Naglilingkod sa Diyos at sa Bayan sa pagtuturo ng Kasaysayan

The rise of the ‘ilustrado’ (Manila Times Walking History)

By Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua

June 27, 2020

PEOPLE dream because they love.

In 1807, disgruntled wine lovers in the north started a revolt when the Spanish colonizers monopolized the selling of their produce, the basi wine. They seized control of many towns but were crushed on their way to the Ilocandia capital, Vigan. Many of the rebels were killed, and their leaders publicly executed.

In 1811, freedom-loving Mexicans started their war of independence. This was to have an earth-shaking effect on colonial Philippines, which was being ruled by Spain from Mexico and was economically dependent on the Galleon Trade between the two colonies for 200 years. By1815, the last trading galleon made its last trip to Mexico, never to return.

In 1812, Spaniards, loving their “madre patria,” who were resisting a pro-Napoleon regime, established their own government and enacted what is known as the Cadiz Constitution, which limited the absolute rule of royals and guaranteed freedoms to citizens.

Although that government was short-lived, the ideas of that constitution resonated with the Spanish elites who were born in the Philippines called the “insulares,” also called “Filipinos.” Sure, it did not give citizenship to the natives of the colonies called “indios,” but the insulares also re-examined their own place in the colonial system and started to question why there were “Two Spains” — a liberal Spain in Spain and a backward and repressive colonial Spain in the Philippines. They probably started to feel love for the fellow who was not getting as much. Insular military officers like the Bayot brothers and Andres Novales mutinied against their own kind in the early 1820s and rich people like Domingo Roxas, who co-founded what is now known as the Ayala Corp., the country’s oldest conglomerate, were not only active in economic societies helping natives find livelihood, but were also being suspected by the colonial government of agitating for reform anonymously. These led to their imprisonment.

But the poor indios, except in those provinces that were loyal to the Spaniards like Pampanga, were perhaps unaware of these developments, and unaware that they could have a shot in life. That they could dream that their lives could be better.

In 1834, the King of Spain abolished the Royal Company of the Philippines, ending the Spanish monopoly that characterized the economy. The colonial government was forced to open the ports of the Philippines to world trade, which is, perhaps, one of the best and enlightened decisions it could have made, as it would impact not only the economy, but also, the ordinary people.

With the British, French and German traders coming to the islands, they got middlemen who were only too willing to work for them, not the Spaniards but the indios and the Chinese mestizos. The sugar from Iloilo, Negros and Laguna; the coffee from Batangas; and many of our products supplied the world market. As always in history, social changes start with economic changes.

Suddenly the indios and mestizos were having unprecedented financial power in the 1830s and 1840s. This event was a turning point because the native indios would be separated from each other not only in terms of class but also of culture, thus the Great Cultural Divide between the educated and those that remained in the bayan. The new elites would have children born to comfort, and for the first time many of them would be sent to the excellent Spanish schools in the country by the 1860s, 1870s and the 1880s. They would become products of secondary schools such as Ateneo Municipal de Manila and Colegio de San Juan de Letran, and they would continue their tertiary education at the University of Sto. Tomas (UST). In the midst of suppression and censorship by the colonial government, these schools actually taught the new elite to ask questions, to be aware of the inequalities in the country, and to dream for those who have nothing. In 1869, some UST students secretly distributed leaflets asking for change.

The poster boy of their dreams was Jose Burgos, a mestizo who became a priest and finished seven degrees, two of them doctorates, before he was 35 — the person that we all can be. But their dreams would be dashed when in 1872 the Spaniards executed Burgos along with two others who campaigned with him for secular priests to have more say in the running of parishes which for centuries had been dominated by Spanish priests from the religious orders.

The execution by hanging was public and humiliating. And it achieved the desired chilling effect. People mentioned the year 1872 in hushed tones.

But these young people would travel to study abroad, and they would see the discrepancy in the Two Spains. They would learn about the “Ilustracion,” or the Enlightenment philosophy that dreams of a more equal and scientific future far from what were in the colonies. They would dream of better treatment for their kababayan at home. The ilustrado had risen to demonstrate love.

Reaction: Responding to the challenges of the conquista (Manila Times Walking History)

By Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua

August 8, 2020

COLLECTING our ancestors together and making them submit to the reduccion policy to become part of the pueblos was not only about easier political control. Proposed by a friar, it was started in these islands but was adapted as a policy throughout the Spanish Empire, including Latin America, and became known as the “Leyes de las Indias” (Laws of the Indies) to bring our ancestors back to the bosom of the Holy Mother Church.

