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History of the Philippines (900–1521)

The recorded history of the Philippines begins with the creation of the Laguna Copperplate Inscription (LCI) in 900, the first written document found in an ancient Philippine language. The inscription itself identifies the date of its creation, and on its deciphering in 1992 moved the boundary between Philippine history and prehistory back 600 years. The Philippines is classified as part of the Indosphere and the Sinosphere, making its many cultures sophisticated and intermixed. Prior to the LCI, the earliest record of the Philippine Islands corresponded with the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. Magellan's arrival marks the beginning of the Spanish colonial period.

Pre-colonial-era Philippines
Cagayan Woman.png
HorizonPhilippine history
Geographical rangeSoutheast Asia
Datesc. Before 900 AD
Major sitesTundun, Seludong, Pangasinan, Limestone tombs, Idjang citadels, Panay, Rajahnate of Cebu, Rajahnate of Butuan, Kota Wato, Kota Sug, Ma-i, Dapitan, Gold artifacts, Singhapala, Ifugao plutocracy
CharacteristicsIndianized kingdoms, Hindu and Buddhist Nations, Islamized Indianized sultanates Sinicized Nations
Preceded byPrehistory of the Philippines
Followed byColonial era

Prior to Spanish occupation, the islands were composed of different kingdoms, rajahnates and sultanates. Some are even part of a larger Empire outside of the modern day map of what is now the Philippines, for example; Manila was once part of the Bruneian Empire. Another example is many parts of the modern day Mindanao is theorized to be part of the Majapahit empire with its capital being located in East Java in the modern day Indonesia. It was the Spaniards that named the collection of Southeast Asian islands they conquered as Las Islas Filipinas, the geographical locations of which the modern day country of the Philippines based its territories today.

Other sources of pre-colonial history include archeological findings, records from contact with the Song Dynasty, the Bruneian Empire, Japan, and Muslim traders, genealogical records of Muslim rulers, and the collected accounts which were put into writing by Spanish chroniclers in the 17th century, as well as then-extant cultural patterns which had not yet been swept away by the coming tide of hispanization. The period prior to Spanish colonization made the Philippines a part of both the Indosphere and Sinosphere.[1][2][3][4]

100 BC onwardEdit

Iron Age finds in Philippines point to the existence of trade between Tamil Nadu and the Philippine Islands during the ninth and tenth centuries B.C.[5] The Philippines is believed by some historians to be the island of Chryse, the "Golden One," which is the name given by ancient Greek writers in reference to an island rich in gold east of India. Pomponius Mela, Marinus of Tyre and the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea mentioned this island in 100 BC, and it is basically the equivalent to the Indian Suvarnadvipa, the "Island of Gold." Josephus calls it in Latin Aurea, and equates the island with biblical Ophir, from where the ships of Tyre and Solomon brought back gold and other trade items. Historian Otley Beyer said that the “dawn man”, the aborigines of the Philippines, existed 250,000 years ago, although the Callao man fossils have been dated as 65,000 years ago.[citation needed]

Excavations in Rizal, Kalinga in the Cagayan Valley of northern Luzon in the Philippines yielded 57 stone tools associated with an almost-complete disarticulated skeleton of Rhinoceros philippinensis showing clear signs of butchery, together with other fossil fauna remains. The finds originate in a clay-rich bone bed dated to between 777,000 and 631,000 years. This evidence pushed back the proven period of colonization of the Philippines by hundreds of thousands of years, and suggested that early overseas dispersal in Island South East Asia by premodern hominins took place several times during the Early and Middle Pleistocene, and that the Philippines may have had a central role in southward movements of archaic hominids into Wallacea.[6] This pushes back occupation of the Philippines to before the known origin of Homo sapiens.[7] Similarly-aged remains of hominins were found in Flores island in Indonesia also along Pacific Ocean. Some scientists pointed out that from Luzon to Flores along Pacific Ocean, the probable source of the mysterious living form could be the geographical center of the two points, which points to the present pacific side of the Samar Island. The possibility that Lawan in Samar Island in an important part of the Polynesian civilization was confirmed somehow by a finding in an Australian study that the Pacific Island Philippines could be the homeland of Polynesians in the pacific oceans. The migration of the Filipinos to different pacific islands who are identified today as Polynesians and inwards into the Philippine islands like in Tondo happened slowly in thousands of years and is evidenced by an existence of an ancient shipping industry based in Palapag which was later converted into the shipping repair stations of the Galleon Trade and is identified by some historians as the so-called "Lakanate of Lawan" once headed by Datu Iberein and was mentioned by Henry Scott in his writings, particularly in the "Bingi of Lawan.[8][unreliable source?]

