Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Monograph 1: The Philippines at the Turn of the Sixteenth Century

Malcolm W Mintz

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with particular reference to the Bikol region

The eleven chapters in this monograph explore different aspects of the Philippines at the turn of the sixteenth century. The topics examined are war and conflict, food, the adoption of Christianity, crime and punishment, childhood, rice cultivation and consumption, money, weights and measures, jewellery and body ornamentation, metals and metalworking, health and personal hygiene and fibre, cloth and clothing. The first five of these chapters have appeared previously in print, the first published in 1996 and the last in 2008. The last six chapters, 'Rice', 'Money, Weights and Measures', 'Jewellery and Body Ornamentation', 'Metals and Metalworking', 'Health and Personal Hygiene' and 'Fibre, Cloth and Clothing' appear here for the first time. The earlier chapters have been revised, updated and corrected where necessary. Details of initial publication may be found in an endnote for each chapter.
Data for these chapters come primarily from the early seventeenth century Vocabulario de la Lengua Bicol by Marcos de Lisboa[1] with supplementary data being drawn from the accounts of those who visited or were resident in the Philippines during the mid to latter part of the sixteenth or early part of the seventeenth century.
The focus is on Bikol, a region with a current population of approximately five million people on the island of Luzon, south of the Tagalog-speaking areas around Manila. The six Bikol-speaking provinces are Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon, Catanduanes and Masbate.
The Vocabulario de la Lengua Bicol was compiled during Marcos de Lisboa's nine-year residence in the Bikol region between 1602 and 1611. Father Lisboa was born in Lisbon and joined the Franciscan order in 1582 in Malacca. He was the Definidor y Ministro of the Bikol town of Nabua in 1602, administrator of the town of Oas in 1605, and Vicario Provincial of the Province of Camarines from 1609 to 1611.[2] Lisboa remained in the Philippines until 1618 when he left for Mexico. He later returned to Madrid in 1622. The date of his death is generally given as 1628. Mention is made of an unpublished work by Lisboa in an anonymous manuscript of 1649.[3] This is presumably his dictionary which remained unpublished until 1754, although handwritten copies were available up until the time of publication.
Most of the entries cited in the chapters of this monograph have been abridged so as to focus on the aspect of meaning most relevant to the topic under discussion. These entries have not been taken directly from the Vocabulario but from the translation incorporated into the third edition of the Bikol Dictionary by Malcolm Mintz.[4]
Entries which are found only in Lisboa's Vocabulario and are no longer used in modern Bikol are marked [MDL]. Entries in which the usage in Lisboa and modern usage are basically the same are marked [+MDL]. Those in which some part of the modern meaning is shared, but there is an additional component of meaning in Lisboa are marked [+MDL:] with the additional component of meaning shown after the colon. Other abbreviations used in the dictionary entries are as follows: s/t 'something', s/o 'someone', o/s 'oneself', (fig‑) 'figurative', (typ‑) 'type' or 'kind', [SP] Spanish and [TAG] Tagalog. Stress is shown on all modern Bikol entries, and those entries from Lisboa where stress can be determined, for example, basóg 'full (the stomach)'. Entries which refer to Bikol mythology [BIK MYT] come from a set of articles by Merito B. Espinas in Unitas.[5]


1. War and conflict
War and conflict were common occurrences in early Bikol society. Examined here are the terms relating to these areas which were still known and used at the turn of the sixteenth century leading to some general conclusions about this aspect of society. Included is a discussion of weapon types, varieties of battle dress, techniques of tracking, spying and keeping guard, types of combat and strategies for doing battle on both sea and land, customs of taking and ransoming captives as well as tribute relationships.

2. Food
Various terms dealing with the relationship between food and selected areas of social activity are discussed in this chapter. Food is examined in relation to personal behaviour, social behaviour, ritual and religion, business transactions, drinking customs and choices made during times of scarcity.

Discussed in some detail are the types of alcoholic beverages consumed, followed by foods associated with festive or ritual occasions, superstitions and healing, and plants possessing various medicinal and supernatural qualities. Traditions of inviting, serving and sharing food are also examined, as well as personal traits such as the speed of eating, the care taken in eating and particular attitudes to the foods eaten.

