5 Historical Texts Everyone Should Read On Precolonial Philippines
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Now if you guys have been following me and the blog, you will know that my interest and passion toward our precolonial history and culture is pretty strong. This has become the driving force to why I created the blog in the first place and a part of why I continue to run it.

Over the years I have received numerous questions regarding different aspects of how our ancestors did things, what they wore, what they believed in, etc. Now I do not claim to be an expert in our history, I am just a young woman who loves reading and discovering new aspects of our heritage and learning knew information on our history and people. I guess you can say this is the anthropologist spirit in me who strives to learn everything she can on our people and society, but presently and in the past. However I have come across my share of historical texts and resources during my research for those interested in looking into our precolonial history and culture and discovering for yourselves the world our ancestors lived in during the 16th-17th centuries where Spanish colonization and influence hasn’t set in yet.

So without further ado, I give you my 5 favorite and recommended historical texts to read on Precolonial Philippines.

The first historical account, and one of the earliest, is the journals of Antonio Pigafetta, the Italian scholar and assistant to Ferdinand Magellan as a translator and cartographer, collectively known as Relazione del primo viaggio intorno al mondo (Report on the First Voyage Around the World) 1582. After returning and reporting back to Spain with only 18 of the original men of the 260 or so crew members he went back to his home country in Italy where his journals was eventually published in 1536. Despite the publication and copies, unfortunately the original journals were not preserved and lost.

Antonio Pigafetta

Antonio Pigafetta

Pigafetta’s account is something I feel everyone who is interested in precolonial history and culture must read first as it is the one of the earliest accounts written about us that describes the people he saw, the activities he witnessed, events such as the Battle of Mactan and fall of Magellan. We learn about the first contact between the people of the islands of the Bisayas where the Spaniards first landed. We learn of the sandugo, or blood compacts between Magellan and several of the Datu’s & Rajah’s, their names, descriptions of the “painted” tattooed men and women with the amount of gold they wore which with their black markings on their skin earned them the name, “the Pintados”, or “the Painted Ones”, by the Spaniards. We get a look into how trade proceeded in the shores and ports, the houses, the first baptisms in the islands, mourning rituals, and more. His journals gives us a sneak peek to how things were prior to that first contact with the Spaniards and how life was back then.

Second notable piece of work is Miguel de Loarca’s, Relation de las Yslas Filipinas in 1582. He was a soldier and one of the first conquistadors and settlers on our islands and is also the one who conducted one of the first censuses throughout the islands. He recorded details on the islands from descriptions, the size, population, products produced, and settlements. In these accounts Loarca also notes some of the social customs and practices of the people from their religious beliefs to marriage customs. He even goes into length of the creation story and where the souls of those from the coasts or from the mountains were sent to after death. He lists names of deities that were once worshiped and revered to information on the status of women. Moving on from the Bisayans he also talks a bit on the Tagalogs of Luzon who were a mix of Muslims and Polytheists at this time and their customs, beliefs, and laws. Quite frankly I enjoy reading his accounts as not only does it give us a clearer picture of the population and settlements during this time but also he has given us one of the first detailed accounts of the religion of our ancestors prior to Christianity. As a Polytheist myself I find his accounts a gem in reviving our precolonial beliefs and practices especially in regards to the creation myth.

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Another historical account that gives further details of the different ethnic groups is Antonio de Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas in 1609. De Morga was the Governor-General as well as a historian, colonel, and lawyer. His Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas was published in Mexico and is comprised of 8 chapters discusing Magellan and Legazpi’s seminal expeditions, chronological reports on the governmental administration under several Governor-Generals, and an account on the people, their history, the islands and settlements, and their customs. From poisons to the gold mines he writes a wealth of information based on his experiences of living on the islands for more than 20 years and what he has written provides us with a good amount of knowledge into our precolonial culture. I highly recommend reading his account to anyone interested in knowing how our precolonial societies flourished and worked. Just get a pen and paper ready to jot down notes and don’t overwhelm yourself!

