Catholicism and History in Marinduque

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From the accounts of the French naturalist Alfred Marche we get a glimpse of the 19th century in Marinduque, Philippines.

Archaeology Hints of Life in Cebu City Before Colonial Times

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Cebu in the Philippines is beach to most of us. Bantayan, Malapascua, Camotes, even Mactan. Or marine life. Or the basilica of the Christ Child, or Santo Nino, as locals call the deity. Enter Cebu from the air and you go through the airport at Mactan, then cross the causeway where you see the low skyscrapers of the city surrounded by the urban sprawl extending to the edges of the narrow strait.


Five centuries ago, the miniscule urban area composed of huts made of hardwood, bamboo, palm fronds, and rattan lined the beach of the main island across Mactan. It was home to 2,000 people who painted their skins, filed their teeth, and traded with many places such as Surigao on Mindanao island.


At Plaza Independencia (Independence Square), the city’s central park, archaeologists have unearthed memories from the city’s past.


Discoveries include artifacts from the Spanish colonial period extending backward to precolonial times.


Before the colonial period, Plaza Independencia was an ancient cemetery where the old Cebuan royalties were buried.


Several of the teeth found in the graves showed coloring. Ancient Bisayans (people of the central Philippines) filed their teeth and colored them using roots, flowers, or red ant eggs. They even decorated their teeth with gold.


This nearly forgotten culture modified the shape of their heads which may have been for status and aesthetic purposes. They may have done this by putting moulding materials at the head while the person was growing up.


The times were not so peaceful. The big island of Cebu and surrounding islands were divided under many competing rulers, each a potential ally or enemy to each other. Wars were happening often. We have seen possible evidence of this through fractures in a skeleton’s forearm which was caused by the action of a sharp object.


Spain eventually claimed the islands. Cebu was one of its early colonial settlements and a fort was built at the site which was to become Plaza Independencia.


Now it’s a place where you can chill in the early morning or late afternoon while watching the city around do its daily business.


Text by Skippy

Photos by Skippy and the University of the Philippines-Archaeological Studies Program

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From Bali, with Love and Lust

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Is Bali cheesy enough? Go through this 8-point quiz to discover facts about love and lust surrounding this enchanting island!

Scroll down to begin.




(1) In the film Eat, Pray, Love, the main character Elizabeth Gilbert came to Bali and found her love who is:

(A) A Balinese man

(B) An Italian man

(C) Her first husband

(D) A Brazilian man

Scroll down to see the correct one.







Answer: (D) A Brazilian man. Elizabeth left her first husband and the film did not tell that she returned to him. A Balinese man, Ketut Liyer, was a traditional healer who only acted as her spiritual adviser. Elizabeth went to Italy to eat, not really to love.


(2) Much of Bali’s image as an art and cultural wonderland was started by Walter Spies, who eventually resided in Bali and believed that the creative inclinations of the islanders derive from folklore and religious beliefs. In 1939 he was arrested by Dutch colonial authorities for what offense?

(A) Rape of a female servant

(B) Sexual relations with underaged boys

(C) Adultery

(D) Public masturbation

Scroll down to see the correct one.







Answer: (B) Sexual relations with underaged boys. Walter Spies was a painter and musician who went to Bali. He was the leading personality in making Balinese arts and lifeways known to the Western world by the late 1920s, partly the reason why streams of anthropologists and artists became attracted to the island. He was gay.


(3) Clifford Geertz, a prominent anthropologist, wrote an essay about Balinese cockfighting. What was its title?

(A) Deep Play

(B) The Sexual Life of the Savages

(C) The Empty Shell

(D) The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

Scroll down to see the correct one.







Answer: (A) Deep Play. It’s an essay about masculine power in Bali as manifested through village activities such as cockfighting. The Sexual Life of the Savages is a post-punk music album released in 2005 (while The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia is an ethnography by the anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski published in 1929). The Empty Shell is a recent ethnography of witchcraft in an Indonesian island, and The Chrysanthemum and the Sword is about the Japanese people.


