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Contact With Spain

Spanish East IndiesThe first recorded sighting of the Philippines by Europeans was on March 16, 1521, during Ferdinand Magellan's circumnavigation of the globe. Magellan landed on Cebu, claimed the land for Charles I of Spain, and was killed one month later by a local chief. The Spanish crown sent several expeditions to the archipelago during the next decades.

The history of the Spanish conquest is by no means comprised in the events of the four expeditions from the gloriously disastrous one of Magellan, which discovered the islands in 1521, to the successful one of Legaspi, which planted the city of Sebii in 1565 and that of Manila in 1572. The societies encountered by Magellan and Legaspi were primitive economies where most production was geared to the use of the producers and to the fulfillment of kinship obligations. They were not economies geared to exchange and profit. Moreover, the family basis of barangay membership as well as of leadership and governance worked to splinter the population of the islands into numerous small and separate communities.

Permanent Spanish settlement was finally established in 1565 when Miguel López de Legazpi, the first royal governor, arrived in Cebu from New Spain (Mexico). Six years later, after defeating a local Muslim ruler, he established his capital at Manila, a location that offered the excellent harbor of Manila Bay, a large population, and proximity to the ample food supplies of the central Luzon rice lands. Manila remained the center of Spanish civil, military, religious, and commercial activity in the islands. The islands were given their present name in honor of Philip II of Spain, who reigned from 1556 to 1598.

When the Spaniards settled permanently in the Philippines in 1565, they found the Filipinos living in barangay settlements scattered along water routes and river banks. Increasing their foothold in the Philippines, the Spanish colonialists, civil and religious, classified the Filipinos according to their religious practices and beliefs, and divided them into three types. First were the Indios, the Christianized Filipinos, who generally came from the lowland populations. Second, were the Moros or the Muslim communities, and third, were the infieles or the indigenous communities.

Of the early Spanish writings, most of which are unsatisfactory, the best and more informative are a treatise on the customs of the natives written by Father Plasencia, a Franciscan friar, in 1589, and adopted by the Government for the use of its officials, and Dr. Antonio de Morga's work on the progress of affairs in the Philippines up to 1606, its author having been a member of the supreme court of the islands.

The Moros and infieles resisted Spanish rule and Christianity. The Moros were driven from Manila and the Visayas to Mindanao; while the infieles, to the hinterlands. The Spaniards did not pursue them into the deep interior. The upland societies were naturally outside the immediate concern of Spanish interest, and the cliffs and forests of the hinterlands were difficult and inaccessible, allowing the infieles, in effect, relative security. Thus, the infieles, which were peripheral to colonial administration, were not only able to preserve their own culture but also thwarted the Christianization process, separating themselves from the newly evolved Christian community. Their own political, economic and social systems were kept constantly alive and vibrant.

The kind of response the indigenous peoples chose to deal with colonial threat worked well to their advantage by making it difficult for Western concepts and religion to erode their customs and traditions. The "infieles societies" which had become peripheral to colonial administration, represented, from a cultural perspective, a much older base of archipelagic culture. The political systems were still structured on the patriarchal and kinship oriented arrangement of power and authority. The economic activities were governed by the concepts of an ancient communalism and mutual help. The social structure which emphasized division of labor and distinction of functions, not status, was maintained. The cultural styles and forms of life portraying the varieties of social courtesies and ecological adjustments were kept constantly vibrant.

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Page last modified: 12-07-2012 17:02:17 ZULU