by KB Meniado
Taking a cue from the latest Why Filipinos Should Read on why we should pick up more Filipiniana and readings on Anthropology, I decided to start this year’s reading list with a book about Filipino prehistory. Reading Wing of the Locust last year also stirred this interest, and I wanted to continue to remedy my vague precolonial knowledge. Some of the people I know are in the same boat, our confusion caused by several factors such as obsolete school curricula, lack of access to information, and well, lack of accurate and verifiable information, in general.
This book, Filipino Prehistory: Rediscovering Precolonial Heritage (Anthropology of the Filipino People I) by the late renowned anthropologist and educator F. Landa Jocano, may have been published in 1998, but its points remain relevant to this day, given our continued discussion of national identity. It gives not only a thorough discussion on what our country and people were like before we were colonized, but also presents a lot of intriguing questions that contribute to forming who the Filipino truly is, and why we are the way we are, through our own lens.
Divided into four major parts treading on prehistoric setting, culture, and civilization, it would be hypocritical to say reading this wasn’t overwhelming. But no need to be intimidated—most of its academic content was written in a conversational tone, with accompanying images, photos, and images for easier digestion of information.
“Deprived of a past we can be proud of, we will continually search for meaning and self-worth elsewhere but our native ground...
Having better knowledge of our prehistoric past [will] restore our dignity as people [and] debunk the claim that ‘we have no cultural roots'”
I found myself absorbed paragraph after paragraph. There were more to the myths of waves of migration, Negritos as the Filipino’s first ancestors, and our Malayan origin I needed to unlearn and correct. The book presents empirical data by Filipino archaeologists, paleoanthropologists, and other researchers—at least those gathered at the time of writing—on the flora, fauna, and of course, the people, as the different phases of Formative, Incipient, Emergent, and Baranganic went by.
Most of my favorite details were in the Baranganic part, where data of a more concretized society were discussed, such as interclass relations in terms of marriage, practices when it comes to pregnancy and birth (“ancient Filipinos universally practiced abortion,” “child marriages were permitted, contracted before [they] were born”), and beliefs in celestial bodies and environmental spirits. Some of them weren’t exactly new information, but it felt validating to see parts of our so-called modern world bearing the customs of our precolonial past. Indeed,
“We have a glorious past to look back to, a heritage to be proud of, and an indigenous civilization to stand on.”
But as the author pointed out, the challenge prevails in strengthening our dedication in digging up our prehistoric heritage. With that, let me share with you as food for thought the three questions presented in the closing chapter of this book:
1. Shall we maintain the status quo and allow our colonial experience to shape our future perspective as this continues to shape us at present?
2. Shall we grapple with the problem of national identity in terms of models structured out of Western experiences, or
3. Shall we write the script of our own destiny and become principal actors rather than timid spectators on the stage of national development and nation building?