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History of Philippines
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This article is part of a series
Early History(pre-900)
Tabon Man
Arrival of the Negritos
Austronesian expansion
Angono Petroglyphs
Classical Epoch (900-1521)
Country of Mai
Dynasty of Tondo
Confederation of Madyaas
Kingdom of Maynila
Kingdom of Namayan
Rajahnate of Butuan
Rajahnate of Cebu
Sultanate of Maguindanao
Sultanate of Sulu
Colonial Era (1565-1946)
Spanish period (1521–1898)
British Rule
Spanish East Indies
Philippine Revolution (1896-1898)
First Philippine Republic
American period (1898–1946)
Philippine–American War
Commonwealth of the Philippines
Japanese Occupation (1942–1944)
Second Philippine Republic
Contemporary Period (1946-present)
Third Republic
Marcos Dictatorship
Fifth Republic
Military history
Communications history
Demographic history
Transportation history

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This article covers the vast historical period of the Philippines before the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. This period had shown the immense change that took hold of the archipelago from Stone Age cultures in 30000 BC to the emergence of developed thalassocratic civilizations in the 4th century AD.


Prehistory of the Philippines


Stone-Age humans arrive (30000 BC)

The most widely known theory of the prehistoric peopling of the Philippines is that of H. Otley Beyer, founder of the Anthropology Department of the University of the Philippines. Heading that department for 40 years, Professor Beyer became the unquestioned expert on Philippine prehistory., exerting early leadership in the field and influencing the first generation of Filipino historians and anthropologists, archaeologists, paleontologists, geologists,and students the world over.[1] According to Dr. Beyer, the ancestors of the Filipinos came in different "waves of migration", as follows:[2]

  1. "Dawn Man", a cave-man type who was similar to Java man, Peking Man, and other Asian homo sapiens of 250,000 years ago.
  2. The aboriginal pygmy group, the Negritos, who arrived between 25,000 and 30,000 years ago via land bridges.
  3. The sea-faring tool-using Indonesian group who arrived about 5,000 to 6,000 years ago and were the first immigrants to reach the Philippines by sea.
  4. The seafaring, more civilized Malays who brought the Iron age culture and were the real colonizers and dominant cultural group in the pre-Hispanic Philippines.

Unfortunately, there is no definite evidence, archaeological or historical, to support this "migration theory". On the contrary, there are sufficient reasons for doubting it, including the following:[3]

  1. Beyer used the 19th century scientific methods of progressive evolution and migratory diffusion as the basis for his hypothesis. These methods have now been proven to be too simple and unreliable to explain the prehistoric peopling of the Philippines.
  2. The empirical archaeological data for the theory was based on surface finds and mere conjecture, with much imagination and unproven data included.
  3. Later findings contradicted the migration theory and the existence of the "Dawn Man" postulated by Beyer.
  4. Undue credit is given to Malays as the original settlers of the lowland regions and the dominant cultural transmitter.

The earliest human remains known in the Philippines are the fossilized fragments of a skull and jawbone of three individuals, discovered on May 28, 1962 by Dr. Robert B. Fox, an American anthropologist of the National Museum.[4] These fragments are collectively called "Tabon Man" after the place where they were found on the west coast of Palawan. Tabon Cave appears to be akind of Stone Age factory, with both finished stone flake tools and waste core flakes having been found at four separate levels in the main chamber. Charcoal left from three assemblages of cooking fires there has been Carbon-14 dated to roughly 7,000, 20,000, and 22,000 BCE.[5] (In Mindanao, the existence and importance of these prehistoric tools was noted by famed José Rizal himself, because of his acquaintance with Spanish and German scientific archaeologists in the 1880s, while in Europe.)