Indeed, there were civil authorities ruling the colony from among the Spanish-born peninsulares sent to the Philippines like the governor-general or the alcaldes mayores of the provinces for a term of a few years. But it was the parish priest who was supreme in his influence because he could stay in a town for decades. To be fair, not all of the friars were bad but when things turned bad, they became an easy target as the most hated symbol of the conquista, that later patriots like Marcelo H. del Pilar would write about the “Monastic Supremacy in the Philippines.” That some friars enjoyed absolute power and corrupted it absolutely did not help matters.

During most of the 333 years of Spanish colonization, the lowland indios who were colonized under the reduccion were subjected to some economic policies that made life harder for them. The “tributo” was a tax in cash or in kind demanded from people whose land just happened to be in a pueblo or one Spaniard’s “encomienda,” which was a land grab. “Polos y servicios” was mandatory labor on government projects or in the building of the galleon ships for 40 days in a year; it was said that although one was fed, he rarely got paid despite having a budget for it. “Bandala” was a quota of a certain produce imposed on a province that the farmers could only sell to the government, yet he did not get the payment in full, while other needs like food had to be bought from the government for a higher price. One example of such an arrangement was the tobacco monopoly in the northern Philippines. It became lucrative to the regime, but it brought down the livelihood of Ilocanos. Such hardships made them thrifty and created industries that were keen on preserving things, especially food.

What sustained the colony financially for two centuries was the Galleon Trade between Manila and Acapulco in Mexico, which was known as the Vice Royalty of New Spain, under whose jurisdiction the Philippines fell. With the products from Southeast Asia being shipped from Mexico to other parts of Latin America and to Seville, Spain — the Spanish Crown trade route became the longest trade route in the world and was a precursor to globalization. Yet, it was only the Spaniards and the Chinese middlemen who benefited financially from the trade. It was so bad that some indios who worked on the galleons escaped and jumped ship in America never to return. They were known as the “Manila Men.”

In reaction to these terrible economic impositions, there were about 100 revolts that broke out throughout the archipelago. Datus joined babaylanes in rejecting the Catholic faith and went back to the mountains such as in Leyte. At times, babaylanes, male and female, led the revolts themselves in Samar, Bohol and Panay, destroying churches and killing friars before going back to their old ways. In the Ilocos, Diego Silang and his wife Gabriela Silang, an Itneg, consolidated the lowlanders and the highlanders in rising up against the Spaniards, coinciding with the British Occupation of Manila from 1762 to 1764. Most of these revolts failed and their leaders were brutally and mercilessly executed. Some were fed to crocodiles, some hanged and shot; their bodies were also quartered and parts of them hung on bamboo stilts on street intersections. Yet, the revolts went on, with one revolt led by Dagohoy, which lasted for 85 years controlling some areas of Bohol.

Despite the socio-political and economic nature of these revolts, some of the expressions were cultural and religious, showing a yearning to go back to the old order and faith, demonstrating pakikipagkapwa, kapatiran and bayanihan. But historians pointed out that they failed because they demonstrated that these were limited only to their locality. Despite being in one territory under the conquista, imagining Filipinos as one nation still had to happen nearly three centuries after the conquista began. But that does not mean our ancestors slept.

Not all things were bad, some say. They point to the Spanish cultural legacies that are still with us today, such as the innovations in agriculture and transportation: the wheel, the plow, new kinds of crops and livestock, and food. Also, the factory, paper and printing, the Roman alphabet, the calendar and clock, the charting of the Philippine Shape, and the arts of painting and architecture. But I see it more as Filipinos appropriating these and making these our own. Despite the cultural confluence, colonialism will always be wrong and evil.

500 years of Christ and the Filipinos (Manila Times Walking History

By Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua

December 12, 2020

RECENTLY, Dr. José Mario Bautista Maximiano released the first volume of his book “MDXXI: 500 Years Roman Catholic,” covering the years 1521 to 1872 in anticipation of the quincentennial year 2021. Despite my being a Protestant Christian, he was kind enough to let me review the manuscript and gave me the honor to write its foreword. His book made me reflect on the impact of the Christian faith on our history and identity.

We always thought when the Spaniards came and brought Catholicism to the country 500 years ago, that the people of the Philippines, as if without an agency or a mind of their own, were forcefully transformed into Catholics. Although St. John Paul 2nd apologized and asked for forgiveness that the Church was once used for colonialism, this is just one part of the story.

