More than 7,000 Philippine Islands are strung out in a north-south orientation at the eastern edge of the South China Sea, bounded by Taiwan to north, China and Viet Nam to the west, and a scattering of Indonesian islands to the south. Our little nest is in northern Luzon, the largest of the Philippine Islands, which lies on the same latitude as Puerto Rico. It is hot most of the year, slightly cooler and much wetter in December and January. Luzon, interestingly, is the fourth most populated island in the world, a fact that can be verified easily by trying to cross a busy street in Manila at any time of the day or night.
No one knows for sure how long the Philippine islands have been populated. The earliest human remains date back 67,000 years. Also at some time in the misty past, Negritos found their way to the islands where they found their niche, principally in the mountains. The Asian ancestors of modern Filipinos, according to one theory, migrated from Taiwan about 6,000 years ago, eventually displacing earlier settlers and establishing tribal kingdoms throughout the islands.
By 1000 BC, travelers from Indonesia were beginning to occupy the southern islands of the Visayas and in Mindanao and by 1500 Islam had spread as far north as what later became Manila in southwestern Luzon. This was the lay of the land when Magellan stumbled onto the islands in 1521 and claimed the territory for Spain, a blatant act of theft that was, unfortunately, common in those days.
In 1565, Miguel Legazpi named the islands The Philippines, after King Philip II. Legazpi moved in and acted like he owned the place. He didn’t ask the locals their opinion. The Spanish interlopers made short work of ousting the Muslims, who, even in those days, were fighting against each other and couldn’t organize themselves in opposition to the new guys. Islam remains dominant in the remote southern parts of the Philippines today, the source of much political friction, but has not made any significant inroads in the north.
Trade routes were set up between the Philippines and Mexico, Spain’s dominant colony in the Americas, and foreign goods flooded in, along with a flood of missionaries. The Spanish immediately set out, as was their custom in those days, to convert the people to Christianity. Catholicism remains today the dominant religion, though with a curious mixture of some of the ancient superstitions. The islanders may have accepted this new religion, but they did not react well to being occupied. Over the next couple hundred years they kept the Spanish busy putting down a series of uprisings and revolts.
But rural Filipinos were clannish and tribal. They were divided by geography and culture and by more than a hundred languages, something the occupiers exploited by keeping Spanish from spreading into the countryside. As a result, the disparate tribes weren’t able to organize into a sufficiently strong force to overcome the Spanish army.
The Spanish, to their credit, eventually introduced public schooling in the mid-nineteenth century, but by then the Spanish Empire was waning, and two decades later, after the Spanish-American war, Spain handed the Filipinos over to another, arguably more benign, occupier.
Under the domination of the U.S., English was adopted as the unofficial language and Tagalog (Filipino) was declared the national language. Today, nearly every Filipino speaks three languages: Tagalog, English and his own tribal language. My Sweetie is from the Ilokano (sometimes spelled Ilocano) language group that occupies much of northern Luzon.
The Philippines gained independence in 1946.
The island of Luzon stretches north to south, about 500 miles and is dominated by two mountain ranges, the Sierra Madre on the east, and the massive Cordillera range on the west, the largest and highest mountains on Luzon. The Province of Cagayan is situated in the valley between the northern reaches of these two ranges The Barrio of Simayung is a political subdivision of the municipality of Abulug, the seat of which is on the northern coast where the Abulug River empties into the South China Sea.
A 45-minute flight from Manila will get you part way there, to the city of Tuguegarao. From there, a two and a half hour drive will bring you to Simayung, our humble barrio. Or, if you don’t like to fly, you can drive from Manila in about thirteen hours.
Simayung is a long way from Manila, and it’s a long way from modern life as you know it.