Tabon Cave is named after the "Tabon Bird" (Tabon Scrubfowl, Megapodius Cumingii), which deposited thick hard layers of guano during periods when the cave was uninhabited so that succeeding groups of tool-makers settled on a cement-like floor of bird dung. That the inhabitants were actually engaged in tool manufacture is indicated that about half of the 3,000 recovered specimens examined are discarded cores of a material which had to be transported from some distance. The Tabon man fossils are considered to have come from a third group of inhabitants, who worked the cave between 22,000 and 20,000 BCE. An earlier cave level lies so far below the level containing cooking fire assemblages that it must represent Upper Pleistocene dates like 45 or 50 thousand years ago.[5]

Physical anthropologists who have examined the Tabon Man skullcap are agreed that it belonged to modern man, homo sapiens, as distinguished from the mid-Pleistocene homo erectus species. This indicates that Tabon Man was Pre-Mongoloid (Mongoloid being the term anthropologists apply to the racial stock which entered Southeast Asia during the Holocene and absorbed earlier peoples to produce the modern Malay, Indonesian, Filipino, and "Pacific" peoples). Two experts have given the opinion that the mandible is "Australian" in physical type, and that the skullcap measurements are most nearly like the Ainus or Tasmanians. Nothing can be concluded about Tabon man's physical appearance from the recovered skull fragments except that he was not a Negrito.[6]

The custom of Jar Burial, which ranges from Sri Lanka, to the Plain of Jars, in Laos, to Japan, also was practiced in the Tabon caves. A spectacular example of a secondary burial jar is owned by the National Museum, a National Treasure, with a jar lid topped with two figures, one the deceased, arms crossed, hands touching the shoulders, the other a steersman, both seated in a proa, with only the mast missing from the piece. Secondary burial was practiced across all the islands of the Philippines during this period, with the bones reburied, some in the burial jars. Seventy-eight earthenware vessels were recovered from the Manunggul cave, Palawan, specifically for burial. Jar burials found in a dozen or more Philippine provinces include such a range of cultural variations that it is illogical to attribute their presence to any such event as a migration of "jar burial people."[7]

About 30,000 years ago, the Negritos, who became the ancestors of today's Aetas, or Aboriginal Filipinos, descended from more northerly abodes in Central Asia passing through the Indian Subcontinent and reaching the Andamanese Islands. From thereon, the Negritos continued to venture on land bridges reaching Southeast Asia. While some of the Negritos settled in Malaysia, becoming what is now the Orang Asli people, several Negrito tribes continued on to the Philippines through Borneo. No evidence has survived which would indicate details of Ancient Filipino life such as their crops, color, and architecture. Philippine historian William Henry Scott points out any theory which describes such details is therefore a pure hypothesis and should be honestly presented as such.[8]

3000 BC onward

After the last Ice Age (which ended about 10,000 years ago), the sea level rose an estimated 35m (110 feet), which cut the land bridges, filling the shallow seas north of Borneo. Thus the only method of migration left was the dugout proa, built by felling trees and hollowing them out with adzes. An image of this method of travel can be seen on the Manunggul Jar, a National Treasure of the Philippines.

About 3000 BC, a loose confederation of peoples known as 'Nesiots', from what today is Indonesia, came to the Philippines. They were to become the ancestors of the present-day Luzon and Mindanao hill tribes. There were two waves of successive Nesiot immigration. The first wave saw a people who have light complexions, aquiline noses, thin lips, and deep-set eyes. The second wave of migration were shorter and heavier in physique, having darker complexion, thick lips, large noses, and heavy jaws. Those of the second wave of migration had epics and folk stories mixed with superstitions. From these people came the Luzon hill tribes.

Austronesian-speakers arrive 4000-2000 BC

Starting 4000-2000 BC[9] Austronesian groups descended from Yunnan Plateau in China and settled in what is now the Philippines by sailing using balangays or by traversing land bridges coming from Taiwan. Most of these Austronesians primarily used the Philippines as a pit-stop to the outlying Pacific islands or to the Indonesian archipelago further south. Those who were left behind became the ancestors of the present-day Filipinos. The Cagayan valley of northern Luzon contains large stone tools as evidence for the hunters of the big game of the time: the elephant-like stegodon, rhinoceros, crocodile, tortoise, pig and deer. The Austronesians pushed the Negritos to the mountains, while they occupied the fertile coastal plains.