Kamhantik limestone tombs (890 AD – 1030 AD)Edit

The Limestone tombs of Kamhantik in the Buenavista Protected Landscape in Quezon province was known to Manila researchers of the National Museum of the Philippines in 2011. The coffins were believed to be at least 1,000 years old, initially.

It is composed of fifteen limestone coffins that can be dated back from the period of 10th to 14th centuries based on one of National Museum's top archaeologist "a complex archaeological site with both habitation and burial remains from the period of approximately 10th to the 14th century ... the first of its kind in the Philippines having carved limestone tombs."[9] However, after carbon-dating the human bones found on the site, it was known that the age of the site is much older, between 890–1030 AD.[10]

The archaeological site is part of 280 hectares (690 acres) of forest land that was declared a government-protected area in 1998 to keep away treasure hunters and slash-and-burn farmers. However, the site has been looted already prior to proper archaeological research. All of the lids of the coffins have already been stolen, along with most of the remains, jars, and possible jewelries inside the coffins that may have been sarcophagi.[11]

The Laguna Copperplate Inscription and its context (c. 900)Edit

Laguna Copperplate Inscription (c. 900)

In January 1990, the Laguna Copperplate, then just a thin piece of crumpled and blackened metal, was offered for sale to and was acquired by the National Museum of the Philippines after previous efforts to sell it to the world of antiques had been unsuccessful. On examination, it was found to measure about 20 cm square and to be fully covered on one side with an inscription in ten lines of finely written characters. Antoon Postma deciphered the text and discovered that it identified the date of its creation as the "Year of Sakya 822, month of Vaisakha." According to Jyotisha (Hindu astronomy), this corresponded with the year 900. Prior to the deciphering of the LCI, Philippine history was traditionally considered to begin at 1521, with the arrival of Magellan and his chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta. History could not be derived from pre-colonial records because such records typically did not survive: most of the writing was done on perishable bamboo or leaves. Because the deciphering of the LCI made it out to be the earliest written record of the islands that would later become the Philippines, the LCI moved the boundary between Philippine history and prehistory back 600 years.[12][13][14]

The inscription forgives the descendants of Namwaran from a debt of 926.4 grams of gold, and is granted by the chief of Tondo (an area in Manila) and the authorities of Paila, Binwangan and Pulilan, which are all locations in Luzon. The words are a mixture of mostly Sanskrit along with some Old Malay, Old Javanese and Old Tagalog. The subject matter proves conclusively that a developed society with traders, rulers and international trading existed in the Philippines prior to the Spanish colonization. The references to the Chief of Medang Kingdom in Indonesia imply that there were cultural and trade links with empires and territories in other parts of Maritime Southeast Asia, particularly Srivijaya. The copperplate indicate the presence of writing and of written records at the time, and the earliest proof of Philippines language.[12]

Barangay city-states and thalassocraciesEdit

Locations of the archaic polities and sultanates in the Philippines (900–1521)
A Tagalog couple of the Maginoo nobility class depicted in the 16th-century Boxer Codex

