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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.

10 responses »

  1. If France, Finland, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and other respectable nations attained wholesome development because of nationalism, why can we not? It is because the definition of nation for us filipinos has been corrupted by our north american invaders. This report has presented an uncorrupted definition.

    For as long as this corrupted definition of nation for us filipinos is perpetuated, our defense system will continue to be dysfunctional and continue destroying what is of our nation while continue to protect what is of our foreign invaders. Then we will continue to have an Alienated Identity and Denationalized Syndrome.


  2. The only thing that most Filipinos would agree on is that the Spaniards united the country into their colony.

    The bad thing is that Spain still has to confront her past.

    I’m going to give you that Philippines is a group of many nations. The Ifugao, Ilongot, Igorot, Ibanag and Ilocano are somewhat closer to the Ami tribes of Taiwan while the Tagalog, Philippine Bisaia, Bikol, Magindanau, Tausug and the Iranun are somewhat closer to the Javanese and Minahasa of Indonesia.

    Manila had trade contacts with Borneo and Cham before the Spaniards arrived. Southern Philippines was under Nusantara, the Hindu Kingdom that helped define modern-day Indonesian borders.


    • “United the country” is a total oxymoron in the Philippine context. First, there was no ‘country’ based on modern political science definitions within the present-day Philippines. If we refer to country as in how Catalans do which is via an ethnolinguistic lens, then we were indeed a multitude of countries OR nations.

      Spain is no different from this situation. It was able to amass territories that were not traditionally Castilian (or what we normally think of as ‘Spanish’). There were the Catalans (and Valencians), Asturians, Aragonese, Basques, Leonese and Navarrese which Madrid strongly attempted to eliminate particularly during the Franco dictatorship. Spain in itself is a living parallelism of Philippine ethnocultural bigotry in Europe.

      Thus, as a second point, since there was no Philippines ‘country’ before, there wouldn’t be any unity in the first place (presuming from that context that there really was a unified ‘country’ and then Spain became an arbiter to piece it back together) which is not. This article already expounds our political and ethnocultural distinctness. The unity there was was nothing but Spanish colonial possession. As a matter of fact, the Cordilleras and Bangsamoro were not colonized by all technical definitions. Ergo, they rightfully can be considered to have preserved their own respective uncolonized national identities until the Commonwealth and then Republic of the Philippines was formed, unjustly blanketing them with a renegade Constitution. This time, we can call them colonized and occupied by the PH regime up to this very day. Their separatist clamors are in fact, at a certain degree, valid.

      Sounds radical, but if you would see history clearly most especially from American occupation, that is the true case.


      • Spain as an identity was born out of the unity imposed by Roman colonization and acculturation. As a State, it is the creature of the substitution of Roma by Gothic (Visigoth, or Western Gothics) rule. The Goths created the institution we all call monarchy today, a concept alien to the Romans. By the time the Moors invaded Spain, there was a well-established state and monarchy with all the institutions, ruling over a culturally and intellectually rich Span. The state was destroyed by the Moorish invasion in the 8th Century, whereupon, and gradually, native Spaniards (yes, there was a Spain already that was some 10 centuries old) revolted gradually against Moorish rule in different regions at different times: Asturias-Leon-Castile, Navarre, Aragon, Valencia, etc. After a very long process, that included the defeat of the last Moorish kingdom in Granada, all these kingdoms coalesced again (kind of restoration) into one united kingdom under Fernando de Aragon and Isabel de Castilla: one country, one kingdom and shortly thereafter one state again. It is erroneous then to say that

        Spain was able to amass territories that were not traditionally Castilian (or what we normally think of as ‘Spanish’). There were the Catalans (and Valencians), Asturians, Aragonese, Basques, Leonese and Navarrese.

        All those territories made Spain, Spain did not invade them.

        It is also erroneous to affirm that

        Madrid strongly attempted to eliminate (those territories) particularly during the Franco dictatorship.

        The Borbon dynasty instituted what we call today a “central state” different from the Habsburgs kings’ vision of a Spain made up of different kingdoms (in Europe), viceroyalties (in the Americas and Philippines) and territories preserving in them some measure of autonomy. Franco tried to reverse the centrifugal forces of peripheral nationalisms some times, and not very wisely, by decrees against the public use of some regional languages because he thought they were vehicles of unwanted nationalisms. But all the same, and institutionally, had policies to preserve the local popular cultures like the tremendous effort the state did to unearth, record and promote the sometimes forgotten music and dances of all the regions, their gastronomy, their rich dress styles, etc.

        Barcelona people, for example, had a beautiful tradition of dancing their stately sardana in front of the cathedral after Mass on Sundays, Franco never went against it.

        In the 50s, when I was a kid in elementary and high school, they taught us to sing in the vernacular, besides the Asturian (I am Asturian) El mio Xuan Mirome, the Catalan Muntanis del Canigou and the Bask Agur Jaunak, among many others, which we would rehearse and rehearse again to be able to deliver flawless performances in official acts, without interference from any authority. More, when any Central Government official visited the Bask Country, he would always be welcome with the Bask traditional dance Aurresku. Facts all of them not very supportive to the idea of eliminating territories.


  3. Pingback: Filipinization: a process « FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES

  4. PRECISAMENTE!!! Se debe de hacer hincapié en este HECHO en las clases de Historia!


  5. Do we consider ourselves as having existed at the time our father or our mother existed before we have been conceived as a result of their intercourse with each other?

    Indeed, how can there be filipinos before the 1600s in the islands somewhere in the Southeast Asia and Southwest Pacific? What is the basis for a people to have become filipinos? Unless a people are an entity like God whose existence is without a beginning, filipinos as an entity like all living entities could not be but have a beginning. When, where, and how did a people become filipinos?

    This is where the definition of the term filipinos becomes necessary since the term Philippines has to have been derived from a basic term.

    Philippines or Filipinas is a name of a country derived from the collective name of it’s people, the filipinos and vice versa. Between 1500 and 1700s, there was a developmental intercourse of events involving the natives or so called indios of the islands somewhere in the southeast Asia and the southwest Pacific, and the iberians under the government of Spain. Such events were: the acceptance as well as rejection of the Spanish King as the new king of the different tribes in these islands; the learning of the iberians of the different languages of the islands; the learning of the non-spaniards of the islands of the Spanish language; the development of the spanish political, defense, economic, cultural, and educational system in these islands; intermarriages of the natives of these islands and the iberians; implantation of catholicism; violent reactions of the natives against atrocities by the friars and the government officials; liberalization of Spanish government officials towards the ruled in these islands; and many other interactions. Such events resulted to the conception of Filipinas around the 1700s to the 1800s. In 1898, when we came out of the womb of Madre España, we were born as a new entity, an independent and already a sovereign nation- Filipinas.


  6. Pingback: Clarifying a misconception on the definition of “Filipino” | FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES

  7. British student of SE Asian history

    This article absolutely reeks of postcolonial mentality, low self-esteem, and a woeful worship of anything non-Spanish, non-indigenous or non Asian.

    I challenge you to read up on the Laguna Copperplate Inscription, its very existence seems to negate your bigoted and self-serving view of history, and the widely celebrated Hindu-Buddhist gold artifacts of the Kingdom of Butuan exhibited in New York before you continue subscribing to this frankly ignorant self-denigrating nonsense.

    From a British person with a better idea of Philippine history that you clearly have.



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