100 BC onward

The Philippines is believed by some historians to be the island of Chryse, the "Golden One," which is the name given by ancient Greek writers in reference to an island rich in gold east of India. Pomponius Mela, Marinos of Tyre and the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea mentioned this island in 100 BC, and it is basically the equivalent to the Indian Suvarnadvipa, the "Island of Gold." Josephus calls it in Latin Aurea, and equates the island with biblical Ophir, from where the ships of Tyre and Solomon brought back gold and other trade items. The Visayan Islands, particularly Cebu had earlier encounter with the Greek traders in 21 AD.[10]

Ptolemy locates the islands of Chryse east of the Khruses Kersonenson, the "Golden Peninsula," i.e. the Malaya Peninsula. North of Chryse in the Periplus was Thin, which some consider the first European reference to China. Scholars however know that Thin or Gin as in Gintu - Suvarnadvipa originates from Chinese word for gold "jin") Chinese have traded with and settled in Philippines thousands of years before West even knew of this area. In about the 200 BC, there arose a practice of using gold eye covers, and then, gold facial orifice covers to adorn the dead resulting in an increase of ancient gold finds.[11] During the Qin dynasty and the Tang dynasty, China was well aware of the golden lands far to the south. The Buddhist pilgrim I-Tsing mentions Chin-Chou, "Isle of Gold" in the archipelago south of China on his way back from India. Medieval Muslims refer to the islands as the Kingdoms of Zabag and Wakwak as rich in gold, referring to the eastern islands of the Malay archipelago, the location of present-day Philippines and Eastern Indonesia.[11][12]

More than a millennium later, the popularity of dental gold to decorate the teeth significantly increased the amount of gold found at archaeological sites. When the Spanish came they discovered an abundance of gold used among the people of the Philippine islands. The Portugese explorer Pedro Fidalgo in 1545 found gold so abundant on Luzon the inhabitants were willing to trade two pezoes of gold for one pezo of silver. When the Portuguese first arrived, most of the gold traded into Brunei came from Luzon. That island was known as Lusung Dao or "Luzon Island" to the Chinese who also traded for gold in this region.[11]

History of the Philippines (900-1521)

Thalassocracies and international trade (200AD - 1521)

The emergence of Barangay city-states and trade (200AD-500AD)

A Tagalog couple of the Maharlika nobility caste depicted in the Boxer Codex of the 16th Century.

Since at least the 3rd century, the indigenous peoples were in contact with other Southeast Asian and East Asian nations.

Fragmented ethnic groups established numerous city-states formed by the assimilation of several small political units known as barangay each headed by a Datu or headman (still in use among non-Hispanic Filipino ethnic groups) and answerable to a king, titled Rajah. Even scattered barangays, through the development of inter-island and international trade, became more culturally homogeneous by the 4th century. Hindu-Buddhist culture and religion flourished among the noblemen in this era. Many of the barangay were, to varying extents, under the de-jure jurisprudence of one of several neighboring empires, among them the Malay Sri Vijaya, Javanese Majapahit, Brunei, Melaka empires, although de-facto had established their own independent system of rule. Trading links with Sumatra, Borneo, Thailand, Java, China, India, Arabia, Japan and the Ryukyu Kingdom flourished during this era. A thalassocracy had thus emerged based on international trade.

Each barangay consisted of about 100 families. Some barangays were big, such as Zubu (Cebu), Butuan, Maktan (Mactan), Irong-Irong (Iloilo), Bigan (Vigan), and Selurong (Manila). Each of these big barangays had a population of more than 2,000.

In the earliest times, the items which were prized by the peoples included jars, which were a symbol of wealth throughout South Asia, and later metal, salt and tobacco. In exchange, the peoples would trade feathers, rhino horn, hornbill beaks, beeswax, birds nests, resin, rattan.2

In the period between the 7th century to the beginning of the 1400s, numerous prosperous centers of trade had emerged, including the Kingdom of Namayan which flourished alongside Manila Bay,[13], Cebu, Iloilo,[14] Butuan, the Kingdom of Sanfotsi situated in Pangasinan, the Kingdoms of Zabag and Wak-Wak situated in Pampanga[15] and Aparri (which specialized in trade with Japan and the Kingdom of Ryukyu in Okinawa).

