Recovering Our Past-4


Continued from Part 3 published in Filipinos in Wellington




The Spaniards are long gone. The Americans have left. The Philippines is again an independent nation-state but it has as yet to resurrect all the forgotten chapters of its own remarkable history. These tasks need to be done. It is humiliating to remain with our hands folded while others write it for us.


A people without knowledge of their origin, past history and culture are like trees without roots. They have no worthwhile tradition to pass down to their child ren’s children. In the same vein, they have nothing to share with others who are different from their own culture. They become a negligible factor in the idea of the much larger world that exists around them.


Recovering one’s history should not be a burden, not if the ends mean illumin ating one’s soul. Nevertheless, finding it is a daunting task. The memories of men are too frail a thread to hang a portrait of a people’s entire history.


Yet, we cannot escape it. Anyone who is going to add something will, sooner or later, have to do most of the work. He or she will have to search, discover and consider, then reconsider even further more to separate the certain from the un certain and the doubtful from that which cannot be accepted.


If history is the self-consciousness of one’s own humanity, then it should be viewed from a perspective that aims to point out the dignity and nobility of a people. It should reveal their struggles and triumphs Over time, it should bring to light the works of their own hands and minds even if doing so exposes a blend of good intentions that fall prey to their own weaknesses.


Somehow, by sheer providence, a clearer picture arises from all this. It is begin ning to happen for now there is a growing body of evidence that is providing more insights about our apparently more ancient past.


Watch The Video

Secondary burial jars reveal the practice of early Filipino of exhuming the bones of the dead and storing them in earthenware. These burial jars were placed inside the Pinol (formerly Ayub) Cave in Maitum Saranggani Province. The Maitum burial jars have been Carbon-14 dated as being somewhere between 5 BC to 370 AD but funds are being raised for new tests using Accelerated Mass Spectroscopy (ASM) which is better and more accurate than conventional C-14 dating techniques. While other even much older anthropomorphic pottery have been found in other parts of the Philippines such as the Manunggul Jar in Palawan (dating from 890-710 B.C.); in Bacong, Negros in Western Visayas; in Huyop-huyopan, Albay in southern Luzon; and in the Kulaman Plateau in Southern Mindanao, the faces depicted in the pottery of Maitum are unique. They each are like portraits of distinct individuals or perhaps even specific dead persons. The discovery of all these burial jars is extremely important. It provides significant clues and material evidences for determining previously unknown aspects of Philippine prehistory.




It is often said that pleasant surprises come when they are least expected. No where is that statement more aptly true when applied to rediscovering who we are.


Even as many present-day Filipinos haven’t invested much time or personal effort to account for the history of a people they belong to, their neighbours have – the ancient Chinese. According to scholar-historian Austin Craig (1872-1949) – an American who lived for a time in the Philippines during the American Colonial Period (1898-1946), there are older historical entries relating to Chinese inter action and trade with the ancestors of Filipinos across the Philippine archi pelago.


Besides the island of Luzon, the Chinese also had place names on their maps for some of the other large islands in the Philippine archipelago – ‘Min-to-lang’ (for Mindanao), ‘Pa-lao-yu’ (for Palawan) and ‘Ma-yi’ (for Mindoro, which the Spanish believed referred to ‘Minas de Oro’ or the mines of gold they were looking for). These and other specific references are found in the annals of the Han Dynasty (in 206 BC) and in the written accounts of the older Zhou Dynasty (in 722 BC) during the Age of Confucius. From the earlier of these two dates, we can confidently assert that the Philippines and its inhabitants have been around as a trading culture as far back as 2,734-years ago.




To understand the significance of this marker in time, it may be appropriate to relate it to human developments in other parts of the world. Doing so pro vides benchmarks for our own history. For example, the year 722 BC witnessed the construction of the defensive parts of the First Great Wall of China begun in the middle part of the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC). In the Middle East, the neo-Assyrian Empire (911-605 BC) had obliterated the ancient northern Kingdom of Israel resulting in mass deportations and the eventual disappearance of 10 out of 12 tribes from history. In the Mediterranean, the rise of Greek city states occurred 78-years earlier (800 BC). Then, not too long after, Rome was founded (753 BC). This was the classical period of time in the western world where the literature and works of Aeschylus, Ovid, Homer and others flourished. Europe did not as yet exist at that time.




We must remember that every society produces its own cultural conceits, a set of invented lies and delusions about itself (and of others) which thrive in the face of all contrary evidence. It grows because of ignorance and prospers only if allowed to.


Before we lose ourselves under the fog and veil of someone else’s notion of what our real identity is – which has no basis in fact or history, we need to apply ourselves towards discovering and then studying more about our collective past, especially those intervening 2,200 odd years before Magellan’s arrival when our ancestors lived and flourished in peace and harmony not only among themselves but also with their own neighbours.


Doing this puts all of our history traditions and rich culture as a people into an accessible context, one providing a clearer perspective that keeps others from hurling insults they might have in mind to heap upon us as a people at the pre sent or future time.


Outsiders would today claim that Filipinos are neither European or Asian enough to belong to any culture worth its salt. That’s a whole lot of rubbish and here’s why.


Firstly, the unique example of the Philippines provides a powerful argument that rebuts claims hurled by uninformed ideologues that even under centuries of Spanish colonial rule Latin Americans are not Western enough because their “soul” is Mesoamerican Indian rather than European. If such were the case, the counter argument might go, why did the region not end up like the Philippines, whose people were conquered by Spain for an equal period of time but none theless kept their own languages and cultural traditions?


Secondly, while the Americans who took over the islands in 1898 were much more successful in teaching their new subjects English more than the Spaniards ever were in teaching their language, the reality is that English in the Philippines today is a lingua franca and an administrative medium rather than a mother tongue. The truth is, neither the Spaniards nor the Americans managed to era dicate the islands’ underlying Southeast Asian character.


Perhaps one thing that may surface often from this continuing journey of dis covery is the consistent emergence of a rare cultural trait.


Over the centuries, even while they had just cause to defend themselves valiant ly, the Filipino as a people have not invaded nor conquered anyone; they have not grabbed their land, culture or fundamental traditions nor have they tried to enforce their way of life on anyone else. It is a trait much ingrained in their psyche. They have endured the test of time!


| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 |


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Filed under Arts and Culture, Filipinos in Christchurch, Filipinos in New Zealand, Historical Events, Special Feature

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