husband in barong Tagalog. On a far corner and above an old plain cabinet is a large laminated picture of the couple in their younger days. Another piece that grabs your attention upon entering the living room is a six-sitter antique table with carved armchairs.

“The artifacts were preserved. As long as I can remember it’s already there except for the upholstered chair,” Ocampo says.

The house has three bedrooms; one has two single wooden beds minus the mattresses with carved bedposts that are designed for mosquito nets. Two big wooden cabinets—one with a full-length mirror—are on one side of the room with a wooden table in between. Another bedroom has a metal bed with a mattress and metal bedpost for the nets. The metal holders are intricately designed, while the headboard is decorated with rose etchings.

The dining room has a plain rectangular table and a side table with wooden trays and serving dishes. An open built-in cabinet displays the family’s white china collection. From the dining room, a doorway leads to the kitchen, with a beautiful floor of hardwood planks.

“Old wood has really its own glow. Local artisans ang gumawa ng mga bahay before. Most of these carpenters came from Loon and Dauis [in Bohol]. No read, no write; just pure talent. That’s what we call vernacular architecture,” Ocampo explains.

Indeed, Baclayon’s ancestral houses are living proofs of the Bol-anon ingenuity. The houses aren’t only witnesses of history but of Filipino talent.

For Ocampo, the houses provide the opportunity not just to look back on the good old days, but to also get to know one’s roots.

“With a fast-paced life, there will come a time that you would have to slow down. What is your story? This is my story. The ancestral home is my story,” she says.


*This news article was accessed from Business Mirror on 14 July 2010. I have an earlier post about Bahandi, if you want to read more.


  1. These old houses are the living legacies of our ancestors.They should be preserved.

  2. Great blog you have. I want to experience live in an ancestral house.

    Arrielle P



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