Before European colonization, the Philippines did not have a national identity. Instead, the archipelago was comprised of many territories occupied by different tribal groups who constantly feuded with each other. However, because of the archipelago’s location, it was already an economic and cultural hub.

         The Rahjanate of Cebu is believed to have been established in the 10th century by a prince of the Hindu Chola dynast from Sumatra. The name “Cebu” came from the old Cebuano word sibu or sibo (“trade”), a shortened form of sinibuayng hingpit (“the place for trading”) as the community was already a thriving port. It was originally applied to the harbors of the town of Sugbu, the ancient name for Cebu City.

          Due to its location in the middle of the archipelago, Cebu was already a thriving port and the indigenous population – as in the rest of the major surrounding islands – had developed a way of life and a distinct culture that were suitable and satisfactory to them. They had a calendar, weights and measures, a system of writing, some elements of law, some religious ideas showing both Hindu and Mohammedan influences, and had some skill in metalworking, pottery making, and weaving.

          Few pre-colonial artifacts have been unearthed that could give us a glimpse of what arts and crafts were in those days. However, nearly a hundred pre-Hispanic pieces were discovered in 2008 in the historical core of city which yielded a gold death mask made with delicately crafted sheets of gold that covered the eyes, nose and mouth.

          What is certain is that Visayans had the most prominent tattooing traditions among the Philippine ethnic groups – the original Spanish name for the population being Los Pintados or the native ones. Tattoos were symbols of tribal identity and kinship, as well as bravery, beauty, and social or wealth status. Often, they mimicked forms from the natural world both to show their reverence and desire to manifest certain “supernatural” qualities.

          Perhaps the most enduring remnants of pre-colonial life are the woven crafts and native structures that have persisted, largely unchanged, in the modern era. The natives used widely available natural materials such bamboo, cogon grass, anahaw and utilized techniques honed over the millennia. The forms were utilitarian (food service, storage, carriers) while the structures were built to withstand the sometimes-brutal tropical weather patterns. In its most basic form, the bahay kubô (aka kamalig, payag, nipa hut) consisted of one or more rooms that were raised above ground on stilts. Its resemblance to a cube led the Spaniards to call it cubo hence the contemporary moniker.

NEXT > 1565 – 1898 | 333 Years in the Convent 

To navigate to the other eras of this section, please click on any of the buttons below: