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Spanish colonization in both the Americas and the Philippines was characterized by one feature calculated to drive the historian to despair. The fanatic zeal of the Spaniards for the Christian faith and corresponding hatred for all other forms of belief led them to regard the native writings and art as works of the Devil—to be destroyed wherever found. In Mexico and Peru many old records were preserved in more or less modified form in the writings of early native Christians and Spanish half-castes, but in the Philippines the destruction was more ruthlessly thorough and only a few fragments have survived.

It cannot be said that such writings did not exist, since the early Filipinos were even more literate than the Mexicans; they used syllabaries of Indian origin. The Laguna Copperplate inscription (also shortened to LCI) is the earliest known written document found in the Philippines. The plate was found in 1989 by Alfredo E. Evangelista in Laguna de Bay, in the metroplex of Manila, Philippines, the LCI has inscribed on it a date of Saka era 822, corresponding to 21 April 900 AD. The Baybayin, Hanunoo, Tagbanwa, and Buhid scripts had emerged from Brahmi by the end of the 14th Century. Early Spanish writings on the Philippines indicate that indigenous scripts were used in many regions of the Philippines at the time of contact.

After 50 years of enigma, by 2010 the text inscribed around the shoulder of the Calatagan Pot, the country’s oldest cultural artifact with pre-Hispanic writing, may have been deciphered as written in the old Bisayan language. Diggers discovered the pot in an archeological site in Calatagan, Batangas, in 1958. They sold it for P6 to a certain Alfredo Evangelista. Later, the Anthropological Foundation of the Philippines purchased the find and donated it in 1961 to the National Museum, where it is displayed to this day. The pot, measuring 12 centimeters high and 20.2 cm at its widest and weighing 872 grams, is considered one of the Philippines’ most valuable cultural and anthropological artifacts. It has been dated back to the 14th and 16th centuries.

One Spanish priest in southern Luzon boasted of having destroyed more than three hundred scrolls written in the native character. How valuable these old records might have been had they come down to us, there is of course no means of knowing. But the result is that for the great part of Philippine pre-Spanish history there is no trustworthy Philippine material, and the past can be recovered only by painstaking research in the records of neighboring countries. The fragmentary data gathered there must be patiently pieced together and supplemented by local tradition and archeological exploration. It is little wonder, then, that most historians have been content to pass rapidly over the pre-European period and begin the body of their work with Magellan's voyage.

The early conquerors and missionaries were little interested in the questions of modern ethnology and social science, and were scarcely fitted to answer them. Remembering how the early missionaries to Mexico labored to destroy, as works of the devil, the picture-writing, the temples and the other monuments of Aztec civilization, even less toleration would be expected from their brethren in the Philippines. The people here were of milder habits than the Aztecs; they had no substantial architectural monuments, and the evidences as to their state of culture were considerably fewer, and easier to destroy.

The careless and contemptuous way in which the Spanish conquerors, lay and ecclesiastical, almost uniformly dealt with the characteristics and institutions of the sixteenth-century Filipinos, as well as of the more advanced Mexicans, and sought to sweep them away as wholly evil, and of the equally intolerant and unscientific way in which their Spanish successors have treated these more or less primitive communities in their writing of history, might well have preached modesty.

The celebrated relations by Friar Juan de Plasencia of the "Customs of the Tagalogs" (1589) are standard sources of reference as to the pre-conquest natives. The reader new to Philippina should be warned that, though among the best of the few scanty sources of information on this line, Plasencia is neither complete nor always accurate, and that, at most, he studied the institutions of slavery, marriage, priesthood, etc., from a rather limited experience in the vicinity of Manila, where customs were already corrupted and adulterated. None the less, Plasencia's relations must always be consulted by every student of the subject, though of less value than Antonio de Morga's book of 1609.

Antonio de Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas original book was rare; according to Ferdinand Blumentritt “there are very few libraries that have a copy of the book and guard it with the same care as they would an Inca treasure”; Morga was a layman not a religious chronicler, perhaps Morga can be more “objective” than the religious writer that might include mysticism or miraculous stories; Morga was more sympathetic to the Indio, and lastly he was not only an eyewitness but a major actor in the events he narrates. Antonio de Morga Sánchez Garay was born in 1559 in Seville, Spain. He graduated from the University of Salamanca in 1574 and received a doctorate in canon law in 1578. He joined the government service in 1580. In 1598 he resigned as lieutenant governor to assume the office of oidor, or judge, in the newly re-established Audiencia of Manila. His work, which narrated the Spanish colonialism in the Philippines, is based on his partly documentary research, keen observation and personal involvement and knowledge as a high ranking official in the country.

Jose Rizal y Mercado annotated Antonio de Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas to demonstrate that native culture was not inferior to anything and Filipinos should not be ashamed of it, contrary to common Spanish comments. Rizal’s intention of publishing the “Morga” anew and adding to lengthy annotations was clear. He wanted to prove, by means of a reputable work, that the people of the Philippines did possess a high level of culture and morality before the arrival of the Spaniards, did have a mastery of a distinct handicraft art, did develop a flourishing trade and did maintain a good contact with the outside world. Knowledge of their own past should strengthen the self-confidence of his countrymen and promote their political and scientific growth.

Particularly in the heat of controversy from 1863 to 1898, there was a tendency on the part of friar and pro-friar writers to depreciate the Filipinos in every way. In the loose state of knowledge about the pre-Conquest natives, it was easy to make exaggerated charges as to savagery and degradation being prevalent before the Spaniards came. On the other hand, various Filipino zealots, emulating Jose' Rizal in his effort to give his people their just place in history, but lacking his intelligence and scholarship, went to ridiculous extremes in claiming for their people before the Conquest a civilization equal to that then prevailing in Europe, and charging that the friars stifled it.

Even in the early 20th Century, in Spain and the Philippines, the heat of bitter partisan controversy tended more and more to obscure the facts, already so unsatisfactorily brought out in earlier writings. What may be called the "friar party" sought to paint the primitive Filipinos as savages pure and simple, and the tendency was to heighten the colors of the picture as imaginations and passions were worse mixed. Two motives inspired this campaign, one the desire to enlarge the importance of the work wrought by the friars, and the other to combat the extension of liberal institutions to the Filipinos. On the other hand, certain superficial Filipinos and mentally exuberant Spanish Liberals went to as great extremes in painting the early Filipinos as models of virtue, intelligence, and social progress, and their society as one unique in Oceania, an antipodal civilization in the midst of a sea of ignorance and vices.

But Laura Lee Junker notes that "Unusual in anthropological studies of prestate societies is the plethora of multicultural texts (Chinese, Arab, and indigenous Southeast Asian) allowing us to trace the historical evolution of these societies for more thana millennia prior to European contact and documentation. The long-term maritime trading focus of island Southeast Asian political economies resulted in continuous and intense contact with various literate foreigners throughout the first and second millennia A.D. Unlike comparable tropicalregions of complex society development such as Polynesia, the archaeological database is also surprisingly rich, since island Southeast Asian craftsmen produced durable bronze, iron, and gold work, ceramics, and other goods resistant to decay in the humid tropics. ... the puzzling lack of regional political integration emphasized by the sixteenth-century Spaniards is at considerable odds with Chinese descriptions of powerful Philippine chiefs making lavishly equipped official visits to Sung and Ming Dynasty courts and with archaeological evidence for multitiered regional settlement hierarchies."



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Page last modified: 29-03-2012 19:03:06 ZULU