In February 1899, British novelist and poet Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem entitled “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands.” In this poem, Kipling urged the U.S. to take up the “burden” of empire, as had Britain and other European nations. Published in the February, 1899 issue of McClure’s Magazine, the poem coincided with the beginning of the Philippine-American War and U.S. Senate ratification of the treaty that placed Puerto Rico, Guam, Cuba, and the Philippines under American control. Theodore Roosevelt, soon to become vice-president and then president, copied the poem and sent it to his friend, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, commenting that it was “rather poor poetry, but good sense from the expansion point of view.” Not everyone was as favorably impressed as Roosevelt. The racialized notion of the “White Man’s burden” became a euphemism for imperialism, and many anti-imperialists couched their opposition in reaction to the phrase.
Take up the White Man’s burden–
Send forth the best ye breed–
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild–
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.
Take up the White Man’s burden–
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit,
And work another’s gain.
Take up the White Man’s burden–
The savage wars of peace–
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.
Take up the White Man’s burden–
No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper–
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with your living,
And mark them with your dead.
Take up the White Man’s burden–
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard–
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:–
“Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?”
Take up the White Man’s burden–
Ye dare not stoop to less–
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you.
Take up the White Man’s burden–
Have done with childish days–
The lightly proferred laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!
Crosby on Kipling: A Parody of “The White Man’s Burden”
In February 1899, British novelist and poet Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem entitled “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands.” In this poem, Kipling urged the U.S. to take up the “burden” of empire, as had Britain and other European nations. Theodore Roosevelt, soon to become vice-president and then president, copied the poem and sent it to his friend, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, commenting that it was “rather poor poetry, but good sense from the expansion point of view.” Not everyone was as favorably impressed. Poet Ernest Crosby penned a parody of Kipling’s work, “The Real White Man’s Burden,” and published it in his 1902 collection of poems Swords and Plowshares. Crosby also wrote a satirical, anti-imperialist novel, Captain Jinks, Hero, that parodied the career of General Frederick Funston, the man who had captured Philippine leader Emilio Aguinaldo in 1901.
With apologies to Rudyard Kipling
Take up the White Man’s burden;
Send forth your sturdy sons,
And load them down with whisky
And Testaments and guns …
And don’t forget the factories.
On those benighted shores
They have no cheerful iron-mills
Nor eke department stores.
They never work twelve hours a day,
And live in strange content,
Altho they never have to pay
A single cent of rent.
Take up the White Man’s burden,
And teach the Philippines
What interest and taxes are
And what a mortgage means.
Give them electrocution chairs,
And prisons, too, galore,
And if they seem inclined to kick,
Then spill their heathen gore.
They need our labor question, too,
And politics and fraud,
We’ve made a pretty mess at home;
Let’s make a mess abroad.
And let us ever humbly pray
The Lord of Hosts may deign
To stir our feeble memories,
Lest we forget — the Maine.
Take up the White Man’s burden;
To you who thus succeed
In civilizing savage hoards
They owe a debt, indeed;
Concessions, pensions, salaries,
And privilege and right,
With outstretched hands you raise to bless
Grab everything in sight.
Take up the White Man’s burden,
And if you write in verse,
Flatter your Nation’s vices
And strive to make them worse.
Then learn that if with pious words
You ornament each phrase,
In a world of canting hypocrites
This kind of business pays.
The Bottom Line
Questions for writing and discussion:
According to Kipling, and in your own words, what was the “White Man’s Burden”?
What reward did Kipling suggest the “White Man” gets for carrying his “burden”?
Who did Kipling think would read his poem? What do you think that this audience might have said in response to it?
For what audiences do you think Ernest Crosby wrote his poem? How do you think that audience might have responded to “The Real White Man’s Burden?”
Examine the political cartoon below – which poem do you think it best illustrates? Why?
“My name is Thomas Kenning. I am the creator of Openendedsocialstudies.org. I am an educator with approximately fifteen years of experience in classrooms ranging from preschool to university, though my primary focus is on grades six to nine in the field of social studies. I have a bachelors in secondary education from Indiana University and a masters in history from American University. I started this website because it is the kind of resource that I am always looking for myself – digestible lessons that expand the too limited American notion of “world history,” accompanied by questions that help students to process and apply (not just regurgitate and forget) what they are reading. If the idea is to build bridges to a broader view of the world – not wall our students in – then I hope this website is one of those bridges, rickety as it may be.
