Even before the Spaniards came to colonize our country, the natives in our land already had a civilization of their own. This is in contrast to what some early Spanish colonizers claim that the Philippines, before they came here, did not have a culture of its own and was barbaric. Even during the modern times, some people claim that natives of the early Philippines had a culture which is inferior to theirs. But although our histories were full of depreciations from other cultures, the way of life even before the coming of colonizers was already flourishing.
That is enough reason to defend the fact that our culture is never inferior to anyone’s. Pre-colonial Filipinos, for instance, had a system of writing before the coming of the Spaniards called Baybayin. This goes to show that even before the time of Christ our ancient people were abreast with the style of the world’s writing.
Although the natives did not have the knowledge of the Roman alphabet, which was what the first colonizers used, it did not make them illiterate as some may think.
With the existence of written language also comes literature as a natural consequence. Pre-colonial literature abounds in the form of sabi (maxims), bugtong (riddles), epics, and myths. The early Filipinos also had a form of government called Barangay, headed by a Datu or Sultan (among the Moros). Social classes exist but social mobility was possible. Also, the early Filipinos followed and obeyed rules, as evident in the ancient body of laws: Code of Kalantiao and Code of Maragtas, which is also called Code of Sumakwel.
Therefore, even before colonizers came, our ancient people already had an organized community or settlement. Our country has known godliness since time immemorial. Our ancestors turned to religion for hope and encouragement, proving religion was the backbone and outstanding power of the world and brought change to the human conduct in moral, social and business life. It is said that the apprehension or conviction of the existence of a Supreme Being or a supernatural power or influence controls a person’s humanity.
The pre-Spanish Filipinos believed in a Supreme Being they called Bathala and worshipped minor deities whose functions were closely related to the daily life of the people. Based on the way of life of our ancestors, one can make several observations. 1. Our ancestors already had concepts or ideas which are not far from those of other countries. Early Filipinos had concepts of people, places, statuses, or events similar with that of other culture although some of these countries did not colonize us.
The natives of the Philippines were considered by the Spaniards as indigenous people possessing epic poems in the style of Iliad and the Grecian Ode, which sang glories of its people and the memorable deeds of their heroes. These epics include, but are not limited to, Biag ni Lam-ang of the Ilocanos, Tuwaang of the Manuvus in Central Mindanao, Hinilawod of the Sulod of Panay, Hudhud and Alim of the Ifugaos, Handiong of the Bikolanos and the Bantugan of the Maranaws. The Alim tells the story of gods who resembled the Indian gods in the epic of Ramayana.
Our ancestors also had a concept of hierarchy as seen in their myths. The story of The Great Flood by the Tinggians mentioned guards and palace. The concept of beauty of our ancestors is also evident in their literary works. An example is the description of the Maiden of Monawon in the epic Tuwaang: But she was much fairer Than the eye of the rising sun For it can be darkened And hence be dimmed For it can be covered Even by a little cloud Over the horizon. Generally, those women who were considered beautiful by our ancestors had black hair which reached down to the waist, had fair skin and had shapely legs.
However, our ancestors did not only look at the physical aspect as they also considered beautiful those who are skilled in crafts. A Story of the Orphan Girl mentioned how our ancestors defined beauty based on skills. …for she was very beautiful, with straight eyebrows, and very skillful in all womanly arts, such as weaving… Myths and legends also bore traces of Hindi and Hindu influences. For example, the history of the deluge of Northern Luzon and the legend of the Manubo Ango in Agusan contained some parallelism with biblical history of ot and the Hindu myths of Ahalya in Ramayan.
Our ancestors had a way of explaining phenomena Our ancestors used literature as a way of explaining natural phenomena, past events, and contemporary beliefs. This is to make the environment less fearsome by making it more comprehensible and, in more instances, to make idle hours less tedious by filling them with humor and fantasy. For instance, the Maranaw legend How the Angels Built Lake Lanao explains how the said lake is formed.
