A couple of weeks ago, I went to the “Philippine Gold” exhibit at Asia Society New York. It’s a wonderful showcase of life in the Philippines before the Spaniards colonized the country in 1521 and stayed on for roughly another 400 years. In particular, the highlights of the exhibit focused on the intricate and masterful workmanship that Filipinos showed in the ancient metallurgy and gold design.
When I was a child in school in the Philippines, I remembered my Social Studies class glossing over life in the Philippines before the Spanish colonization. Much of the teaching and thinking back then was focused on how rather simplistic life was in the Philippines. There was a brief mention of how country may have traded with some of its Asian neighbors but that was it — no mentions of any great civilization, unlike China or even Cambodia. I suppose I cannot blame the educators since not much was known yet about pre-colonial Philippines.
But as I got older, I became more convinced that there’s got to be a richer, more developed life in the country before the 1500s. There were discoveries in the 1980s of ancient Philippine writing, using native characters. The study of the Filipino language shows words that derived its origins from Sanskrit, Arabic and Malay. I always thought that evidence of ancient Philippine civilization were somewhat eroded and maybe washed away by the tough hurricanes, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions typical to the region.
So, I am thankful for this exhibit and the individuals behind it as it truly shows the Philippines that most Filipinos somewhat already knew — that it’s a country truly Asian in its roots despite the rather Western face it shows the rest of the world today. The exhibit also gives proof that there was civilization in the Philippines before the Spaniards got there, just like there was one in Mexico and Peru before they also became part of the great Spanish empire. With so little known about my ancestors, I’m happy to see these artifacts shed a little light in the lives and legacies they’ve left behind.