I am a firm believer that the best teachers are creative and resourceful, making dynamic use of the tools they have at hand. In that spirit, some of the basic text on this website is adapted from open sources (like Wikipedia), but every bit of it has been fact checked and cross-referenced with academic sources. I’ve made every effort to ensure accuracy, as well as balance, across this website. I stand by everything I have posted here – I use many of these lessons in my own classroom on a regular basis – but if you see something that strikes you as inaccurate, by all means, please let me know in the comments section of the page in question.
Thank you for choosing to use Openendedsocialstudies.org in your classroom.”
Thomas Kenning is an author, educator, and adventurer. He has written extensively about Washington, DC, including in the recently published Abandoned Washington, DC. Mr. Kenning is the creator of the award-winning Openendedsocialstudies.org, a library of free lesson plans and travel writing designed to foster a sense of wonder about the world and our place in it. When he is not travelling to some far flung corner of the Earth, he resides with his wife and daughter (a DC native!) – planning his next improbable adventure and trying to leave the planet a little bit nicer than he found it.
“I have asked myself many times: Is the Filipino worth suffering, or even dying, for? Is he not a coward who would readily yield to any colonizer, be he foreign or homegrown? Is a Filipino more comfortable under an authoritarian leader because he does not want to be burdened with the freedom of choice? Is he unprepared, or worse, ill-suited for presidential or parliamentary democracy?
I have carefully weighed the virtues and the faults of the Filipino and I have come to the conclusion that he is worth dying for because he is the nation’s greatest untapped resource.” – Ninoy Aquino
Islands in a Friendly Sea: Some Basics of Filipino History and Culture (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Who are the Filipinos? What is their history and culture? How has it been shaped by island geography? By contact with the outside world?
Manila at the Crossroads of World Trade (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): For more than three centuries, Manila was one of the crown jewels of the Spanish Empire, sitting at the intersection of global trade between Asia, the Americas, and Europe. How did this global trade shape the Philippines – and how did the Philippines shape global trade?
The Origins of the Philippine-American War (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): How did the Filipinos gain independence from Spain, only to have it snatched away by their alleged ally, the United States? How does this experience resonate in both Philippine and U.S. history?
The Brutality of the Philippine-American War (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Why was the Philippine-American War so violent? Did this violence help or hinder the goals of each side? Should there be rules that govern the conduct of war?
The Philippines in the American Empire (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): After nearly 400 years, how did independence finally come to the Philippines? Was the United States conquest of the Philippines an anomaly in its history, or was it business as usual?
“The White Man’s Burden”: Kipling’s Hymn to U.S. Imperialism (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Full text of this imperialist poem, as well as an answer in the form of an anti-imperialist parody.
Stereoscopic Visions of War and Empire (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): This exhibit juxtaposes the visual message presented by the stereoscopic images with excerpts from the letters written by U.S. soldiers that were first published in local newspapers and later collected in the Anti-Imperialist League’s pamphlet, allowing us to get a glimpse of the Philippine-American War as it was presented to Americans at home, reading the news or entertaining friends in their parlors.
In The Trenches: Harper’s Weekly Covers the Philippine-American War (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): How did the American media cover the war in the Philippines? An excerpt from “In The Trenches” by John F. Bass, originally published in Harper’s Weekly.
Ninoy and Marcos – “A Pact with the Devil is No Pact at All.” (Free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities): Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Cory Aquino, and the People Power Revolution toppled the kleptocratic Marcos regime through nonviolence, answering with their lives the question, “Is the Filipino worth dying for?”
The balangay is a boat used by native Filipinos for at least 2,000 years. The balangay could cross open ocean – with navigation techniques involving the sun, the stars, the wind, cloud formations, wave patterns, and bird migrations. The word barangay – a variant – is also the word used to describe the basic unit of Filipino political organization, with a meaning similar to clan, before the arrival of the Spanish. Members of a barangay – typically 30 to 100 families – owed their allegiance to a datu, or chief, who ruled in conjunction with other datus. So, poetically you could think of your community as the people who were in the same boat as you.
While this system fell away under Spanish rule, the word barangay is still used to describe a neighborhood in the Philippines, an evocative double meaning in a nation so oriented to the sea.
