In 1000 there was no Filipinas, but there were Filipinos.
There was no Filipinas, if by the term we mean the geographical colony imagined by Spanish imperialists – thinking locally but acting globally, dreaming of lives of ease among Asian beasts – more than half a millennium into the future or the independent nation imagined by Indio expatriates – still students but already writers, living in the belly of the Spanish beast – almost a millennium later.
But there were Filipinos, if by the term we mean flesh-and-blood beings as human as we now are, endowed with exactly the same minds, hearts, souls, rights, freedoms, dreams, and challenges that we ourselves now enjoy. These Filipinos, unbeknownst to themselves, were building the nation chanced upon by the Spanish imperialists and put into words by the Indio expatriates, the same nation called or to be called – at various times and by various peoples – Ophir, Maniolas, Mo-yi, Ma-yi, Sansu, San-Tao, Lu-sung, Islas del Poniente, Islas del Oriente, Islas de Luzones, Archipelago de Magallanes, Archipelago de Celebes, and of course, Filipinas.
These Filipinos lived in a global community. With their hands, they built boats, and in their dreams, they built empires. They traveled routinely to alien places such as Malacca and set up houses and shops there, even – rumors had it – slave centers. They traded commodities with the mighty Chinese and the mysterious Indians. They traded myths, fears, and rumors about the exotic Europeans, the white peoples that, in the folklore of the Tinguians and other islanders, were their very own ancestors that had gone out to see the world and soon enough – to be more precise, half a millennium later – would inevitably return to the parentland.
What kind of art did these Filipinos have? What artistic efforts have they exerted since then? In this essay, let us sketch a history of Filipino achievement in the arts from 1000 to 2000.
First, let us look at the world around Filipinas then. In 1000, Murasaki Shikibu was writing the world’s very first novel Tale of Genji, Islam was popularizing arabesque, Guido d’Arezzo was inventing the musical staff, and the Djennes were perfecting figurative terra-cottas. Just around the time corner were the great wall of
What did the Filipinos have that could match these paradigm shifters?
At first glance, not as much. We must remember, however, that we had already built the rice terraces in what eventually would be known as a mountain/ous province; admittedly, though, those had been around for at least – some say more than – two thousand years, mute but eloquent witnesses to the advanced engineering skills of ancient Filipinos. We might already have had primitive, though not necessarily unsophisticated early versions of songs (should we call them Ur-songs?) still sung today by playful children at home or homesick adults overseas – traditional songs such as Atin Cu Pung Singsing, Bahay Kubo, Dandansoy, Ili-ili Tulog Anay, Leron Leron Sinta, Lulay, Magtanim ay di Biro, Manang Biday, Matud Nila, Pamulinawen, Paruparong Bukid, Si Pilemon si Pilemon, Sitsiritsit, and Ti Ayat ti Maysa nga Ubing, songs later to be adapted to the rhythms and tastes of European invaders or perhaps transmogrified from memories of days of rice wine and white roses before colonization. We definitely already had what today we call the Manunggul Jar, almost two thousand years old even then, though whether the Manunggul Cave in Lipuun Point in Palawan was open to living visitors viewing the remains of their dead remained, even by then, a dead issue.
We certainly did not have illuminated manuscripts or even painting on paper. Our Chinese trading partners that had invented printing by 1000 brought only noodles but not woodblocks to our islands, and we had to wait for European plagiarists to introduce the notion of The Book as Object for our artists to come up with, say, the Augustinian Cantoral of 1659 as illuminated by Marcelo de San Agustin, or a bit later, the anonymous Anales Eclesiasticos de Filipinas in 1770, precursors of the letras y figures of the 1840s. Even the earlier Boxer Codex, not completely our own creation, was done only six hundred years after the turn of the millennium, around 1590.
But the first five or so hundred years of the last thousand were not exactly the Dark Ages for Filipinos, though they looked pretty dark to the seafaring and blind coiners of the Spanish word Filipinas. Filipinos did have a huge amount of both written and oral literature by the end of the first millennium. To cite only one example of written imaginative lore, we had the pre-Islamic Darangen of the Maranaos, so lengthy and so complex that it almost took forever in the twentieth century for
The literature printed or signified only in the mind – texts that modern postmodernists would not welcome for reversing the hard-earned poststructuralist hegemony of writing over speech – loomed large during those first five or six hundred years. Today, at least thirty or so oral epic families have survived, each family having any number of songs ranging from short episodes to what in other countries would already be hailed as full epics. Epic families considered canonical are – aside from the Maranao Darangen – the Arakan-Arumanen Agyu, the Suban-on Guman and Keg Sumba neg Sandayo and Ag Tobig nog Keboklagan, the Sulod Hinilawod, the Ifugao Hudhud, the Kinaray-a Humadapnon, the Palawan Kudaman, the Tausug Parang Sabil, the Manobo Tuwaang, the Livunganen-Arumanen Ulahingan, and the Kalinga Ullalim. We could add to the list those created much later, such as the Ilokano Biag ni Lam-ang or even the English Trilogy of Saint Lazarus by Cirilo F. Bautista, the two latter, of course, having been written and published, belonging to Ferdinand de Saussure’s right-hand or Jacques Derrida’s left-hand term.
