Precolonial Philippines was a collection of diverse indigenous peoples with a wide range of societies from coastal city states to flourishing sultanates. This included the Luzones, the ancestors of today’s Kapampángan and Tagálog people. They lived in the vast region around Manila Bay, from the provinces of Central Luzon to the Calabarzon (Southern Tagalog) region. The Kapampángan-speaking people have been living in this area since 2,000-5,000 years ago. The Tagálog-speaking people arrived later, sometime around 1,000-1,200 years ago. The Luzones were famous throughout Asia as brave warriors, rich traders, and master seafarers. They were also the first recorded people from the Philippines to set foot in what is now the United States and settle in the Americas. Today, they form two of the largest ethnic groups in the Philippines and throughout the diaspora.
900 C.E. The Laguna Copperplate
The Laguna Copperplate Inscription is the oldest known calendar-dated document found in the Philippines. It dates back to the year 900 C.E. or 621 years before the so-called “discovery” of the islands by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. Written in April 900 C.E., Jayadewa, the Senāpati and ruler of Tundun (Tondo) acquitted the honorable Namwran and his descendants from his debt of 1 kati and 8 suwarna (weight of gold). Namwran was actually not able to fully pay his debt yet he was pardoned from it by Jayadewa. This is a pardon that also applied to his descendants across the islands of Southeast Asia.
The Laguna Copperplate is but a small piece of metal and a tiny peek into the society of our forgotten ancestors yet its significance is immeasurable. It provides us with insights into the complexity of our ancient society, from debt, gold, and slavery, to our ancestor’s legal systems, social class, and social mobility. It gives us a peek into our ancestor’s sophisticated knowledge of the ancient sciences, metallurgy, mathematics, astronomy, etc.
1511: The Luzones & The Conquest of Malacca
The first known encounter between the Europeans and the Luzones happened in the Portuguese Conquest of Malacca in 1511, a decade before Ferdinand Magellan reached the islands of the Visayas in 1521. They were recorded in Portuguese as the “Luções” from the Kingdom of “Luçon” (Luzon). Magellan himself was present in the 1511 conquest of Malacca as a young amateur explorer. The Luzones were among the prominent ethnic communities who were present in the Sultanate of Malacca. They were well known for being fierce warriors, prosperous entrepreneurs, and brilliant public administrators. They also commanded huge armadas of warships and merchant vessels that became crucial in securing dominance in the region.
1521: The Prince of Luzon and the “Discovery” of the Philippines
On July 29, 1521, the Spanish conquistadors abducted the young “Prince of Luzon.” Within just a few months after Magellan’s death in the Battle of Mactan, the surviving crew of the Magellan-Elcano expedition encountered the armada of the Sultanate of Brunei. This impressive armada of almost 300 warships was led by the young “Prince of Luzon” who was also the “Laksamána” (admiral) of the Sultanate of Brunei, the powerful maritime empire that dominated Southeast Asia in the 1500s. He was the beloved grandson of the legendary Sultan Bolkiah of Brunei and Putri Laila Menchanai of Sulu. This young Rája of Maynílâ would later be known in history, and better known to many Filipinos, as the Rajah Matanda. He was considered to be the “King of Luzon” when the Spaniards returned in the 1570s. He, along with Lakandúlâ of Tondo (his brother), and Rája Sulíman of Maynílâ (Rajah Sulayman, their nephew), were the last independent Paramount Kings of Luzon. To learn more, please Abducting the Prince of Luzon.
1587: Luzones in Morro Bay
On October 18, 1587, the Luzones Indios landed in what is now Morro Bay, California. They sailed with Pedro de Unamuno in a Spanish expedition to explore the coast of Northern California. They were the first recorded people from the Philippines to set foot in what is now the United States. These Luzones Indios were highly-skilled navigators and experienced sailors who aided the Spaniards in navigating the vast waters of Asia and the Pacific. Many of these Luzones Indios came from La Pampanga or what is now Central Luzon, Philippines. They continued to arrive throughout the Spanish colonial period when California was still part of Mexico. They also helped the Franciscan missionaries in establishing many of the early colonial towns of what is now California in the 1700s.
1588: The Revolt of the Lakans
In October 1588, the Lakans and Datus of Luzon, led by Magat Salamat of Tondo, were exposed for leading a pan-Asian conspiracy to overthrow the Spaniards and liberate the Philippines. As a result of this foiled revolt, several of the Luzones Datus, including Magat Salamat’s brothers, Dionisio Capulong of Candaba and Felipe Salonga of Polo, were exiled to Acapulco, in what is now Mexico. They were the first officially recorded people from the Philippines to settle in what is now the Americas. The Luzones have a long and complicated history in both Asia and the Americas. They both aided Europeans and at the same time fiercely resisted colonialism. They were instrumental in fostering at least 300 years of cultural exchange and deeper connections between the diverse peoples on both sides of the Pacific.
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