There are a number of distinctions between the modern barangay or Barrio, and the city-states and independent principalities encountered by the Spanish when they first arrived in 1521 and established relatively permanent settlements in 1574. The most glaring difference would be that the modern entity represents a geographical entity, the pre-colonial barangays represented loyalty to a particular head (datu). Even during the early days of Spanish rule, it was not unusual for people living beside each other to actually belong to different barangays.
The barangay of precolonial times was either independent, or belonged to what was only a loose confederation of several barangays, over which the rulers picked among themselves who would be foremost – known as the Pangulo or Rajah. In most cases, his function was to make decisions which would involve multiple barangays, such as disputes between members of two different barangays. Internally, each datu retained his jurisdiction.
Who are the Filipinos?
Consider the map of the Philippines – how does the country’s unique geography lend itself to the diversity of its population?
There is no easy way to describe Filipino culture – no one settled definition – because the Philippines are a particularly diverse nation spread across some 7,000 islands, with hundreds of distinct languages and dialects, thousands of years worth of history, trade, and colonization serving to add color and flavor to what seems like a simple question.
Prior to the advent of European colonialism in the 1500s CE, much Southeast Asia including the Philippines was under the influence of greater India. India was a wealthy society with well-developed technology and religions. Indians spread throughout southeast Asia as professionals, traders, priests and warriors, bringing with them a written language (Sanskrit) and religion (Hinduism or Buddhism).
Numerous Indianized principalities and empires flourished for centuries in areas that would become modern Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Cambodia and Vietnam. Artwork, philosophy, models for royalty and class structure, as well as written languages in these lands were all influenced by India, similar to the way that Greek culture was a guiding influence on later European societies. However, each of these countries adapted, blended, and assimilated this Indian influence in its own unique way, giving rise to the great diversity of cultures seen even just in the islands that make up the modern Philippines.
By 1000 BCE, the inhabitants of the Philippine archipelago had developed into four distinct kinds of peoples: tribal groups, such as the Aetas, Hanunoo, Ilongots and the Mangyan who depended on hunter-gathering and were concentrated in forests; warrior societies, such as the Isneg and Kalinga who practiced social ranking and ritualized warfare and roamed the plains; the petty plutocracy of the Ifugao Cordillera Highlanders, who occupied the mountain ranges of Luzon; and the harbor principalities of the estuarine civilizations that grew along rivers and seashores while participating in trans-island maritime trade. It was also during the first millennium BC that early metallurgy was said to have reached the archipelagos of maritime Southeast Asia via trade with India.
What is the Boxer Codex, and what can it tell us about the Philippines?
Describe the general social structure of the prehispanic Philippines. In what ways is it similar to or different from the social structure in your own society?
Consider your status in your own society – to which corresponding class would you belong in ancient Filipino society? Justify your answer. Is this different from the class you WISH you belonged to?
Can identify any foreign influence assimilated into the social structure of the Filipinos?
The Philippines were ruled as a colony of Spain for 333 years. This colonial experience transformed the culture and social structure of the islands dramatically, as Spaniards converted Filipinos to Christianity, reorganized barangays into barrios that suited Spanish political needs, and reorganized farming and land use according to their own economic needs. The diverse languages and traditions of prehispanic Filipinos did not disappear completely, by any means, and much can be learned by talking to and studying the way of life practiced in various parts of the modern Philippines.
However, another important way that historians and anthropologists can gain greater insight into what the Philippines were like before the Spanish arrived is via the Boxer Codex, an illustrated manuscript commissioned by the Spanish around 1590. The Boxer Codex depicts the Tagalogs, Visayans, Zambals, Cagayanes or possibly Ibanags and Negritos of the Philippines in vivid color. The technique of the paintings, as well as the use of Chinese paper, ink, and paints, suggests that the unknown artist may have been Chinese. Since Spanish colonial governors were required to submit written reports on the territories they governed, it is likely that the manuscript was written under the orders of the governor. While it is written from an outsider’s perspective and contains many cultural biases that the Spanish carried with them, it is still an invaluable tool: this richly illustrated document provides a window into Filipino society at a time when the Spanish themselves were trying to gain a clear picture of it.
Paramount Leader of the confederacy of barangay states. In a confederacy forged by alliances among polities, the datu would convene to choose a paramount chief from among themselves; their communal decision would be based on a datu’s prowess in battle, leadership, and network of allegiances.
