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Mapping the Philippines

Cartography or mapmaking has been a vital part of human history for thousands of years. People have been using maps to define, explain and navigate their way through the world – from cave paintings to ancient maps in Egypt, Greece and China to the present Google map of the earth.

My daughter, Aina, last year gave me a book for my birthday – A History of the World in 12 Maps by Jeffrey Brotton – a  book that demonstrates how maps have, since ancient times, carried vast symbolic weight.  The author concludes  by stating: “Every culture has a special way of seeing and representing the world through maps...There will always be maps of the world, and their technology and appearance at some point in the future will make the world map in a modern atlas, and even Google Earth’s homepage seem as quaint and unfamiliar as the Babylonian world map. But they will inevitably pursue a particular agenda, insist on a certain geographical interpretation at the expense of possible alternatives and ultimately define the earth in one way rather than another. “ Think of the South China Sea and the different interpretations of the nine-dash line when mapmakers draw the map of that region.

As an avid student of history, especially Philippine history, I have a very small collection of 17th and 18th century Philippine antique maps. I have always been aware that if we are to have a truly Filipino narrative of our people’s history, we need to have more research on our past from our own perspective. A vital part of this is a study, with our own interpretations, of the maps that have been drawn about the Philippines from the earliest possible periods.

For map collectors, lovers of Philippine history and educators, the book MAPPING THE PHILIPPINES: The Spanish Period  is a “must read” book. It is a mesmerizing and beautifully illustrated edition, with the most comprehensive reproduction of Philippine antique maps I have ever seen. But it also has chapters on the history of the Philippines that are thoroughly researched and excellently written.

Former Senator Edgardo Angara was the moving force that led to the publication of this seminal book. In his preface he wrote:

“ From a strictly geopolitical and practical view, maps define our territory and our sense of nationhood. As a student of history I realize how maps determined the fate of both the colonized and the colonizers and how even to this day, the matter of geographic boundaries and the desire to expand or defend them underlie most of the turmoil in the world, whether these are tribal conflicts or threats of war among superpowers. When such incidents occur, the recourse is to refer to maps.”

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Senator Angara then said: “Recently, I realized that it has been 50 years since a Philippine cartography book has been published. With my interest in maps, the Spanish colonial period and my current work in the Senate on the passage of the Senate Bill 2181 (Ed Angara has retired from the Senate) which will define the baseline of the Philippine archipelago, I decided to pursue the publication of this book.”

The book is divided into map clusters  with an introductory essay that attempts to conceptualize the maps. The chapters include: Mapping the World; Mapping the Philippines; Tierra Cognita; Trans Pacific Voyage of the Manila Galleons; Las Islas Filipinas; Luzon; Visayas; Mindanao; A Selection of Printed Maps; and Drawing the Line on the Waters.

In the chapter Mapping the World, the map cluster focuses on international maps, mainly Asian, that included the Philippines. These were maps mainly drawn from the 14th to the 16th centuries during the period known in Europe, as the Age of Discovery and Enlightenment.. Spain was at the height of its imperial power and whatever lands it “discovered” it considered as a colony of Spain. This was the time the Philippines became a colony of Spain.

The chapter Las Islas Filipinas focuses on maps that were only on the Philippine archipelago and its evolution into the present Philippines. The first paragraph of the chapter said:

“The Philippine archipelago of 7,107 islands today began with two in 1543, when Spanish explorer Ruy Lopez de Villalobos gave the islands of Leyte and Samar the honorific name of Las Islas Filipinas after Prince Felipe of Asturias. More than two decades later, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi sailed for Las Islas Filipinas armed with instructions from the new king of Spain “ to bring to the inhabitants of hose places our Holy Catholic Faith”, a euphemism for conquering them for the Spanish Empire.

The book MAPPING THE PHILIPPINES has definitely achieved the dreams of its publisher, Ed Angara “...to contribute to an increased understanding of our past and heighten our sense of nationhood.”

The authors

Edgardo J. Angara is a well known national figure in the Philippines. He is a former Senator, educator, lawyer and banker. He is an avid patron of the arts and student of history. He is the author of Baler, Aurora which won the 2008 National Book Award.

Jose Marias Carino is an avid researcher of Philippine art and history and a collector of 19th century Philippine art. He is the author of several award winning books. He is a career diplomat who has been posted in Madrid and London.

Sonia P. Ner has been in academe and art management. She served as director of the Ayala Museum and executive director of Asia Society Philippines. She has edited and managed the publication of more than a dozen award winning books  and serves as consultant for museums.

Creative writing classes for kids and teens: February 18 and March 4 (1:30pm-3pm).  Creative nonfiction writing for adults: March 11 (1:30pm-4:30pm).Classes at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street.  For registration and fee details text 0917-6240196 or email writethingsph@gmail.com.

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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