Remembering our origins

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

Independence Day is a time to look back at our history and try to learn where we came from and what were our origins. For a people to become proud of its ancestry and history, it is vital to learn our history.

The name “Filipino” is derived from the term “Las Islas Filipinas” or The Philippine Islands. This does not tell us of our historic origins. In fact, during the Spanish colonial period, the natives of the Philippines Islands were called Indios or Indians. The colonial masters at that time had a tendency to call native people of their colonies Indios or Indians. Even Native Americans were called by the British colonizers as Indians.

The term “Filipino” was then only used for Spaniards born in their native land Spain or those born in the Philippines but were full blooded Spaniards in descent.

There are interesting readings on the real origins of the Filipino people. One such book is Population and History: The Demographic Origins of the Modern Philippines edited by Daniel Doeppers and Peter Xenos. There are a few other readings, usually in the first one or two chapters of books on the Philippines and its history. The other readings are contained in research studies.

In order to understand the beginnings of the Filipinos, it is necessary to first remember that in historical research studies, the Filipino people are included among a race of people called Austronesian peoples. The nations and territories populated by Austronesians are known as Austronesia. These peoples are identified by the similarities in their languages. Researchers have also identified common cultural characteristics such as tattooing, stilt houses, wetland rice agriculture and carving.

Today, the descendants of the Austronesian peoples are found in dominant numbers in Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, East Timor and in most Pacific islands. They are also found as far west as Madagascar and as far east as Polynesia and Hawaii and as far south as New Zealand.

It was a Blumenbach in the 18th century who grouped humans into five categories or races. He named Austronesians as the Malay race or the brown race.  Blumenbach identified five races – the Caucasian or white; the Mongolian or yellow; the Ethiopians or black; the Native Americans or red and the Malays or brown.

One of the best books on this topic is Origins of the Austronesian Peoples by Professor David R. Thomas of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, published in 2011. He says that there are two dominant theories about the origin of the Austronesian peoples.

The most popular theory, so far, is the Taiwan origin theory. He writes: “A dominant version of the Taiwan origin theory has been referred to as the ‘express train’ …The express train model holds that Austronesian groups from Taiwan progressively settled the Philippines, Central and Eastern Indonesia and northern and eastern coastal locations in New Guinea (Bismarck Archipelago) before moving into parts of the Southwest Pacific.

The second theory says that most of the Malay region today, composed of islands, used to be one land mass. The original settlers could, therefore, travel from one part to another. This area was known as the Sunda Shelf. In the middle of this vast peninsula was a land area which modern day scientists now call Wallacea. Until about 15,000 years ago, the sea level was around 120 meters lower than current levels.

This region called Wallacea is now underwater. It was the origin of the Austronesians or Malays, according to the second theory.

Based on the Taiwan theory, prehistoric seaborne migration from Taiwan happened between 3000 to 1500 BC. Some researchers believe Austronesians first reached the Philippines through migration through Batanes starting around 2200 BC.

In Taiwan today, there are still around 600,000 indigenous people who are classified as Austronesians or Malays. It has been noted that their dances and other cultural aspects are very similar to the mountain tribes in the Cordillera mountains of the Philippines.

The early Austronesians invented oceangoing technologies like the catarmans, outrigger boats, lashed lug boat building and the crab claw sail. These inventions enabled them to sail around the Indo Pacific region. They were able to sail across the Pacific until Hawaii. There are even theories that some reached the western coast of North America.

The movie “Moana” shows the amazing sailing prowess of the Austronesian/Malay people in being able to cross the ocean in sailing vessels invented by them long before the colonizers arrived in their ships.

The anthropologist Roger Blench presented a study in 2009 that presents evidence that Austronesians/Malays reached areas not populated by their race today. They include areas like the Pacific Coast of America, Japan, the Australian coast, Sri Lanka, coastal South Asia, Persian Gulf, Indian Ocean islands, East Africa and South Africa. This has added to the belief that the Austronesians/Malays were the first people to invent ocean-going sailing technologies.

The main reason the Austronesians/Malays did not expand further and populate regions they had reached was that there was no population pressure to continue migrating. In the book of Doeppers and Xenos they wrote: “Compared to China and India, the region’s small population and relative low human density were an anomaly – even some of its most fertile alluvial lowlands were lightly populated… At the time of the Spanish conquest in the late 16th century, the [Philippine] archipelago’s lowland population was…small and concentrated…perhaps 668,000 in 1591.”

As we celebrate our independence and look to the future with high hopes, we must also remember that we are a people with a great past.

*      *      *

Young Writers’ Hangout on June 19 with May Tobias Papa, 2-3 p.m.

For adults: Writing from One’s Roots by Kristian Sendon Cordero, June 26, 2-3:30 p.m. Writefest2021, our annual 6-session workshop, returns on July 12-23.

Contact writethingsph@gmail.com. 0945.2273216

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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