A Golden Past… now what about the present?

One style of dress the Spaniards saw when they arrived in the Philippines. Note all the gold they're wearing.

by alex

They called us “indios” back then.  They considered us savages.  But what were we?

Vince and I, with new friends from Manila [*thanks for the introduction Anjo!], went to the Ayala Museum to see the display of pre-hispanic indigenous gold.

You see, before the Spanish we were a people with a rapidly developing culture.  We were not only bahag (loincloth) wearing, hunter-gatherers.  We were also a group of stratified societies with it’s own textile, gold, steel-making, cannon-using industries.  We traded with several neighbouring empires among them the Malay Sri Vijaya, Javanese Majapahit, Brunei, Melaka empires.  Our peoples traded with Sumatra, Borneo, Thailand, Java, China, India, Arabia, and Japan.

When the Spanish arrived they would have met well dressed, gold clad, warriors and noblemen.  This gold drew in the Spanish coloniser, and even to this day remains a major draw for the current world powers that be.  Read up on the Boxer Codex for more info.

Despite the commonly held belief that we were only to become universally literate with the coming of the White people (especially the Americans), we had our own writing system before the Spanish.  We had our own alphabet, called baybayin.  And almost everyone the Spanish encountered when they arrived could read and write—something no European people of the time could boast.

A "Kinnari." A Hindu based mythological image showing our old links to other cultures.

For example when Legazpi came to Manila in 1571 his historian Pedro Chirino, a Jesuit, wrote this in his 1604 Relacion de las Islas filipinas,

All these islanders are much given to reading and writing, and there is hardly a man, much less a woman, who does not read and write.

Many other historians documented the same.  Dr. Antonio Morga, Senior Judge Advocate of the High Court of Justice wrote in his 1609 Sucesos de las Islas filipinas,

Almost all the natives, both men and women, write in this language. There are very few who do not write it excellently and correctly.

Unfortunately, colonialism has since violently erased much of this past from our collective memories.  Much of the gold relics melted down and taken to Europe, or in more recent years, sold to the antiquities black market to the highest bidder.

An image of a deity.

The Spanish were never fully able to exploit the gold riches of the Philippines because 1) they had plenty of gold coming in from the Americas, 2) they were never fully able to conquer the interior of the archipelago.

Funeral Masks.

It was only with the coming of the Americans that gold has been fully exploited by foreign powers.

The country has the second largest known gold deposit in the world (for it’s land mass) and thanks to modern imperialism, some of the most welcoming laws for economic plunder.  For example, the country allows 100% foreign ownership, 100% repatriation of profits, extremely low tax rates (after long tax holidays), etc…

You’ve heard of ‘Blood Diamonds,’ what diamonds are to Africa, gold is to the Philippines.  Modern day large-scale gold mining is the source of not only economic exploitation, but of countless human rights and environmental violations.

And for you Fil-Can readers, especially those in Toronto, know that Canada is one of the biggest mining countries out there, with 75% of all the world’s mining and exploration companies being based out of the Toronto Stock Exchange.  For more info please CLICK HERE for an older article that I wrote.

This is the type of gold band that Lapu-Lapu would have worn when he met Magellan. It signifies nobility.

I bring all this up because so many people relegate history to the past, not seeing the direct links to today.  If you say you’re interested in the Philippines and about being Filipino then you can’t not be aware that the past lives.  The sins of the past continue today.

So what are you going to do about it?

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Museum photos:

©2010 alex felipe

All Rights Reserved.

Please contact the photographer with use inquiries.

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  1. On Facebook, Valerie Estioko writes:
    “This is so interesting! Thanks for writing this piece. It’s amazing to see our ancient ties to other cultures. There is so much FIlipino history beyond just Spain/America and i’d really like to learn & here more about this part of our story – where do you find info from? Also, it’s incredible the notions we have developed about natives thanks to … See morecolonizers — i’m a little embarrassed to admit i felt surprised to find out pre-hispanic Philippines wasn’t a “barbaric”/ hunter-gatherer type society.. we’re are brainwashed more than we think.. thanks for opening up my eyes!”

    • Many of us are very surprised to learn our prehistory is not exactly what we thought. In fact most everything we learned is either outright wrong, or not a complete picture. Even the so-called discovery of the Philippines: how is Magellan credited for “discovery” when he and other Europeans had been in Malay regions for decades? Are we to believe that living in what is now Malaysia, he didn’t know about the Philippines, islands inhabited with Malays that were doing business in Malaysia? And then there’s the fact that Magellan had a Malay navigator during his circumnavigation… *sigh*

  2. Thanks for posting this (I’m part of the Balikbayan Facebook group). I visited the Philippines for the first time in 15 years last September – I was born outside of the Philippines, and had only visited 3 times previously when I was very young – and managed to take a trip to the Ayala Museum and see this collection of gold. The craftsmanship is incredible.

    One of the main reasons for my trip was a strong desire to search out physical artifacts related to our rich, pre-Spanish heritage. I’ve spent a long time being really frustrated by the fact that “we” Filipinos, or at least those that I’ve talked to, seem to think that our history begins and ends with Catholicism. When I started reading about pre-Spanish history in the Philippines, I was immediately captivated by baybayin script, the animistic beliefs of our tribes, the links to the surrounding countries in Asia. It’s a real, huge shame that there isn’t greater interest in defining who “we” are, beyond the popular stories of Lapu Lapu or even Jose Rizal. Certainly, they are crucial players in Philippine History, but only as part of a larger, richer, complex cultural legacy.

    It’s unfortunate that we continue to turn a blind eye to the effects of Colonialism by perceiving the Pre-Spanish Filipino as “primitive”, “illiterate” (a viewpoint which, unfortunately, continues to manifest itself with respect to a suspicion or disregard of Filipinos who do not have Spanish roots or Catholic beliefs… which, frankly, is a significant part of the country). Why is Filipino culture defined by Western standards, when we should be looking out our own culture with Eastern eyes? On that note, it’s ridiculous that we celebrate the obscene number of malls in Manila, while our state museums and art galleries are rotting away in perpetual, dire anticipation of non-existent funding.

  3. geez, look at all that gold!

  4. Hi alex remember me? Its nice to know you visited the Ayala Museum. I was once connected to the museum a couple of years back. It feels good to see all of the pre hispanic gold, it erases all of the hoaxes that the spaniards integrated to our ancestors in the latter spanish colonial period

  5. You are the man Alex…well not “The Man”…but you know what I mean. Keep doing your thing and please keep me in the loop of all things Filipino. Respect!

  6. thanks alex. it empowered me more as a proud filipino. i am hoping that we can be the instrument to open the eyes of our kababayan. i think this is the best way to turn the false history of Philippines that were being instilled in the mind of our people through wrong education into the right direction. our country now is so desperate with the situation(high poverty, wrong politics). it seems that majority of the people are becoming hopeless. the poor are being exploited by the rich people. education is not given high priority. i believe that by boasting our pride as a Filipino through the discovery of our true identity will awaken our sense of nationalism in true sense. long live Pilipinas!!!

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