Ancient Philippines

The more then seven thousand islands that make up the Philippine Archipelago are home to one of the most diverse cultural regions of the ancient southeast Asian world.

A Visayan Freemen couple via Boxer Codex (1595)
The Ancient Philippine Archipelago

Maitum Anthropomorphic Burial Jar, 5 BCE to A.D. 225

Long a strategic location in the South China sea, the Philippines is not a single entity, but an archipelago made up of more then 7000 islands, each with it’s own history, ethnicity, and regional dialects if not languages. In ancient times these differences were more pronounced, with various Kingdoms at times constituting Luzon Island, Mindanao island, and many of the other islands, yet these failed to ever unify the entire archipelago under one dominant empire until more recent times. because of this tremendous diversity, it instilled in the ancient Filipinos a strong sense of identity, that resulted in them being known as a fiercely independent group of people, and extremely able warriors. This is further evidences by the fact that the Chinese never had a complete dominance over this region, and centuries later the Spanish had great difficulty in conquering this nation, in a historical parallel to their incursions of the Americas.

The Early Philippines

An Manunggul Jar, perhaps used for funerary purposes

Current archeological evidence demonstrates that humans existed in Palawan around 30,000 to 50,000 BCE. In later centuries these aboriginal people of the Philippine Islands came to be known as the Negritos, and were a Melanesian ethnic group believed to be the original inhabitants of the Islands. Another ethnic group, known as the Austronesian or Malayo-Polynesian people, originated from the populations of Taiwanese aborigines who migrated from mainland Asia approximately 6,000 years ago. This ethnic group settled in the Philippines, and soon after, migrated to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Polynesian Islands, and Madagascar. Because the Philippine Archipelago constitutes over 7000 islands, it will never be possible to develop a fully accurate picture of the first inhabitants, on the contrary this strategic art of the south china sea has seen an admixture of various groups of people that all have left an impression on the ethnic character of these people.

The indigenous people of the Philippines traded with other Asian countries during the Prehistoric period. Before the arrival of Islam; Animism mixed with Hinduism, and Vajrayna Buddhism. Those were the religions practiced by various Philippine indigenous kingdoms. Islam was brought to the Philippines by traders and proselytizers from Malaysia, and Indonesia. By the 13th century, Islam were established in the Sulu Archipelago, and spread to Mindanao, the Visayas, and Luzon by 1565. Muslims established Islamic communities. By the early 16th century there were native villages (Barangays) ruled by Datus, Rajahs, or Sultans.

Maitum pottery form the national collection of the Philippines

Maitum pottery form the national collection of the Philippines

There was no unifying political state encompassing the entire Philippine archipelago. Instead, the region were ruled by competing thalassocracies such as the Kingdom of Maynila, Namayan, Dynasty of Tondo, Madya-as Confederacy, the Rajahnates of Butuan, the Visayas, and sultanates of Maguindanao, and Sulu. Some of these indigenous tribes were part of the Malayan empires of Srivijaya, Majapahit, and Brunei.

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The Maynilad

Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, the Conquistador of Manila

One interesting culture developed before the Spanish conquistadors came, a thriving community flourished on the banks of the Pasig River. It was called “Maynilad”, after the nilad plant whose star-shaped flowers clustered in abundance along the low-lying river banks. The lord of the riverside kingdom was Raha Sulayman who held court on the south side of the river while his uncle, Lakandula, ruled on the north side. The Spaniards were set on conquering this community. After the savage Battle of Bangkusay, where they overtook the natives with their awesome firepower, the Spaniards conquered Manila, and in this Battle, Sulayman was killed.

Realizing its strategic position as a trading center and military outpost, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, head of the Spanish expedition, promptly declared Manila the capital of the new colonies won by Spain. On June 24, 1571, Manila was declared the capital of the entire archipelago. Delighted by this conquest, the King of Spain awarded the city a coat of arms and the grandiose title: “The Noble and Ever Loyal City”. Soon, Manila became a replica of a European medieval city. There were churches, palaces and city halls built in the Spanish baroque style. Work began on building a wall around the city to keep the pirates and Moros at bay. It took 150 years to finish this wall. The end result was an astounding eight foot-thick, three mile-long wall, with two forts and a bastion, 370 guns in place, manned by a force of 5,000 men and 10,000 reserves. This walled city became known as Intramuros.