The growth of Literature and Hindu-Buddhist culture (900AD - 1380)

Laguna Copperplate Inscription (circa 900 AD)

With the growth of a thalassocratic civilization, came the growth of literature. The Laguna Copperplate Inscription dated 900 AD (Saka Era year 822) is considered to be the end of prehistory as far as documents are concerned. It was found in the Laguna de Bay of Manila. In 1989, the National Museum acquired it. The inscription forgives the descendants of Namwaran from a debt of 926.4 grams of gold, and is granted by the chief of Tondo (an area in Manila) and the authorities of Paila, Binwangan and Pulilan, which are all locations in Luzon. The words are a mixture of Sanskrit, Old Malay, Old Javanese and Old Tagalog. The subject matter proves the highly developed society that existed in the Philippines prior to the Spanish colonization, as well as refuting earlier claims of the Philippines being a cultural isolate in Asia; the references to the Chief of Medan in Indonesia claim the cultural and trade links with various other affiliated empires and territories in other parts of the Malay Archipelago., particularly the Srivijaya empire.[16] (See Nusantara).


By the 9th century, a highly developed society had already established several hierarchies with set professions: The Datu or ruling class, the Maharlika or noblemen, the Timawa or freemen, and the dependent class which is divided into two, the Aliping Namamahay (Slave) and Aliping Saguiguilid (Serfs).

The Baybayin

The emergence of Baybayin script from Classical Kawi script (1200 onwards)

One example of pre-Spanish Philippine script on a burial jar, derived from Brahmi survives, as most of the writing was done on perishable bamboo or leaves; an earthenware burial jar dated 1200s or 1300s with script was found in Batangas. This script is called in Tagalog Baybayin or Alibata.

The growth of Islamic Sultanates (1380 - 1521)

In 1380, Makhdum Karim, the first Islamic missionary to the Philippines brought Islam to the Archipelago. Subsequent visits of Arab, Malay and Javanese missionaries helped strengthen the Islamic faith of the Filipinos, most of whom (except for those in the south) would later become Christian under the Spanish colonization. The Sultanate of Sulu, the largest Islamic Kingdom of South East Asia and the Malay Archipelago, encompassed parts of Malaysia and the Philippines. The royal house of the Sultanate claim descent from the Prophet Muhammad.

Around 1405, the year that the war over succession ended in the Majapahit Empire, Sufi traders introduced Islam into the Hindu-Malayan empires and for about the next century the southern half of Luzon and the islands south of it were subject to the various Muslim sultanates of Borneo. During this period, the Japanese established a trading post at Aparri and maintained a loose sway over northern Luzon.

Official Government of the Philippines and U.S. State

State Department Background Note: Philippines

Pre-Spanish Period

The first people in the Philippines, the Negritos, are believed to have come to the islands 30,000 years ago from Borneo and Sumatra, making their way across then-existing land bridges. Subsequently, Malays came from the south in successive waves, the earliest by land bridges and later in boats by sea. The Malays settled in scattered communities, named barangays after the large outrigger boats in which they arrived, and ruled by chieftains known as datus. Chinese merchants and traders arrived and settled in the ninth century, sometimes traveling on the ships of Arab traders, introducing Islam in the south and extending some influence even into Luzon. The Malays, however, remained the dominant group until the Spanish arrived in the 16th century.

Official Government Website of the Philippines Background Note: People


The visitor to Metro Manila commonly sees the Philippines as the most westernized of Asian countries and in many ways, it is. But there is also a rich underlay of Malay culture beneath the patina of Spanish and American heritage. National cultural life is a happy marriage of many influences, as the indigenous Malay culture is assimilated and adapted to different strains in a practice typical of Malay temperament. An upsurge of Philippine nationalism stimulated a desire to preserve the ancient heritage without restricting its openness to foreign artistic influence.

