Mamerto Adan is a feature writer who is back in college once again. Science is one of his many interests and his favorite topic.
Finding more about our precolonial past could give a new dimension to our Filipino identity. I’m not denying the value of the Spanish influence to our culture. After all, being a Filipino is a mix of both indigenous and Hispanic traditions. What’s missing is our knowledge of our indigenous side, a part of us that connects us to our untouched native lineage. The problem here is that we knew less of our history before the arrival of the Spanish colonizer. But we do know the style of governance, classes, and other essential elements of our precolonial civilization to give us a clear picture of life back then. Yet as more discoveries surfaced, it became clear that there are deeper aspects in our culture and tradition that adds a new level of understanding to the ancient society we nearly forget.
If we are to define what the precolonial Philippine society were, we will first begin that there was no Philippines back then. I will repeat, the centralized kingdom that united us as a single nation simply did not existed. The Philippines were just a collection of separate kingdoms governed by different leaders. Yet, one cannot describe these Kingdoms as tribal, as these ancient societies were far more sophisticated. And somewhere in the wilderness of Quezon is a glimpse of this ancient past, with the discovery of limestone tombs of our Filipino ancestors.
Mulanay is a first-class municipality of Quezon, and known for its many old structures, like impressive baroque church (Mulanay Church), and ancestral homes. The place was evangelized by Franciscan missionaries in 1600 and founded as a municipality in 1745. But its history stretched back way before its founding as part of the Spanish colony.
A mountain in Mulanay, Mount Maclayao in Sitio Kamhantik has the remains of an ancient barangay. The site was first visited in March 1998 by Mary Jane Louise Bolunia. It was reported to the National Museum, but no expeditions to the site followed ever since. Yet, Mayor Tito Ojeda made requests to the National Museum to conduct more investigation of the site, and from September to December 2010, more requests were made. Eventually the Mulanay Tourism Office headed by Mr. Sanny Cortez met with the authorities of the National Museum, and Dr. Eusebio Z. Dizon assessed the area for six days, from January 20 to 26, 2011.
Several limestone sarcophagi and postholes were excavated in the area, an indication of ancient habitations. Overall, there are fifteen excavated limestone graves, the photo documentations of which was presented to the mayor and representatives of the National Museum. Experts noted that years of treasure hunting probably looted the area of death goods, and even the lid of the tombs. Nevertheless, it became a protected site and nominated for the UNESCO World Heritage list.
It was a good thing that the site became a part of a government protected forest land, which covered a total of 280 hectares. It kept away slash and burn farmers, though treasure hunters already frequented the place and exposed the tombs. And during the 2011 expeditions of Manila based archeologists, various artefacts together with the limestone graves were also unearthed. The site was noted for being complex, with remnants of not just burial sites but human habitations.
The tombs discovered there are rectangular in shape, no different than what were used today (and by other civilizations). In fact, they were comparable to the Egyptian sarcophagi, only without the elaborate carvings of human images.
These tombs were carved from limestone outcrops, an indication that the Filipinos practiced a more advanced form of burial. And the fact that they managed to carve stones meant they used metal tools. In other Filipino societies according to Eusebio Dizon of the National Museum, ancient natives of the same era used wooden coffins in mountainous regions, or jars elsewhere.
And tombs are not the only thing they found there.
Archeologists also unearthed pieces of earthen jars, fragments of metals and human remains in the form of bone fragments. There are also pieces of animal remains like bones from monkeys or boars in the tombs. The limestone outcrops also have holes for wooden poles for supporting structures like houses or shed.
The whole site stretched for 12 acre and archaeologists only uncovered a small portion of the area. It is possible that many still lies buried, though treasure hunters already took away some important pieces like burial goods, or the lids of the coffins. And carbon dating revealed that the age of the tombs was much older, dated around 890 to 1030 AD.
The tombs are the first of its kind in the Philippines, and the findings helped us paint a picture of the history of Mulanay, which stretched back to 9th century AD. The early Mulanay is a much more organized community which existed in the year 500 to 1300 AD. The ancient Filipinos in that place belonged to Austronesian speaking people coming from the ancient Taiwan. Based on the tomb’s constructions, these people practice complex burial customs and used metal tools.
Even deeper than the archeological findings are the beliefs of the people of Lumanay regarding the tombs. The town of Lumanay encompassed the archeological site, and being of Tagalog ethnicities, the people believed in the concepts of enchanted beings like the ancestral spirits. Locally, they are known as Anito, also spelled as Anitu, and they are the spirits of the deceased ancestors who inhabited the otherworld. Yet, through invocations, they could still influence the material world, or acts as intercessors with the deities (the same way as Saints in Roman Catholic beliefs). And locals from Lumanay believed that Bathala sent the anitos to help their ancestors construct the tombs of Kamhantik.
And long before the scientific discoveries of the ancient tombs, the people of Lumanay already knew their existence. They consider the ancient ruins as sacred, being the burial grounds of their ancestors and built with the aid of the anitos. The site for them is a dambana, shrines for the indigenous people and home of the anitos. And people avoid crossing the areas for the fear of disturbing the spirits. Such beliefs are the reason why the place became only known recently to the scientific world, though it never deterred the greed of the treasure hunters who looted the area.
1. Alfaro Jr, Jelito (27 October 2016). "Mt Kamhantik, Mulanay, Quezon." wanderingtonton.blogspot.com.
2. Gomez, Jim (20 September 2012). "Unique tombs found in the Philippines (unique)," phys.org.
3. Kaznowska, Helen (12 September 2012). "1000-year old village found in the Philippines." telegraph.co.uk.
Mamerto Adan (author) from Cabuyao on July 27, 2020:
Thanks Louise and Ankita! After the pandemic, I plan to visit the place. It's a bit far from Manila though.
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on July 26, 2020:
That looks really interesting. I love stories like this.
Ankita B on July 26, 2020:
Interesting article. Thanks for sharing.