Datus were maginoo with personal followings (dulohan or barangay). His responsibilities included: governing his people, leading them in war, protecting them from enemies and settling disputes. He received agricultural produce and services from his people, and distributed irrigated land among his barangay with a right of usufruct.
Maginoo comprised the ruling class of Tagalogs. Ginoo was both honorific for both men and women.Panginoon were maginoo with many slaves and other valuable property like houses and boats . Lineage was emphasized over wealth; the nouveau riche were derogatorily referred to as maygintawo (fellow with a lot of riches).
Members included: those who could claim noble lineage, members of the datu’s family.
Powerful governor of a province within the caliphate or dynasties of Islamic regions. Their position was inherited by a direct descent in a royal bloodline who could claim the allegiances of the datu. Sultans took on foreign relations with other states, and could declare war or allow subordinate datus to declare war if need be. The sultan had his court, a prime minister (gugu), an heir to the throne (Rajah Muda or crown prince), a third-ranking dignitary (Rajah Laut, or sea lord) and advisers (pandita).
The timawa class were free commoners of Luzon and the Visayas who could own their own land and who did not have to pay a regular tribute to a maginoo, though they would, from time to time, be obliged to work on a datu’s land and help in community projects and events. They were free to change their allegiance to another datu if they married into another community or if they decided to move.
In Luzon, their main responsibility to the datu was agricultural labor, but they could also work in fisheries, accompany expeditions, and row boats. They could also perform irregular services, like support feasts or build houses
In Visayas, they paid no tribute and rendered no agricultural labor. They were seafaring warriors who bound themselves to a datu.
Members included: illegitimate children of maginoo and slaves and former alipin who paid off their debts
Members of the Tagalog warrior class known as maharlika had the same rights and responsibilities as the timawa, but in times of war they were bound to serve their datu in battle. They had to arm themselves at their own expense, but they did get to keep the loot they won – or stole, depending on which side of the transaction you want to look at. Although they were partly related to the nobility, the maharlikas were technically less free than the timawas because they could not leave a datu’s service without first hosting a large public feast and paying the datu between 6 and 18 pesos in gold – a large sum in those days.
Today, the word alipin means slave and that’s how the Spaniards translated it, too, but the alipins were not really slaves in the Western sense of the word. They were not bought and sold in markets with chains around their necks. A better description would be to call them debtors. Slaves who lived in their own houses apart from their creditor. If the alipin’s debt came from insolvency or legal action, the alipin and his debtor agreed on a period of indenture and an equivalent monetary value in exchange for it. The alipin namamahay was allowed to farm a portion of barangay land, but he was required to provide a measure of threshed rice or a jar of rice wine for his master’s feasts. He came whenever his master called to harvest crops, build houses, row boats, or carry cargo.Members included: those who have inherited debts from namamahay parents, timawa who went into debt, and former alipin saguiguilid who married.
Slaves who lived in their creditor’s house and were entirely dependent on him for food and shelter. Male alipin sagigilid who married were often raised to namamahay status, because it was more economical for his master (as opposed to supporting him and his new family under the same roof). However, female alipin sagigilid were rarely permitted to marry.Members included: children born in debtor’s house and children of parents who were too poor to raise them.
The Laguna Copperplate
What is the Laguna Copperplate? How does it further illuminate our understanding of early Filipino social structure?
Do you have documents that perform similar functions in your own society? What are they?
The Laguna Copperplate, a legal document inscribed on a copper plate in 900 AD, is the earliest known written document found in the Philippines. The document states that it releases its bearers, the children of Namwaran, from a debt in gold amounting to 1 kati and 8 suwarnas (865 grams; 27.8 troy ounces).
The Laguna Copperplate Inscription was found in 1989 near the mouth of the Lumbang River near Laguna de Bay, by a man who was dredging sand to turn into concrete. Suspecting that the artifact might have some value, the man sold it to an antique dealer who, having found no buyers, eventually sold it to the National Museum of the Philippines, where it was assigned to Alfredo E. Evangelista, head of its anthropology department.