Beautiful as it was, Intramuros stood as a perfect illustration of the discrimination at that time against the natives called Indios. Although it was built by Indio workers and Chinese artisans, Intramuros was meant only for the clergy and the Spanish nobility. The natives could not enter except to work as servants. Outside the walls, in the arabales or suburbs, lived the Indios, the Chinese and other foreigners. The diversity of trade and culture in the suburbs made it alive and interesting. Tondo, Binondo, Sta. Cruz, and Quiapo bustled with commerce. These places were home to the merchants, carpenters, blacksmiths, carriage makers, masons, and other artisans.

The Bolo Sword, the historic weapon of the Philippine warrior

The Bolo Sword, the historic weapon of the Philippine warrior

Over the centuries, the Spanish rule was occasionally threatened by attacks from the sea and by internal uprisings. The Chinese, Dutch and British all tried to lay siege on Manila but were unsuccessful. But the 1880’s saw the birth of a reform movement led by Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Lopez Jaena and Jose Rizal (the national hero). This reform movement ultimately led to a revolution and by 1898, the days of the Castilian rule were numbered. The most lasting legacy of the Spanish rule was the Catholic religion which makes the Philippines the only Christian nation in Asia.

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The Ilocanos

The Austronesian ancestors of the present-day Ilocanos came to the Philippines through bilogs, or outrigger boats during the Iron Age. The Ilocanos are primarily of Austronesian stock, with their homeland being the closest region in the Philippines to China. Few Ilocanos living in the Cordilleras also do have some Cordillerano blood. Ilocanos speak the Ilokano language (also called Iloko language), which is part of the Northern Philippine subgroup of the Malayo-Polynesian family of languages.

In 1572, when the Spanish conquistador Juan de Salcedo conquered the Ilocanos, he described them as being more barbarous than the Tagalogs. During the Spanish Colonial Era, the Ilocanos were one of the first ethnic groups to revolt against the Spaniards. The first Ilocano revolt occurred during 1661, when the Ilocanos proclaimed Pedro Almazan as their king. Almazan was executed by the Spaniards after the kingdom was dissolved.

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The Kapampangans and the Luzon Empire

A Cagayanes Warrior, from a colonial manuscript

The Kapampangans may have descended from Austronesian-speaking immigrants to Luzon during the Iron Age. The province of Pampanga is traditional homeland of the Kapampangan people. Once occupying a vast stretch of land that extends from Tondo to the rest of Central Luzon, the Kapampangansare currently active in the revival of the Kapampangan language and culture. The oldest artifact ever found in the Province of Pampanga is a 5000 year old stone adze found in Candaba. It is said to be a tool used in building boats. Earthenware and trade ware dating back to 1500 BC have also been found in Candaba and Porac.

Before the arrival of the Spaniards in the late 16th century, the Kapampangan people made up the bulk of the population of what the Ming Dynasty texts referred to as the Luzon Empire (Lusòng Guó) or “The Lesser Song Empire”. Their rulers were recognized by Chinese historians as kings and not mere chieftains. They penetrated the Chinese market at a time when the Ming Dynasty banned all foreign trade and so profited immensely from it. Although 16th century Kapampangan society reflected most of what was prevalent in Southeast Asia, small communities made up chiefly of the same clans ruled by a council of elders, certain communities rose up to become centers of trade and power. Noted among these are the ancient states of Tondo (dongdu) or the “Eastern Capital”, Lubao and Betis.

