Saturday, May 15, 2010

“Relation of the Filipinas Islands and of the character of their inhabitants.” 1569 -1576 - by Miguel de Legaspi

The Philippine Islands, 1493-1803
Volume III, 1569-1576
Author: E.H. Blair

Volume III, 1569–1576

Edited and annotated by Emma Helen Blair and James Alexander Robertson with historical introduction and additional notes by Edward Gaylord Bourne.
Documents of 1569

•Letter to Felipe II. Guido de Lavezaris; June 5.
•Letter to Felipe II. Andres de Mirandaola; June 8.
•Letter to Marqués de Falçes. Miguel Lopez de Legazpi; July 7.
•Relation of the Filipinas Islands. Miguel Lopez de Legazpi; July 7.
•Confirmation of Legazpi's title. Felipe II; August 14.

Sources: MSS. in the Archivo general de Indias, at Sevilla.

Relation of the Filipinas Islands and of the Character and Conditions of their Inhabitants.

This archipelago is composed of many islands. Some of them are large, and most of them thickly populated, especially on the seacoast and all along the rivers. The mountains are also inhabited; but there are not as many large towns as along the coast and the rivers. The inhabitants of these islands are not subjected to any law, king, or lord.

Although there are large towns in some regions, the people do not act in concert or obey any ruling body; but each man does whatever he pleases, and takes care only of himself and of his slaves. He who owns most slaves, and the strongest, can obtain anything he pleases. No law binds relative to relative, parents to children, or brother to brother. No person favors another, unless it is for his own interest; on the other hand, if a man in some time of need, shelters a relative or a brother in his house, supports him, and provides him with food for a few days, he will consider that relative as his slave from that time on, and is served by him.

They recognize neither lord nor rule; and even their slaves are not under great subjection to their masters and lords, serving them only under certain conditions, and when and how they please. Should the master be not satisfied with his slave, he is at liberty to sell him. When these people give or lend anything to one another, the favor must be repaid double, even if between parents and children, or between brothers. At times they sell their own children, when there is little need or necessity of doing so.

These people declare war among themselves at the slightest provocation, or with none whatever. All those who have not made a treaty of peace with them, or drawn blood with them, are considered as enemies. Privateering and robbery have a natural attraction for them. Whenever the occasion presents itself, they rob one another, even if they be neighbors or relatives; and when they see and meet one another in the open fields at nightfall, they rob and seize one another.

Many times it happens that half of a community is at peace with half of a neighboring community and the other halves are at war, and they assault and seize one another; nor do they have any order or arrangement in anything. All their skill is employed in setting ambuscades and laying snares to seize and capture one another, and they always try to attack with safety and advantage to themselves.

The land is fertile, and abounds in all provisions common to this region.1 If at times some places lack the necessaries of life, it is because the natives are the laziest people in the world, or because they are forced to leave their towns through war, or for other reasons. The land is neither sowed nor cultivated. Another cause for the lack of provisions is, that they have so little authority over their slaves. They are satisfied with what is necessary for the present, and are always more ready to rob their neighbors of their possessions, than to work and cultivate their own land.

More or less gold is found in all these islands; it is obtained from the rivers, and, in some places, from the mines, which the natives work. However, they do not work the mines steadily, but only when forced by necessity; for because of their sloth and the little work done by their slaves, they do not even try to become wealthy, nor do they care to accumulate riches.

When a chief possesses one or two pairs of earrings of very fine gold, two bracelets, and a chain, he will not trouble himself to look for any more gold. Any native who possesses a basketful of rice will not seek for more, or do any further work, until it is finished. Thus does their idleness surpass their covetousness. In spite of all this, we see that the land possesses much gold; for all men, whether they be chiefs or not, whether freemen or slaves, extract and sell gold, although in small quantities.

Then, too, many ships come every year to these islands, from Bornei and Luzon, laden with cloth and Chinese goods, carrying back gold with them; yet, with all this regular withdrawal of gold, the natives have always gold enough with which to trade. All these things permit us to infer that, if the mines were worked steadily and carefully by Spaniards, they would yield a great quantity of gold all the time. Nevertheless, in some places where we know that mines exist, the natives do not care to work them; but, on the arrival of the foreign vessels for purposes of barter, they strike a bargain with those foreigners and allow them to work in the mines for a period agreed upon. From this it is clearly evident how slothful these people are.

There are places in these islands where pearls can be found, although they are not understood or valued by the natives; therefore they do not prize them, or fish for them. Cinnamon is also to be found here, especially in the island of Mindanao, where a large quantity of it is gathered on the headland called Quavit, and in Samboaga and other parts of the said island. In some places we have seen pepper trees and other drugs which the natives do not value or cultivate—from which, with care and cultivation, they might derive and obtain profit.

