Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

The History of the Philippines: From Indio Bravos to Filipinos by Luis H. Francia- 2014 - 495 Pages

 A History of the Philippines: From Indio Bravos to Filipinos by Luis H. Francia- 2014 - 495 Pages

I have read numerous books on the history of the Philippines. Luis H. Francia's is by far the best. 

There are reliable records for four main periods of Philippine history:

• Spanish rule (1521–1898)

• American rule (1898–1946)

• Japanese occupation (1941–1946)

• Philippines Self Rule - 1946 on

  Luis acknowledges that intelligent guess are that the first people arrived by boat. Their DNA as found in skeletal remains is similar to that of Australian Aborigines.

  The Negritos, a broad term for indigenous people of dark complexions, reached the Philippines around 25,000 years ago by a land bridge from the Asian mainland. Waves of Indonesians followed by sea from 3,000 BC, and Malays got a firm foothold around 200 BC, followed in later centuries by waves of Chinese settlers. Most of today’s Filipinos have grown out of intermarriages between indigenous and Malay people. Modern Filipino culture, including language and cuisine, was heavily influenced by the Malays, who also introduced arts, literature, and a system of government.

When the Spanish arrived in 1521 they destroyed all written documents they found, regarding them as Satanic.  

A few centuries before the Spanish reached the Philippines in the 16th century, Filipinos involved in trade had also met Arabs and Hindus from India, while the expanding Chinese population wielded considerable commercial power. 

Francia's opening chapter focuses on the arrival on  Palawan Island and Mindoro by Malaysians.  I found this very interesting. Much of the main island, now called Luzon, was covered by rain forests with many  independent settlements. I was surprised to learn that the Tagalog word "Barangay", referring to the smallest unit of government (metro Manila has over 800 Barangays) meant in circa 1400 the people who came with you in a boat and later their descendents. 

It took several decades for the Spanish to fully subdue Luzon. Francia details the circumstances under which Ferdinand Magellan was killed.  Catholic priests were sent to convert the people. The official sanctioned by the Pope rational for conquest was to "save the savages". Francia showed me how many priests were defacto rulers who exploited the people.  Local leaders were coopted  by the Spanish and given large land holdings in exchange for being puppets for the Spanish.  Most people were forced to work the lands of the wealthy. As time went on there were fewer and fewer small landowners working their farms.  The rich loaned them money with their land as collateral. Religious conversions were often forced. Many merged their prior faiths with Catholic beliefs.  The Philippines is very much a "mother centered" country even now which Francia attributes in part to the role of Mary as the mother of Jesus.

Mindoro Island residents were largely Muslims and never accepted Spanish rule.  To this day there is a movement for independence there.

In the 1890s the USA was developing into an international power.  Probably a war was provoked with Spain upon the blowing up of an American battleship, the Maine, in Havana, capital of Spanish owned  Cuba.  Francia acknowledges that precisely why the ship blew up is unknown.  The Americans claimed Spain attacked it while the Spanish suggested it was an accident.  The Spanish had no chance in the war.  America gained control of the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam. Cuba was given independence as a kind of America client state.

A war broke out in the south in resistance to American rule. American troops, many veterans of wars against Native Americans, were sent to crush the rebellion.  Francia estimates the death totals among natives as at least 250,000 and possibly as much as a million.  American troops killed not just rebels but women and children.  Francia gives a very informative account of the struggle for independence.

The Philippines became a major market for American goods.  The American attitude toward the country was patronising.  Throughout the period up until independence in 1946, residents did not really think of themselves as Filipinos but as residents of their area.  In 1946 there were nearly 200 different languages spoken in the archipelago of 7000 plus islands. Americans encouraged the teaching of English. Francia talks about the rise of Tagalog to become the official language.

The day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, on December 8, 1941 the Japanese bombed Manila and other parts of the Philippines.  Soon they invaded. Their pretence was to free the area from American rule.  Francia talks about the collaboration of Philippino officials with the Japanese as well as  the gorilla fighters who opposed them.  Ferdinand Marcos claimed to be a leaders of the gorilla forces but Francia says this was a lie.

Francia continues his history up to 2010, presenting a very clear and insightful analysis.

Luis H. Francia

"Luis Francia was born in the Philippines and earned his BA from Ateneo de Manila University. He immigrated to the US after college, moving to New York City. In the 1970s, he began working for the Village Voice, a newspaper he was associated with for more than 20 years. A journalist, an editor, and a teacher, Francia began to write poetry in workshops with famed Filipino writer Jose Garcia Villa at the New School.  Francia has published numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including Memories of Overdevelopment: Reviews and Essays of Two Decades (1998), A History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravos to Filipinos (2010), and RE: Reflections, Reviews. Francia teaches at New York University, Hunter College CUNY, and the City University of Hong Kong. A regular contributor to newspapers such as the Voice, Francia writes an online column for the Manila paper Philippine Daily Inquirer. He lives in Queens, New York, with his wife, Midori Yamamura." From The Poetry Foundation.

Mel Ulm

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