Since at least the 3rd century, the indigenous people were in contact with the other Southeast Asian and East Asian nations. Fragmented ethnic groups established several polities formed by the assimilation of several small political units known as barangay each headed by a Datu, who was then answerable to a Rajah or a Lakan, who headed the city state. Each barangay consisted of about 100 families. Some barangays were big or city-sized, such as Zubu (Cebu), Maktan (Mactan), Butuan, Ogtong (Oton)[15] and Halaud (Araut or Halaur, which is Dumangas at present) in Panay,[16] Mait (Ma-i), Bigan (Vigan) and Selurong (Manila). Each of these big barangays had a population of more than 2,000. The city-statehood system was also used by the freedom-loving Waray people of Samar and eastern Leyte, the head-hunting Ilongots of the Cagayan Valley (now primarily live in Nueva Viscaya and Nueva Ecija after the Ilokano migrations to the Cagayan Valley), and the peacock-dressed Gaddang people of the Cagayan Valley. Unlike other areas in the country like Tondo or Cebu which had royal families, the ancient city-states of the Warays, Ilongots and Gaddangs were headed through an indigenous leadership system. Both civilizations developed their own tools and craftsmanship as proven by archaeological evidences in central Cagayan Valley and southwest Samar. The head of the Ilongot was known as the Benganganat, while the head of the Gaddang was the Mingal.[17][18][19]

The Batanes islands also had its own political system, prior to colonization. The archipelagic polity was headed by the Mangpus. The Ivatan of Batanes, due to geography, built the only stone castles known in pre-colonial Philippines. These castles, called idjang, were not for royalty, but for the people during times of natural calamity and invasions. Gold was also regarded with high social value by the Ivatan, having contact with both Taiwan and northern Luzon, later on with the kingdom of Ryukyu, and then Japan. The British visited the archipelago in 1687, but never subjugated the people. The Spanish, after subjugating most of the Philippines, were only able to subjugate the Ivatan in 1783, where they were confronted by Mangpus Kenan Aman Dangat, the Mangpus of Batanes at the time. Dangat was executed by the Spanish, and the islands were controlled by Spain through Manila.[20]

The Ilokano people at the northwest side of Luzon, who classically were located in what is now Ilocos Sur, was headed by the Babacnang. The traditional name of the polity of the Ilokano was Samtoy. The polity did not have a royal family, rather, it was headed by its own chieftaincy. The polity had trade contacts with both China and Japan.[citation needed]

The people of the Cordilleras, collectively known by the Spanish as Igorot, were headed by the Apo. These civilizations were highland plutocracies with their very own distinct cultures, where most were headhunters. According to literature, some Igorot people were always at war with the lowlanders from the west, the Ilokanos.[20][21]

The Subanons of Zamboanga Peninsula also had their own statehood during this period. They were free from colonization, until they were overcame by the Islamic subjugations of the Sultanate of Sulu in the 13th century. They were ruled by the Timuay. The Sama-Bajau peoples of the Sulu Archipelago, who were not Muslims and thus not affiliated with the Sultanate of Sulu, were also a free statehood and was headed by the Nakurah until the Islamic colonization of the archipelago. The Lumad (autochthonous groups of inland Mindanao) were known to have been headed by the Datu.

By the 14th century, these polities were organized in strict social classes: The Datu or ruling class, the Maharlika or noblemen, the Timawa or freemen, and the dependent class which is divided into two, the Aliping Namamahay (Serfs) and Aliping Saguiguilid (Slaves).

In the earliest times, the items which were prized by the people included jars, which were a symbol of wealth throughout South Asia, and later metal, salt and tobacco. In exchange, the people would trade feathers, rhino horn, hornbill beaks, beeswax, birds nests, resin and rattan.

Indianization and the emergence of Suyat scripts (1200 onwards)Edit

Baybayin, one of the many suyat scripts formed in the Philippines

In a book entitled Tubod The Heart of Bohol published and accredited by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts of the Philippines, around the 12th century, a group of people from Northern Mindanao settled in the straight between mainland Bohol and the neighbouring island of Panglao. Those people came from a nation in northern Mindanao called Lutao (probably the animist kingdom of what will soon be the Islamic Lanao). According to the much credited book, those people established the Kingdom of Dapitan in western Bohol because the true indigenous people of Bohol in the Anda peninsula and nearby areas were not open to them, forcing them to establish settlement in the western part of the island. The kingdom was first built with hardwood on the soft seabed. It engaged it trade with nearby areas and some Chinese merchants. The Jesuit Alcina tales about a rich nation he called the 'Venice of the Visayas', pointing to the Kingdom of Dapitan at that time. The Jesuit also tells of a princess named Bugbung Hamusanum, whose beauty caused her suitor to raid parts of southern China to win her hand. By 1563, before the full Spanish colonization agenda came to Bohol, the Kingdom of Dapitan was at war with the Ternateans of the Moluccas (who were also raiding the Rajahnate of Butuan). At the time, Dapitan was ruled by two brothers named Dalisan and Pagbuaya. The Ternateans at the time were allied to the Portuguese. Dapitan was destroyed and King Dalisan was killed in battle. His brother, King Pagbuaya, together with his people fled back to Mindanao and established a new Dapitan in the northern coast of the Zamboanga peninsula. The new Dapitan eventually was subjugated by the Spanish.[22]

