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 eighteen 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, fibre, cloth and clothing, the stars and seasons, status and social conflict, construction and infrastructure, arts and language, towns, trade and travel, hunting and trapping and kinship and Marriage. The first five of these chapters have appeared previously in print, the first published in 1996 and the last in 2008. The last thirteen chapters, 'Rice', 'Money, Weights and Measures', 'Jewellery and Body Ornamentation', 'Metals and Metalworking', 'Health and Personal Hygiene', 'Fibre, Cloth and Clothing', 'Stars and Seasons', 'Status and Social Conflict', 'Construction and Infrastructure', 'Arts and Language', 'Towns, Trade and Travel', 'Hunting and Trapping' and Kinship and Marriage 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] Supplementary data are 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, as well as the dictionaries of the other major languages located in the central Philippines published in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These include the languages of the Central Philippines Group, Tagalog, Waray, Cebuano and Hiligaynon, in addition to Bikol, and the main language of the Central Luzon Group, Kapampangan.
The focus is on Bikol, a region with a current population of just under six million people located on the southernmost part of the island of Luzon. The six provinces included in the Bikol region 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, continuing on 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.
Many 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 the 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 topic 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. Discussed next is 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 detailed 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, copper, brass and bronze. The smelting of iron and copper is then examined in some detail followed by a discussion 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, the 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 detailed 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 they were 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.  

12. Stars and Seasons
The night sky with its stars and planets was no less fascinating to the early Filipinos than it is today. Planets which moved strangely among the stars were observed, as were the flashes of comets and meteors. The arrangements of stars were given names and their presence noted along with the changing seasons. The phases of the moon were charted, and attempts were made to explain the occurrence of eclipses of both the sun and moon. The movement of the tides was tied to the alignment of the earth with the sun and moon, and their rise and fall were carefully noted.

Winds brought changes in the seasons and gave their names to the cardinal points of the compass. While they carried the rain that was needed to end the relative dry and permit that start of planting, they also brought heavy storms and typhoons with devastating frequency. Clouds signaled the onset of the rain, and the rain came noisily with lightning and thunder. Just as the wet arrived, it eventually ended and a relatively dry period again ensued. These are the topics which form the body of this chapter.  

13. Status and Social Conflict
The social structure of the Philippines at the turn of the sixteenth century comprised three distinct groups. These were the rulers and their families who obtained their position through skill or force and held it by dint of power and wealth; the slaves who came about their status after defaults on loans, abduction in wars or by inheritance, being the children of existing slaves; and the freemen who formed the intermediate class and were neither rulers nor slaves. Aspects of this class system form the first part of this chapter.

The second part examines various ways in which conflict developed in the society, where divergent opinions led to arguments and debates, provocations led to challenges and threats, and differences in status and trust led to reprimands and blame. These periods of anger, annoyance or offence often came to a satisfactory end with reconciliation reached between the aggrieved parties themselves, or with third party assistance.  

14. Construction and Infrastructure
Infrastructure and construction are the two physical aspects of village life discussed in this chapter. Roads and trails, where they existed, were located near or within towns since the lack of wheeled vehicles and the availability of waterways for easy travel by boat made these unsuited and undesirable for long distance travel. For towns to be viable, they needed supplies of fresh water for drinking and clean water for cooking. A location near natural springs or shallow sources of water for access by wells was essential.

Construction required both wood and tools and those with the expertise to use them. The wood of magnificent trees supplied the material for posts and beams, and the grasses, palms and bamboo the material for cladding. Temporary structures were built in the fields or in the forest to provide shelter, and in the trees for defense, but it was the house which provided a permanent home. This is the discussion which concludes the chapter: the parts of the house, its construction from planning and measurement to completion of the building and application of the finishing touches.  

15. Arts and Language
A variety of topics, all related to aspects of arts and language, is covered in this chapter. Musical instruments such as bells and gongs, rhythm sticks, drums, the strings and woodwinds are all included along with specifics of their form and function. There is a short discussion of dance followed by a more detailed presentation of songs and verses which served not only as entertainment, but also as a conduit for traditions conveyed from one generation to another. Narratives and oral communication are also examined for this was a society which relied overwhelmingly on the spoken as opposed to the written word. Language is the main focus at the end of the chapter, examining the effect a variety of languages spoken in close proximity had on the ability of individuals to communicate, including the language choices which had to be made, and the mixing of elements of two languages which were expected to be kept apart. Following this is a discussion of the alphabet and writing, its possible origin and spread through the islands. Included is a description of the alphabet itself, and the materials used in writing. Ending the chapter is a section on painting and sculpture, how designs were executed, which colours dominated and how these were applied.  

16. Towns, Trade and Travel
The linguistic work of Marcos de Lisboa opens this chapter, focusing on the terms he identified in downstream communities, including his residence of Quipayó, which differed from those used elsewhere in the region. Also included is a search for the places he mentioned in his dictionary entries, most of which can still be found.

The discussion then moves to the regional towns, where they were located, the questions strangers were asked to find out where they came from, what residency meant and what happened when individuals had to leave home to live elsewhere. While conflict was common, so was cooperation, needed to supplement labour, and to secure supplies of food and other necessary items.

International trade is briefly discussed, but the focus is on the local movement of items from one town to another and the traders needed to carry this out. Ending the chapter is a discussion of travel, why it occurred, the possible dangers, preparation for departure, the carrying of supplies, the places to break journey and the routes chosen.  

17. Hunting and Trapping
The weapons used for hunting and available in the Philippines at the turn of the sixteenth century - matchlock guns, darts and blowguns, bows and arrows, and spears and lances - are discussed in the opening sections of this chapter. This is followed by an extended section looking at the variety of snares and traps which were also in use: bow-like traps that shot darts or arrows at passing game, traps comprising ropes and nooses that caught animals by the feet or neck when triggered, and pits dug in the ground and lined with sharpened stakes or spikes for the trapping of larger game. Included are the details of the specific animals that were caught and the traps used to catch them: rats and mice, wild boar, buffalo, deer, civet cats, monkeys, crocodiles, birds and fowl.

The final sections look at the production and use of nets, the techniques of hunting, including the expectations associated with the catching and sharing of game, and the use of dogs. The discussion of dogs, the all important and ubiquitous companions of the hunter, includes how they were chosen when young, how they were cared for, and how they worked with the hunter on the hunt.  

18. Kinship and Marriage
This chapter examines kinship relationships, looking first at children in the immediate family and the terms associated with their order of birth. It then moves on to the relationship of siblings in mixed families who did not share the same mother and father. Also examined is the origin of familial terms where these have been borrowed from other languages. The extended family is discussed next, looking at in-laws, aunts and uncles, and grandparents, touching on the degree of generational distance and how this was represented. The chapter then discusses the inherited characteristics displayed by children, the care and respect expected and shown by children to their family elders, and adolescence where virginity and the expectations associated with teenagers and subsequent marriage is discussed.

Marriage is examined in the final sections of the chapter. Discussed are the steps involved in putting forth a marriage proposal, negotiations of the all-important dowry and the details of the marriage ceremony. Also examined are polygamy, incest, mistresses and concubines, sexual attraction, adultery, marital problems, and separation and divorce.

[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. 318-347, 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: 01 February 2021 1307