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On the term “pre-Hispanic Philippines”

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When we say “pre-Hispanic” or “pre-Spanish”, it pertains to a period in a particular nation’s history that was not yet colonized by Spain. In the phrase “pre-Hispanic Philippines”, pre-Hispanic is the adjective while Philippines is the proper noun. Looking into the term more closely, the adjective pre-Hispanic is composed of two words: the prefix “pre” (meaning “before”) and the adjective “Hispanic” which relates to, is characteristic of, or is derived from Spain (or Spanish-speaking nations).

In scholarly circles and (most especially) history classes, the term pre-Hispanic Philippines is a by-word. It ascribes to the period either before 16 March 1521 (the coming of Fernando Magallanes) or 27 April 1565 (the coming of Miguel López de Legazpi).

In both dates, historians contend that prior to the advent of the Spaniards, we already have our own culture, our own civilization. They speak as if we were already a nation, as if the concept of the term Filipino was already in existence. That is not even half-truth but a total falsity. The nominative plural pronoun “we” is used here in a rather anachronistic sense. This is because before the coming of the West, there was no Philippines nor Filipinos to speak of. The concept of the Filipino Identity had not yet been perceived (by Philippines we mean the country which we know and speak of today, i.e., all the political and geographical attributes that are comprised of by the Luzón, Visayas, and Mindanáo regions). What the Spaniards found or discovered in this part of the world which we speak of right now was but a multitude of islands whose inhabitants had been in perpetual war against each other (or either that, had been distrustful of one another). In short, there was no Philippines yet to speak of.

A bigoted nationalism

The trouble with the term pre-Hispanic or pre-Spanish is that it is commonly used by hispanophobic nationalist purists to forward their claims of a mythical and blissful past that was halted and stunted by Spain. The coming here of the West they keep on negating as not Filipino at all, thus the need to come up with such terms as pre-Hispanic and pre-Spanish to describe what they claim as a time when our nation was not yet “invaded” and ruled by a “foreign” nation.

But then, if the Tagalogs, Pampangueños, etc. all migrated here from neighboring Malay islands (using ancient boats called barangáy or balañgáy), then aren’t they considered foreigners, too? It is because this archipelago we speak of is not their native soil anymore if they are from other lands. In this case, the definition of the term “foreign” fades into oblivion. But that is another story.

When the Spaniards arrived in this part of the world, they forged the myriad of islands which they discovered into one, single, and compact nation. Thus, it is also safe to assume that their incumbency here, including everything else they disseminated into our culture (as astutely observed by Arnaldo Arnáiz), ceased to be Spanish but Filipino. Take, for example, the stately architecture of the bahay na bató. Misled nationalists claim that it is merely a Spanish-style house or —worse— a colonial house, but it is not. Although it has influences from Western architecture, it is rudely incorrect to deny that it is not a product of Filipino architecture. Cultural anthropologist Fernando Z. Ziálcita, a fellow member of the Círculo Hispano-Filipino, pointed out that it is first important to distinguish between two types of nationalist discourses in order to appreciate (and eventually realize) Filipino architecture: dialectical and reductionist. Applying his observations (based on undisputable analogies from various cultures), it is best, if not imperative, that we utilize a dialectical approach in studying Philippine history in order to comprehend the nature of our identity.

Thus, when Spain brought here, say, the cuchara and tenedor, they ceased to become anything Spanish but Filipino. When the Spaniards brought here the cooking technique called the guisado, it ceased to become Spanish; it became Filipino. Even Christianity was Filipinized. And so were the Spaniards who were born here — the insulares or creoles, although purely Iberian, were naturally more loyal to their patria chica (Philippines) compared to their patria grande (Spain). In short, although still Spaniards (albeit being born here), they ceased to become Spaniards but Filipinos. And that is why they are called —and should be regarded as— the First Filipinos.

This could go on and on.

In the words of José Miguel García, what Spain bequeathed to us has become part of our so-called “national developmental code”:

Can we exist as a nation without having been born acquiring a unique identity? Could we as a nation have been born without having been conceived? Could we as a nation have been conceived without having parents undergoing through a process of developmental intercourse? There are the Iberians, the natives of a group of islands now known as Filipinas, the North Americans, the Chinese, and the Japanese. Who among these entities could have engaged in a developmental intercourse that resulted to our conception and, finally, birth as a nation as Filipinas? If based on information, we have come to know WHO we really are; if based on information, we have come to know that WHO we really are has been lost; if based on information we know that WHO we really are is our inheritance as part of our national developmental code; then it is our birth right to recover it. But based on information, where can we find our inheritance?

Obviously not from our bleak and dark “pre-Hispanic past”.

Pre-Philippine, not pre-Hispanic

Here then lies the predicament surrounding the term pre-Hispanic Philippines.

If we delete the prefix “pre” from “pre-Hispanic”, what will remain solely is the adjective Hispanic (Hispanic Philippines). But, using Professor Ziálcita’s dialectical approach towards Philippine History as an analogy, there should be no such thing as Hispanic Philippines. It is but incorrect to impose the adjective Hispanic to a nation that had just been born. Although it is true that Spain created our country, upon inception it was not Hispanic anymore but simply Philippine.

Therefore, it is high time we get rid of the term pre-Hispanic Philippines from our historical vocabulary. It should be replaced with the more correct term PRE-PHILIPPINE whenever we refer to events before 1565 or 1521, an obscure era when we were still but a scattered group of heathen islands.

And may we all stop degrading ourselves by looking for a past that was never there.


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