Tag Archives: colonization

The Long Reach of Spain

Traveling in Osaka with a Spanish friend of mine, we passed by a restaurant that specializes in Filipino dishes. Nonplussed, he recognized many of the Filipino words written outside of the restaurant.

“Erm, dude, the Spanish occupied the Philippines for three hundred years!”

Ferdinand Magellan landed in the country in 1521, then later set about converting the locals to Christianity. The island of Mactan resisted the Spanish which later resulted in the Portuguese explorer’s death. The leader of Mactan, Lapulapu, was hailed as the first hero of the Philippines. The discovery of the archipelago started the Spanish occupation with Miguel Lopez de Legazpi arriving from Mexico in 1565. later making Spanish Manila the capital of the Spanish East Indies. Superior technology, Catholic missionaries, and dividing and conquering separate villages helped conquer and unite the archipelago. The name of the country is derived from King Philip II, the king of Spain from 1556. Many of the provinces, cities, and towns continue to have Spanish names, such as Las Pinas, Los Banos, Camarines Sur, San Fernando, San Juan, Pamplona, etc.

Having a Spanish surname doesn’t necessarily mean a person has Spanish ancestry. The Alphabetical Catalogue of Surnames is a book of Spanish surnames in the Philippines published in response to a decree that established Spanish family names and surnames to colonial subjects. Catholic converts took surnames like “de los Santos (of the Saints)” or “de la Cruz (of the Cross),” while others took well-known Spanish surnames. Surnames were given to one family per municipality, avoiding surnames being based on ethnic background or association. The surnames available however were based on provincial capitals, secondary towns, and smaller villages. Thus, a person who has a certain surname would most likely have roots in a specific town. I myself have a Spanish surname: Reyes. Reading up on this topic, I didn’t realize that my surname had a coat of arms!

Some Filipinos however chose not to change their surnames. Indigenous Filipino names include Abay, Katindig, Lacsamana, Mapili, etc. Researching the topic, I found out that the surname Bagonggahasa exists, which unfortunately means “newly raped.”

The Catholic faith is probably the most influential and enduring legacy of the Spanish. Around 80% of Filipinos are Catholics and the island is dotted with many ancient Catholic cathedrals. The Philippines calendar is filled with religious holidays, and Christmas and Easter are celebrated as proper sacred holidays. It is not uncommon to see Filipinos wearing crucifixes and have homes decorated with crucifixes and statues of saints and the Virgin Mother. So yes, thank you Spain for that ever-present Catholic guilt! (Guilt, a key factor in developing obsessive-compulsive disorder)

One things about the Catholic faith and the Spanish influence is that through them, western culture permeated the archipelago. Customs and philosophies became more westernized in what was one a predominantly Eastern Muslim country. Slaves or “alipin”s existed in the Philippines prior to colonization. When the Spanish came, the Laws of the Indies already forbade holding Filipinos as slaves. However, seeing that native tribes in the Philippines would use slaves, some soldiers seized non-Christians and took them as slaves. Later, the encomiendas system was instituted in the country. It was a Spanish labor system where a conqueror takes on natives as slaves, while the slaves in turn get education as well as protection from their masters. Slavery was not as commercial as it was in the Americas, and most slaves were tasked with doing household chores. Later when Spain fully outlawed the use of native slaves, it opened the import of foreigners for slave use, particularly Africans. Even some Filipinos had African slaves working in their homes back then. The use of a non-family member as a house help is a Spanish legacy. With the classes between the rich and the poor remaining, especially between city and country-folk, Filipinos to this day still continue to commonly have poorly paid helpers in their households called “katulongs.”

Arts and culture have been heavily influenced by the Spanish occupation. Artists have been trained and commissioned to produce works with European tastes in mind. Juan Luna, a Filipino revolutionary hero and national artist, was famously trained in Europe. With galleons from Spain and Mexico arriving in Manila and with Filipinos being sponsored to study and train abroad, Spanish influence in the arts permeated Filipino culture. Even the art of fine embroidery was introduced to the Philippines by Spanish friars. Some folk dances as well as the fashion which had heavy Spanish influence introduced during the occupation still remain in the country.

Filipino cuisine has also been heavily influenced by the Spanish. The name themselves betray their Spanish origins: lechon, leche flan, paella, embutido, puchero. The most popular alcoholic beverage in the Philippines is San Miguel beer. Not only is the name Spanish, but beer itself was originally brought in from Spain. Food and drinks in the Philippines can mirror those in many Latin countries. I remember visiting a Spanish restaurant here in Seoul and having the empanada and thinking, “this is no different from the ones in the Philippines.” The Spanish brought with them their cuisines, and they also brought with them non-native crop plants including corn, guava, avocado, coffee, papaya, and squash. Growing up in the Philippines, I learned a folktale regarding the origin of corn. It was about a girl obsessed with her silky hair who later turned into the plant. I think it’s a more entertaining picture than simply saying it’s a plant crop brought in from Mexico.

As I initially referenced, there are plenty of Spanish words that made it into the Philippine vernacular. 20% of words in Tagalog are Spanish or Spanish in origin. The use of numbers in counting money and telling time is also done in Spanish. I imagine a Filipino learning Spanish would find it simpler compared to other languages, much like an English speaker learning a Germanic language or a Korean learning Japanese. A common Tagalog greeting “Kamusta” was derived from “Como esta,” the Spanish greeting. Heck, many Filipino profanities have Spanish roots.

Spain also established friar-run schools. It would seem that back then, throughout the world, the best way to take the native out of the natives is through religious schools. Spain however didn’t implement what was equivalent to the residential schools in Canada. I believe the Catholics were truly invested in elevating the Filipino population and making them part of the Spanish empire and not simply making them Spanish. The schools, along with a heavy helping of religious teachings, added business and math into the curriculum. It also opened the country to higher sciences being open to Spanish empire. One of the most well-known historic institutions which still exists to this day is the University of Santo Thomas. It was established in 1611.

Once the country was conquered, the Spanish deliberately implemented incentives through the taxation system the inter-mixing of races. At the time, there were twelve recognized ethnic groups in the country, though the categorization might not be reflected genetically. The categories consider where a person was born or whether they have converted to Catholicism. This makes it quite fluid and not very scientific. Peninsulares and Insulares for example are two separate groups, the only difference is that peninsulares are people of Spanish decent born in Spain while insulares are born in the Philippines. I’m not sure what genetic genealogy testing would show in the average Filipino. Filipinos are Austronesian in origin, but I suspect there might be more Han Chinese ancestry appearing in my case rather than Spanish. Despite the cultural influence of Spain, I’m just not sure about the prevalence of Spanish blood among modern-day Filipinos despite the number of mestizos and mestizas in the country.

A group of tourists in Seoul did take notice of me one time and asked me if I spoke Spanish, to which I replied, “Lo siento. No hablo Espanol.

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