Our ancestors (Manila Times Walking History)

by xiaochua

Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua

June 6, 2020

ON June 12, the nation will celebrate the 122nd anniversary of the Proclamation of Philippine Independence by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo in 1898 — the official birthday of the nation. But some would suggest that the nation was born earlier, on Aug. 24, 1896 when Andres Bonifacio established the first national revolutionary government.

The fact is the Filipino nation was birthed by the 1896 Philippine Revolution and the ideas of the Propagandists and the Katipunan. But I believe we should go way, way back. We have divided ourselves with our ethno-linguistic groups and geographical regions. We continue to fail to unite because our basis of unity is political. But we are oftentimes divided by it. We should go deeper than that.

There are many words we use to describe the Filipino people, but seldom do we say we are “great.” Our colonial experience brainwashed us that we are small people, a small nation. But we are a great people, and I will tell you why.

The story of this nation began with a boat. Many thousands of years ago, the Homo Luzonensis and the Tabon Cave woman (Homo sapiens sapiens) walked these islands. But it was our Austronesian ancestors who peopled these islands, riding these boats 5,000 years ago. Then they introduced an innovation in maritime history that would make the boats stay afloat longer and travel farther distances — the outrigger. And because of these outrigger canoes, as genetics will prove to us, our bloodline scattered from these islands to Southeast Asia, Oceania, New Zealand and Hawaii as far as Easter Island to the east of the Pacific and Madagascar to the west near Africa. This is how bold our ancestors were! Unafraid of the tempest, deciphering the stars (yes, they had a concept of constellation). They went to search for home and kaginhawahan (the good life or well-being).

They not only left traces of our bloodline in this part of the world — oftentimes called the Malay world (DuniaMelayu) or the Austronesian world. They also left traces that reflect our common culture. If you look at the different ways of counting even in the various totally differing languages in the Philippines, you will see similar words. A house is “bahay” in Tagalog, is also “balay” in Visayan and in Bahasa and is “bale” in Pampango. Which brings me to an important point. We have common concepts, even if we have more than 170 Philippine languages, that all of us understand because we all came from the same mother culture.

Even in the way we construct houses. The houses on stilts have large roofing and windows for cooling to achieve kaginhawahan inside amid the tropical climate and is elevated as protection from extreme ground temperature and wild animals. It looks like a cube, hence the Spaniards called it “bahaykubo.” Its materials are locally sourced, including the sturdy bamboo, flexible enough to withstand extreme weather conditions. An American architect William Le Baron Jenney witnessed this when he visited the Philippines and was inspired to design, taking the philosophy of houses on stilts, the first American skyscraper. Another common thing would be rice terracing, a brilliant way for our ancestors to respond to the challenge of their environment.

But if there’s one cultural item that would show the oneness of our common culture, it would be the Manunggul Jar, which was found in the Tabon Cave in Palawan, made by our ancestors around 2,800 years ago. It is common for many Autronesians to bury in secondary burial jars (being part of a great pottery tradition) as they are also found in Maitum in Saranggani province, in Masbate, in Bicol and in many other parts of the islands.

By itself, the Manunggul Jar doesn’t tell much; its cover features a boat with two human passengers. But with knowledge of local beliefs and Filipino psychology you will understand its deeper meaning. In many parts of the country, we believe that the soul passes through the sea going to the afterlife. We know this because we have ancient grave markers in Sulu that symbolizes a man on a boat and coffins shaped like boats in the Butuan, the Cordilleras and Romblon — a testament to the primacy of the maritime culture on our ancestors.

Then there’s the representation of the soul — kaluluwa — riding the boat. Exploring this Austronesian concept will lead us to understanding other concepts that are still important to Filipinos — kaginhawahan, mabutingkaluluwa at kalooban (goodness), pakikipagkapwa (seeing the self in the other) and kapatiran (brotherhood and sisterhood) and how they are instrumental in the formation of our concept of the community — the bayan.

And we will see how in the course of our history, these concepts continue our greatness as a people, without us realizing it, as a civilization of love. We should rekindle it, our ancestor-given wisdom and greatness.