More Pilipinismos: The Question of History (Penelope V. Flores)
In Nick Joaquin's lecture of 1981 at Santo Tomas University, he expounded on Christianity and the Economic Culture of the Philippines. What intrigued me was his interpretation of the colonization of the Philippines. He questioned the nationalist view that stated: "We seem to arouse in other peoples a desire to convert and civilize us."
He pointed out the irony of this statement and proceeded to demolish such myth in providing that the opposite is true. That is, no one but the Spaniards had the inclination to Christianize and civilize us. In Joaquin's words: "We seem to arouse in other peoples a disinclination to convert or civilize us." And to prove his point, he cited what did not happen to us in the Philippines in the centuries before 1521. Joaquin asks:
"Were the great religions of Asia then all aflame with a desire to convert us?" "Had Chinese missionaries been exhorting us for ages on the precepts of Taoism and Confucianism?" "Did India send us numberless Hindu gurus determined to win us over to the worship of Brahma and a belief in reincarnation?" "Were hordes of Buddhist monks leading our forefathers in the Rightfold Path to Salvation?" "Had the samurai come to enlighten us with the codes of Shinto and the wit of Zen?" "Was Islam so zealous of our souls that no sooner had it reached East Asia in the eighth century, it was heading for these islands and teaching us all to Allah, from Aparri to Jolo?"
If it was true that we arouse the missionary fever in other peoples, then these close neighbors should long ago, before 1521 have converted us to their respective religions, and with the same zeal with which they were so busy converting one another - for the Chinese, the Indians, the Malays, the Sri Lankans, the Cambodians, the Vietnamese, the Japanese, the Koreans, the Arabs, the Indonesians were all, all eager then to bring everybody else the Good News of salvation and enlightenment.
The fact is, we were simply left out of the mainstream of the general and widespread missionary activity that went on all over Asia. The great mystery of our history is why we were bypassed in all those years before 1521. Why did we not become Taoists, or Confucianists? We never became Hindu, although we were influenced in naming our islands Bisayas, after the Sri Vijayan empire. We did not become Buddhists. Neither did we become Shintoists. We did not become Muslims, but ask any Arab Muslim if our Filipino Muslims are on par ideologically with the true Muslims, and they vigorously shake their heads.
Let us look at the argument that we were so isolated geographically, that this is why we were bypassed by the Great Religions. Joaquin calls that argument "consuelo de bobo". For he asks: "How can we promote the Philippines as the gateway of Asia, the crossroads of Asia, the heart of Asia, the hub of Asia, or whatever we are supposed to be in Asia?" On the argument that even before 1521 we were already big traders all over Asia and a good cultural neighbor; this explanation appears to be an acute embarrassment. For example, if were already participating actively in the Asian civilization, how come our own culture does not show any sign of it? All our culture can show are meager foreign beads, bangles, some foreign clothes and ceramics. The obvious fact is that we were still in a state of prehistory because Asia was no more eager to "civilize" us than it was to convert us. All we need to do to provide this is to cite what happened in the great civilizations and what did not happened in the Philippines in those centuries before 1521.
"China already had paper. Did we get paper from the Chinese?" "Korea already had printing. Did we get the books from the Koreans?" "India already had wheel and plow. Did we get the wheel and plow from the Indians?" "Indochina already had currency. Did we get banking from the Indochinese?" "Japan already had road and bridges. Did we get road and bridges from the Japanese?" "Malays already had cities. Did we get city culture from the Malays?" "Indonesia already had masonry. Did we get architecture from the Indonesians?" "Islam already had oceangoing vessels. Did we get the ship from the Arabs?"
It is a real eye-opener to note that the answer to all the questions posed above is a resounding "No." Thus, if we were really into Asia then, it's quite incredible that so few of the basic tools at least of that culture should have passed into ours. It is like looking at the incredibility that after our long association with the US that we should remain ignorant of automobiles, planes, movies, telephones, newspapers, electronic media, even of fork and spoon. How could we have had profound relations with China when we weren't even using chopsticks? All those peoples who had interactions with China use chopsticks like those in Vietnam, Tibet, Taiwan.
The truth is had Asia been more eager to teach us its arts and technology and civilize us, our art, music, cultural forms would definitely have been more Asian. It is clear that we aroused no desire for the Asians to "convert and civilize" us. It must be galling to nationalists and ideologues who want to dig deep into our own cultural consciousness to discern the naked truth that after all we said against the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, it was Christianity that was the only religion that has shown a desire to convert us and has pursued that desire with utmost zeal. Even miraculous was that in the conversion of the indigenous Filipino, it was followed by a transformation from the subsistence culture to, in a couple of centuries, a culture of town life, large scale farming, specialized jobs, and production for export. Touchy we may be to admit it, Christianity "civilized" us.
Dr. Penelope Flores is a professor of education at San Francisco State University.
Asociación Cultural Galeón de Manila - C/ Rioja, 9 - 5º F 28042 Madrid NIF: G85662187. Inscrita en el Registro de Asociaciones de la Comunidad de Madrid con el número 30.150, de fecha 17 de marzo de 2009, y en el Registro de Entidades Ciudadanas del Ayuntamiento de Madrid nº 02291.