Pre-hispanic Culture


The Filipinos lived in settlements called barangays before the colonization of the Philippines by the Spaniards. As the unit of government, a barangay consisted from 30 to 100 families. It was headed by a datubarangay came from the Malay word balangay, a boat that transported them to the islands.) and was independent from the other groups. (The Tagalog word

Usually, several barangays settled near each other to help one another in case of war or any emergency. The position of datu was passed on by the holder of the position to the eldest son or, if none, the eldest daughter. However, later, any member of the barangay could be chieftain, based on his talent and ability. He had the usual responsibilities of leading and protecting the members of his barangay. In turn, they had to pay tribute to the datu, help him till the land, and help him fight for the barangay in case of war.

In the old days, a datu had a council of elders to advise him, especially whenever he wanted a law to be enacted. The law was written and announced to the whole barangay by a town crier, called the umalohokan.

The People’s Commandments.

Pre-college Filipino textbooks teach that the only written laws of pre-colonial Philippines that have survived are the Maragtas Code and the Code of Kalantiaw, both prepared in Panay. Some historians believe that the Maragtas Code was written by Datu Sumakwel, one of the chieftains from Borneo who settled there. As for the Code of Kalantiaw, it was said to have been promulgated by the third chief of Panay and possibly a descendant of Datu Sumakwel, Rajah Kalantiaw, in 1433. W. Henry Scott, however, has disputed the authenticity of the Code of Kalantiaw.

Classes of Society.

There were four classes of society. They were the ruling class (datu), the freemen and notable persons (maharlika), the commoners

(timawa), and the dependents and slaves (alipin). The alipin were of two kinds: the aliping namamahay, who were

household servants, and the aliping

saguiguilid, who were slave workers.

Clothing and Ornaments.

The natives already wore clothes and personal ornaments. The men wore short-sleeved and collarless jackets, whose length reached slightly below the waist. The color of the jacket appeared to indicate the position of the wearer in society, e.g., red for the chief, and blue or black for those below him, depending on the societal class. For the lower part, they wore a bahag, a strip of cloth wrapped around the waist, passing between the thighs. Their thighs and legs were left exposed.

A piece of cloth wrapped around the head, called a putong, served as a head gear. The kind of putong one wore was important. For example, a red putong meant the wearer had killed a man in war while one who had killed at least seven people signified so by wearing an embroidered putong. They also wore necklaces, armlets or kalombiga, earrings, rings, and anklets, usually made of gold and precious stones.

The women’s upper garment was a sleeved jacket, called a baro. Over their skirts (saya or patadyong) was wrapped a strip of cloth called tapis. They also wore gem-studded bracelets, necklaces, rings, and gold earrings.

Tattoos were part of the body ornaments of pre-Hispanic Filipinos, men and women alike. These were also sported as war “medals.” The more tattoos, the more impressive was a man’s war record.

The Filipinos from the Visayas Islands were the most tattooed, which was why early Spanish writers referred to them as Pintados or painted people. The writers referred to their Islands as Islas del Pintados or Islands of the Painted People.

Rice and More Rice. Agriculture was the early Filipinos’ main means of livelihood. They also grew an abundance of rice, sugarcane, cotton, hemp, coconuts, bananas, and many other fruits and vegetables. Land cultivation was by tilling or by the kaingin system. With the kaingin system, the land was cleared by burning the shrubs and bushes. After that, it was planted with rice and other crops, which were watered by irrigation ditches.

The world-famous Ifugao rice terraces of Mountain Province, which have stone walls and run for thousands of feet on the mountain sides, are irrigated by a system of ditches. From afar, the terraces seem to be a giant stairway leading to the sky. From end to end, the length could be about 12,000 miles or halfway around the Earth.

There were public and private lands. Those along the mountainsides and less arable lands were public property. They were open to everyone who wanted to till them. Private lands were usually exclusively for nobles and datus.

Other Industries.

Other industries were fishing, mining, lumbering, poultry raising, shipbuilding, and weaving. Fishing was particularly thriving for the settlements along rivers and seas.

Domestic trade existed among the barangays and the islands. The Filipinos’ foreign trade was with China, Japan, Siam (now Thailand), Borneo, Sumatra, Cambodia, and other islands of old Malaysia. The barter system was used in business transactions because there was no currency.

Their God.