(4) Semara, the god of love in Balinese mythology, lives in the:

(A) Caves

(B) Ocean

(C) Volcanoes

(D) Sky

Scroll down to see the correct one.







Answer: (D) Sky. The sky in Balinese mythology is still divided into different parts, but for now we will be content that the god of love resides in one of these. We’ll just have to accept the traditional narrative.


(5) This anthropologist once stated that the Balinese do not have “free libido in the whole culture.”

(A) Charles Darwin

(B) Margaret Mead

(C) Howard Carter

(D) Edmund Hillary

Scroll down to see the correct one.






Answer: (B) Margaret Mead. The only rose among the three other thorns. Her expertise touches on child personality and development. Charles Darwin was a naturalist who was more into rocks and birds, Howard Carter was an archaeologist who discovered King Tutankhamun’s tomb in Egypt, while Edmund Hillary was a mountaineer who was among the first to step on Mount Everest’s peak.


(6) A growing urban legend in Bali in which a curse is said to cause persons not being able to marry is said to primarily affect travelers to the island who are:

(A) Singles

(B) Married couples

(C) Unmarried couples

(D) Same sex couples

Scroll down to see the correct one.







Answer: (C): Unmarried couples. Legend has it that an unmarried but engaged royal couple went to Bali to enjoy themselves. After having sex, the prince refused to marry the princess and left her. In her anguish, the princess is said to have placed a curse on unmarried couples going to Bali, their relationship ending soon in a break-up to prevent marriage.


(7) Caffeine gives a punch for energy in sexual performance. Crops that produce these three caffeine-containing beverages below are all being cultivated in the Balinese highlands. Which of the following puts Indonesia among the commodity’s top 10 global producers anytime within 2014-2016?

(A) Coffee

(B) Tea

(C) Cocoa

(D) All of the above

Scroll down to see the correct one.







Answer: (D) All of the above. Yup, a huge tropical country with lots of highlands made possible by volcanoes, Indonesia possesses the planting requirements of these three major products to satisfy your daily cravings for a hot drink and snack.


(8) Andrew Chan, one of the convicted drug traffickers of the “Bali Nine” who was in death row, was married to Yogyakarta princess Febyante Herewila when?

(A) A year before his execution

(B) Two months before his execution

(C) A week before his execution

(D) Two days before his execution

Scroll down to see the correct one.







Answer: (D) Two days before his execution. Andrew Chan, arrested at the international airport in Denpasar for drugs in 2006, met the princess (who is a pastor) during one of the latter’s jail visit. After Andrew proposed to her in February 2015, the two were wed on April 27 of that year. His execution took place two days after.


Many, many thanks!

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Text and photos by Skippy

Tarsilas: Royal Family Trees of Sulu and Mindanao

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Sultans and datus (local rulers) were the ancient rulers of the southern Philippines who commanded fleets of seasoned mariners and sea warriors. The first kingdoms of the archipelago took shape as trade and interaction developed within the Southeast Asian region, exchanging not only commodities but technologies and belief systems as well. Ma-i (location unknown) and Butuan (at the northern Mindanao coast), its earliest known kingdoms, existed more than a thousand years ago during the spread of Hinduism and Buddhism from their homelands in India. Then from its point of entry at Sumatra, Islam made headways especially in the Malay Peninsula, Java, and Borneo, before moving northwards to the Sulu and Mindanao islands.

Islam reached the islands of the southern Philippines around six centuries ago. Sulu first heard of the Good News in the 1400s as its early teachers strengthened the faith. Among them was the magical Karim ul Makdum, who according to legend arrived by sailing on an iron pot or vessel. Another important personality was Rajah Baginda, a Sumatran prince whose daughter became the wife of Sharif Abu Bakr who established the Sulu Sultanate. Among Maguindanao’s first teachers was a member of the Malay royal families. Sharif Kabungsuwan, a son of Melaka’s last sultan, was instrumental in stabilizing the monotheistic belief system possibly at nearly the same time when Christian missionaries were beginning to evangelize souls in 16th-century Visayas.