The oral epics had one thing in common, what protostructuralist Vladimir Propp would have hailed as a triumph of his unwittingly universal grammar or morphology of all extended narratives. Everything else being equal, the Filipino epic hero – male or female – tended to leave home, to acquire the use of a magical agent, to be transferred to the whereabouts of an object of search, to start a battle, to fight for a long time, to be stopped from fighting by a female or male god, to realize that the enemy is an unsuspected blood relation, to die, to resurrect, to return home, and to get married. Filipinos then, as now, knew that no Filipino stands alone; all Filipinos – heroes or villains – receive their sustenance, strength, and salvation from other Filipinos. People Power was not a creation of the late twentieth century, as short-sighted, tempocentric, and megalomaniac come-lately would-be heroes love to announce; it was a characteristic of all Filipino communities even during the first few hundred years of the second millennium and perhaps long before then.
Those first few hundred years, needless to say, were not famous for electronic technology, or in fact, for any kind of technology – appropriate or inappropriate – that would permit ideas to cross oceans fast and pure. Scholastic philosophy, schisms, and the crusades were changing European ideology in the 11th century; the Khmers were building Angkor Wat in the 12th; Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, the Inquisition, Marco Polo, and Kamikaze were changing history in the 13th; Timbuktu was starting to become a cultural center and the Italian Renaissance was beginning in the 14th; the Germans were commercializing printing and other Europeans were starting to sail away from what they thought was the Old World in the 15th – but in what would soon enough be called Filipinas, there was only peace and prosperity, there was only an Eden that the great nineteenth-century novelist Jose Rizal would so aptly call lost, there was only the highest form of civilization available only to the purest of heart.
Twenty-one of our contemporaries have identified certain key events from the coming of homo sapiens in 50,000 BC to AD 1000 as shaping pre-first millennium Filipinas (Asico). Among these, so they claim, were the development of pottery (3,000 BC), writing (200 BC), weaving (AD 200), woodcarving (200), and indigenous music (500). Clearly crucial to the development of Filipinos as artists were the various foreign influences brought physically by the boat trade – the Indonesians and Indochinese (1,000 BC), the Chinese (AD 222), and the Arabs (9th century). In the period we are studying, the key events are the coming of Islam missionaries in the 1240s, of Magellan in 1521 and of Legazpi in 1565, of the Dutch in the 17th century, of the British in 1762, and of everyone else in the 1780s, including the Danish, the Swedes, and United States people (we dare not use the politically incorrect term Americans to denote US residents while marginalizing Canadians, Latin Americans, and non-Latin South Americans). Clearly, it was impossible for Filipinos to remain parochial in their everyday life and in their everyday art; from the very beginning, almost as an inherent quality, Filipino art has always been global.
Speaking strictly of art as a formal discipline, we might probably identify as the most important event in the whole millennium the opening of the first art school in the islands in 1823, the Academia de Dibujo, built around Damian Domingo, who had established its progenitor in his own house in Tondo in 1821. Domingo died in 1832, and the school closed in 1834. More lasting in influence was its offspring, the second art school, which opened in 1845; that second school had among its alumni Simon Flores, Lorenzo Guerrero, Felix Resurrecion
But that’s coming very close to the end of the millennium. Let us retrace the thousand years by spotting its highlights. This is the traditional way of doing art history (the other way being what is sometimes inaccurately called “history from below”); let us let masterpieces, not the democratic majority, define our history as artists.
