The rich history of the Philippines has given the country its diverse culture and unique character. Located right at the Asian crossroads, the Philippines has been traversed by a great number of voyagers, wanderers, migrants and traders as far back as the early 13th century.
Hints of the prehistoric trade between the neighbouring Japan and China are evident through the archaeological relics and artefacts dug out from the banks of the country’s major hubs. Western civilisation began with the discovery of the islands by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, while the Spanish Colonisation commenced in earnest from 1565.
Spanish rule brought the political unification of nearly the entire archipelago that previously had been formed by independent communities and kingdoms, and pushed the advancing Islamic forces back south. It also created the first real draft of a national identity which soon became known as the Philippines.
The Spanish also brought Christianity, a code of law and the oldest universities and first public education system in the whole of Asia. Western European printing, the Gregorian calendar and heavy investment in modern infrastructures such as trains and bridges are also attributed to Spain.
These ‘Spanish East Indies’ were treated as a territory belonging to the Viceroyalty of New Spain and so administered from Mexico City from 1565 to 1821, and then directly from Spain until 1898 when the Spanish–American War finally ended. The only exception is a brief period of British occupation from 1762 to 1764.
Numerous towns were founded during the Spanish period plus new infrastructure installed and Western livestock and crops introduced. The Chinese, Portuguese, British, Dutch, Japanese plus indigenous traders complained bitterly that the Spanish acted to enforce a monopoly on trade, thereby reducing productivity. Missionaries from Spain also attempted to convert the local Filipino population to Christianity, and were eventually successful in introducing Catholicism the northern and central lowlands.
Schools were founded plus a university and hospitals, principally around Manila and where the largest Spanish forts were based. All Filipino subjects received universal education from 1863, and this remained so until the end of Spanish colonialism in the area. This measure eventually became the undoing of Spanish influence in Asia, and led to the educated native classes of those like national hero Jose Rizal.
After 327 years of imprisonment in the claws of the Spaniards came the Americans and then the Japanese. This constant transfer of powers has led to the diversity of culture and norms in the country. This history of the Philippines continues as the country regained its democracy and full independence by the end of the Second World War, although true democracy was only justly achieved after the historic ‘People Power Revolution’ of 1986, which overthrew the reigning dictator.
With its long history of colonisation, the Philippines and its peoples have become a racial and cultural mixture. With its Asian, Mexican, European and American cultural heritages, the country proves to be a unique and diversified combination of world ethnicities. The Filipino people are known for their friendliness, warm hospitality, free spirit, religiosity, artistry and, most of all, ability to adapt to ay culture and environment – a trait that helps the millions of Filipino migrant workers assimilate to different countries around the world.
Many local sociologists describe Philippines history as being in constant rewriting, as there is yet to be a complete version produced from a completely Filipino perspective – untainted by the impartiality of its coloniser-historians. Whatever its past, the Philippines is surely a very charismatic country, gifted with unrivalled landscapes, thriving cities and a unique hospitality that would impress, amaze, electrify and charm any visitor that sets foot on its lands.