Extensive farming and fishing were the main industries of the Kapampangan people. But at the height of the Luzon Empire’s importance in the China trade in the 16th century, maritime trading, and perhaps even piracy, became the main source of profit. As one of the Luções (people of Luzon), many Kapampangans worked as mercenaries for the various states and kingdoms in Southeast Asia. The Luzon Empire became such an important center in Chinese trade that the Kingdom of Brunei was forced to invade it in 1500. The city of Manila was created by the Burneians to oversee the trade in Brunei’s interest. Japanese records show that important traders like Luzon Sukezaemon and Shimai Soshitsu opened up shop in Luzon. At a time when the Ming Dynasty banned its citizens from going out of China, the Kapampangan traders from Luzon who brought Chinese goods all across Southeast Asia were thought of as Chinese. As late as the 17th centuries, the Sultanate of Sulu still commissioned Kapampangans to act as trade ambassadors to China.

The Kapampangan people sense of self-importance must have risen in direct proportion to the Luzon Empire’s growth and rise to prominence in the 16th century China trade. Kapampangans have played a dynamic yet conflicting role in Philippine history. It was the Kapampangans of Macabebe who were the first to defend the Luzon Empire from Spanish domination in 1571. Yet it was the Kapampangans that the Spaniards relied on to defend their new colony from the Dutch. It was at this time that “one Castillan plus three Kapampangans” were considered as “four Castillans” as long they gallantly served in the colonial armed forces. After their successful battle against the Dutch in 1640, only Kapampangans were allowed to study side by side with the Spaniards in exclusive Spanish academies and universities in Manila, by order of Spanish Governor General Sebastián Hurtado de Corcuera. In 1896, Kapampangans were one of the principal ethnic groups to spearhead the Philippine revolution against Spain. Yet it was also the Kapampangans of Macabebe that fiercely defended the last Spanish garrisson against the revolutionaries.

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The Pangasinan and Urduja

The Pangasinan are the indigenous peoples of the Province of Pangasinan, one of the provinces of the Republic of the Philippines, located on the west central area in the island of Luzon along Lingayen Gulf. The term Pangasinan can also refer to the indigenous speakers of the Pangasinan language, or people of Pangasinan heritage. The name Pangasinan means “land of salt” or “place of salt-making”; it is derived from asin, the word for “salt” in the Pangasinan language. The Pangasinan people are also called taga-Pangasinan, which means “from Pangasinan” in the Pangasinan language.

Urduja was a legendary woman warrior who is regarded as a heroine to the Pangasinan. Urduja was said to be lived circa 1350 C.E – 1400 C.E. The name Urduja appears to be Sanskrit in origin, and a variation of the name “Udaya,” meaning “arise” or “rising sun,” or the name “Urja,” meaning “breath.” A historical reference to Urduja can be found in the travel account of Ibn Battuta (1304 – possibly 1368 or 1377 C.E.), a Muslim traveler from Morocco.

Ibn Battuta described Urduja as the ruler of Kaylukari in the land of Tawalisi. After reaching Samudra in what is now Sumatra, Ibn Battuta passed by Tawalisi on his way to China. Princess Urduja was described as a daughter of a ruler named Tawalisi of a land that was also called Tawalisi. The ruler of Tawalisi, according to Ibn Battuta, possessed many ships and was a rival of China, which was then ruled by a Mongol dynasty. Ibn Battuta sailed for 17 days to reach China from the land of Tawalisi,as he had made a pilgrimage to Mecca and he traveled to many other parts of the Islamic world, from India and Sumatra, and eventually reaching the land of Tawalisi. Ibn Battuta described Urduja as a warrior princess whose army was composed of men and women. Urduja was a woman warrior who personally took part in the fighting and engaged in duels with other warriors. She was quoted as saying that she will marry no one but him who defeats her in duel. Other warriors avoided fighting her for fear of being disgraced.

Urduja impressed Ibn Battuta with her military exploits and her ambition to lead an expedition to India, known to her as the “Pepper Country.” She also showed her hospitality by preparing a banquet for Ibn Battuta and the crew of his ship. Urduja generously provided Ibn Battuta with gifts that included robes, rice, two buffaloes, and four large jars of ginger, pepper, lemons, and mangoes, all salted, in preparation for Ibn Battuta’s sea-voyage to China.