In 1584 was built Intramuros (from a precolonial structure already existing in 1519), our answer to the turn of the millennium Borobodour of the Sailendras and Angkor Wat of the Khmers. For architecture, Intramuros was indeed the be-all and the end-all of everything. It was, of course, global, because Spanish-inspired and built; it was also, of course, local, because it physically manifested the only and still remaining racist strain in Filipino life – the prejudice against people of color, the yellow-skinned Chinese and the brown-skinned Malays, both kept outside the walls. On the other hand, if we take a deconstructive view, Intramuros kept imprisoned within its walls white Spaniards and whitened Malays. Either way, Intramuros was our version of the
Architecture, however, did not hibernate the rest of the millennium. Far from it. Public structures, particularly churches, took up the time and energy of our architects. In 1599 – to give only a handful of examples – was built the Ayuntamiento or City Hall of Manila, in 1600 the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Santo Domingo de Guzman in Cagayan, in 1629 the Puente de España (the first bridge to span the Pasig River), in 1630 the Roman Catholic Parish Church of the Inmaculada Concepcion in Antipolo (by Juan de Salazar and Luciano Oliver), in 1635 the Fuerza de Nuestra Señora del Pilar de Zaragosa in Zamboanga City (by Melchor de Vera and Juan de Ciscara), in 1760 the Basilica del Santo Niño in Cebu City (first built in 1566 by Diego de Herrera), in 1788 the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Nuestra Señora de la Consolacion in Argao (by Mateo Perez), in 1796 Malacañang Palace, in 1823 Paco Cemetery, and in 1891 the Roman Catholic Parish Church of San Sebastian in Manila (by Genaro Palacios). To choose only one 20th century classic – here we use the term “classic” loosely, since classics are traditionally supposed to have existed for at least a hundred years before even being considered for classic status – we had, in 1912, the Manila Hotel by William Parsons. (All artifacts mentioned above and later are those canonized by the CCP Encylopedia as “major works.”)
We could write a volume just on architecture – and the Cultural Center of the Philippines has indeed devoted an entire volume to it in their monumental Encyclopedia – but the simplest way to be convinced that we are a race of architects is to travel around the country and to see, even in the poorest communities, magnificent cathedrals to the great glory of the Spanish Bathala or, in the final years of the millennium, to the greater glory of the homegrown Angel of the East. There is only one God, says Islam, and his name is Allah; we could say that Allah is no one else but Bathala, because the Spanish missionaries preaching the story of Jesus rising from the dead did not introduce anything new to the belief system of Filipinos, even then marveling every night to stories of epic heroes dying and resurrecting routinely. The derivative Iglesia’s original Manalo never claimed to be Allah, nor indeed neither did Muhammad, but the fascination Filipinos had for one prophet or the other cannot be wholly attributed to the fervor of foreign or native missionaries; Filipino epics all define our imagined communities as communities of imagined heroes and gods, leaders all of all our people. No major leap of imagination is required to go from an epic vision to a theological vision; for Filipinos, folklore and theology are one.
The other visual arts – if we use our own way of classifying art, admittedly not the best of all possible ways, since it does not take into account earlier ways of expressing self or society – were not lying inert while architecture was bursting at the seams. In 1734, for instance, we had Carta Hydrographica y Chorographica de las Yslas Filipinas, better known as the Pedro Murillo Velarde Map of the
If the visual arts come, can modern literary arts be far behind? No way, Jose Rizal.
In 1593 was published the first book as object, Doctrina Christiana en Lengua Española y Tagala. It was not, strictly speaking, our very first book; that honor belongs to Darangen, which was copied by hand, though not by movable type, from one Maranao family to another. But Doctrina opened the floodgates to what the Philippine Literary Arts Council (PLAC), in the twentieth century, would denounce as the tyranny of print; PLAC would, ironically, as the millennium drew to a close, see itself transforming from revolutionary to reactionary in the onslaught of the visually-oriented World-Wide Web.
