Where to Look for the Missing Plunder of Pirates, Ghosts, Rebels, Fairies, Colonisers, and Dictators
Lost treasure is a recurrent motif in Philippine folklore. Treasure-seeking heroes are ordinary individuals who seek access to riches that have fallen under the jurisdiction of supernatural entities. Yet success is by no means guaranteed. Claimants may be undone by their own moral failings or by the superior power of outside antagonists, often in the guise of colonial authorities. At the same time treasure stories have the capacity to inspire optimism. By cooperating with supernatural agents and maintaining moral integrity, downtrodden-but-virtuous treasure hunters are granted an opportunity to reverse their fortunes and to restore justice. While folktale traditions have declined significantly in the Philippines, I argue that stories concerning treasure remain especially resonant as coherent rationalisations for wealth inequality or for the regular misappropriation of resources by powerful yet underserving actors. In the twentieth century, lost-treasure cycles have found new life in revisionist narratives of the Japanese occupation (1942–1945) and the Marcos dictatorship (1965–1986). Treasure amassed by these powerful administrations is represented as being hidden in landscapes, always ready to be discovered by ordinary people yet at imminent risk of falling into the wrong hands.