A. Paulita Roa .
IT took me quite a time to know and realize that much of the History subjects taught in school lack many important data and do not present a broad, detailed and accurate picture of our nation’s past. Much of our historical data has been hidden from us and in some instances these has been substituted with local legends.
Take for example the prehispanic inhabitants of our archipelago (long before we became a country known as Filipinas) had a flourishing maritime trade with their Southeast Asian neighbors. In fact, the merchants of Champa (the ancient name of Vietnam) frequently traded in Butuan. On March, 1001, the Rajah of Butuan through his connections with the kingdom of Champa was invited to present a tribute to the court of the Chinese Emperor. He sent his representatives to China and brought the choicest gifts as tributes from his land. It was at this time that the diplomatic relations between P’utuan (that is Butuan in the Chinese records) began.
Four centuries later, in 1417, the first tribute mission from Sulu went to China that included three royal personages, 340 wives, relatives, ministers and retainers. They presented the Emperor a memorial written in gold, tortoise shell and precious stones. They were treated royally by the Emperor and were given lavish gifts. In return, he was given a very large Sulu pearl that clearly astounded him and his court that this fabulous gift was mentioned in the imperial records.
But on their way home, the head Sultan known as Paduka Batara died in Tehchow, Shantung due to the cold weather. The Emperor then constructed a mausoleum for the late Sultan with a memorial arch and gateway and he was given a funeral befitting his status as the reigning monarch. Some family members were given houses and generous living allowances so they could stay and look after their father’s tomb and observe the required three year mourning rites. So to the naysayers who expressed a lot of fears about our trade and diplomatic ties with the People’s Republic of China, there is nothing like knowing our centuries old historical ties with this country.
In the year 1521, the Spanish conquistador, Fernando Magallanes, known to us as Ferdinand Magellan and his ships entered the archipelago. The sailors were composed of Portuguese, Spaniards and Italian who were ragged, unkempt and hungry for they lacked food and water after undergoing a tumultuous long voyage halfway around the globe. Their ships were black and it was a unique sight to the Visayans who were used to seeing the Southeast Asian ships especially the Chinese that had very colorful sails. Then a banca sailed towards the ship with Visayan oarsmen in silk bahags and the headman decked in fine gold jewelry. They boarded the ship and gave the Europeans the local customary gift of food and water. The headman also told Magellan that their king invited them to his house.
What Magellan and his men then saw astonished them for gold jewelry in huge quantities were found among the Visayans from their ruler down to the man on the street, who wore them as earrings,and ear plugs, neck pieces, bracelets, anklets, rings, brooches, clasps, armbands and spears were also gilded in gold. They also had gold embedded in their teeth as a mark of beauty. Gold jewelry, handwoven fine cotton and Chinese silk was part of the normal attire of the inhabitants. They also buried their dead wearing fine jewelry or covered the corpse with gold masks.
After reading the narration of the first meeting between Magellan and the Visayans, for me, it is wrong to say that this country was “discovered” by Magellan, for when he came to our shores, the people were already highly civilized with their own system of writing, lived in communities under a ruler, had a prosperous maritime trade around Southeast Asia and well dressed! It’s important to note that the Spanish expeditionary force arrived here hungry and impoverished and were hospitably received and fed by the locals. So who “discovered” who?
Also, the people of that time, ate and drank in fine porcelain ware imported from China and other Southeast Asian countries. This is the reason why to this day, we still discover in a neighbor’s backyard or in a cornfield, plates or jars that are known as “mga antik.” These are actually Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai made jars, jarlets, plates, bowls, cups and saucers that were bought by the thousands by our ancestors and were part of their household goods long before the coming of the Spanish conquistadores. The prehispanic Pinoys certainly did not use banana leaves for plates. This is one historical fact that is not commonly taught in our schools.
Again, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to know more about our history other than give names and dates of historical battles and so on. History is the story of our people and our past. There are still so much that we have to know about our past that is hidden from us. However, whatever data that are found in our history books can perhaps be made more vivid and make the students appreciate this subject if it’s told in a story form. This is how I write it in this column because I want to present it in a way that many will know and appreciate our history for this will give us a strong sense of our identity as Filipinos. For now, there are still much historical data to uncover and learn and whenever I stumble into one, I will share it with my readers. Promise!