Pag-aangkin (assimilation) happened. Like most foreign influences that came to us, we made it Filipino and it became part of our identity. Like we did with siopao (meat buns), siomai (meat dumplings) or bahay na bato (stone houses), we made Catholicism as Filipino as it could be. We accepted it because it also reflected the faith that most Filipinos already had before the Spanish contact in 1521. We saw anito (spirits) in the saints. We saw anting-anting (amulets) in the rosaries and crosses. We saw our dead in the Santo Entierro and the Nazareno and wiped them down with our hankies to partake of their power to heal. We sing the Pasiong Mahal like we chant the old epics.

Yet the love of the Filipinos for the Lord is real. Historians have pointed out that the Gospel story of God sacrificing His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to spread light then suffer darkness and death and be resurrected in the light of glory once again was a narrative seen by our national heroes such as Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio in the story of our own people: We were once free and prosperous as an island; we suffered inequality and enslavement; and we shall rise up and regain our freedom.

Katipuneros held a meeting in a cave in Morong province on a Good Friday not only because it was a holiday, but because it reminded them that like the Lord, they should be ready to sacrifice their lives to save their people from bondage. Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto said to have true kalayaan (freedom) and kaginhawahan (relief), it was necessary to have “mabuting kalooban (good heart).” Bonifacio reminded us that to really love God, one has to love one’s “tinubuang lupa (motherland)” and one’s fellow man.

The narrative of darkness-light-darkness, of tragedy and redemption was the narrative that the Fathers and Mothers of this nation used to imagine and create the Nation; to hope for a better life for us, their future.

We also see connections in how religious fervor inspired events such as Hermano Puli’s resistance and the EDSA People Power Revolution. Here, revolutions are beyond the political; they are expressed in many ways. We manifest himagsikan (uprisings) through our faith.

The story of Christianity in the Philippines is not just the story of the Padre Damasos and Padre Salvis, but of people such as Bishop Domingo de Salazar OP, who exposed the abuses his fellow Spaniards committed; of people such as Fathers Pelaez, Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, who fought for the right of Filipinos to have a hand in directing their local church. We saw Catholic priests such Gregorio Aglipay, guiding Asia’s first constitutional democratic republic. We see the participation of both the religious and lay Catholics in the making of history.

“Look not on our sins but in the faith of our Church” is a phrase every Catholic utters in every mass. The Church’s sons and daughters may have erred, but the faith of Filipinos sustained the survival of both Christianity in this country and of our own nation. Our faith in God makes us survive every calamity and vicissitude, and while European Christian churches are closing down, Filipinos continue to flock to the churches to express their faith and gratitude here and abroad.

So, how can we not celebrate 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines when it has become part of our national experience and of who we are? How can we not celebrate it when this is the faith of a majority of Filipinos? Yes, it is a Church humble enough to admit that it is always in need of semper purificanda (purification) and of learning hard lessons from the past. But we should never deprive ourselves by not celebrating our triumphs.

Rizal said, “To foretell the destiny of the Nation, it is necessary to open the books that tell of its past.” I say, to celebrate 500 years of our faith in Jesus Christ, we should reflect on the gift it gave us to eventually be inspired in creating our own Nation and show our love for each other as Filipinos.

And anyway, Jesus Christ is the reason for the season. Merry Christmas!

Conquista: How we were subjugated (Manila Times Walking History)

By Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua

July 25, 2020

EVEN after many attempts, the Spaniards would only get lucky 44 years after our ancestors’ victory over Ferdinand Magellan.

The new conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi read his history well and knew better. A previous explorer already named the islands “Felipinas,” in honor of the prince of Spain, later King Philip 2nd. When Legazpi arrived here in 1565, he was more diplomatic. The King of Bohol, Sikatuna, welcomed him with the sandugo ritual. Many read this as the beginning of our colonization, for the Spaniards saw this act as agreeing to be subjugated when in fact, our ancestors were only affirming an act of goodwill and brotherhood that should have been reciprocated with faithfulness.

Joined by an able sailor and former soldier, the Spanish Augustinian friar Andres de Urdaneta, Legazpi settled in Cebu, and then in 1569 transferred his base to the town of Pan-ay. What was believed before that the Visayans were docile, that’s why thousands of them allowed the occupation of a few hundred Spaniards, is not true. They actually wanted to use the foreigners to get back at the people who plundered their lands. So, Legazpi launched an attack on the people of Mindoro in 1570 with thousands of Visayan warriors, and in the process, explored and eventually conquered the strategic Kingdom of Maynila and its environs after a year. The Spaniards employed the time-tested playbook of divide and rule. This started the long process of exploring, convincing and conquering of various areas in the islands — a process known as conquista.