The script used in writing down the LCI is Kawi, which originated in Java, and was used across much of Maritime Southeast Asia. But by at least the 13th century or 14th century, its descendant known in Tagalog as Baybayin was in regular use. The term baybayin literally means syllables, and the writing system itself is a member of the Brahmic family.[23] One example of the use of Baybayin from that time period was found on an earthenware burial jar found in Batangas. Though a common perception is that Baybayin replaced Kawi, many historians believe that they were used alongside each other. Baybayin was noted by the Spanish to be known by everyone, and was generally used for personal and trivial writings. Kawi most likely continued to be used for official documents and writings by the ruling class.[24] Baybayin was simpler and easier to learn, but Kawi was more advanced and better suited for concise writing.

Although Kawi came to be replaced by the Latin script, Baybayin continued to be used during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines up until the late 19th century. Closely related scripts still in use among indigenous peoples today include Hanunóo, Buhid and Tagbanwa.[25]

No manuscript written before colonization has survived in the present, mostly due to Spain's intentional destruction of indigenous scripts. Internationally respected anthropologist H. Otley Beyer (1921) wrote, "The fanatic zeal of the Spaniards for the Christian faith and corresponding hatred for all other forms of belief led them to regard the native writings and art as works of the Devil — to be destroyed wherever found. … It cannot be said that such writings did not exist, since the early Filipinos were even more literate than the Mexicans; they used syllabaries of Indian origin. One Spanish priest in southern Luzon boasted of having destroyed more than three hundred scrolls written in the native character."[26]

Of at least 17 unique scripts, found nowhere else, documented by colonizers in the Philippines, only 4 survived colonization.[27]

Sinicization and Chinese trade (982 onwards)Edit

The earliest date suggested for direct Chinese contact with the Philippines was 982. At the time, merchants from "Ma-i" (now thought to be either Bay, Laguna on the shores of Laguna de Bay,[28] or a site on the island of Mindoro[29][30]) brought their wares to Guangzhou and Quanzhou. This was noted by the Sung Shih (History of the Sung) by Ma Tuan-lin who compiled it with other historical records in the Wen-hsien T'ung-K'ao at the time around the transition between the Sung and Yuan dynasties.[29]

Present-day Siquijor also had its fair share of royalties during this period. The island kingdom was called 'Katugasan', from tugas, the molave trees that cover the hills, which abounded the island along with fireflies. During this time, the people of the kingdom was already in contact with Chinese traders, as seen through archaeological evidences which includes Chinese ceramics and other Chinese objects. The art of traditional healing and traditional witchcraft belief systems also developed within this period.[31] During the arrival of the Spanish, the ruler of the island was King Kihod, as recorded by de Legazpi's chronicles. Out of natural hospitality, the Spaniards were greeted by King Kihod, who presented himself with the words 'si Kihod' (I am Kihod). The Spaniards mistakenly thinking that he was talking about the island, adopted the name Sikihod which later changed to Siquijor, as it was easier to pronounce.[32][33]

Islamization and the growth of Islamic sultanates (1380 onwards)Edit

In 1380, Makhdum Karim, the first Islamic missionary to the Philippines brought Islam to the Archipelago. Subsequent visits of Arab, Malay and Javanese missionaries helped strengthen the Islamic faith of the Filipinos, most of whom (except for those in the north) would later become Christian under the Spanish colonization. The Sultanate of Sulu, the largest Islamic kingdom in the islands, encompassed parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. The royal house of the Sultanate claim descent from Muhammad.

