Before the Americans, before the Japanese, and even before the Spaniards, there were Filipinos. And these Filipinos weren’t alone. Contrary to the belief that Spain was the one who “discovered” the Philippines, the natives had already begun trading with other asian countries way, way back — even before the time of Magellan’s cross-country travels.
One such country also happens to be the biggest (in terms of land area) in Asia: China. Early trading with the said country dates back a couple hundred of years. These people were interested in trading with the natives due to their fascination with pearls. One of the firsts, if not actually THE first, documentation of the Philippines and proof of trading can be found in the official Sung history, where traders from Ma-i brought to Canton a myriad of merchandise for trading. This was in 982 A.D. Ma-i is presently known today as the island of Mindoro.
Trading was very much a part of the locals’ lives as much as, say, breathing. This is only natural since the country is situated where other countries could easily pass by going from one place to another via the canals and “bridges” along the seas. There was even a number of coastal trade ports in the country, as documented by the Spaniards — Manila, Mindoro, Pangasinan, Sulu, Cebu, and also Cotabato. From our end, Filipino traders had ample knowledge about trading in such ports as Melaka, Borneo, Myanmar, and Ternate.
Products such as beeswax, pearls, cotton, sinamay, and betel nuts were traded for porcelain, gold, iron, lead, jewelry, silk, etc.
Historical sites in the country also serves as proof for these trades. Burial sites in Manunggul, Palawan, and the like uncovered not only simple burial jars, but also a number of artifacts which solidifies the country’s rich trading history. Items mentioned earlier were also found in these caves (although not all sites were caves, mind you).
But I guess I’m selling our ancestor’s work a bit short here. The personal effects found in sites like these are also rich in our culture. A number of pots, each with their distinct complexes, can be found scattered throughout the archipelago. Each one having distinguished aesthetics and use, the most popular being the Kalanay pottery complex found in Masbate.
A number of these artifacts were functional in nature, used for everyday living, while others reveal more and more the vast culture Filipinos had at that time. Burial jars such as the popular one found in Manunggul reveals the tradition that goes with their rituals. A number of these earthen-wares also shows the technological advancements during that time.
I’ll have to mention at this point that Philippine pre-history is not divided not entirely on chronology. No, these were divided according to the tools present (and found) during the time. Paleolithic is the area where the tools used were basic “old” stones, while the Neolithic (and the Porcelain as well as the metal age) area saw the advancement of newer stone tools — thus the name “neo”. This is the time when people had learned to utilize and adjust their tools into their liking, according to their needs. Stones were broken and sharpened, and used to mold their pottery and apply more intricate designs through impressions or simple padding.
The designs applied to these various sources also shows various influences from different neighboring countries: Borneo, Indonesia, Thailand, etc.
Another famous historical site will have to be the Tabon cave, where the equally famous and iconic remains of the Tabon man was found.
I guess, what’s interesting for me, aside from all these mentioned up to now in this article, are the animals discovered also in different places in the country like the ones also in Tabon. I couldn’t even begin to believe that at some point in time in our country, elephants actually lived in the area. And tortoises — !!! Imagine how life would be more interesting today if there were still some of those roaming around.
I guess that would have been normal during that time as there were a number of land bridges connecting the Philippines to other countries, making it possible for both people and animals to migrate on foot. Even fauna here in the country, up to now, is similar to our neighbors.
So there, a lot had been going on even before the hispanic times. Spaniards did not “discover” the Filipinos as a backward race, nor an out of date culture. Instead, what they really discovered were people rich in culture and history, and the center for trade in Asia.