Expedition into Filipino 101By Philip Dominguez Mercurio
Now, I’ve gone to SF State for three semesters now but (surprisingly) I haven’t really divulged myself into the Filipino scene yet.
I mean, the Asian American History class I took had a good rise on the make-up of the Filipino-American community and how we came about, but that was basically a history lesson. Nothing really self-involving there.
So, here I went, adding a class with Daniel P. Gonzales at the helm. Our first assignment basically was, as he said himself, “Look up origin explanations (of Filipinos)… historical or mythical.”
I thought to myself, ‘What… historical or mythical?’
I mean, I’ve never heard anything from my parents or grandparents, telling me
of the mythical stories from back home that related to our ‘origin’. The mythical was usually biblically-enhanced, consisting of Adam and Eve getting created by the Almighty and after their glorious big bang, little brown people washed ashore in Manila Bay from some ark, two by two, and tada… the society known as Filipino was born.
Basically, you created your own ‘history’; let your imagination run wild, because obviously, there was no mention of Filipinos in the Bible.
Of course, there does exist to my surprise ‘our’ very own mythical stories. But, at least from my perspective, nobody explained anything to me, either because no one in my family cares about them or they were only spoken about on a need to know basis. And, apparently since I didn’t need to know, I just never knew. So, I have an excuse.
So, researching I went and no… I didn’t do the new trick, which is to simply go googling like many have. Instead, I went for the classic way of researching… wet-thumbing my way through pages of dusty information in a library somewhere.
Unfortunately though, the Filipino history section at my school happens to be hella small.
It consisted of only six rows of books, or technically less than a bookcase full. In comparison, Vietnam, a country with roughly the same number of people as us, has four bookcases full of historical information, many of them much more recent looking as well.
Of course, much of their book collection seems on the more graphic end with titles mostly attuned to the hum of “Home to War” to “The Killing Zone.” But I don’t care about that… no matter what, the bottom line is, they still got more books!
As I dusted though book after book, I realized that looking for the mythical part of our history was tough to find, especially since most of the collection divulges more into the historical context of our origins.
According to Wernstedt in The Philippine Island World, basically the first Filipinos were wanderers of some sort; kinda like the people you met who first get off the plane at SFO and are confused as to where to go next.
Who knows what made them settle in this lowland? Perhaps it was fate or maybe it was the smell of a pig struck by lightening that drove them here by the droves and in doing so, created the first Filipino barbeque. You never know. We could only speculate.
The first wanderers, according to Keesing in The Philippines, were a group called the ‘Austroliods.’ This race, noted to have the same racial strain as “the white peoples of Europe”, simply passed through; not very interested in the tocino and longanisa to follow. They missed out… terribly.
Next came the Negritos, noted in text as “dark-skinned frizzy-haired pygmies.” According to Alip’s text, Political and Cultural History of the Philippines, these little people were the first wanderers to have actually settled down, hunting and fishing as they went.
Wendsredt states that much of them, after crossing the lowland of Sundarland, were subsequently pushed into mountainous places thanks to later immigration.
The last of the wanderers, were the proto-Malays, who like the Negritos, were also ancestors of the Aetes, according to Agoncillo in the History of the Filipino People.
Keesing suggest these folks with straighter hair and having a more Mongoloid affinity were also hella short as well. He suggests that the only importance of these groups is that thanks to the mixing of blood, much of the Filipino race is short.
Great observation! Of course, it’s not like I couldn’t have realized that myself every now and then.
Alas, the ice age ended sending the Philippines into the archipelago state we all know and love. Proto-type kayaks soon raced for the newly formed islands for they were the new means to this water-bound land.
Indonesians were the first to immigrate here nearly 5,000 years ago, and according to Alip, came to the Philippines in two waves that were labeled just like blood type: A and B.
Type A were a tall, slender, well-built people, lighter in skin, who according to Keesing, were farmers, fisherman and ‘great’ warriors. So great was this group, that these ‘warriors’ set off to further lands and are now known as the Polynesians. Perhaps an image of the ‘Rock’ could be used as reference.
Type B, on the other hand, were physically opposite of their predecessors. As stated by Agoncillo, they were stocky, darker and blessed with a pair of thick lips and their infusion into the society has lead to the descendants of those who built the first rice terraces in the Philippines, which in turn has lead to Filipino’s never-ending addiction to rice.
The Malays or Malayans followed in their tracks, cruising in with their fancy sailboats from the seas of Celebes. As described by Agoncillo, the first migration had people who were influenced by the Indian culture which proliferated present-day Malaysia and surrounding territories at the time.
The second migration lasted for more than a millennium, starting in the 1st Century, as mentioned by Alip and their migration ultimately has lead up to the formation of the present-day ‘Christian’ Filipinos, like the Tagalog, Visayan, Bicolano, Pampango, Ilocano etc.
The last and final migration before the era of Spanish Colonization was the Mohammedan Filipino or Moros, who laid the foundations of Islam in Mindanao and Sulu which has lasted to this day.
It’s interesting to note, that while reading such history books, there seems to be an unwavering bias toward those people depicted with more European-like characteristics.
Case in point: When describing the two types of ‘Indonesians’, Agoncillo refers to type A as having a “sharp, thin face,” while type B were “stocky… with thick lips and large noses.”
Alip goes further, referring to the type A as having “aquiline noses, not paralleled among Mongoloid” and type B with a “thick, large nose.” As you can see, as with anything Filipino, apparently it’s all about the nose.
But minding the nose, notice how the depiction of the type A, who are “very tall, with European-like features” is given more ‘positive’ connotation to those more ‘inferior’ type B. This same bias seems to apply to depictions of the Negritos and Aetas as well.
Is this a case of subtle racism of the part of historians or just an instance of a horrible misunderstanding? You decide.
Anyways, that rounds off the historical look at our origin. And what about the mythological part?
Well… you’ll just have to wait and see. -PDM