Balay ni Tan Juan

Balay ni Tan Juan
Balay ni Tan Juan | @thenegrosmuseum

Balay ni Tan Juan

  • It was a house of a revolutionary leader (Gen. Juan Araneta) who fought against the Spaniards.
  • The house was donated to the City of Bago which later on was converted into a museum.

If there is any structure that mirrors the resilient spirit of the people of Bago City in Negros Occidental, then it would be Balay ni Tan Juan, the ancestral home of the Negrense revolutionary hero Gen. Juan Araneta. Officially called the General Juan Araneta Residence and Landmark Museum, the imposing heritage house has stood the test of time. And today, it has become one of the city’s most important landmarks.

Gen. Juan Araneta played a pivotal role in the historic Negros Revolution of 1898. Celebrated in Negros Occidental today as Cinco de Noviembre, the intrepid revolt led to the surrender of the Spanish Governor in the province.

A sugar baron by trade, Juan Araneta traveled to Europe to buy farm equipment that he intended to use in his sugar plantation. The equipment, shipped in crates, roused the suspicion of Spanish authorities and convinced them that he was stocking up on arms. On the fateful day of November 5, 1898, Gen. Araneta, together with his cousin-in-law Gen. Aniceto Lacson, led thousands of farm workers from Bago to Bacolod carrying makeshift cannons and rifles to intimidate the Spanish army. Believing that they were outnumbered and outgunned, the Spaniards eventually surrendered.

“It was then that they discovered he had only three rifles and a pistol,” says Clem del Castillo, grandson of Gen. Araneta. “Of course, everybody had a bolo and a machete…but that’s it. He bluffed the Spaniards, thinking they could not really fight the revolutionaries.”

Gen. Araneta later served as the Secretary of War of the short-lived Cantonal Republic of Negros. In 1906, eight years after the Negros Revolution, he assumed ownership of the Poblacion (town center) mansion given to him by his aunt, Natividad Sitchon Palacios. It is said that he accepted the generous gift wholeheartedly as he preferred the convenience of living in the Poblacion rather than on his farm.

Balay ni Tan Juan is a typical bahay-na-bato architecture with the ground floor built of coral stone and the second floor made from the best hardwood found in the area. What is unusual though is that aside from being a granary, the ground floor also functioned as a living area as four of the eight bedrooms can be found here.

“I always remember him telling me that this is a memorable place for them,” recalls the general’s granddaughter Emilie Araneta de Ramos. “This serves as a meeting place for them at night where they can be together as a family,” she adds.

Upon entering the mansion, one will immediately notice the majestic concave staircase. An outstanding feature unique to the house, the staircase leads to the second floor where one will find the huge sala, dining room, and the rest of the bedrooms. Tall Capiz windows and ventanillas (foot windows embellished in ironworks) surround the second floor. Ventanillas allow cool air from outside to enter and circulate in the house.

Gen. Araneta spent the rest of his days at the mansion, remaining an influential figure in Bago up until his death in 1924.

The Araneta family decided to move out during the Japanese occupation, leaving the house abandoned for many years. It has since undergone various transformations: first as the home of Bago’s first high school, then later as headquarters for different companies.

As the need for repairs and restoration began to pile up, the family decided to donate the mansion to the city of Bago in 1978. It was promptly declared a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Commission and had received funding for its restoration.

“We are grateful that the city of Bago has undertaken the renovation of this house,” says Joey Solinap, an Araneta family descendant. He believes that learning about the past can contribute to the progress of the city.

In 1996, Balay ni Tan Juan has transformed yet again. Now called the General Juan Araneta Residence and Landmark Museum, the house not only keeps stories of its past owners but has also become a cultural treasure trove of Bago.

On the ground floor, one area has been converted into a community museum whose main attraction is the Kabuhi sa Bago (Life in Bago) Exhibit.

“We have artifacts from the barangays,” shares del Castillo who curates and manages the museum. He recalls that he and his staff visited several barangays to talk about how people can learn and benefit from museums. “So, they donated a lot of things here,” he adds.

Meanwhile, the second-floor exhibit features illustrious citizens of Bago who have served the national government through the years; among them are Jorge Vargas who was President Manuel Quezon’s Executive Secretary, and Chief Justice Jose Yulo who also served as the 5th Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Rafael M. Salas who became the first Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in 1969.

To this day, every 5th of November, Balay ni Tan Juan continues to be at the center of Cinco de Noviembre festivities, and rightly so. Despite going through two wars, it still stands proudly and continues to remind Negrenses of how their forefathers united to fight for the freedom of Negros.

“This is a testament to history, that’s why it should be preserved,” emphasizes del Castillo. “The values of that event should always be remembered. That’s why we have a whole week of celebration of Cinco de Noviembre and we have an advocacy to tell the story because you cannot find us in national historical books. You cannot find our revolution.”

Text by: Pauline Mangilog-Saltarin

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