It has to be clarified that Filipinos did not give up their sovereignty. There was still no Filipino nation yet at that time, so the local leaders who collaborated did so in the perceived interest of their peoples. These former datus were simply integrated into the new system as the local officials or the principalia, doubling as tax collectors. Yet they were only placed third as a social class along with the mestizos. Since race signifies your class, the Spaniards who were born in Spain, called peninsulares, placed first, and the Spaniards born in the colony, the insulares, placed second. Down the line, the former free people, the former timawa, were now given a derogatory appellation, “indio.”

Still, some resisted. Early during Legazpi’s arrival in Manila in 1571, a valiant nameless hero from Macabebe, Pampanga, north of Manila, went to Bangkusay, Tondo in Manila Bay to challenge the Spaniards. In the face of promises from the Spaniards, he told their emissaries brandishing his sword at them, “May the sun split my body in twain, and may I fall in disgrace before my women for them to hate me, if I ever became for a moment friend to the Castillans.”

He was one of the first to die in the battle, and the very first hero to die for freedom facing the Spaniards. Even the Spanish friar who recorded his story has nothing but admiration for him, calling him the bravest Filipino ever seen.

The Spaniards might have appeared formidable with their rapier swords and harquebuses but it might not have been the soldier who gained more lands and hearts in the islands for Spain. In some instances, it only took one man: the friar. For teaching the Catholic faith to the lowland Filipinos, especially to children, proved far more effective in making the indio accept colonialism than fear. This doesn’t mean though that the indio’s old faith was removed, for culture was actually very flexible and dynamic. It is as if our ancestors saw in Catholicism reminders of our own faith in the spirit of the anito, kaluluwa and the Bathala, and so we practiced it as our own, dancing and performing the old rituals of prayer and thanksgiving.

But the power of an idea to conquer the islands was established: Which is that the Spaniards gifted our ancestors the Catholic faith, hence we owe them our salvation and hope.

Since our ancestors lived near the rivers and seas, the Spaniards implemented the reduccion, placing them under the system of pueblos, to solidify their hold on power. In arranging how the houses were placed in between those squared Roman grid patterns of roads called the cuadricula, they also aimed to redesign the minds of the people to make the church and the government the center of their lives by placing their buildings at the center — the plaza. The powerful lived near the plaza, the indios farther in the nayon. The subjugated were placed within hearing distance of the church bells, a bajo de las campanas.

The sultanates of the Muslims in Mindanao resisted the conquista and remained free. Some also fled to the mountains where the sound of the bells didn’t reach them, and continued their culture and spirit of freedom. They are now the indigenous peoples of the Philippines.

Our ancestors as victorious warriors (Manila Times Walking History)

By Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua

July 18, 2020

ALTHOUGH we are a peaceful and compassionate people, as we showed our pakikipagkapwa and kapatiran to Ferdinand Magellan and his armada when they arrived, we have also shown that we know how to fight for our interests, freedom and kaginhawaan.

True, in 1521 what would be known as the Philippine Islands was not a united territory but several different kingdoms, bayan, banua or ili, which were connected by our common waters and commonalities in culture. The Laguna Copperplate Inscription tells us of the kingdoms of Tondo, Laguna, Butuan and Dewata, Indonesia paying off debts in gold as early as the 10th century. Taken as a whole, it can be said that we can consider our maritime civilization as a thalassocracy, a naval power in a military and commercial sense.

This was true, especially of the Visayans who were a warrior people. They went to war for what were considered to be valid reasons, such as unwarranted aggression from other banua and agreements that were not honored and, I assume, especially if it was done through the sandugo ritual. It was seen as a violation to the kapatiran and should be corrected.

Going to war was called pangangayaw or pangungubat, and its warriors hangaway or bagani. A similar term “bayani” is now the Filipino term for a hero. They were tattooed as a spiritual protection like an anting-anting and the designs reflected the belief in the Bathalang-araw and other mythical beings.

Their warships, the karakoa, brought them to their battles. With them, their expertise in sword fighting using the kampilan (which became the basis for the modern-day Filipino martial arts arnis or eskrima). Having achieved victory, they would behead the vanquished believing that the gahum, or power, of the dead could be transferred to them. As they returned home, they would have brought karangalan at kaginhawahan back to their bayan. It can be said that the modern-day OFW who wages battles abroad carries the spirit of the bagani as he brings dangal and ginhawa back to the Motherland.

Arriving in Cebu for much needed supplies, Magellan was asked by the ruler of Cebu, Raha Humabon, to pay certain taxes which is the usual case since they were considered an entrepot-city. But Magellan, having used up all his resources, took out his remaining diplomatic secret weapon: He told Humabon that he came as a representative of the most powerful ruler in the world, the Spanish King, and that the Cebuano leader can be made his representative in these islands, the ruler of all the other kings. That said, he was also promised that Magellan would defend Cebu against its enemies. To Magellan’s surprise, Humabon not only agreed but also had himself and his whole bayan agree to be baptized in the Catholic faith.