Kasumuran; His Honor the Leader of Pailah, representing Ganasakti; (and) His Honor the Leader
han binwangan barjadi bishruta tathapi sadanda sanak kaparawis ulih sang pamegat de-
of Binwangan, representing Bisruta. And, with his whole family, on orders of the Chief of Dewata
wata [ba]rjadi sang pamegat medang dari bhaktinda di parhulun sang pamegat. ya makanya sadanya anak
representing the Chief of Mdang, because of his loyalty as a subject (slave?) of the Chief, therefore all the descendants
chuchu dang hwan namwaran shuddha ya kaparawis di hutangda dang hwan namwaran di sang pamegat dewata. ini gerang
of his Honor Namwaran have been cleared of the whole debt that His Honor owed the Chief of Dewata. This (document) is (issued) in case
syat syapanta ha pashchat ding ari kamudyan ada gerang urang barujara welung lappas hutangda dang hwa …
there is someone, whosoever, some time in the future, who will state that the debt is not yet acquitted of His Honor…
* Line 10 of the LCI ends mid-sentence.
A year later, linguist Antoon Postma noted that the inscription was similar to the ancient Indonesian script of Kawi. Postma translated the script and found the document dated itself to the Saka year 822, an old Hindu calendar date which corresponds to 900 AD, making the Laguna Copperplate the earliest example of writing ever found in the Philippines. The document pre-dated the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 and is from about the same time as the mention of the first known mention of Philippines in world history, in the official Chinese Song dynastyHistory of Song for the year 972.
The text of the Laguna Copperplate offers us a window into Tondo culture, an ancient Filipino barangay that thrived along the Pasig River, not far from modern Metro Manila. Because it is written in Kawi, an Indonesian script, and uses several Sanskrit loan-words, it demonstrates just how connected the Philippines were with other ancient societies in Southeast Asia.
New Voices, New Flavors
What outside cultures have contributed to the notion of what a Filipino is? Describe ways in which these newcomers have shaped the Philippines.
Archaeologists have found evidence for trade with China dating back nearly 2000 years. The first high volume trade began in the 10th Century CE. The Chinese brought ceramics (what we call china), tea, and silk, while the Filipinos offered raw materials like wood, wax, pearls, and tortoise shells. This trade happened regularly, often taking place on the beach. (Diorama in the Ayala Museum, Makati, Philippines, 2018.)
After Spanish conquest, the Chinese population in Manila rose dramatically. These Chinese were merchants facilitating trade between Spain and China, but their relationship with Spanish authorities was often characterized by mistrust and violence, as in 1603 when tensions spilled over into an uprising – that left some 20,000 Chinese dead. (Diorama in the Ayala Museum, Makati, Philippines, 2018.)
Trade and interactions with China have also shaped the culture of the Philippines since ancient times. Starting in the 900s CE, trade with China become more regular, leading to increased access to Chinese goods as well as intermarriage between Chinese merchants and local Filipino women. This exchange would culminate in the Manila galleon route during the Spanish colonial period. The arrival of the Spaniards to the Philippines attracted new waves of immigrants from China, and maritime trade flourished during the Spanish period. The Spanish recruited thousands of Chinese migrant workers called sangleys to build the colonial infrastructure in the islands. Many Chinese immigrants converted to Christianity, intermarried with the locals, and adopted Hispanized names and customs and became assimilated.
Trade brought Arab and Malay merchants to the Philippines, especially in the southern islands of Mindanao and Palawan. These traders brought with them their religion – Islam, which continues to be a crucial part of Filipino identity in these islands, where as much as 10% of the population is Muslim. In fact, it is possible that if the Spanish had arrived much later, Islam could have become the dominant religion of the Philippines; while the independent-minded barangays were conquered one by one by the Spanish, the Muslim sultanates of that existed upon their arrival were united by a cohesive religious identity that contributed to an increased ability to resist Spanish attempts to dominate these islands.
The arrival of Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521 began a period of European colonization. During the period of Spanish colonialism the Philippines was part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, which was governed and controlled from Mexico City. Early Spanish settlers were mostly explorers, soldiers, government officials and religious missionaries born in Spain and Mexico who worked to convert the Philippines into a country that is today 83% Catholic.
The Peninsulares (governors born in Spain), mostly of Castilian ancestry, settled in the islands to govern their territory. Most settlers married the daughters of rajahs, datus and sultans to reinforce the colonization of the islands. The Ginoo and Maharlika castes (royals and nobles) in the Philippines prior to the arrival of the Spanish formed the privileged Principalía(nobility) during the Spanish period.
In modern times, the Philippines was an American colony and protectorate, meaning that English became the language of business and education, and the economy and culture of the Philippines was influenced heavily by this interaction.