After Doctrina, indeed, was the deluge. In 1703 (or 1704) we had Ang Mahal na Passion ni Jesu Christong Panginoon natin na Tola by Gaspar Aquino de Belen. In 1814 we had Casaysayan nang Pasiong Mahal ni Jesucristong Panginoon natin na Sucat Ipag-alab nang Puso nang Sinomang Babasa (Pasyong Genesis or Pasyong Pilapil), in 1831 Comedia Heroica de la Conquistada de Granada o Sea Vida de Don Gonzalo de Cordoba llamado el Gran Capitan by Anselmo Jorge de Fajardo, in 1852 La Teresa: Dialogo cun Pagpolong-polong sa usa ca Familia cun Banay sa Maong Ginicanan, nga Nagatudlo sa Daghanan nga Catungdanan nga Uala Maila sa Daghanan nga mga Bisayang Cristianos by Antonio Ubeda de la Santisima Trinidad, and in 1861 the greatest masterpiece of all Filipino poetry – the metrical romance Pinagdaanang Buhay ni Florante at ni Laura sa Cahariang Albania – Quinuha sa Madlang Cuadro Historico o Pinturang Nagsasabi nang manga Nangyari nang unang Panahon sa Imperio nang Grecia – at Tinula nang isang Matouian sa Versong Tagalog by Francisco Baltazar. Since we are perched on mountain tops, we might as well mention Pagsusulatan ng Dalauang Binibini na si Urbana at ni Feliza na Nagtuturo nang Mabuting Kaugalian (1864) by Modesto de Castro; Ang Suga nga Magandan-ag sa Nagapuyo sa Cangitngitan sa Sala o Ejercicio sulod sa Siam ca Adlao ( 1879) by Blas Cavada de Castro; Ninay: Costumbres Filipinas (1885) by Pedro A. Paterno, published in Madrid; and Si Tandang Basio Macunat (1885) by Miguel Lucio Bustamante. In prose, we had in 1887 Noli me Tangere by Jose Rizal, published in
The literary world did not stop though it had reached its climax in the Noli. In 1888 we had Dasalan at Tocsohan by Marcelo H. del Pilar in 1891 Rizal’s less inspired sequel El Filibusterismo, published in
Books and literary texts are only a small step away from the performing arts. If poetry aspires to the condition of music, then drama aspires to the condition of theater. Not surprisingly, by 1860 we had La India Elegante y el Negrito Amante by Francisco Baltazar, staged in Udyong (now Orion),
If we had to choose only one musical piece to represent the last century of the millennium, I suppose we would have difficulty choosing between Donde estas, mi Vida (Nasaan ka, Irog?) (1923), by Nicanor Abelardo, lyrics by Narciso Asistio (Spanish) and Jose Corazon de Jesus (Tagalog), and Bayan Ko (1928) by Constancio de Guzman, lyrics by Jose Corazon de Jesus. If we had to choose only one dance event to freeze in a time capsule, we would have to single out Mariang Makiling (1939), a ballet in two acts by Anita Kane, the first dance to use a local legend and original music. If we had to choose just one theater piece, it would have to be, hands down, A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino (1955) by Nick Joaquin, first staged in Intramuros, filmed in 1966 by Lamberto Avellana, and subsequently restaged, translated, retranslated, adapted to music, deconstructed, reconstructed, misconstructed, and so on, not yet ad nauseam and hopefully ad infinitum.
To go through a thousand years of art history is to realize that a thousand years is nothing. Filipinos have always lived sub specie aeternitatis. Filipinos have always lived beyond themselves. The diaspora of the late 20th century may have a Jewish label with a tinge of siege mentality, but the Weltanschauung of the Filipino has always been much more global and open.
What else can we conclude from our creation myths? Here is a typical creation story, as told by the Agusan Manobo and retold in English by Rosario Cruz Lucero:
In the beginning was Dagau, who set the world atop five iron pillars, one of them at the center. The sky was round and was bounded by the sea. Near the sea’s edge was its navel, a gigantic hole through which the waters rose and fell, causing high and low tides. The world was shaped like a mushroom, underneath which lived Dagau with her pet giant python. (Dalisay 1: 22)
This biologically or superbiologically female god created not just Filipinos, but everyone else, or perhaps more accurately, created only Filipinos, that then dispersed diasporically throughout the earth and became all other peoples.
From this female god (and other female gods, and some male gods as well) to the Filipinos living around 1000 is a small step for Filipinos, but a giant step for humanity. By 1000 we were, as Cecilio G. Salcedo likes to put it, citing F. Landa Jocano, a highly literate race, communicating with each other through a complex system of writing (Dalisay 2: 222). The Laguna copper plate (dated 10th century, more or less), if nothing else, signals the extraordinary ordinariness of literacy among Filipinos. It is impossible to imagine a race so skilled in engineering that it could construct rice terraces in 1500 or 1000 BC and so literate it had island-hopping communication through writing that was not talented enough to deconstruct or defamiliarize reality or, in other words, to create art.
Clearly, from a purely logical point of view, as well as from the empirical evidence of all the art pieces we have mentioned, we are a proud and artistic race, able to look everyone in the eye and to say, like feminists and postcolonialists used to say, that we had masterpieces as splendid and marvelous as any found elsewhere on earth, but alas, marginalized, trivialized, debased, and otherwise colonized in our own minds and by our own long-lost tribal mates from abroad, we now find ourselves searching for our roots, unaware that from our roots have grown the masterpieces of the entire artistic world. At the end of the day or of the millennium, it has been an exciting thousand years of Filitude.
Asico, Mary-Ann, ed. 1999. 100 Events that Shaped the
Dalisay, Jose Y. Jr., ed. 1998. Kasaysayan: The Story of the Filipino People. 10 vols.
Tiongson, Nicanor G., ed. 1994. CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art. 10 vols.