• The least hispanic colony


    WRITING from Seville, where I have come to conduct research in the Archivo General de Indias to examine the Spanish documents on its Asian colony. What I’ve found is how differently the Philippines sat within the Spanish Empire. We often talk of the Philippines being ‘apart’ from Asia, having been Hispanicized, but once placed in the context of the Spanish empire one sees how comparatively Asian and undisturbed by the Spanish the Philippines was.

    The Philippines, the least populated and cared-for colony by the Spanish, represents the limits and contingencies of imperial power. As Spain’s commercial outpost connecting its New World goods to the lucrative Chinese trade, Manila and, to an even greater extent, the rest of the Philippine country was an imperial ‘afterthought’. At no time did more than 3% of the Philippine population speak Spanish (compare this to the impressive linguistic transformation evident throughout Latin America), and at no time did more than a handful of Spaniards reside in the colony.

    Given this peripheral status, the Philippine reaction to Spanish power, while recurrently violent, especially in Mindanao and in the areas with a strong sense of community and unified culture, in the long-term was marked by accommodation, appropriation and appeasement. It benefited datus to bend to Spanish guns and technological power, and in doing so, they were able to reassert their agency, appropriating and latching onto Spanish authority for their own ends. Herein lies the greatest symbol to the contingency and limitation to imperial power, which, if it is to be long-term, rests crucially on acceptance, accommodation and collaboration by the natives, for brute force alone cannot sustain a colony in the long-term, as to do so would bleed dry the coffers of the mother country.

    Though corruption, injustice, and degradation of native culture marked the Philippines under Spanish rule, the Philippines remained relative agency, as archaeological comparisons show between the New World and the Philippines, in the latter of which the intervention of the Spanish leaves a far less pronounced mark. In many ways, Filipinos paid lip service to Spanish wants while retaining and transforming native beliefs and culture. This is most evident in the accommodation of Catholicism, which Spanish friars localized to achieve maximal conversions (explaining articles of faith through preexisting local, cultural beliefs) and the Filipinos interpreted through their preexisting framework, transforming and “nativizing” the religion in the process.

    In this context can we think through why US colonialism had such an impact on the Philippines. With a weakly Hispanicized identity, apart from religion, and with the US possessing greater technologies of power and greater desire to impose control than did the Spanish, the “50 years in Hollywood” was able to have an outsized effect, especially in comparison to the weaker effect that the prior “300 years in a Spanish convent” ended up having.

    Nicole Del Rosario CuUnjieng is a PhD Candidate in Southeast Asian and International History at Yale University.

    Nicole CuUnjieng


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    1. Amnata Pundit on

      Least hispanic but most catholicized. The Spaniards gave us their worst and denied us their best. The result is what we see today.

    2. The culture of urban Filipinos has been affected by the introduction of war, for which the Americans’ propaganda made almost everyone think the U.S.A. and learning to speak English is the end all -and be all in life as a successful Filipino. But, deep inside the Filipinos’ psyche, there have been values, beliefs, lingual and logical ways we have to think the Spanish in us works best. Functionally, we know how to discern and at our level best, we philosophize. We cannot just accept stupid impositions. It is just that the Americans’ dominance over the Western press, screws many among us (especially those in politics and economics) into some sort of a blind faith following who’s who ratings and surveys, Standard & Poor’s, among others. We must think independently and go against the tide in most cases.

    3. jason bourne on

      “The Philippines, the least populated and cared-for colony” quote is a Non-sequitur. Since when did an “Imperialist” nation “cared for” its slaves?

    4. Philippine is a China Taoism and Muslim influenced country corrupted by European Catholicism.

    5. Spanish rule in the Philippines was the expansion Reconquista. Seville is the place where Ferdinand Magellan came from. Catholic conversion here was actually be force not accommodation or appeasement the same situation in Seville Muslims Moors who dont want to leave have to convert by force.

    6. Norodin Lucman on

      This supports popular view that Philippines is a pagan country, disguised as a Catholic dominion. From the point of view of history, I think this assertion is credible.

    7. Art Ona says:
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      June 1, 2015 at 5:06 am

      You might want to say that for a long time the Philippines was governed thru Mexico. That to me means that in the political totem pole or order of importance, the Philippines was of a lesser political entity than Mexico. It was only later that we had reps at the Spanish Cortes. I dont remember the dates, these things I learned from my history class in 1955.
      By the way very good research !