Philippine PreHispanic Relations With Neighboring Countries


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The Philippines was ruled by various Asian empires during its early history. Trade with Indonesia, Borneo, mainland Southeast Asia, Japan, Persia and India developed shortly after the Ice Age and many merchants made the Philippines their base.

Between 1500 BC and 1440 AD, the Philippines traded with several Asian empires and from 200 to 1565, parts of the Philippines may have been ruled by Hindu-Malay empires, the Javanese Madjapahit empire, and the Ming Dynasty of China. From 1440 to 1565, Japan controlled northern Luzon, while Borneo and Brunei controlled the south.

By the time Magellan came in 1521, the Filipino people had evolved a distinct culture of their own, influenced in many ways by contact with Hindus, Chinese, Arabs and other neighboring countries.

Indian influence probably filtered into the Philippines indirectly, through Sumatra and Java. Some historians believe the first contact dates back to 800 BC, while others believe that 10 AD is more likely. Their influence was especially felt on the islands of Mindanao, the Visayas, Palawan and Mindoro, where the people learned to communicate in old Sanskrit writing. Folklore, dress, and art also showed traces of Hindu life. Evidence of contact is seen in beads, glass, and metal work. Some historians say that the name Visayas was derived from Swirijaya, the Indo-Malay Empire that ruled Sumatra from the 7th to 13th centuries.

The earliest known trade with China occurred during the Tang Dynasty (618 to 906 AD), although contacts did not become extensive until the Song (960 to 1279), Yuan (1279 to 1368) and Ming (1368 to 1644) dynasties. The Chinese merchants did not penetrate inland but waited on the shore for the Filipinos to come down from the hills. In exchange for sandalwood and other goods, the Chinese gave the Filipinos porcelain ware and silks. The superiority of Chinese porcelain jars over native pottery made them highly prized by the early Filipinos for ceremonial and burial purposes. Chinese merchants also began marrying Filipinas and settled to establish trading centers in the Philippines. One such colony, called Ma-i, comprised what is now Mindoro, Manila, Cavite, Laguna, and southern Quezon. Records show that the Chinese name the Philippines’ largest island “Liu Sung”. It is now called Luzon.

Trade with the Arabs, which started around the 9th century, resulted when the Arabs were denied access to China by authorities of the Tang Dynasty.

Ties with Borneo date to 1212, when datus (chiefs) fled the tyranny in Sabah and settled on Panay Island. Some of the datus later moved north to Batangas.

In 1275, an invasion force from Java penetrated the Philippines from the Sulu Archipelago up as far as Luzon. This force stayed in the islands for about 20 years before returning to Java. Other people came from Borneo to settle in the southern islands of the Philippines. By the middle of the 14th century, Cambodia and Indo China were also trading porcelain in the northern Philippines, and soon after this Annam, Siam, and Tonkin came to the Philippine shores.

By the 1400s, Japanese traders settled around the area of the Cagayan River Delta, Davao, Manila, and along the western coast of northern Luzon.

All these events brought changes to the Filipino way of life.



Philippines Handbook by Carl Parkes

The Philippines by John Cockroft

Philippine Guide by Jill & Rebecca Gale de Villa


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