Seek out some Filipino recipes. There are also plenty of cooking tutorial videos online. Visit an Asian grocery store, purchase the necessary ingredients, and actually make a Filipino dish for dinner. And don’t forget dessert – halo halo is one of my favorites (only the Filipinos would think to put raw beans in an icy desert).
There is a long tradition of resistance to colonial rule in the Philippines.
Couple of this with the country’s strong Catholicism – with its tradition of sainthood and martyrdom – and you have nation that is very aware of those who have sacrificed to advance the cause of the Filipino. Manila’s Rizal Park features the Gallery of Heroes, a row of bust sculpture monuments of historical Philippine heroes. These include: Andres Bonifacio, Juan Sumuroy, Aman Dangat, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Gregorio Aglipay, Sultan Kudarat, Juan Luna, Melchora Aquino, Rajah Sulayman, and Gabriela Silang. Choose one of these personalities to commemorate in your own classroom. Write a brief description of their accomplishments to accompany a piece of artwork that celebrates their life for those who aren’t aware.
What spurred Spain to fund Columbus’s initial expedition?
Why was the silver mined in Potosi of special interest to the Spanish?
Schoolchildren learn that Columbus sailed under the flag of Spain, and that his venture was funded on the audacious notion that a lucrative trade route with the far east might be established with an easy trip west. Columbus grossly misjudged the diameter of the Earth, it turns out, though his mistake became one of the most consequential in all of world history, bringing the Eastern and Western Hemispheres into direct contact for the first time, opening the Americas for European conquest and colonization, and inaugurating a period of social, economic, and environmental exchange through which we are still living in the early the early 21st century.
But the Spanish wanted more. They never gave up on that tantalizing promise of a western trade route with Asia, especially after the initial plunder of the Aztec and the Inca in the early 1500s.
The Spanish continued to extract raw materials from indigenous labor their American colonies, most notably silver from the great mine at Potosi, in modern Bolivia. Silver mines were opened here in 1545 and soon accounted for fully half of the silver produced in the world on an annual basis. On its own, the silver mined at Potosi was of little use to Spanish. The rich don’t love money, but what it can buy for them. In this case, much of the silver mined at Potosi made its way to Ming China – via the Manila Galleon.
The Manila Galleon
What challenges and what discoveries on behalf of the Spanish led to the opening of the Manila Galleon route?
Did the wealth generated by this trade route benefit all parties equally? Why or why not? Consider the Spanish, the Chinese, and Filipinos in your answer, describing the role of each.
Consider modern trade in the same way – does it benefit all parties equally?
In 1521, just after the conquest of the Aztec in Mexico, and just before the conquest of the Inca in Peru, a Spanish expedition led by Ferdinand Magellan sailed west across the Pacific using the westward trade winds. The expedition arrived in the Philippines, finding there a diverse assortment of tribal groups, Muslim sultanates, and most enticing to the Spanish, a small community of Chinese merchants. Magellan promptly claimed the archipelago for Spain.
Although he died there after involving himself in a local conflict, one of Magellan’s ships made it back to Spain by continuing westward around the tip of Africa. In the decades that followed, other Spanish sailors figured out how to sail east – rising eastward winds at the 38th parallel north, off the coast of Japan – back over the Pacific toward Mexico, a journey that under the best of conditions took four months, but sometimes as long as six. This is an incredibly long time to go without taking on fresh water or food.
The goods arrived in Acapulco and were transported by land across Mexico to the port of Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico, where they were loaded onto the Spanish treasure fleet bound for Spain. From the early days of exploration, the Spanish knew that the American continent was much narrower across the Panamanian isthmus than across Mexico. They tried to establish a regular land crossing there, but the thick jungle and malaria made it impractical.
This route was a vital alternative to the even riskier trip west across the Indian Ocean, and around the Cape of Good Hope, which was reserved to Portugal according to the Treaty of Tordesillas and fraught with European privateers who might commandeer the Spaniard’s valuable cargo.
As it was, the city of Manila, representing wealth and a formidable European foothold in Asia, became a regional hub of trade and a target for foreign powers. At various times, has Manila come under attack by the Chinese, the Dutch, the English, the Americans, and the Japanese. In 1574, a fleet of Chinese pirates led by Limahong attacked the city and destroyed it before the Spaniards drove them away. The colony was rebuilt by the survivors. These attacks prompted the construction of a walled, stone city – today known as Intramuros – to anchor and secure the eastern end of Spain’s trade route.
