The Philippines, being a group of islands with villages separated by mountainous regions, there are a number of creation myths coming from different groups of populations. There’s the Lumawig, the great spirit myth coming from the Igorot population, the creation stories from Bagobo, Bilaan, etc. I’m not an expert on the subject, but I grew up being taught the Tagalog creation story, which is probably the most common one.
In the beginning, the world was nothing but sea and sky. A great bird that was tired of flying stirred up the sea to create some land on which to land and rest. The sky and the sea created some islands and the bird built a nest on one of them. The sea breeze and the land breeze married and gave birth to a bamboo plant. The great bird split the bamboo and out of it came a man and a woman. I believe they were named “Malakas (strong)” and “Maganda (beautiful).” They married, had numerous children, and they became the origin of all races due to a bit of child abuse. Yes, child abuse.
The couple got sick of having so many children that the father began beating his children with sticks. The children hid in different places around their house. Those who hid in hidden rooms became chief of islands, those who somehow hid inside the house’s walls became slaves. The children who ran outside became free men. Those who hid in the fire pit became black people (or the local “Negritos”). The ones who fled to the sea and later came back became white people.
The latter part regarding child abuse was not widely taught, but it’s still part of the creation myth nonetheless. It’s interesting to note that patriarchy and child abuse is baked into the culture from the creation myth itself. That’s something I’ll be writing about later. But speaking of baking, another Filipino creation myth involves god baking men out of clay and it exemplifies the special place of Filipinos in the eyes of the creator.
After creating everything in the world, god decided he needed a caretaker to oversee all of his creation. He created man out of clay and baked him under the sun in order to animate him. At first, he didn’t bake man long enough. This created white people. Next, he baked man too long, and this created black people. Finally, he baked man “just right,” and this created the Filipino race. To modern ears, the story sounds like a mixture of Goldilocks and racism.
Now, those are taught in school as myths. There might be some variations to the stories, but they’re basically the same stories.
What was taught to children when I was growing up as the scientific and accepted theory of where Filipinos came from was through a series of migrations, the “wave migration” theory.
The first settlers of the archipelago were the “Negritos.” They arrived around 10,000 years ago. The term “negrito” is a Spanish diminutive which means “little black person,” but seems to be widely accepted in the country. There are over thirty ethnic groups in the Philippines which are grouped as “Negritos” sharing similar characteristics and cultures. They were mostly hunter gatherers but some also practiced agriculture.
The second settlers were the Austronesians. They theory called them “Indones,” believing that they came from Indonesia. They arrived around 4,000 years ago and formed their own different groups as well as alliances with different populations of Negritos.
The third to land and settle in the archipelago were the “Malays” around 900 CE. They mostly inhabited the southern part of the country while the Indones settled through most of the archipelago. Now I remember having some trouble differentiating Indones and Malays when I was first introduced to the concept. In my young mind, I thought they were too similar.
This theory is Beyer’s Wave Migration Theory, but I remember it being taught only as “wave migration.” I’m not sure how strong the archaeological evidence is for this theory, but I think people believed it mainly due to the credibility H. Otley Beyer, the founder of the Anthropology Department of the University of the Philippines; that and the Filipinos’ commonality with their neighbors. Filipinos certainly share a lot of physical and cultural similarities with Malaysians and Indonesians. Malaysian and Indonesian can even sound like Tagalog or other Philippine languages sometimes. Heck, during my trip to Bali, I was confused for a local a couple of times.
I think what is more widely accepted as plausible these days is the Out-of-Taiwan theory. Archaeologist Peter Bellwood suggested that Austronesian peoples originated from the island of Taiwan, and from there, migrated across Southeast Asia, East Africa, and the Pacific. It began around 6,500 BC and continued until 3,500 BC. What’s interesting about this theory is that while the Austronesian people spread to different islands across the world, in Taiwan itself, the Indigenous or Austronesian people only account for 2% of the people, with 97% of the population being ethnic Han Taiwanese.
The theory is supported by linguistic, archaeological, cultural, and genetic evidence. According to the theory, Austronesian settlers arrived in the Philippines from Taiwan around 2200 BC. Once there, they assimilated with the Negritos who arrived earlier. Arriving in Luzon, they spread southwest towards Borneo, Indonesia, and Malaysia. They even spread much further east to Madagascar at around 500 CE. They spread southwards to New Guinea all the way to New Zealand, arriving there by around 1200 CE. They spread east all the way towards Easter Island and Hawaii by around 900 CE. The Austronesian people share similar cultural characteristics, technologies, and took with them similar domesticated plants and animals.
Instead of the Philippines being a receptacle of different waves of settlers, after the Negritos settled, the archipelago basically became a launching port for the Austronesian expansion. The previous “wave migration” theory was wrong and had it the other way around. The Austronesian people originated from Taiwan and spread from the Philippine archipelago. The Out-of-Taiwan theory connects Filipino ancestry with Malaysians, Indonesians, as well as Melanesians and Polynesians. Which again, might explain why I was once confused for a local native the last time I was in Hawaii.
Now, I didn’t really learn about the Out-of-Taiwan theory until a Taiwanese classmate taught me about the existence of an Aboriginal population in Taiwan. I didn’t know they existed. And really, who could blame me since they’re only 2% of the population. But it wasn’t until I dove deep into the subject did I come to learn about the Out-of-Taiwan theory. Now maybe I’m old and I’m showing it by my knowledge of the curriculum I was taught when I was young, but I wonder if young Filipinos these days are still taught the “wave theory.” I mean, if it wasn’t for a chance encounter and a random conversation about aboriginal population, I wouldn’t even have know about the Out-of-Taiwan theory and the scope of the Austronesian expansion.