The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands. It stretches from the south of China to the northern tip of Borneo. The country has over a hundred ethnic groups and a mixture of foreign influences which have molded a unique Filipino culture.

Before the Spanish explorers came, Indo-Malays and Chinese merchants had settled here. In 1521, the Spaniards, led by Ferdinand Magellan, discovered the islands. The Spanish conquistadores established a colonial government in Cebu in 1565. They transferred the seat of government to Manila in 1571 and proceeded to colonize the country. The Filipinos resisted and waged Asia's first nationalist revolution in 1896. On June 12, 1898, Emilio Aguinaldo declared the Philippines independent from Spain and proclaimed himself president. After ruling for 333 years, the Spaniards finally left in 1898 and were replaced by the Americans who stayed for 48 years. On July 4, 1946, the Americans recognized Philippine independence.

Scientific claims

Philippine history and anthropologists had only until very recently been limited to the rare artifacts that were discovered after the Spanish period, which had seen many artifacts from the pre-Hispanic era destroyed or reconverted. A good example of which is the Spanish walled city of Intramuros in Manila, whose stone bricks were ripped from the original fortified city wall (known in Malay/tagalog as a Kota/kuta) of pre-Hispanic Maynila. This can explain the development of theories over the 20th century.

In February 1976, Fritjof Voss, a German scientist who studied the geology of the Philippines, questioned the validity of the theory of land bridges. He maintained that the Philippines was never part of mainland Asia. He claimed that it arose from the bottom of the sea and, as the thin Pacific crust moved below it, continued to rise. It continues to rise today. The country lies along great Earth faults that extend to deep submarine trenches. The resulting violent earthquakes caused what is now the land masses forming the Philippines to rise to the surface of the sea. Dr. Voss also pointed out that when scientific studies were done on the Earth's crust from 1964 to 1967, it was discovered that the 35-kilometer- thick crust underneath China does not reach the Philippines. Thus, the latter could not have been a land bridge to the Asian mainland. The matter of who the first settlers were has not been really resolved. This is being disputed by anthropologists, as well as Professor H. Otley Beyer, who claims that the first inhabitants of the Philippines came from the Malay Peninsula. The Malays now constitute the largest portion of the populace and what Filipinos now have is an Austronesian culture.

Anthropologist F. Landa Jocano of the University of the Philippines contends that what fossil evidence of ancient men show is that they not only migrated to the Philippines, but also to New Guinea, Borneo, and Australia. He says that there is no way of determining if they were Negritoes at all. However, what is sure is that there is evidence the Philippines was inhabited as early as 21,000 or 22,000 years ago. In 1962, a skull cap and a portion of a jaw, presumed to be those of a human being, were found in a Tabon Cave in Palawan Province. The discovery may show that man came earlier to the Philippines than to the Malay Peninsula. If this is true, the first inhabitants of the Philippines did not come from the Malay Peninsula. Jocano further believes that the present Filipinos are products of the long process of evolution and movement of people. This not only holds true for Filipinos, but for the Indonesians and the Malays of Malaysia, as well. No group among the three is culturally or racially dominant. Hence, Jocano says that it is not correct to attribute the Filipino culture as being Malayan in orientation. According to Jocano's findings, the people of the prehistoric islands of Southeast Asia were of the same population as the combination of human evolution that occurred in the islands of Southeast Asia about 1.9 million years ago. The claimed evidence for this is fossil material found in different parts of the region and the movements of other people from the Asian mainland during historic times. He states that these ancient men cannot be categorized under any of the historically identified ethnic groups (Malays, Indonesians, kayumangging Filipinos) of today. Some Filipino ethnic groups were Hindu-Buddhist pagans while others were Muslims. The Hindu-Buddhist pagans were converted to Christianity by the Spaniards. The Americans later arrived and introduced further cultural changes, which made the Filipinos more and more different from the peoples of other Southeast Asian countries.