 

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This one I think most have probably heard of at some point. Have you seen any of these illustrations? No? Well they are from the Boxer Codex, a 307 page bound manuscript dated to 1595 that provides a plethora of descriptions of not only the people of what is now known as the Philippines but neighboring countries as well from Cambodia, Japan, China, and Indonesia. The author is unknown as the title page is missing but most scholars believe it may have been by Luis Pérez das Mariñas, son of Governor General Gómez Pérez das Mariñas, who was killed in 1593 by Chinese on the islands. To be honest out of all the manuscripts and records we have to date, the Boxer Codex is the one that fascinates me the most (other than the next one I will discuss in a moment), not just because of the illustrations, but because of the writings and descriptions of the people in a very unbiased manner. These colored illustrations give us a visual of how our ancestors looked like during the 16th century and give us an idea how they dressed other than the written physical descriptions.


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Finally, the number one resource I love reading and find the most useful is both from the fact it covers the Bisayas (and all of you know how proud I am of my Bisayan heritage) and broadens my knowledge on my Bisdak ancestors but also because of the wealth of information compared to other works on all aspects of the Bisayans during the mid 1600’s from their epics, literature, architecture, flora and fauna found, the way they dressed, how they buried their dead, the rituals they did, how they built their boats, their trading and agriculture, and so much more. Can you guess what text I am talking about? If not, it is Historia de las islas e indios de Bisayas (1668) by Francisco Alcina.

 

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The amount of information Alcina writes and gives us on the people of the Bisayas is absolutely brilliant. It opens the doors back in time and gives us access to a time period that the majority of Bisayans today would not recognize if they ever traveled back and met their predecessors. What Alcina did and wrote is something that I wished that we had with other ethnic groups in the Philippines from the Ikokanos to the Kapampangans to the Tagalogs. Yes we do know some things from historical accounts but nothing to the extent to what Alcina did here, well at least from what we have and know about to date. Unfortunately, due to the events of World War II many documents were lost in the wars destruction. Many vital records and accounts burned and destroyed forever with the knowledge going with it. But alas there is still hope.

Now there are many more historical accounts, journals, travel logs, etc. that are not on this list that you should read. Most of these can be found compiled together in the by Blair and Robertson English translated editions (though do keep in mind there are some mistakes in translation in some areas and also that it is told via an American PoV of things). There are also many more documents hidden and not studied in the archives of Spain from Seville to Madrid to even possibly in Mexico. Who knows, maybe there are more texts laying around waiting to be found and brought to light that can tell us more than what we know of now and is just waiting for that person to dig through those archives and find it.

 

About The Author

Executive Editor & Founder

Ligaya is the Executive Editor & Writer at Pinoy-Culture.com. She lives in NYC with her two dogs and spends her time reading, writing, collecting and buying books online and in safe haven, Strand Bookstore, watching her guilty tv show pleasure Vikings, and overdosing herself in coffee as a certified caffeine addict. Her book, Diwatahan: A Look Into the Precolonial Beliefs, Practices, Myths, & Folklore of the Philippines, is currently in progress and is scheduled to be published in Summer of 2017.

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4 Responses

  1. Karl pascual

    Nice research!!! Btw, i am a fellow fan on pre-colonial philippines 🙂 just wanted to share william henry scott’s book “barangay” its a great reference for pre colonial philippine topics

    Reply
    • Ligaya

      Thank you! And yes! I absolutely love his book and I’m grateful for it. I have a copy of his book which is highlighted, has notes and comments, and you can easily tell its been well read. 😀 If only there were more books like that as finding books on our history and culture especially precolonial is hard to find as there isn’t a lot out there.

      Reply
  2. AJ Laid

    Hello! Where can I find those references that you mentioned? I only have Scott’s Barangay.

    Reply

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