A legend tells about the original Filipino
Malakas was strong and fierce like a lion. His eyes pierced the night with clarity; he understood the secrets of stars and the moon. His arms and legs were taut muscles that stretched and strained as he moved among bamboo groves and thickets of ancient trees where monkey and orchids hung about. He was agile with the kris and with the gigantic bow and arrow he used to kill game to nourish his people. He was gentle and kind to women and children; he laughed a lot. He told stories that mesmerized everyone.
Beside this glorious man was maganda, the beautiful one. She walked out of the bamboo shaft –a Botticelli dream – long – limbed, long haired, bronze – skinned. Her lips were heart shaped; her eyes were sun – dazzled. She loved her man, malakas. When she spoke in her soft lifting way, malakas listened.
They were our proverbial Adam and Eve in paradise –the Philippines – surrounded by waters of deepest blue that melted into an embracing sky. Chains of mountains crested into a scalloped horizon; the dark and mystical forest abounded with magic and spirits.
History books have documented that the primitive people of the Philippines –the Aetas or Negriteos –walked out of the exposed land shelves more than 250,000 years ago. They settled in the mountains to be closer to God, Bathala. They carved perfect rice terraces with a sophisticated irrigation system on precipitous mountainsides. These rice terraces have become one of the wonders of the modern world. To this day, these rice terraces are the source of nourishment to the ifugaos, the descendants of the ancient people.
Other early Filipinos were Malays of the Indonesian archipelago who rowed on sturdy boats and settled in the lowlands. They brought along with them topper ware and the alphabet. Traders from southern china plied the water between these islands. They bartered with porcelain vases, luxurious silks and gunpowder. they taught the Filipino Malay how to make noodles, wanton soup, and egg rolls. In exchange, they took back with exotic food: huge jack fruit that could feed a family for months; edible, sweet, purple, orange, yellow, green, brown tubers and vegetables; spices that emitted flavors and aroma that titillated, mystified and fascinated; fattened wild game that had scampered and grazed in the thick fertile forest of the mountains; birds and fowl with plumage they never imagine possible; hundreds of varieties of fish and shell fish -all of God’s bounty. Like gold, they were sought, craved and taken.
The Moors occupied the southern islands and become the Filipino Muslims, Moros. It was the south where the first conquistador met with the Filipino.
Pigafetta, in 1552, wrote of the voyages of Magellan. “The natives –clad in gold, exchanged bars of gold and crates of pieces for brass and leather. Gold covered the natives’ swords, belt and headwear; gold was everywhere and the natives were like children living with it.” He spoke of the kings of some islands who spoke many languages. Pigafetta watched in awe as Spanish soldiers were dined and wined by the royalty of the islands, “…using porcelain and feasting on pigs, fish, rice, fruits and wine.”
In 1899, Scull described the islands: “There is not a brook that finds its way into the Pacific ocean whose sands and gravel do not pan the color of gold … I know no other part of the world, the Alaskan Tread well mines excepted, where pay ore is found within a few hundred yards of the anchorage of sea-going vessels. In addition to gold, iron, copper, lead sulfur, and other minerals are found to exist in paying quantities…”
Imagine the richness and the bounty of these island, and imagine how much the conquistadors wanted to own them. But it was not going to be easy. The leader of the more successful Filipino resistance –Lapu Lapu (Kulapulapu, wrote Pigafetta)—was a clone of Malakas. Dressed in loin cloth, he led his me to a small and seemingly futile triumph: he killed the leader of conquistadores—Ferdinand Magellan. Slew him like a helpless fish in the sea. Lapu Lapu, who had a way with his kris bellowed with joyous laughter as he saw his enemy flail in death.
Despite the small resistance, the Spaniards still were able to bully their way into the land and its people. That was in 1521. The Spanish occupation lasted for more than 350 years. To this day, 90٪ of the Filipinos are Roman Catholic and are named Garcia, Lopez, Castro, and Rivera, etc. Spanish viands like morcon, embutido, asado, paella and estofado are part of the Filipino cuisine.
Fast –forward 350 years to the 1900s when the Spaniards gave up the Philippines to the Americans. They, in turn, taught English to the already confused Filipinos, who were speaking a mélage of Spanish and native languages. Who ever heard of Tagspanglish? Modern day Filipinos speak that. They call it colloquial but it is, in fact, mishmash of languages –Malays, Spanish and English. The Filipino’s facility in languages is an adaptation it migration and colonization of many countries.
The American introduce Protestantism to the predominantly Catholic population with little success. They are able to make the Filipinos adopt their two –party political system before the Japanese booted them out during the Second World War. The Japanese stayed for a few years but didn’t have the foresight to teach the Filipinos how to make sushi, alas! They were more interested in frightening the Filipinos and bullying them. As a result, the descendants of Malakas scampered, hid, and fortified themselves in the impenetrable forests of the islands. Malakas’ genes manifested themselves in the Filipinos who were small in stature but nimble on their feet and resourceful as hell. So the resistance, a raggedy team of leftover American soldiers and Filipino guerillas fought the Japanese through many skirmishes in the mountains in the northern island of Luzon.
Did I bore you with this story? Wait. You will quickly realize that knowing this history has something to do with Filipino cooking. Throughout this book, you will find that most of the cultures and cuisines of all the people who have occupied the Philippines have been subtly and permanently integrated within the country.