Renowrites blog!

Author of YA novel "Enlightenment" available March 2019!

Southeast Asian History – Part 1

This blog post is targeted towards high school and college students. This is Part 1 of a series of blog posts on the history of the Philippines.

Happy New Year’s Eve everyone!

Borneo. Indonesia. Brunei. Philippines. All connected in Southeast Asian history.

When one comes from a Filipino historical perspective, one must be open to how the island of Borneo has influenced the history of the Philippines.

My novel Enlightenment’s backstory loosely centers around this Southeast Asian history.

The Philippines was colonized in 1565 when Spanish conquistador Miguel de Legazpi arrived on the islands. I say islands because the Philippines was not called the Philippines until Legazpi renamed the islands “Las Islas Filipinas” in tribute to King Phillip II of Spain.

Yes. Your homeland is named after a Spanish King. It’s surprising to me how many Filipinos are unaware of this.

This brings up a question on what the Philippines was called before 1565? Based on my obsessive research, there isn’t historical consensus. Some say Tondo, but I reject that notion. I believe Tondo only described modern-day Manila.

The islands that later became the “Philippines” was conquered by the Spanish while the island of Borneo that encompasses Brunei, parts of Indonesia and Malaysia, were not.

Borneo is an island south of current day Mindanao, Philippines (see image below).

There is an island nation called Brunei on Borneo that the Spanish expedition visited. The best description of what went down here is in the journal of Italian scholar named Antonio Pigafetta who traveled with Magellan and his crew. Let’s say it didn’t go well for the Spanish expedition in Brunei.

Due to the difficulty in the south, Magellan’s men returned to Spain by 1522 bruised and battered. They had started with 60 men and 3 boats, returning to Seville Spain with 1 boat, 18 men and 3 women from the islands they kept as prisoners. Pigafetta’s account of their island experience helped Spain regroup and in 1565, they returned to the islands under the command of Legaszpi.

Today, the Philippines remains the only Catholic majority country in Southeast Asia. This is due to Spanish colonization since 1565. How is it the Philippines is the only SE Asian country with predominantly Catholic islanders with Spanish surnames? Let that sink in.

The exception are in the south specifically the Philippine island of Mindanao, where local Moros have been in dispute with the majority Catholic Philippines since Spanish colonization.

Further south beyond Mindanao lies Indonesia, Brunei and Malaysia where the official religion is Islam.

Without pointing to evidence that would goes too detailed for a simple blog post, it’s my conviction that the people of the “Philippines” were islanders influenced by the neighboring Islands to the south. And it’s not out of the realm of possibilities the islanders were Muslim prior to Spanish colonization. There’s also evidence of native islanders worshipping a god named Bathala in which much of our ancient folklore is based upon.

In my mind, there’s no doubt the islanders traveled by sea to each other’s kingdoms. Most likely, many disputes occurred and there was a constant battle over territory and resources.

The Spanish described islanders to the South as “Moors” who were more difficult to convert to Christianity than the “Gentiles,” which were most likely islanders to the north. Filipino historians use the term “Moros” to describe Muslim Malay of the Philippines, which came from the Spanish term “Moor.”

The Spanish were never successful in converting Moors to Christianity. It’s my belief that Lapu Lapu, a recognized Filipino hero, described by Pigafetta as Chief Silapulapu of the island of Matan, was a Chief non-native of Matan (current day Mactan Island). His defiance of Magellan shows commonality with the mindset of the Moors in the southern islands of Brunei and Mindanao.

Is this enough to assert he was Muslim? Or did he believe in Bathala? This is the constant debate among historians. More evidence needs to be uncovered.

This history is obscure. The discovery of the Laguna Copperplate that dates back to 900 A.D. changed historians view on Philippine history. There’s more out there. I have faith this history will eventually be revealed.

Until then, a writer can imagine.

Book One of The Bathala Series is entitled “Enlightenment” for a reason: it’s time we Filipinos dig deeper than 1521 when Magellan arrived on the islands. To truly know who we are as a people, we need to know how we lived before Spanish colonization. It’s my hope we all become Enlightened together, not divisively.

No history, no self. Know history, know self.

For more information on Filipino history, here’s one link for reference to the Classical Period of the islands history. I also recommend reading Antonio Pigafetta’s journal and the book 1494 by Stephen Bowen.

For those who prefer visual learning, here’s an interesting YouTube video posted in 2016 – Philippines: The Hidden History of Ancient Kingdoms.

And to finish, I love this review of Enlightenment. This reviewer comprehended the history referenced in the story. If you can relate to Dorothy’s enlightenment from a historical perspective throughout the novel, it’s my hope this will trigger you to find out more about what else has to be uncovered in not only Southeast Asian and Filipino history, but world history in general.

Filed under: history, Writing,