Around 1405, the year that the war over succession ended in the Majapahit Empire, Muslim traders introduced Islam into the Hindu-Malayan empires and for about the next century the southern half of Luzon and the islands south of it were subject to the various Muslim sultanates of Borneo. During this period, the Japanese established a trading post at Aparri and maintained a loose sway over northern Luzon.

Attack by the Bruneian Empire (1500)Edit

By the 15th century, the Sultanate of Brunei controlled the western shores of the Philippines

Around the year 1500, the Sultanate of Brunei under Sultan Bolkiah attacked the Kingdom of Tondo and established a city with the Malay name of Selurong (later to become the city of Maynila)[1][25] on the opposite bank of Pasig River. The traditional Rajahes of Tondo, the Lakandula, retained their titles and property but the real political power came to reside in the House of Soliman, the Rajahs of Manila.[34]

Attack of the Spanish Conquistadors (1521–1565)Edit

Historian Ambeth Ocampo notes an overlap in the history of pre-colonial Philippines and the Spanish colonial period, claiming that while Magellan's arrival in 1521 marked the first documented arrival of European colonizers to this country, it was not until the arrival of Miguel López de Legazpi in 1565 that the Europeans had any marked impact on the lifestyle of the residents of the Philippine Archipelago.[35]

Historic expeditions reaching the Philippines
When Who Ship(s) Where
1521   /   Ferdinand Magellan Trinidad, San Antonio, Concepcion, Santiago and Victoria Visayas (Eastern Samar, Homonhon, Limasawa, Cebu)
1525   García Jofre de Loaísa Santa María de la Victoria, Espiritu Santo, Anunciada, San Gabriel, Jayson Ponce, Santa María del Parral, San Lesmes and Santiago Surigao, Islands of Visayas and Mindanao
1527   Álvaro de Saavedra Cerón 3 unknown ships Mindanao
1542   Ruy López de Villalobos Santiago, Jorge, San Antonio, San Cristóbal, San Martín, and San Juan Visayas (Eastern Samar, Leyte), Mindanao (Saranggani)
1564   Miguel López de Legazpi San Pedro, San Pablo, San Juan and San Lucas first landed on Eastern Samar, established colony as part of Spanish Empire

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ a b *Scott, William Henry (1994). Barangay: Sixteenth Century Philippine Culture and Society. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press. ISBN 971-550-135-4.
  2. ^ "Philippines | The Ancient Web". Retrieved 2016-03-04.
  3. ^ Scott, William Henry (1992), Looking for the Prehispanic Filipino. New Day Publishers, Quezon City. 172pp. ISBN 9711005247.
  4. ^ Patricia Herbert; Anthony Crothers Milner (1989). South-East Asia: Languages and Literatures : a Select Guide. University of Hawaii Press. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-8248-1267-6.
  5. ^ "Tamil Cultural Association - Tamil Language". Archived from the original on 2008-01-02.
  6. ^ "Earliest known hominin activity in the Philippines by 709 thousand years ago". May 2, 2018.
  7. ^ "700,000-Year-Old Stone Tools Point to Mysterious Human Relative". May 2, 2018.
  8. ^ [1]. Retrieved May 05, 2018
  9. ^ "1,000-year-old village found in Philippines". Retrieved May 20, 2015.
  10. ^ "iJuander: Mount Camhantik sa Quezon, pinamamahayan umano ng mga engkanto?". September 21, 2017 – via YouTube.
  11. ^ Kaznowska, Helena (September 20, 2012). "1,000-year-old village found in Philippines" – via
  12. ^ a b Laguna Copperplate Inscription Archived 2008-02-05 at the Wayback Machine[unreliable source?]
  13. ^ The Laguna Copperplate Inscription Archived 2014-11-21 at the Wayback Machine Accessed September 04, 2008.
  14. ^ Postma, Antoon (June 27, 2008). "The Laguna Copper-Plate Inscription: Text and Commentary". Philippine Studies. Ateneo de Manila University. 40 (2): 182–203.
  15. ^ Victor Estella, The Death of Gold in Early Visayan Societies: Ethnohistoric Accounts and Archaeological Evidences.
  16. ^

