Pre Spanish Era

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The Filipinos lived in settlements called barangays before the colonization of the Philippines by the Spaniards. As the unit of government, a barangay consisted from 30 to 100 families. It was headed by a datu and was independent from the other groups. (The Tagalog word barangay came from the Malay word balangay, a boat that transported them to the islands.)

Usually, several barangays settled near each other to help one another in case of war or any emergency. The position of datu was passed on by the holder of the position to the eldest son or, if none, the eldest daughter. However, later, any member of the barangay could be chieftain, based on his talent and ability. He had the usual responsibilities of leading and protecting the members of his barangay. In turn, they had to pay tribute to the datu, help him till the land, and help him fight for the barangay in case of war.

In the old days, a datu had a council of elders to advise him, especially whenever he wanted a law to be enacted. The law was written and announced to the whole barangay by a town crier, called the umalohokan.

The People’s Commandments. Pre-college Filipino textbooks teach that the only written laws of pre-colonial Philippines that have survived are the Maragtas Code and the Code of Kalantiaw, both prepared in Panay. Some historians believe that the Maragtas Code was written by Datu Sumakwel, one of the chieftains from Borneo who settled there. As for the Code of Kalantiaw, it was said to have been promulgated by the third chief of Panay and possibly a descendant of Datu Sumakwel, Rajah Kalantiaw, in 1433. W. Henry Scott, however, has disputed the authenticity of the Code of Kalantiaw.

Classes of Society. There were four classes of society. They were the ruling class (datu), the freemen and notable persons (maharlika), the commoners (timawa), and the dependents and slaves (alipin). The alipin were of two kinds: the aliping namamahay, who were household servants, and the aliping saguiguilid, who were slave workers.

Clothing and Ornaments. The natives already wore clothes and personal ornaments. The men wore short-sleeved and collarless jackets, whose length reached slightly below the waist. The color of the jacket appeared to indicate the position of the wearer in society, e.g., red for the chief, and blue or black for those below him, depending on the societal class. For the lower part, they wore a bahag, a strip of cloth wrapped around the waist, passing between the thighs. Their thighs and legs were left exposed.

A piece of cloth wrapped around the head, called a putong, served as a head gear. The kind of putong one wore was important. For example, a red putong meant the wearer had killed a man in war while one who had killed at least seven people signified so by wearing an embroidered putong. They also wore necklaces, armlets or kalombiga, earrings, rings, and anklets, usually made of gold and precious stones.

The women’s upper garment was a sleeved jacket, called a baro. Over their skirts (saya or patadyong) was wrapped a strip of cloth called tapis. They also wore gem-studded bracelets, necklaces, rings, and gold earrings.

Tattoos were part of the body ornaments of pre-Hispanic Filipinos, men and women alike. These were also sported as war “medals.” The more tattoos, the more impressive was a man’s war record.

The Filipinos from the Visayas Islands were the most tattooed, which was why early Spanish writers referred to them as Pintados or painted people. The writers referred to their Islands as Islas del Pintados or Islands of the Painted People.

Rice and More Rice. Agriculture was the early Filipinos’ main means of livelihood. They also grew an abundance of rice, sugarcane, cotton, hemp, coconuts, bananas, and many other fruits and vegetables. Land cultivation was by tilling or by the kaingin system. With the kaingin system, the land was cleared by burning the shrubs and bushes. After that, it was planted...
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