3. Christianity
The early religion of the Philippines was to change dramatically with the arrival of the Spanish and Catholic missionaries. From an animist religion where worship of ancestors played a central role and where the centre of religious life was often a priestess, the Philippines was to be introduced to Catholicism and many of its people converted over a relatively short period of time.
The missionaries of the Catholic religious orders in the Philippines did not preach in Spanish, nor did they expect their new converts to learn that language. The missionaries learned the local languages, albeit to varying degrees, and used these languages for religious instruction.
This chapter looks at how the language of one of the regions, Bikol, was adapted to carry a Christian message. It looks at both the redefinition and extension of existing words, and the introduction of loan words from Spanish.

4. Crime and Punishment
Attempted in this chapter is a reconstruction of the legal system in place during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, after the arrival of the Spanish in the Philippines, but before their influence could greatly alter Philippine society.
The chapter begins with a brief examination of social stratification in early Philippine society. Following this is a short discussion of the promulgation of laws and the jurisdiction over which these laws applied.
Civil disputes and criminal cases form the two main sections of the chapter. Among the civil disputes are those arising from insults, adultery, deception and defaults on loans, while the section on criminal cases includes piracy, theft, assaults and murder. The final sections examine punishment and incarceration, the administration of justice, including trials and mediation, oaths, witnesses, testimony and sentences, and the miscarriage of justice.

5. Childhood
The early years of a child's life is the theme of this chapter. Discussed first is population and family size, the number of children which were expected in a marriage and what occurred if a woman could not have children, children resulting from adulterous affairs, and the fate of unwanted children in the family or community. Also examined is pregnancy and birth, including the role of the midwife in both the care of the mother and the birth of the child.
Subsequent sections treat nursing and weaning, circumcision, head flattening and naming. Also included is a section on the stages of development of the child, both physical and verbal, looking at how the child gradually learns and accepts its place in society and how it interacts with carers and family. The final sections look at orphans and adoption, death, sickness and health, and recreation, examining the various games which children of the time played.

6. Rice
Examined here is how rice was planted, harvested, sold, cooked and eaten at the turn of the sixteenth century. This was a time just thirty years after the arrival of the Spanish in the region and the techniques used would most likely reflect those found during the pre-Hispanic period.
Considered first is the establishment of lowland rice fields and the types of rice that were planted, followed by a more detailed discussion of clearing, working and irrigating the fields. Following this is the sowing, germination, transplanting and maturation of the rice in the field, including a section on protecting rice from its natural predators. All aspects of the rice harvest follow: gathering rice from the fields, threshing, drying, pounding, winnowing, milling, storing and transportation. The penultimate sections look at the cooking, serving and eating of rice, and the final section on measurement and transactions.

7. Money, Weights and Measures
The early monetary system of the region, promoted by the Spanish and incorporating both Spanish and Bikol terms and values, is the basis of the section which begins this chapter. Closely associated with this is the subsequent discussion of gold and the extensive system of weights used to determine its value and equivalences, followed by a detailled discussion of weights and balances, their origin, type and use in commercial transactions.
The system of numbers and counting is examined next. Discussed are the cardinal and ordinal numbers, basic calculations and the limited set of numerical classifiers which were found. This is followed by a discussion of linear measurement, from smaller measurements in which parts of the body were used, to larger measurements involved in building and surveying. The chapter concludes with a section on volume measurements which were used primarily in the exchange of marketable commodities.

8. Jewellery and Body Ornamentation
Inhabitants of the Bikol region, like the Visayans to the south, were referred to by the Spaniards as 'the painted ones' due to the tattoos which covered the bodies of men, and it is this topic which opens this chapter. Tooth decoration, including filing, inlays and colouring with natural dyes follows. Care of the hair, the way it was worn and scented, and particular types of hair decoration and head coverings are discussed next, followed by a general overview of dressing up.
A discussion of various specific items of jewellery follows, beginnig with necklaces, and moving on to earrings, bracelets, armbands and anklets, rings and decorative chains. Each of these sections draws on data not only from the Bikol region, but available data from the Southern Tagalog and Visayan areas as well.

