Manila Before ¿Oye Como Va?: Pre-Spanish Manila

Picture 1: Laguna Copperplate Inscription

Before the Spaniards settled in Manila, the area had already been known to have settlements for Tagalogs (which was actually derived from “Taga Ilog”). According to different archeological studies, by the 10th century, there was already a flourishing settlement in what is now known as Tondo. The Pila copperplate findings, which relay a case in “Tundun”, prove this (Abinales and Amoroso). This kingdom in Tundun was said to have included Binondo under its jurisdiction. This area in Manila also produced “husi and controlled the trading area between the bay and the inner land.

Picture 2: A Bulul from Pre-Hispanic Animism

By the 15th century, another settlement was already becoming a formidable force located right at the opposite bank of Tondo, that which was known as “Maynila”. It was said to have taken its name from the Nilad plant, a plant that had white, star-shaped flowers. The plant was said to have been found in abundance in that area of the Pasig. Ruled by two leaders, Maynila’s leaders were said to have been related to the members of the Royal House of Sulu. When the Spaniards arrived, the two leaders were Rajah Matanda and Rajah Soliman. Intramuros, the main headquarters of the Spanish 300-year regime, was also the very site of Maynila’s headquarters.

However, one important note that must be made here was that sources and historians have pointed out that the Chinese found in Manila were only very minimal in number. This note is important because past accounts, and even persistent voices, try to paint a picture that Manila, and the rest of the country, benefited from such a “flourishing” trade. But accounts from China and other Southeast Asian countries have yet to be reviewed if ever they did come in contact with Manila. It is true there was contact but present cultural touchstones do not point to anything that was lasting and genuinely transformative with Manila’s trade with these peoples.

If there was any such deep exchange, then, as Nick Joaquin points out, how come we have not achieved the kind of civilization present in places like Java or elsewhere where there were already stone temples and written novels? Were Filipinos already capable of dressing and cooking their foods like the Chinese even before the Spaniards arrived? If indeed there was an “extensive” exchange, then how come the Chinese methods of cooking food was not present in pre-Hispanic Manila?

Picture 3: The Nilad Plant

The truth of the matter is, again according to Nick Joaquin’s masterpiece Culture and History, Asia only began acknowledging us as its brother when the Spaniards came. Only when Asia thought that we could be of use to enrich it did the Asians, Chinese and Indians, and the like, began coming in large numbers to Manila. Only then did they see our potential. They had to wait and see.

Alas, when the Spaniards came and settled in Manila, the Philippines, as well as its capital, will never be the same again. Manila will become a very important city that would become, at one point in time, even Asia’s educational, commercial, cultural, art, and scientific capital. When the Spaniards united us under one banner, the capital they chose would become city shining in splendor that would eventually be known as the PERLAS NG SILANGAN (Pearl of the Orient).

However, these days, the traces and links to this Pre-Hispanic past have long been erased in reality. The Nilad plant can no longer be visibly seen in the congested city of Manila and the historic place of Tondo is now, well, of ill-repute. Many things have gone without us knowing/caring that these have left our world. Such is the sad state of Manila and the Filipinos who call it their capital.

Picture 4: Present Day Tondo and an Estero Found There

However, things can always be brought back to their former states of serenity and balance. Nilad plants can easily be planted and Tondo can benefit from a face-lift and an organizing zoning system. The Manila that used to be the Pearl of the Orient can always be brought back to some degree. All it takes is political will, and more importantly, public support and participation.

Picture 5: Old East Indies Map with the Philippines Prominently Featured. Map by Jadocus Hondius, Amsterdam-1613

Let’s all bring the Manila hecho ayer.

Photo Sources:
Pic5:, map by Jadocus Hondius (Amsterdam, 1613)


About hechoayer

Things made yesterday still influence us until today. Things made today will influence us tomorrow. Things of the essence such as faith, culture, food, music and values should never disappear nor eroded by the times. Instead, these must be recorded, lived and shared. Something made yesterday - hecho ayer - can be tomorrow's saving grace. Never ignore the past.
This entry was posted in CULTURA, HISTORICA. Bookmark the permalink.

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