Bathala was the supreme god of the pre-Spanish Filipinos. They attributed to Bathala the creation of the heavens, Earth, and man. There were lesser gods and goddesses, like a god of death, a god of agriculture, a goddess of harvest, sea gods, river gods, and the like. It was also believed that things found in nature were full of spirits more powerful than man. Spirits of dead relatives were also revered. Sacrifices were offered to all of them.

The ancient Filipinos believed in the immortality of the soul and in life after death. Disease or illness was attributed to the whims of the environmental spirits and the soul-spirits of the dead relatives.

The pre-Spanish Filipinos also revered idols, called anitos in Tagalog and diwata in Visayan. These seem to be the counterparts of the present saints, to whom Filipinos offer prayers and food, much like their ancestors did.

How Islam Conquered Parts of the Philippines.

The Islamization of Southeast Asia was generally accomplished by peaceful means through Muslim traders, missionaries, and teachers. They went to Java, Sumatra, Jahore, Malacca, Borneo, and nearby islands to conduct their mission. To speed up the conversion process, these proselytizers usually married into the families of the rich and ruling class.

By the 13th century, most of the lands in Southeast Asia were Islamized. From there, Islam filtered to Mindanao and Sulu, the southern part of the Philippines, in the 14th century. In 1380, an Arab teacher, Mukdum, arrived in Sulu from the Malay peninsula to preach Islam. He built the first mosque in Simunul, Sulu. Around 1390, he was followed by Raja Baginda, a minor ruler of Menangkabaw, Sumatra. About 1450, Abu Bakr, a Muslim scholar, came to Sulu and married Paramisuli, the daughter of Raja Baginda. After Baginda died, Abu Bakr established a sultanate form of government with himself as sultan. Islam then spread rapidly to all parts of Sulu.

Serif Kabungsuan was responsible for the spread of Islam in Mindanao. He led a force of Muslim Samals from Jahore that conquered the natives of what is now Cotabato and converted them to Islam. He also married into an influential family and founded the first sultanate of Mindanao, with himself as head.

On the other hand, Muslim Malay traders from Borneo spread Islam to the natives in Manila and in the provinces of Batangas, Mindoro, and Pampanga. When the Spaniards arrived in the Philippines during the first half of the 16th century, many parts of Luzon, including the large native kingdoms of Manila and Tondo, had already been Islamized.

However, the further spread and influence of Islam were cut short by the conquest and Spanish colonization of the Philippines starting in 1665.

Chinese and Indians.

Chinese influences on Filipino life were mainly economic. However, at the same time, cultural influences were inevitable. Many words in the Philippine language have Chinese origins. The Chinese also taught the ancient Filipinos the use of gongs, umbrellas, lead, and porcelain, as well as the manufacture of gun powder, and metallurgy and mining methods. Filipinos also adopted customs from the Chinese.

Many words in the Philippine language also appear to have Sanskrit origins. In addition, ancient religious beliefs of the Filipinos show Indian influence. It is said that some elements of the Indian culture reached the Philippines through the Hinduized Malays who settled in the country permanently.

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7 responses »

  1. Islam has never spread peacefully. It has never afforded non-muslims equal and peaceful coexistence with muslims.

    Razzya and Jizzya when muslims dominate.

    Taqiyya and kitman when they are the minority.

  2. I am not sure about your comment but I believe we can’t generalize? Some can’t but others can co-exist.

    Anyway I want to see your side.Can you show an articles in contrast to what was said on this articles that the spread was peaceful. Are you talking about the marriages or the conquering of Cotabato?

    Can you please explain further this words Razzya and Jizzya and Taqiyya and kitman?


  3. Di ko masyadong maintindihan ang pagkakasalin ng artikulo. Nakakalito ang mga choice of words sa ibang parte ng article. Halatang foreigner ang nagsalin nito dahil hindi niya masyadong maexpress ang idea niya in Filipino

  4. Attractive portion of content. I just stumbled upon your blog and in accession capital to claim that I get in fact enjoyed account your weblog posts. Anyway I will be subscribing in your feeds and even I success you get admission to consistently rapidly.

  5. Hi there, i would like to know more about the regional pre hispanic clothings and dresses of filipinos since i wanted to do an exhibit of their colorful clothings as my next topic on my exhibit in Rome for cultural awareness.!! Thanks

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