    "También fundó convento el Padre Fray Martin de Rada en Araut – que ahora se llama el convento de Dumangas – con la advocación de nuestro Padre San Agustín...Está fundado este pueblo casi a los fines del río de Halaur, que naciendo en unos altos montes en el centro de esta isla (Panay)...Es el pueblo muy hermoso, ameno y muy lleno de palmares de cocos. Antiguamente era el emporio y corte de la más lucida nobleza de toda aquella isla."

    de SAN AGUSTIN OSA (1650–1724), Fr Gaspár; DIAZ OSA, Fr Casimiro (1698). Conquistas de las Islas Philipinas. Parte primera : la temporal, por las armas del señor don Phelipe Segundo el Prudente, y la espiritual, por los religiosos del Orden de Nuestro Padre San Augustin; fundacion y progreso de su Provincia del Santissimo Nombre de Jesus (in Spanish). Madrid: Imprenta de Manuel Ruiz de Murga. ISBN 978-8400040727. OCLC 79696350. "The second part of the work, compiled by Casimiro Díaz Toledano from the manuscript left by Gaspár de San Agustín, was not published until 1890 under the title: Conquistas de las Islas Filipinas, Parte segunda", pp. 374-376.

  17. ^ "The Islands of Leyte and Samar - National Commission for Culture and the Arts".
  18. ^ "ILONGOT - National Commission for Culture and the Arts".
  19. ^ "GLIMPSES: Peoples of the Philippines".
  20. ^ a b "Politico-Diplomatic History of the Philippines - National Commission for Culture and the Arts".
  21. ^ "Biag ni Lam-ang: Summary / Buod ng Biag ni Lam-ang". 28 August 2017.
  22. ^ "Publications - National Commission for Culture and the Arts".
  23. ^ Baybayin, the Ancient Philippine script Archived 2010-08-08 at WebCite. Accessed September 04, 2008.
  24. ^ Hector Santos. Kavi, a borrowed Philippine script. Accessed April 35, 2010.
  25. ^ a b del Mundo, Clodualdo (September 20, 1999). "Ako'y Si Ragam (I am Ragam)". Diwang Kayumanggi. Archived from the original on October 25, 2009. Retrieved 2008-09-30.
  26. ^ H. Otley Beyer, “Asia and the Americas,” Asia: The American Magazine on the Orient 21, no. 10 (October 1921): 861
  27. ^
  28. ^ Go, Bon Juan (2005). "Ma'l in Chinese Records - Mindoro or Bai? An Examination of a Historical Puzzle". Philippine Studies. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University. 53 (1): 119–138. Retrieved 2012-10-16.
  29. ^ a b Patanne, E. P. (1996). The Philippines in the 6th to 16th Centuries. San Juan: LSA Press. ISBN 971-91666-0-6.
  30. ^ Scott, William Henry. (1984). "Societies in Prehispanic Philippines". Prehispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History. Quezon City: New Day Publishers. p. 70. ISBN 971-10-0226-4.
  31. ^ "Siquijor History". 5 October 2014.
  32. ^ "History of Siquijor".
  33. ^ "The Mystical Island of Siquijor - Philippines Tour Guide".
  34. ^ Santiago, Luciano P.R., The Houses of Lakandula, Matanda, and Soliman [1571-1898]: Genealogy and Group Identity, Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society 18 [1990]
  35. ^ Ocampo, Ambeth (January 22, 2009). "Legaspi's wish list". Looking Back: Legaspi’s wish list. Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved February 5, 2009. Archived 2011-12-23 at the Wayback Machine

    "Contrary to popular belief, the so-called “Spanish period” in Philippine history does not begin with Magellan’s arrival in Cebu and his well-deserved death in the Battle of Mactan in 1521. Magellan may have planted a cross and left the Santo Niño with the wife of Humabon, but that is not a real “conquista” [conquest]. The Spanish dominion over the islands to be known as “Filipinas” began only in 1565, with the arrival of Legazpi."

Further readingEdit

  • Scott, William Henry. (1984). Prehispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History (Revised Edition). New Day Publishers, Quezon City. ISBN 9711002264.

External linksEdit