by alex

They called us “indios” back then.  They considered us savages.  But what were we?

Vince and I, with new friends from Manila [*thanks for the introduction Anjo!], went to the Ayala Museum to see the display of pre-hispanic indigenous gold.

You see, before the Spanish we were a people with a rapidly developing culture.  We were not only bahag (loincloth) wearing, hunter-gatherers.  We were also a group of stratified societies with it’s own textile, gold, steel-making, cannon-using industries.  We traded with several neighbouring empires among them the Malay Sri Vijaya, Javanese Majapahit, Brunei, Melaka empires.  Our peoples traded with Sumatra, Borneo, Thailand, Java, China, India, Arabia, and Japan.

When the Spanish arrived they would have met well dressed, gold clad, warriors and noblemen.  This gold drew in the Spanish coloniser, and even to this day remains a major draw for the current world powers that be.  Read up on the Boxer Codex for more info.

Despite the commonly held belief that we were only to become universally literate with the coming of the White people (especially the Americans), we had our own writing system before the Spanish.  We had our own alphabet, called baybayin.  And almost everyone the Spanish encountered when they arrived could read and write—something no European people of the time could boast.

For example when Legazpi came to Manila in 1571 his historian Pedro Chirino, a Jesuit, wrote this in his 1604 Relacion de las Islas filipinas,

All these islanders are much given to reading and writing, and there is hardly a man, much less a woman, who does not read and write.

Many other historians documented the same.  Dr. Antonio Morga, Senior Judge Advocate of the High Court of Justice wrote in his 1609 Sucesos de las Islas filipinas,

Almost all the natives, both men and women, write in this language. There are very few who do not write it excellently and correctly.

Unfortunately, colonialism has since violently erased much of this past from our collective memories.  Much of the gold relics melted down and taken to Europe, or in more recent years, sold to the antiquities black market to the highest bidder.

An image of a deity.

The Spanish were never fully able to exploit the gold riches of the Philippines because 1) they had plenty of gold coming in from the Americas, 2) they were never fully able to conquer the interior of the archipelago.

It was only with the coming of the Americans that gold has been fully exploited by foreign powers.

The country has the second largest known gold deposit in the world (for it’s land mass) and thanks to modern imperialism, some of the most welcoming laws for economic plunder.  For example, the country allows 100% foreign ownership, 100% repatriation of profits, extremely low tax rates (after long tax holidays), etc…

You’ve heard of ‘Blood Diamonds,’ what diamonds are to Africa, gold is to the Philippines.  Modern day large-scale gold mining is the source of not only economic exploitation, but of countless human rights and environmental violations.

And for you Fil-Can readers, especially those in Toronto, know that Canada is one of the biggest mining countries out there, with 75% of all the world’s mining and exploration companies being based out of the Toronto Stock Exchange.  For more info please CLICK HERE for an older article that I wrote.

I bring all this up because so many people relegate history to the past, not seeing the direct links to today.  If you say you’re interested in the Philippines and about being Filipino then you can’t not be aware that the past lives.  The sins of the past continue today.

So what are you going to do about it?

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Museum photos:

©2010 alex felipe

All Rights Reserved.

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*originally published in Project Balikbayan