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Of Basques, emblems and history

One of the weaknesses of Philippine history, or really any history, is the tendency to perpetuate historical inaccuracy. Once an error becomes accepted and perpetuated through writings and stories, history is changed — usually to something unrecognizable. Occasionally, this is done purposefully — propaganda for instance. People in power rewrite history, or put their own spin on it, to suit their needs. This was a central motif in the book 1984 by George Orwell. “Big brother” changes and edits the past to fit a specific idea or concept. This reminds me of the “telephone game” where children or adults are lined up, told to memorize a phrase or a sentence, and whisper exactly the same words to the ear of the next child or person. What is relayed after the tenth child/person will always be remarkably different. An error is twisted, continued, completely changing the whole idea in the process.

The kastilas have always been known as those who occupied and ruled our country for more than 400 years. In reality, these are the Basques whose roots can be traced to the Basque Country, an autonomous region north of Spain, a distinct people with a different history, language (Euskera) and culture. Few people know that Juan Sebastian Elcano, the first to circumnavigate the world, was a Basque from the province of Guipozcoa. Most of the crew in Magellan’s expedition and subsequent voyages were Basques. Urdaneta and Legazpi, who came to our country in 1565, were both Basques. A good number of governor-generals who ruled during the Spanish occupation, including Luis Lardizabal who set up the province of Nueva Vizcaya (from the name of the Basque province called Biscay) and Simon Anda de Salazar were Basques. Thus, the Philippines may have been a Spanish territory, but it was also a Basque nation due to the role that the Basques played in the history of the Spanish occupation in the Philippines.      

Today, there still exists a group of Basque remnants in the country. One of these is the distinguished Ynchausti family, one of the first major manufacturers and businessmen in the country whose activities laid the foundation for a budding Philippine economy. Many of us remember YCO Paints and Floorwax. Other companies they owned or founded were the Bank of the Philippine Islands, La Carlota Sugar Central, Ynchausti Steamship Co., Ynchausti Rope Factory, Tanduay Distilleria and Rizal Cement, to name a few. The year 1854 marked the formation of the Ynchausti y Compania, an umbrella company that brought together all these different companies and investments of the Ynchausti family. Ynchausti y Compania still exists today (in relative low-profile), however it controlled most of the assets above until around 1936, when some assets were sold to the Elizalde Clan (who had been trusted employees and minor shareholders up to that point). It is sometimes claimed that the divestment of the assets took place in 1893. But this is not true. Ynchausti y Compania is even listed in the 1901 Commercial Directory of the Manila and there are many mentions of the company well into the 1930s.                   

The Ynchaustis, close family friends, talk about another instance when error in history have entered public awareness and became perpetuated as fact. They refer to certain facts about their product, Tanduay, one of the venerable brands of Philippine industry that has been internationally awarded and recognized. The commonly held misconception about the insignia of Tanduay, very likely related through ignorance, is that the emblem is a fabrication. On the left side of the Tanduay coat of arms is a shield broken into four parts: a walnut tree on the upper left and bottom right hand quadrant, in the upper right and lower left hand a chevron. Despite popular belief, this is not a fabrication but in truth the coat of arms of the Ynchausti family. This is easily verified by checking the rolls of the coat of arms of Basque families in the Basque Country. Tanduay was a flagship company of the Ynchausti group of companies in the late 1800s, it would make sense that they would brand it as their own. Even the name Tanduay comes from the name of the area where the Ynchausti factories and head offices were based in Muelle de la Industria along the Pasig River. This then explains the shield to the left of the insignia and the emblem to the right is the Tower of Castile, which was a prominent part of the coat of arms of Old Manila. The companies of the Ynchaustis were based in Old Manila.

The story of the Ynchaustis in the country form part of our rich history as a nation. There are many lost stories from pre-World War II Philippines. Much of our past is sadly forgotten or changed (intentionally and otherwise). It is time we begin to seriously investigate the real history of our country. It is more interesting than we can imagine.

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