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The Tagalog

The name Tagalog comes from either the native term tagá-ilog, meaning ‘people living along the river’, or another native term, tagá-alog, meaning ‘people living along the ford’, a ford being a shallow part of a river or stream where people, animals, or vehicles can cross it. There is also one theory that the name Tagalog developed from the name Tagal used by tribes from Borneo and Sumatra or Minangkabaw.

The Tagalogs were the first settlers of Manila and the “center” of the Tagalog culture and people is Taal, Batangas, being its birthplace. Most of the culture of the Tagalog people is passed on by oral tradition, despite the existence of a writing system. This is because even if they were literate and had a written tradition before the Spaniards arrived, they wrote their ideas on perishable leaves and branches. In the late 16th century, Spain chose Manila as the capital of its Philippine colony. From then onwards, it has been the political and economic center of the Philippines.

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The Bicolanos

The Bicolanos live in the southeastern peninsula of Luzon and many Bicolanos also live in the province of Quezon. The Bicolanos are descended from the Austronesian-speaking immigrants who came from South China during the Iron Age. Some Bicolanos also have Chinese, Arab, and Spanish admixtures. Their language is referred to as Bikol or Bicolano. The Bicolano language is very fragmented, and its dialects are mutually incomprehensible to speakers of other Bicolano dialects.

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The Visayans

The Spanish battling the Visayans

The Spanish battling the Visayans

The Visayans primarily live in the Visayas, and some part of Mindanao but others have migrated elsewhere in the Philippines, including Luzon; conversely, permanent migrants to the Visayas are also referred to as Visayans. Several sub-ethnolinguistic groupings in the Philippines comprise the Visayans: The largest of these groups are the speakers of Cebuano, Hiligaynon, and Waray-Waray. These languages, commonly referred to locally as indigenous dialects, are all classified as Austronesian (Malayo Polynesian).

Visayans identify their ethnic group based on their language, ancestry, or geography location. For instance, a Visayan of pure indigenous ancestry; and a Visayan mestizo (multiracial individual) of Spanish, Chinese, or other foreign descent, and among others, may identify their ethnic background based on their native language, or others. Cebuano, and among other Visayan dialects; are the most common native languages spoken in Central Philippines, and some parts of Mindanao.

Lapu Lapu, the leader of the Philippine uprising

Lapu Lapu, the leader of the Philippine uprising

The most popular legend on the origins of the Visayan people is the migration of the Ten Bornean Datus to Panay. This legend corroborates the theory that the Visayan migrated from the lands which are now called Malaysia, and Indonesia. The legend of the Ten Bornean Datus, has been doubted by recent studies by scholars due to the migration theory placing the origins of Austronesian (Malayo Polynesian) people originating in Taiwan. Some scholars have proposed that the identity of the Visayan has roots in an ancient political unity—that of the ancient Srivijaya empire, a thalassocracy which came to power in the coastal areas of Southeast Asia.

There were trade relation with other Asian countries in the 9th century. Muslim, Chinese, and Hindu traders brought Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism to Southeast Asia in the 12th century. By the 14th century, Islam made inroads in the Visayas, although most Visayan tribes were still pagan when the Spaniards arrived.

The Visayans first encountered Western Civilization when Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan reached the island of Cebu on March 16, 1521. The Visayas eventually became part of the Spanish colony of the Philippines, and from then onwards, the history of the Visayans is intertwined with the history the Philippines. The 16th century marks the beginning of the Christianization of the Visayan people, with the baptism of Rajah Humabon, and about 800 native Cebuanos. The Christianization of the Visayans, and Filipinos in general, is commemorated by the Sinulog festival, and the feast of the Santo Niño (Holy Child), the brown-skinned depiction of the Child Jesus given by Magellan to Rajah Humabon’s wife, Hara Amihan, baptized as Queen Juana. By the 17th century, Visayan took part in religious missions; in 1672, Pedro Calungsod, a teenage indigenous Visayan catechist; and Diego Luis de San Vitores, a Spanish friar were both martyred in Guam during their mission to preach Christianity to the Chamorro people.

ragmented, and its dialects are mutually incomprehensible to speakers of other Bicolano dialects.

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