Major Economic Activities of Early Filipinos

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  • Topic: Philippines, History of the Philippines, Provinces of the Philippines
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Duc Ad Veritatem

Social Studies 5
Handout no.2


Before the coming of the Spaniards in 16th century, economic activities were already taking place in the islands. The Pre-Hispanic settlers of the archipelago were economically self-sufficient. In addition, native products reached neighboring countries like Cambodia, China, India, Japan, and Borneo.


It is believed that the Banaue rice terraces may have been built starting 10,000 B.C. which proves the early Filipinos’ skills in agriculture. Agriculture was the main source of livelihood in the pre colonial Philippines. There was an abundance of sugar cane, coconut, rice, cotton, hemp, and many species of fruits and vegetables.

The daily food consisted of rice, which is considered as the ‘daily mainstay for the entire country’, together with boiled fish pork or meat of wild buffalo or carabao. Because of the abundance of coconut and nipa palms, the pre colonial Filipinos fermented the sap of these palms and drank it as liquor. They recognized the existence of private and public property. Cultivated lands were owned by private individuals while mountainsides and less fertile lands belong to the public. These private lands were acquired by occupation, purchase, or inheritance.


Due to the country’s long coastline and bodies of water, the early settlers always had an abundant catch of fishes, crustaceans, shrimps and shells. They used three-pointed spears, cages and fishnets in fishing. They used only large mesh nets in fishing which protected the young. The Tausugs, Samals , and Badjaos were pearl divers and they hunted for the eggs of sea turtles.


When the Spaniards arrived, they found the early Filipinos’ ship to be of excellent quality. They also learned that the Filipinos, specifically the Visayans, used a compass similar to that found among the Chinese and the people of Borneo. However, most of the early Filipinos did not really need to use a compass since they used their native sailing techniques. One of the famous bancas was kumpit which was used to carry goods from Jolo to Borneo, Singapore, and Indonesia. The natives of Sibutu were believed to be the most famous banca makers.

The abundance of thick forests teeming with first class hardwoods and the insular character of the country probably explain why many Filipinos were good sailors and shipbuilders.


Examination of the earliest samples of Philippine pottery yet found in Palawan dated about 1,000 B.C. Documents also showed that the Philippines was a major destination of pottery buyers from other countries especially Japan. The buyers sought the highly prized Philippine jars called Rusun tsukuru in Japanese which were noted for their quality in enhancing the fermentation process of Japanese plums.

Archaeological findings at Ayub cave in South Cotabato confirm the pottery tradition of pre colonial Philippines. It is said that these artifacts have no match in Southeast Asia in terms of quality and quantity.


Mining was also a good source of livelihood among the first inhabitants. They dug gold in the different parts of the country like Benguet, Masbate, and South Cotabato. The pre colonial Filipinos made gold necklaces, earrings, belts and rings.


Complete the following statement:

The most important things that I’ve learned about the major economic activities of the early Filipinos are___________________________ ____________________________________________________________



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