9. Metals and Metalworking
Metals, how they were mined, smelted, refined, forged and worked form the content of this chapter. It begins with gold, looking at its types and attributes, and moves on to silver, lead and tin, iron, and copper, brass and bronze. The smelting of iron and copper is then examined in some detail followed by the related areas of fuel and fire and the type of bellows available. Subsequent sections look at the refining of gold and other metals, craftsmen and their tools, the tempering and hardening of iron and steel, forging of knives, tools and other implements, and decoration by inlay and gilding. The final sections examine repairs by soldering and welding, the drawing of metal into threads and wires, and the delicate processes of working with gold.

10. Health and Personal Hygiene
This chapter examines health and personal hygiene, starting with the place of bathing in everyday life and then moving on to terms associated with what might be euphemistically called 'the call of nature'. The discovery and removal of hair and body lice are examined next, followed by oral hygiene. Included here are ways of freshening the breath, caring for the teeth, and dealing with conditions which affect the mouth and lips. The eyes and ears are the topic of the next section, followed by the treatment of skin diseases and the disabilities which affect the hands and feet.

A discussion of medical problems follows, starting with an examination of abscesses, boils and ulcers, and moving on to the treatment of wounds. Terms for medicine and medicinal plants are introduced next, followed by a discussion of medical implements, in particular the cupping glass. A general section on sickness and health follows and includes information on some of the more widespread epidemics. The course of an illness along with care and treatment are discussed in two of the final sections. The chapter ends with the presentation of a variety of other ailments, from stroke to the common cold.

11. Fibre, Cloth and Clothing
Abaca, the dominant fibre of the Bikol region, begins this chapter: where it was grown, when it was harvested and how its fibres were removed from the concentric circles of the stem and subsequently processed. Cotton and silk, the other fibres commonly available in the region are also discussed, as fibre, thread and cloth. There is also a substantial discussion of the loom looking at its parts, and weaving covering the process from the initial stages of planning to the final stages of cutting the cloth from the loom.

Sewing in all its forms is also discussed in some detail, from the basic techniques of basting and hemming to the more decorative techniques of embroidery. Included is a section on tailoring where pieces of cloth are sewn into clothing. The final sections examine clothing, the types which were worn by men and women, how it was chosen, worn and cared for, the effects of wear, and the inevitable washing and storage. The chapter ends with a presentation of headwear, from hats to the softer forms of cloth head coverings.  

[1] Marcos de Lisboa, Vocabulario de la lengua Bicol, Convento de Nuestra Señora de Loreto, Pueblo de Sampaloc; reprinted in 1865, Manila: Establecimiento Tipografico del Colegio de Santo Tomas, 1754.

[2] Eusebio Gomez Platero, Catálogo Biográfico de los Religiosos Franciscanos de la Provincia de San Gregorio Magno de Filipinas, Manila: Imprenta del Real Colegio de Santo Tomas, 1880, p. 53, as cited in Jose Calleja‑Reyes, 'Ibalon: an ancient Bikol epic,' in Philippine Studies, vol. 16 no. 2 (1968), pp. 318–47, p. 323.

[3] Entrada de la Seraphica Religion de Nuestro Padre San Francisco de las Islas Philipinas, An anonymous manuscript of 1649 held at the Biblioteca Nacional, Madrid, MSS No. 505, 1895, p. 51.

[4] Malcolm W. Mintz, Bikol Dictionary. Vol. I: English-Bikol Index; Vol. II: Bikol-English Dictionary (Incorporates the seventeenth-century Marcos de Lisboa Vocabulario de la Lengua Bicol), Australia: Indonesian/Malay Texts, 2004.

[5] Merito B. Espinas, 'A critical study of the Ibalong, the Bikol folk epic fragment,' in Unitas, vol. 41, no. 2 (1968), pp. 173–249.



Published with the support of Gender and Cultural Studies, School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, The Australian National University.
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Page constructed by Malcolm Mintz and Carolyn Brewer.
Last modified: 31 July 2016 1028