But the Visayan people were not without conflicts. At odds with Humabon was a certain leader in nearby Mactan Island called Lapulapu. It was said that if Magellan went to Lapulapu first, he would have been welcomed by Mactan. But Magellan not only went to Humabon, he expected every ruler in the area to bow to the Cebuano Raha. Lapulapu refused and this prompted Humabon to now ask Magellan to deliver what was promised in the sandugo: Fight my enemies.

Thinking perhaps that God was on his side, having delivered Cebu to Catholicism on a silver platter, Magellan told Humabon that he not only would oblige, but that whatever happens, no one should help them. When told to accept domination or wait until their lances wound them, Lapulapu replied: “If you have lances, we have lances of bamboo and stakes hardened with fire.” Arrogance, pride and failure to understand the culture proved fatal to Magellan.

On April 27, 1521, it was 49 Spaniards against 1,500 Mactan hangaway that faced off in the Battle of Mactan. To their credit, the Spaniards were able to make a stand of half an hour until Magellan was finished. But victory was Mactan’s.

It has been argued that Lapulapu was not really a hero because he fought not really for freedom but for Mactan’s interest. Magellan was a mere victim of an internal conflict. But one thing is clear to me: Lapulapu is a hero because he proved to the Europeans that we can fight foreigners when they meddle in our affairs, and that we can be victorious against a formidable enemy.

No wonder, Lapulapu was invoked by Jose Rizal, Mariano Ponce and Emilio Jacinto in their writings as they fought for more freedoms. The text of Emilio Aguinaldo’s Independence proclamation on June 12, 1898 mentioned victory in Mactan. The place name became synonymous with victory. Lapulapu’s spirit, which is that of the bagani, animated the revolutionaries and our war veterans when they faced our oppressors, and it continues to be reflected in our frontliners’ quest to fight one of the biggest threats to our freedoms: Covid-19. May the whole Philippines become Mactan.

Encuentro: Discovering our humanity (Walking History Manila Times)

By Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua

July 11, 2020

ONE American historian, Kenneth Scott Latourette, wrote in a 1964 textbook we use in some colleges even today: “Before the coming of the Spaniards, as we have hinted, the Philippines were backward in civilization as compared with most of the rest of the Far East… The Filipinos were still but partly removed from the primitive stages of culture.”

Reading this made Filipinos believe that our ancestors were never great. That when the Europeans came here, they were all-powerful and were able to easily deceive our docile ancestors. But when explorer Ferdinand Magellan arrived here, his companion and chronicler Antonio Pigafetta actually described a different story. They had been on the journey to attempt to circumnavigate the world for the very first time for about a year and a half, about 90 days in the open ocean without seeing land. A few days back, they reached the Marianas and even before they could dock, the Chamorros had robbed them. They lacked clean water, they were hungry, tired and believed they could die anytime, when they saw an island in this part of the world later known as The Philippines on March 16, 1521.

They reached and landed on Homonhon Island in Guiuan, Eastern Samar the next day. Contrary to our popular image, nobody welcomed them as they docked. They found a spring and finally got clean water, especially for the sick.

But on March 18, some locals from a nearby island spotted the three ships, approached them and saw the weary Europeans. In Europe, a foreigner in your territory can mean war. But our ancestors saw fellow human beings that needed help, even without understanding their language. They immediately gave the visitors food. After four days, the same people returned with two boats-load of food. And with that, the Europeans experienced what is known around the world as Filipino hospitality; we call it pakikipagkapwa and kabutihang-loob. It refueled the journey that became the achievement of science and humanity.

Magellan then reached the island that Pigafetta called “Mazaua.” One of their companions, Enrique of Malacca understood the language of the two brothers who welcomed them, the ruler of Mazaua Raha Siaui, and the ruler of Butuan Calagan Raha Colambu, most probably Malay.

Pigafetta admiringly described our ancestors’ culture, repeatedly mentioning the balangay and, well, the gold: “Pieces of gold, of the size of walnuts and eggs are found by sifting the earth… All the dishes of that king are of gold and also some portion of his house….”

He described Raha Colambu, “According to their customs he was very [tidy] and the finest looking man that we saw among those people. His hair was exceedingly black, and hung to his shoulders. He had a covering of silk on his head, and wore two large golden earrings fastened in his ears. He wore a cotton cloth all embroidered with silk, which covered him from the waist to the knees. At his side hung a dagger, the haft of which was somewhat long and all of gold, and its scabbard of carved wood. He had three spots of gold on every tooth, and his teeth appeared as if bound with gold. …He was tawny and [tattooed] all over.” He was not describing a ruler of a savage people but a fine gentleman, even to Pigafetta’s tastes.