At present cinnamon is the only article in the land from where we can derive profit; for, as I have said above, the gold supply will always be small until the mines are worked. I believe that if the land is settled and peopled by Spaniards, we shall be able to get plenty of gold, pearls, and other valuable articles. We shall also gain the commerce with China, whence come silks, porcelains, benzoin, musk, and other articles. Thus partly through commerce and partly through the articles of commerce, the settlers will increase the wealth of the land in a short time. In order to attain this, the first and foremost thing to be attempted is colonization and settlement. Through war and conquest, carried on by soldiers, who have no intention to settle or remain in this country, little or no profit will result; for the soldiers will rather impoverish the land than derive profit from it.

If your Majesty looks forward to this land for greater and richer things, it is necessary to people it, and to have a port here; for this land has many neighbors and is almost surrounded by the Japanese islands, China, Xava [Java], Borney, the Malucos and Nueva Guinea. Any one of these lands can be reached in a short time.

This country is salubrious and has a good climate. It is well-provisioned, and has good ports, where can be found abundance of timber, planking, and other articles necessary for the building of ships. By sending here workmen, sails, and certain articles which are not to be found here, ships could be built at little cost. Moreover, there is great need of a good port here, for it is very dangerous for large ships to sail very far in among these islands, on account of the shoals and tides hereabout. For this reason, it would be better to build galleys and light boats with oars, to go to the lands above-named, whence they would bring the cargoes for the heavy vessels. Thus the latter would not leave any port of these islands which might be founded for this purpose; and by this method the voyages and trading would be effected with great rapidity in every direction. The large ships would simply come to such ports as I have said, load their cargoes, and return.

I believe that these natives could be easily subdued by good treatment and the display of kindness; for they have no leaders, and are so divided among themselves and have so little dealing with one another—never assembling to gain strength, or rendering obedience one to another.

If some of them refuse at first to make peace with us, afterward, on seeing how well we treat those who have already accepted our friendship, they are induced to do the same. But if we undertake to subdue them by force of arms, and make war on them, they will perish, and we shall lose both friends and foes; for they readily abandon their houses and towns for other places, or precipitately disperse among the mountains and uplands, and neglect to plant their fields. Consequently, they die from hunger and other misfortunes. One can see a proof of this in the length of time which it takes them to settle down again in a town which has been plundered, even if no one of them has been killed or captured. I believe that by peaceful and kindly means, they will be easily won over, although it may take some time to do so—because, in all towns where Spaniards have brought peace and not destruction, the natives have always begged for friendship, and have offered to pay tribute from what they gather and own in their lands. And although at times they do not fulfil their promise, it is not to be wondered at; for the country is not yet sufficiently settled and secure. I am sure that, when this is so, they will be subdued and will do whatever is justly commanded them.

These natives will be easily converted to our holy Catholic faith, for most of them are heathens, excepting the natives of Borney and Lucon (who are chiefly Moros), and a few converted chiefs of these islands. These Moros have little knowledge of the law which they profess, beyond practicing circumcision and refraining from pork. The heathens have no law at all. They have neither temples nor idols, nor do they offer any sacrifices. They easily believe what is told and presented forcibly to them. They hold some superstitions, such as the casting of lots before doing anything, and other wretched practices—all of which will be easily eradicated, if we have some priests who know their language, and will preach to them. Certainly, there is a great opportunity to serve God, our Lord, and to expand and extol our holy Catholic faith, if our sins do not hinder the work.

In some of these islands, the mountain regions are inhabited by blacks, with whom as a general rule, the Indians are at war, and whom the latter capture and sell, and also employ as slaves.

Marriage among these natives is a kind of purchase or trade, which the men make; for they pay and give money in exchange for their women, according to the rank of the parties. The sum thus paid is divided among the parents and relatives of the woman. Therefore the man who has many daughters is considered rich. After marriage, whenever the husband wishes to leave his wife, or to separate from her, he can do so by paying the same sum of money that he gave for her. Likewise the woman can leave her husband, or separate from him, by returning the double of what he gave for her.

The men are permitted to have two or three wives, if they have money enough to buy and support them. The men treat their wives well, and love them according to their habits and customs—although they are all barbarians and have no manners or politeness.

Miguel Lopez de Legazpi  - “Relation of the Filipinas Islands and of the character of their inhabitants.”

Related story / web link :


  1. Wonderdul write Eme..your passion for history is amazing and this is very helpful to all your readers. Keep up the good works dear friend. God bless you. :)

  2. Thanking you Bai, I am honored by your comments.
    Salam my friend.