The ancient Visayans’ mythology created a world they called Bambu. Other manifestations of this observations include the Panay-Visayan myth of Tungkung Langit and Alunsina which tells the story behind the rain and thunder as well as the Second Creation of the Tirurays which relates how the calls of the forest doves named lemugens give the farmers much needed agricultural omen. 3. The early Filipinos gave importance to values and beliefs. The literature of the natives recorded written traditions about wisdom which are beneficial to human life.
The early Filipinos valued their beliefs so much that they take efforts to pass them from generation to generation through different forms of oral and written literature. These can be seen in several proverbs and short poems. These forms of literature make use of different early Filipino values such as patience, humility, wit, contentment, resilience, courage, sociability or pakikisama, and friendship. For instance, the proverb, ‘Ang kata-katayak sukat makapagkati ng dagat (Tiny drops of water continuously draining, enough to dry up the sea)’, stresses the Filipino value of patience.
These simplest forms of literature, which contain talinhaga (analogue, metaphor or figure) give us a clear picture of the oral literature in a culture. This, in turn, give us an idea of the general and shared conceptions of what is good, right, appropriate, worthwhile, and important with regard to modes of conduct and states of existence in a given community. 4. The pre-colonial natives were observant of their surroundings. The early Filipinos were critical-thinkers as they sensed what was happening around them and incorporated these observations into their ulture, especially in literature.
Bugtongs (riddles) were usually about anything that can be found in nature. Riddles such as ‘Kapag hiniwa mo, naghihilom nang walang pilat (tubig)’ from the Aetas, ‘Batang Magindanaw, abot hanggang Saysay ang kanyang palahaw (agung)’ from the Bagobos, ‘Sa hita ni Iggat lahat ay kumakaskas (pulot-pukyutan)’ from the Isnegs, ‘Malaking bahay, libot ng durungawan (lambat)’ from the Tagbanwas and ‘Sinturon ni Apu, walang pwedeng humiram (sawa)’ of the Subanons all have answers which can be found in the surroundings of the natives.
This is because material culture cannot be separated from the non-material culture. They become essential to a culture’s functioning because without them, people could not carry on the necessary activities of daily life. But more than that, they are expressions of the culture that produces them. Material aspects of culture carry with them non-material aspects such as the value and belief regarding or associated with that object or element. 5. Our ancient people used different aspects of culture as a way of self-expression. Our ancestors used art, literature, dance, and music as ways of expression.
More than just preserving and inculcating their way of living in a certain field of the arts, the natives used different media in self-expression. In the field of art, expression can be seen in their tools and weapons, potteries, beads, amulets, and bracelets. They give us a clear picture of how the early Filipinos vented out their emotions. Tattoos and clothing are also forms of art. More than being a symbol of social class, they are also a reflection of the personality of the wearer. Furthermore, Filipinos are considered born musicians. Most of them played one or two musical instruments.
Perhaps, these instruments served as an outlet in showing the emotions of the natives. Poems of love, grief, adventures, and celebration of bountiful harvests were sung to the accompaniment of musical instruments. Dances, which are rhythmic movements in tune to music, also expressed their way of living. Thus, the ancient Filipinos from all regions had different dances and songs for all occasions. Lastly, in the field of literature, both oral and written works contain the portrayal of the pre-colonial Filipinos’ feelings, both favorable and otherwise.
Human passion is evident in different short poems. For instance, the Lamge of the Bilaans show how they are enthusiastic with working even though they are already tired. The Dangdang-ay, on the other hand, expresses unfading love of the author for a person. The Dumheb ako a Dumas by the Ivatans relate about the personal problem of the author which concerns beauty. Ancient Filipinos had many outlets to express their emotions and feelings. They did not limit themselves to only one form of cultural manifestation; rather, they had many ways to reflect their personalities.
In conclusion, the pre-colonial natives of the country already had concepts or ideas which are not far from those of other countries had a way of explaining phenomena, gave importance to values and beliefs, were observant of their surroundings, and used different aspects of culture as a way of self-expression. These observations are evident in artifacts, especially in literary proofs and this only shows that even before colonizers set foot on our land, our ancestors already had patterns of behavior and its products embodied in thought, speech, action and objects.