What Pigafetta described was different from how we once imagined our ancestors to be — living in small communities that were independent from each other. The world of the Visayas was a confederacy where the kings had diplomatic relations. The presence of the balangay and of silk clothing, coupled with archaeological evidence of Ming jars only prove that we were once part of the Southeast Asian trade route to China. King Colambu even accompanied Magellan to Cebu so he could trade with its ruler, Raha Humabon. Cebu was an entrepot where products from different parts of Southeast Asia exchanged hands.

There, Magellan underwent a ritual, which was also the basis for the formation of the community. When small villages wanted to form a larger, stronger political unit called the Banua (or the Bayan), their datus would mix drops of their blood in wine and they would all drink it. It was not just a mere contract with blood, but a sandugo — the community becomes one blood, kapatiran — a promise to love everyone in the community as your own brethren. In trade terms, this also meant a commitment to fulfill agreements, or else face the circumstances of going to war — pangangayaw — to correct the wrong that was done.

In a way, in 1521, the Filipinos and Europeans “discovered” one another. We started out respecting each other and had the time of our lives. But Magellan was quickly dragged into our internal conflicts and faced the consequences of arrogance, pride and of failure to understand the culture of others.

The kalooban of our ancestors (Manila Times Walking History)

By Michael Charleston “Xiao” Chua

June 13, 2020

I AM not into saying that the time before the Spaniards was a “golden age” and that our ancestors’ lives were perfect. No. I am not an essentialist, and I don’t romanticize our ancestors. I also do not believe in what others call “set Filipino values” even if sometimes I use the word in English for lack of a better term (because these so-called traits are not homogeneous and are different in various parts of the country). What I do recognize is that they had freedom. They had contact with other people and traded with them and that they had ideals — although not set and homogeneous — that were guided by our common Austronesian culture and manifested in one way or another in various parts of the country. Instead of the Westernized term “values,” I like to call them kalooban — Kalooban ng Bayan.

Since our Austronesian ancestors had a pottery culture, we are actually like the jars they made. We have labas (outside), loob (inside) and lalim (depth) and of course, laman (content).

And we go back to the figure on a boat on the cover of the Manunggul secondary burial jar. It is a “kaluluwa” going to the afterlife. The equivalent concept of the “soul” — “kaluluwa” in Tagalog, “kalag” in Visayan and “kaladwa” in Pampango. It is one of the life forces inside a person in the Filipino psychology. Let me explain how our ancestors viewed their world.

Based on the beliefs of many ethnolinguistic groups in the country, we know that our ancestors believed that a human being is composed of the “panlabas” (external, our bodies) and the “panloob” (internal). And “panloob” makes the human a “tao.” Panloob in itself contains the life forces “ginhawa” and “kaluluwa.”

The “ginhawa” is the life force located in our liver (stomach area), and it animates our well-being — comfortable life, healthy living, relief, good breathing, food, even sexual pleasure. People who want to cut your “ginhawa” would punch you in the stomach area (upper cut). But there would be no true “ginhawa,” it will not work well, if the “kaluluwa” is not in its right place.

The “kaluluwa” is the life force located in our brain, and is the one that gives us our feelings and our will as “tao.” Our ancestors believed that our “kaluluwa” has an alignment in heaven. Our soul’s alignment should always be in place because if it is moved (disoriented — nausog), we will feel ill (magkasakit, mawalan ng ginhawa). Because the belief is that the “kaluluwa” goes out of our bodies (through holes in our faces and the extremities of our bodies which are our fingers and toes), they have to come back again in an orderly fashion by waking up well. To disturb the sleep might disorient the return of the “kaluluwa” which explains one’s bad feeling and irritability. A “kaluluwa,” especially of a young kid, can be disoriented by a person with a strong “dungan” or willpower, hence, nausog and nabate.

A bad person’s “kaluluwa” is not aligned in heaven (horizontal), hence, “halangangkaluluwa.” A good person’s “kaluluwa” is “matuwid” (vertically aligned to heaven) and that animates “kaginhawahan.”

Repeat: There is no “ginhawa” if there is no goodness “matuwidnakaluluwa,” “mabutingkalooban.”