Names of the princely founders were the first to be written in the Tarsilas, the royal genealogy records of Mindanao and Sulu islands. The Tarsilas are written in local languages of the region and incorporate Malay and Arabic terms, but using the Arabic script. They have been handed down across generations and are recopied into newer sets of writable medium when the need arises. Tarsilas, which means “chain,” illustrate the relationship of royal families with the Prophet Muhammad and thus legitimize their rule within both Islamic theocracy and the Malay royalty network.

In the 17th century the Cotabato Basin of Mindanao was governed by an array of several competing datus, each with its own degrees of power. But the whole region divided itself politically into two basic parts – the Maguindanao area, centered on the lower reaches and estuary of the Pulangi River, and the Buayan area situated around the now infamous territory of Mamasapano and its neighbouring municipalities (others may be more comfortable with four parts – Maguindanao, Buayan, Kabuntalan, and Ganassi). These parts corresponded with the influence of the most powerful rulers of the basin who were able to fold lesser datus into their control, and their paramount rulers have their own stories. While those of Maguindanao claim descent from Kabungsuwan’s son, Buayan chiefs are said to have been descended from a daughter of the Melakan prince. The Maranaos of the Lanao Plateau also tell of themselves as coming from the prince’s lineage, while other versions elsewhere narrate a common origin for all Sulu, Mindanao, and Brunei kings.

Although not written on ancient material, the Tarsilas no less constitute an important source of historical information and cultural rules about Southeast Asia. It is a significant link to the past when tales of kings, queens, and faraway kingdoms have become lost in the collective memory.

Photo and text by Skippy

Enter the Rooster: The Domestication of Asia by the Chicken

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A round of applause to the rooster. No, make it a thunderous pyrotechnic display as his year has come again in the Chinese calendar. If there’s an animal that has conquered Asia, it is undoubtedly from the rooster’s lineage. From China to Southeast Asia and India, our feathered friend has been the favored culinary animal captivating the most palates and among the least discriminated in beliefs. It is prepared through every cooking method, almost all of its parts used as food, and can we forget its eggs as important component of savory dishes and desserts? We cannot say the same thing for the pig – leave out large areas of the Indo-Malaysian archipelago, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and pockets of Indochina and India please. Or for cattle – big chunks of India will become blank. Fish, maybe. It is a traditional accompaniment to rice. But as incomes rise, so does access to more affluent dishes as those of chicken.

Mealtimes have been domesticated by the chicken. Think of how many home-grown fast food companies are there which sell fried chicken as their flagship product. Demand for chicken is continuously rising. Technology is always on the lookout for ways to efficiently hatch and grow the dream chicken, and urban legends about the horrors of chicken breeding have been cropping up: chickens without heads and only body, whatever. Chicken and folklore walk hand in hand. Traditionally the chicken has been a symbolic animal to the Chinese and this has resulted in its inclusion in their calendar, one of 12 potent animals dictating the lives of believers. Other aspects of life have been domesticated as well. Cockfighting days are much awaited week events for Filipino, Balinese, and Pakistani men. Fortunes can be lost or found in the cockpit, at times the cause of despair or joy for the men and the whole family.

The rooster has already been crowing early on in the lives of Asian people. The earliest evidence of human interaction with the chicken is found in northern China dating to around 10,000 years ago. That’s about the time when the whole world was beginning a new lifestyle, from just hunting animals, gathering wild food plants, and picking available shellfish around them to caring for selected plants and animals to produce more food. This archaeological site showed evidence too that people were by then using earthenware pots and planting millet, a less popular grain crop today. Archaeologists and geneticists have found old chicken bones here and got a sample of DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, from the bones. The DNA is a long molecule carrying the blueprint of animals, plants, and microbes that is passed on to their descendants. The next generations of organisms look like their parents and ancestors because they have received copies of the DNA. Animals of the same kind (for example, a group of grey herons) have DNAs that vary slightly, as compared to a set with different but related animals (for example a group composed of grey herons, little egrets, and cattle egrets) that have related DNAs but with more variations from each other.


