EDITORS NOTE: We’re happy again to feature an article written by multi-award winning writer Karl Quirino. A banker by training that back-stopped a productive career overseas, he is also the son of national historian Carlos Lozada Quirino – the Philippines’ National Artist for Historical Literature. This contribution arises from a request we made late last year that he write on the subject of Filipino expatriates alienated from their own ethnicity. At the time, he was engaged mentoring an IT business, doing Social Media and reputation management work for some organisations in Auckland and Wellington. Recently, he decided to dust off and update a previously-written piece he penned some years ago. The article was originally published in a high-circulation business magazine in the Philippines. It was subsequently quoted in several local and national newspapers in that country largely because his thoughts resonated with readers. Later on, parts of the same article appeared in online websites particularly when the Internet was becoming more fashionable as a publishing plat form. We now have his permission to reprint it here. It is his most recent expanded version. – Antonio de Pacis.
LAS ISLAS FILIPINAS
The first point in time which usually comes to mind when Filipinos across the world are asked about the Philippines of very long ago, the date March 16, 1521 is the starting point. That’s what most of them picked up from their history classes in school. This is largely because it was on that date that the Portuguese explorer Fernão de Magal hães (better remembered as Ferdinand Magellan), “discovered” the Philippines.
It is the wrong date. Why so? It’s because the Venetian chronicler Antonio Pigafetta – who in 1519 sallied forth with Magellan from the Spanish port of Se ville across the Atlantic on a journey that led them towards the Pacific Ocean and in doing so, failed to recognize their 5-ship fleet’s passage across the Inter national Dateline before reaching our shores three years later. The dateline hadn’t been invented yet but had he known this important convention of par titioning time across the globe, Filipinos would have been told to memorize March 17, 1521 as the real date of Magellan’s “discovery“.
Naturally, the archipelago was not then called the ‘Philippines’. This term was actually coined by the Americans at the start of the 20th century to anglicize the name ‘Las Islas Filipinas’ the Spanish had given it in honour of their Royal Crown Prince Felipe (Philip II). It was Philip II who reigned over the vast Spanish empire handed down by his father, Charles V. There were, however, much older names.
THE BIBLICAL EL DORADO?
The Hellenic Greeks of old are said to have called the whole part of the southern Philippines and a few small islands in the easternmost part of Indonesia facing Mindanao as ‘Chersonesus Aurea’ (the Golden Khersonese) – a name coined by Claudius Ptolemy (circa 90-168 AD) largely for its reputation as being a rich source of gold.
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Yijing (635-713 AD), a Tang Dynasty Chinese Buddhist monk, mentions ‘Chin-Chou’ (the Isles of Gold) as the archipelago south of China. Written records of his 25-year travels have contributed much to world knowledge about ancient king doms lying between China and the Nālandā Buddhist university in Bihar, India. This region is now what is called Southeast Asia.
The quest to find the Biblical El Dorado of Ophir – famous for its wealth during the time of King Solomon, who is supposed to have received a cargo of gold every three years, appears to have played an important role in the European discovery of the Philippines. When the Spanish finally arrived in the Philippines they found an abundance of gold used by its inhabitants who worked it into elab orate household wares and beautiful pieces of jewellery that adorned them.
Gold was so common in the Philippines that in the chronicles of Antonio Pigafetta – an Italian scholar and explorer who journeyed with Magellan as a ‘sobrasa liente’ (or supernumerary), he mentions that “pieces of gold as large as walnuts or eggs are to be found, by sifting the earth”.
In 1545 AD, the Portuguese explorer Pedro Fidalgo recorded that gold was so abundant on Luzon Island that its inhabitants were willing to trade ‘two pezoes of gold for one pezo of silver’. Similar accounts from Antonio Galvão (in 1555), Hernando Riquel and Guido de Lavezaris (both in 1574) and Antonio de Morga (in 1609) also attest to the munificent supply of gold found in the islands of the Philippines.
THE GOLDEN LAND
When the Portuguese first arrived in Malacca in Southeast Asia in April 1511 AD, they eventually discovered that most of the gold traded into Bru nei came from Luzon (or ‘Lucoes’ in Portuguese). At that time, the island was already known by the Chinese as ‘Liu-sung’ or ‘Lusung Dao’ (Golden Lu zon). Likewise, the inhabitants of the Indonesian empires of Srivijaya (in the island of Sumatra) and the Majapahit (in the island of Java) had long called the ancient Kingdom of Sapa they had trade relations with as ‘Seludong’ in the island of ‘Lusung’.
The Malays who had spread out across southern parts of Southeast Asia also called the Kingdom of May-nila (situated in Tondo, Manila ‘Seludong’, and the island of Luzon as ‘Tanah Manile’. Sea-faring Indian merchants and traders also referred to the Philippines as being the larger part of ‘Suvarnadvipa’ – a Sanskrit term meaning “Golden Land” or “Land of Gold”.
From all these historical accounts as it evidently appears, the European explo rers of the 16th century had finally found the fabled source of the ‘stones of gold’ that were mentioned in some passages of Old Testament pseudepigrapha as being “the mountains of that country and the stones thereof are all of gold.”
Could asserting that the culture, people and history of the Philippines is as ancient as King Solomon himself or is it a figment of one’s imagination? In a book found in the Archivo General in Spain entitled ‘Collecion General de Documentos Relativos a las Islas Filipinas’, the author describes how to locate Ophir. It is mentioned specifically under the section titled “Document No. 98”, dated 1519-1522. It says that Ophir is found “by travelling from rounding the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, to India, to Burma, to Sumatra, to Moluccas, to Borneo, to Sulu, then finally Ophir.”
In the same book, Ophir is additionally said to be “[…] in front of China towards the sea, [consisting] of many islands where the Moluccans, Chinese, and Lequios met to trade…” If you are well-versed with world history and geography, this particular group of islands could not be Japan because the Moluccans never got there, nor Taiwan, since it is not composed of “many islands”. Because the Collecion book specifically mentions the phrase “[…] to Borneo, to Sulu, then finally Ophir”, only present-day Philippines unequivocally fits this description.