Protection of the “kaluluwa’ from intrusion of the “masamangkaluluwa”, “maitimnabudhi” was important, that is why they scare these elements through “kaliwanagan,” by wearing gold near these parts of their bodies as anklets, bracelets, necklaces, earrings and sashes — hence the culture of gold of our ancestors which amazed the Spaniards. “Mabutingkalooban” is manifested through “pakikipagkapwa” (seeing the self in the other) and “kapatiran” (treating your fellow as a brother). In short, loving your fellowmen. We even form our political communities into the “bayan” when the datus agree to come together and do the ritual of “sandugo,” from “isangdugo” or having one blood as brethren.

When the “kaluluwa” dies, he goes to the afterlife riding a boat with an “abay” — a companion. This shows the primacy of the maritime culture in our ancestor’s lives. But the “kaluluwa” can go back to nature to take care of his relatives, becoming an “anito” and dwelling in nature, taking the forms of trees, wood, rivers, mountains. This is the reason why our ancestors loved nature and respected it.

It is true that no civilization is perfect, yet, we can say that these concepts, the “kalooban,” of our ancestors are important to us because they are reflected in our words and way of life, and because a careful reading of history will show that these concepts continued to be manifested in our struggle for freedom, especially with how Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto imagined what our nation could be like after the revolution — a nation of “magkakapatid” who are “malaya,” free, because they have “kaginhawahan” and mabutingkalooban. Hence, a civilization of Love.

Our ancestors (Manila Times Walking History)

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.

Burial and nationhood (Manila Times Walking History)

October 27, 2018


ON Thursday, November 1, we will be commemorating our loved ones who have passed on to the next life in the feast of Todos los Santos, All Saints’ Day. Actually, the feast for All Souls would still be November 2 but most of us consider our dead relatives as saints anyway, that’s why we go to our cemeteries on November 1.

Since November 1 is All Saints’ Day, then the night before that used to be called “All Hallows’ Evening” in Western countries; the word “hallow” means a holy man or a saint, thus “hallowed be thy name.” It is now called Halloween. Ancient Celtics called this the “Samhain” feast where they believed that the souls of their dead loved one shall return. They celebrated this by knocking on doors of other houses dressed as the soul of the dead, and should one not give anything to them, they will play a prank on the household, thus “trick or treat.”

But we have a native-sounding name for our feast for the dead, “Undas.” According to Dr. Lars Raymund Ubaldo of the DLSU History Department, who studied death practices in Ilocos, the word actually comes from the Spanish “honras funebres” (funeral honors). In some Tagalog provinces, undas is called “honras” and “undras,” and in Ilocos, the “atang” is also called “umras.”

A thousand years from now, when all of us are gone, the people from the future will find our graves and, just by reading our tombstones, or looking at the things that are found with our remains, they will know the life we lived. This is the work of archaeology, as Irene Carolina Sarmiento simply implied in her children’s book Tabon Girl (Batang Tabon). It is digging through the trash that our ancestors left to know how they lived.

But many of the histories we have read before had emphasized our seeming lack of culture and civilization before colonialism came. One such book was the popular 1964 textbook A Short History of the Far East by Kenneth Scott Latourette which stated that: “Before the coming of the Spaniards, as we have hinted, the Philippines were backward in civilization as compared with most of the rest of the Far East…. The Filipinos were still but partly removed from the primitive stages of culture.” (Emphasis mine.)

That’s why the work of archaeologists such as Dr. Grace Barretto-Tesoro is important. For her dissertation in Cambridge, she studied the graves of our ancestors in Calatagan, Batangas and the items that went with our ancestors to their graves tell us of their rich and elaborate culture: tridacna gigas shells, gold and other ornaments, and even skulls of what are believed as slaves. One of those found was even believed to be an ancient priestess, a catalonan, as babaylanes were called in Luzon.

But the way we bury can also tell us that despite the fact that we are a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multilingual nation that doesn’t seem to have anything in common, there are actually patterns of culture that bring us back to our common heritage, which is the heritage of our Austronesian pioneers.

Take for example, the Manunggul Jar that was found in 1962 in Lipuun Point, Quezon, Palawan and was dated from 890-710 B.C, one of the national treasures of our nation displayed at the National Museum of Anthropology. I was a student of Dr. Bernadette Abrera at UP, and she taught us the belief of our ancestors that when one dies, the soul enters the afterlife in a boat and this is reflected in the design of the cover of that particular burial jar: two souls on a boat. Abrera also made us notice that the boat in the jar actually has a face; our ancestors believed that even things such as boats have souls, because things from nature is where our “anitos” can dwell. This made them respect nature as the home of the spirit of their ancestors.