What the scientists saw after analysis was astonishing – the DNA from the old chicken bones showed that it differed only slightly from the DNA of our present chickens. So much related that it was placed in the same genus, Gallus, as the poultry in our fast food restaurants today. The oldest evidence of chickens in the lives of human beings having been found in China is not really surprising if I tell you that the wild chicken, or jungle fowl, is still living in the forests of Southeast Asia. More active and quick, the jungle fowl is smaller compared to the chicken we know. This means that the homeland of chickens was most likely in Asia, and the ancestors of the first farmed chickens were not hard to come by.


The first Chinese people living in villages, out in a brave new world, then started caring for the chicken much as the chicken began caring for their sustenance and world view around 10,000 years ago. Despite northern China holding the oldest chicken records, research suggests that the beginnings of chicken and human encounters may have taken place at several different areas in South and Southeast Asia too. From here it is an easy step for chickens and humans to bring their lasting relationship to the big archipelagoes surrounding Asia, the remote Pacific islands, and other regions of the globe.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Text and photos by Skippy

Abducted by Spirits

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The mountains of Negros Island are almost no-man’s land. Years of conflict between insurgent communist forces and government soldiers have kept visitors and development at bay. Yet in this beautiful part of the Visayas in the central Philippines, forests are still standing, the air is pure, and villagers still cling to their traditions and beliefs. It was here where I met a middle-aged woman who talked about her life and family.

At one point in our chat, she mentioned that a strange thing happened during one of her pregnancies. She felt that her womb began to shrink and seemed empty in her seventh month. That night she saw a human-like being with horns staring at her. Her husband could not see this and thought she was going crazy or buang (pronounced “boo-ahng,”). Garbed in white robe, the apparition has no philtrum or vertical groove between its upper lip and nose. She said she’s being called to live in the kingdom of the Visayan nature spirits or engkantos. She believed these spirits took away the baby in her womb. A car without a rear end appeared and she was then forcefully shoved into it.

Her eyes were overwhelmed by what they saw when she arrived at their kingdom: there was a big multi-storey mansion with beautiful furniture and bright lights. All around were astounding objects that human beings can only dream of. She was invited to a meal but she refused. Remembering that to eat engkanto food would seal her fate to be resident of this kingdom forever, she immediately thought of ways to excuse herself from ingesting food of this spirit world.

The engkantos offered her milk, but upon accepting it she mixed in salt before drinking. This made the engkantos angry and she was slapped on the cheek. She told me that engkantos don’t like salt and it is an effective weapon against them. They were offended.

Batlag falls02

After that hard slap she suddenly found herself on a rocky ledge at the top of a high waterfall. She was so scared because she may have fallen off if the slap would have been stronger. This waterfall was the entrance to the kingdom. She was expelled.

Now she had to return home. Given a chance to continue human life, she was longing to be with her family. At her house she saw people crying and mourning. She peered into the coffin. It was her! Burial will take place soon! Immediately she reclaimed her body. She was thankful that she’s alive. What seemed to her a quick visit to the land of the engkantos had been time-warped. People around told her that she had been away for two days.

Text and photos by Skippy

Pre-War Years of the 1940s: A School for Girls in Manila

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Intramuros, the historic core of Manila, was once the education and science center of the colonial Philippines. Featured in this post is Colegio de Santa Rosa, an exclusive school for girls. Like their present counterparts, students of the early 1940s here were happily performing the usual school activities, studying in the library,  going on a field trip, attending masses in church, and celebrating prom night on the eve of World War II.





The school field trip took place at the Manila Observatory and Weather Bureau.




Text and photos by Skippy