The Phillipines — Spanish East Indies

©Lucio Mascarenhas.
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The Phillipines as they are today is the product of the Spanish conquest of the several small kingdoms whose territory comprise the modern Phillipines. What was their pre-Hispanic history and culture?

The peoples of the Phillipines are many nations, some larger than the rest. The major nations, such as the Tagalogs, Biscayans, Cebuans, etc., are largely of Malay stock, of the Malay family of nations, and speak languages of the Malay family, similar to the languages spoken by other Malay peoples spread over the main Malay territory — the Malaya peninsula, and the islands of Sumatra and Java. The other, older peoples or nations are largely Negrito by race, the pre-Malay race of South and South-East Asia, ranging from southern India to the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, onto the Malay territory, the Sunda Isles, Borneo, the Phillipines and Formosa, modern Taiwan, etc.

The Malays, at the time of the arrival of the first Europeans, were gradually shifting to Islam. However, they had, and still have, largely, a Hindu, Indian culture. When the Spanish conquered the Phillipines, they called the natives 'Indios,' meaning Indians, probably for the very reason that they were Indian in culture.

The Phillipines are part of the larger ethnic region called Further India, including the Indo-China region presently occupied by the states of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, and also the Malaya peninsula and the Sunda Isles. The Western half of the East Indies is usually called Hither India. This includes the modern Indian Union, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Burma, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Some include Tibet in Hither India, though Tibet culturally is a zone where the Chinese, Mongolian and Indian cultures intersect.

Recently, I saw an interesting article in the Asian Age newspaper, Bombay. It is reproduced below. For Potri's own website, see here.

The title "Potri", a variant of Putri, actually merely means Daughter, not princess, although, in a particular cultural context, it might have that assigned meaning.

Lucio J. Mascarenhas, Bombay, India.

Phillipinian Princess Dances For Her Culture

By Johanna Kiamzon, AP.

New York: Royal court maidens in long, colourful sarongs and hair filled with pearls gracefully imitate fish, birds, butterflies and ocean waves with their hands and arms; royal suitors in head-dresses and silk suits kick a rattan ball.

These are scenes from the Rajah Mangandiri, a ballet that harks back to the Hindu epic, the Ramayana. The dance was first presented last year; excerpts were shown in various cultural programs this summer.

The ballet is more than a show to its Filipina-American creator, Potri Ranka Manis, who promotes the arts of the southern Phillipines.

For her, it is a chance to share the culture of an oft-misunderstood part of her homeland.

"We were royal people until we were enslaved by the Spaniards," says Manis referring to the indigenous and Muslim cultures of the Phillipines.

Potri Ranka Manis — her name means "princess essence of sweetness" — is from Mindanao, the large Phillipinian island in the south. The Islamic Maranaos, her people, inhabit the region around the volcanic Lake Lanao.
©Lucio Mascarenhas.
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