Another archaeologist, my batchmate Joan Tara Reyes-Hernandez, studied the “sunduk” grave markers in Sulu that date back hundreds of years ago. Samples of these in the National Museum show us designs that look like a person on a boat similar to the imagery found in Manunggul. Also, in Kabayan, Benguet; Sagada, Mountain Province; and even in Romblon, coffins had boat-shaped designs. In Batanes, grave markers were also shaped like boats. I always wondered if “bangkay” has something to do with “bangka.”

Found in many places around the Philippines, they all point to a very important aspect of common Filipino identity that we should always emphasize: our rich maritime culture.

So, our graveyards are not only rich sources of history, but a reminder that we can be culturally united as a people.

The boat as a metaphor for nation (Manila Times Walking History)

April 20, 2019


IN last week’s column, I tried to establish that our nation’s story began with a boat. In a new National Historical Commission of the Philippines and De La Salle University coffee table book, Tataya: Documenting the Story of the Ivatan Boat, to which I contributed an essay, I wrote that this maritime culture that still exists in Batanes, was reflected in the spiritual beliefs and burial practices of our ancestors, and in how our heroes imagined the Filipino Nation.

“Our maritime culture was also reflected in our ancient faith and world view. The Manunggul burial jar found in Palawan shows us that our ancestors believed that when we die, our soul rides a boat into the afterlife. Historian Bernadette Abrera pointed out that the boat in the Manunggul Jar actually has a face, indicating the belief of our ancestors that boats and things also have souls, especially if they came from nature. Since it is to nature where our ancestors dwell as anitos in the afterlife and so they had much respect for it.

“This connection of the boat to the afterlife is reflected in other ancient burial practices in the country. In Sulu, Mindanao, the design of the sunduk grave markers resemble a boat with a soul riding it. In Sagada, Cordillera, as well as in Romblon and other parts of the country, coffins had boat-shaped designs; and in Batanes, grave markers were actually shaped like boats.

“These ancient boats proliferated in other material cultures across Southeast Asia. In Batanes, Peter Bellwood and his team of archaeologists found a workshop, a place where an ancient jade earring called the lingling-o was made, in Anaro, Itbayat. The design of the remnants of lingling-o matches with other lingling-o designs found in other places not just in the Philippines but in neighboring Asian countries as well: Lanyu Island, Taiwan; Go Ma Voi, Vietnam; El Nido and Uyaw Cave, Palawan; and Niah Cave, Sarawak. Also, the raw material of these items — jade (nephrite) — is not found in the Philippines but in Southern China and Taiwan. Batanes, with its proximity to Taiwan, definitely had a role in facilitating not just the creation but in the proliferation of these designs throughout Southeast Asia.

“But our seas and rivers were not only highways through which our culture flowed, they were also the network that facilitated trade and kaginhawahan. Historian Zeus Salazar pointed out that most of the rich kingdoms near the riverbanks and seashores: Vigan, Lingayen, Maynila, Sugbu, Butuan, Sulu, and others, became part of the Southeast Asian trade route to China.

“With the introduction of the wheel and construction of roads and bridges, Spanish colonialism took us way from navigation and seafaring and our real talent and natural aptitude in the maritime culture. Yet, the ancient boat culture lives in Batanes.

“Our national hero José Rizal once predicted in an essay titled ‘The Philippines Within a Century’ that if a new generation of Filipinos were to have a second look at our maritime culture, we might be a great nation, ‘With the new men that will spring from her bosom and the remembrance of the past, she will perhaps enter openly the wide road of progress and all will work jointly to strengthen the mother country at home as well as abroad with the same enthusiasm with which a young man returns to cultivate his father’s farmland so long devastated and abandoned due to the negligence of those who had alienated it. Then the mines — gold, iron, copper, lead, coal, and others will be worked again — which will help solve the problem of poverty. Perhaps the people will revive their maritime and commercial activities for which the islanders have a natural aptitude, and free once more, like the bird that leaves his cage, like the flower that returns to the open air, they will discover their good old qualities which they are losing little by little and again become lovers of peace, gay, lively, smiling, hospitable, and fearless.’

“When Andres Bonifacio during the Philippine Revolution called the country Katagalugan instead of Filipinas, he meant that we were Taga-Ilog — River People. If in a boat, the concept of barangay as a community that eventually became the bayan began, we continue to have a metaphor for our country as ‘The Ship of State.’”

From the balangay boat to the barangay economic unit to the bayan and the Sambayanang Pilipino, we have come a long way.

Thus, the still existing boat culture in Batanes can give us an idea of our ancestors’ maritime culture that may inspire us to imagine and see our commonalities as Austronesians despite being an archipelagic people who are now multi-cultural and multi-ethnic and having 171 different languages. Thus, we realize we are one nation with a common sentiment and predicament. That we are all just in one boat.