Changes in sea level since the end of the last glacial episode[17]

Studies have shown that in the period since the last ice age, sea levels have risen about 120 meters.[17] Philippine historian William Henry Scott has pointed out that Palawan and the Calamianes Islands are separated from Borneo by water with an average depth of 40 meters and nowhere deeper than 100 meters, that south of a line drawn between Saigon and Brunei the depth of the South China Sea does not exceed 100 meters, and that the Strait of Malacca reaches 50 meters only at one point.[18] Scott also asserts that the Sulu Archipelago is not the peak of a submerged mountain range connecting Mindanao and Borneo, but the exposed edge of three small ridges produced by techtonic tilting of the sea bottom in recent geologic times. Scott also points out that Mindoro and the Calamianes are separated by a channel more than 500 meters deep, saying that it is clear that Palawan and the Calamianes do not stand on a submerged land bridge, but were once a hornlike protuberance on the shoulder of a continent whose southern shoreline used to be the present islands of Java and Borneo.[19]


  1. ^ Zaide 1999, p. 32, citing Beyer Memorial Issue on the Prehistory of the Philippines in Philippine Studies, Vol. 15:No. 1 (January 1967).
  2. ^ Zaide 1999, pp. 32-34.
  3. ^ Zaide 1999, pp. 34-35.
  4. ^ Scott 1984, p. 14; Zaide 1999, p. 35, citing Jocano 1975, p. 64.
  5. ^ a b Scott 1984, pp. 14-15.
  6. ^ Scott 1984, p. 15
  7. ^ Scott 1984, pp. 25-26
  8. ^ Scott 1984, p. 138
  9. ^ Capitol Hill. Accessed October 12, 2006.
  10. ^ Cebu, a Port City in Prehistoric and in Present Times. Accessed September 05, 2008, citing Regalado & Franco 1973, p. 78
  11. ^ a b c Vedic Empire. Accessed September 02, 2008.
  12. ^ Zabag. Accessed September 02, 2008.
  13. ^ "About Pasay -- History: Kingdom of Namayan" (HTML). pasay city government website. City Government of Pasay. http://www.pasay.gov.ph/About%20Pasay/History.html. Retrieved 2008-02-05.  
    ^ Huerta, Felix, de (1865). Estado Geografico, Topografico, Estadistico, Historico-Religioso de la Santa y Apostolica Provincia de San Gregorio Magno. Binondo: Imprenta de M. Sanchez y Compañia.  .
  14. ^ Remains of ancient barangays in many parts of Iloilo testify to the antiquity and richness of these pre-colonial settlements. Pre-hispanic burial grounds are found in many towns of Iloilo. These burial grounds contained antique porcelain burial jars and coffins made of hard wood, where the dead were put to rest with abundance of gold, crystal beads, Chinese potteries, and golden masks. These Philippine national treasures are sheltered in Museo de Iloilo and in the collections of many Ilonngo old families. Early Spanish colonizers took note of the ancient civilizations in Iloilo and their organized social structure ruled by nobilities. In the late 16th Century, Fray Gaspar de San Agustin in his chronicles about the ancient settlements in Panay says: “También fundó convento el Padre Fray Martin de Rada en Araut- que ahora se llama el convento de Dumangas- con la advocación de nuestro Padre San Agustín...Está fundado este pueblo casi a los fines del río de Halaur, que naciendo en unos altos montes en el centro de esta isla (Panay)...Es el pueblo muy hermoso, ameno y muy lleno de palmares de cocos. Antiguamente era el emporio y corte de la más lucida nobleza de toda aquella isla.” Gaspar de San Agustin, O.S.A., Conquistas de las Islas Filipinas (1565-1615), Manuel Merino, O.S.A., ed., Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas: Madrid 1975, pp. 374-375.
  15. ^ The Medieval Geography of Sanfotsi and Zabag
  16. ^ Laguna Copperplate Inscription - Article in English
  17. ^ a b Fleming et.al. 1998; Fleming 2000; Milne et.al. 2005.
  18. ^ Scott 1984, p. 1.
  19. ^ Scott 1984, pp. 1 and Map 2 in Frontispiece.


Further reading

External links


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