At first sight

What did our ancestors  look like to them? That has always fascinated me.  After almost 500 years since the arrival of Magellan, , the only available records were  written by foreigners, Pigafetta, the eye witness , and Transylvanus who  interviewed survivors of Magellan’s  ill-fated voyage. The early missionaries wrote laborious records and a number of them compiled glossaries and dictionaries in aid of evangelization.  Today,  historians and linguists have mined these treasure trove of words and discovered hitherto unknown facts about the traditions, beliefs and concepts held by our ancestors,lamentably  forgotten in the course of  more than 300 years of colonization.

Jose Rizal painstakingly annotated the Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas by Antonio de Morga, the oidor of the Royal Audiencia, published in the 17th century. Rizal immediately captured its importance, Sucesos was written by a lay man, not a friar of a religious order. Makamisa, his third and unfinished novel, in Tagalog, was about that obscure point of contact between Catholicism and the religion of our forebears.  I am certain that during the Quincentennial, this subject will be thoroughly discussed.

Fray Juan Francisco de San Antonio of the Apostolica Provincia de SanGregorioen las Islas Filipins, China, Japon wrote his own  Cronicas in the 18th century; far from being  original, he admitted using earlier works by his predecessors.  He was most impressed by the manners of the natives who had “a thousand more ways of expressing courtesy in words, names and the titles by which they address each other, which are varied depending on the different provinces…”

Fray de San Antonio observed   that our ancestors were exaggeratedly ceremonious as they bowed deeply and asked permission before passing in front of another person. If one had to talk to a person of a higher rank, it was customary to approach reverently, squat before the esteemed individual and wait for him to speak first because talking without being asked to do so was the height of bad manners. Writing prose and poetry also had its unspoken rules of elaborate rhetoric, metaphors and allusions. “ In poetry, one has to be very learned in their language to understand it, and this happens even among their own countrymen…” reported the good friar. He added that Lacan and Gat were equivalent to the Castillian Don and Dayang, for women, was like Dona.

What did our ancestors look like to Fray de San Antonio? He said : “They have nice features, except that they are all flat-nosed because the cartilage of the ridge of the nose does not reach the end as it does with Europeans. There are no sharp noses to be found among pure Indians…”  He tried to describe their color but his mental palette could not produce the appropriate words for a “legitimate color.” Was it “cooked quince” ? Olive? Dark brown? The women were of a lighter shade, specially among the Visayans.  Both men and women had straight black hair which they kept long, the longer the more beautiful and scented with fragrant oils. “Cutting their hair because of having committed some infraction is taken as an insult…”  Our ancestors had beautiful deep brown eyes , fine and even teeth which in some places were dyed black or covered with gold. It was a disgrace for native men to be bearded, according to Fray de San Antonio, so I wonder what Lapu Lapu and his warriors felt when they saw those bearded strangers in full battle gear wade (it was low tide) to the shores of Mactan.