The first Manila Galleon made the round trip between Acapulco and Manila in 1565, with galleons making the same circuit nearly every year until Mexican Independence in the early 1800s. This trade route, whose main hub was Manila, marked a new chapter in globalization, linking the labor and products of Asia, the Americas, and Europe. While this is a remarkable achievement, it is important to remember that it came about through tremendous hardship, brutality, and exploitation at almost every turn.
Potosi silver – mined, refined, and transported by native slaves under horrendous conditions – was taken by llama and mule train to the Pacific coast. From there, the silver was transported by ship up the coast to the port of Acapulco (in present-day Mexico), and from there on to Manila in the Philippines. This silver was in high demand by the Chinese, who based their monetary system on this precious metal.
Wary of outsiders, the Chinese spurned European attempts to establish trading posts in their home territory. As a result, the Asian end of the galleon trade was supplied by merchants largely from port areas of Fujian in southern China, who traveled with the blessing of the Chinese Emperor to Manila to sell the Spaniards spices, porcelain, ivory, lacquerware, processed silk cloth, and other valuable commodities. These are the same products – so valuable in Europe – that in ancient times fueled the Silk Road; the same ones that nearly a century earlier tempted Columbus and other men hungry for profit.
As a result, every available corner of the galleon was dedicated to carrying its profitable cargo – reports even suggest that cisterns meant to carry fresh water were sometimes given over to commercial product – and hygiene was poor. Historian Jan DeVries found that some 2 million men made trading voyages to Asia between 1580 and 1795, but only 920,412 survived: an overall survival rate of just 46%. On the Manila Galleon route, a large number of these men were Filipino, who worked under these harsh conditions for pay that you and I would find appalling – but which represented to them a tremendous windfall, the likes of which were otherwise hard to come by under the poverty of Spanish rule.
“In Manila, life was leisurely, even beautiful,” writes David Z. Morris, describing the height of the galleon trade as experienced by the Spanish elite. “The work of administering the galleons took up only two or three months of a year, with the rest of the colonists’ time given purely to lavish parties, carriage rides, and social intrigue. The Spanish were singularly indolent occupiers, developing no aspect of the local economy except the galleon trade.”
By contrast, little of this wealth made its way into the hands of Filipinos. The Spanish cultivated a deliberate policy of exclusion toward their colonized subjects – prohibiting their education in the Spanish language as means to hold Filipinos from professional jobs and more cosmopolitan views of the world, encouraging Filipino submission through the careful application and withholding of Catholic teachings, and establishing large Spanish-owned estates in the countryside, reducing the Filipino to little more than an unskilled laborer and a tenant in his own homeland, even as its resources were enriched the Spanish conquerors.
From time to time during more than 300 years of Spanish rule, Filipinos openly rebelled against this injustice. Manila proved to be too lucrative a prize, however, and the Spanish would not let it go so easily, even after Spain’s American colonies achieved independence in the early 1800s. During these centuries, tens of thousands of Filipinos went abroad – settling at the other end of the galleon route, in Acapulco, in Mexico City, in California, seeking greater opportunity outside of the repressive structures that the Spanish had erected to maintain their domination over Manila.
The San Diego
Why is the discovery and recovery of the San Diego valuable to historians?
Formerly known as San Antonio, the San Diego was a trading ship built in Cebu by Filipino workers under the supervision of European boat-builders. It was docked at the port of Cavite to undergo reconditioning and repair, but at the end of October 1600, under threat of an impending Dutch attack on Manila, it was hastily converted into a warship and renamed.
On December 14, 1600, the fully laden San Diego was engaged by the Dutch warship Mauritius under the command of Admiral Olivier van Noort a short distance away from Fortune Island, Nasugbu, Philippines. Since San Diego couldn’t handle the extra weight of her cannons, which led to a permanent list and put the cannon portholes below sea level, she was sunk without firing a single shot in response. The Dutch were later reported firing upon and hurling lances at the survivors attempting to climb aboard the Mauritius.
Nearly 400 years later, in 1992, the wreck was discovered by an underwater archaeologist. A total of 34,407 artifacts were recovered from the shipwreck, including more than five hundred blue-and-white Chinese ceramics in the form of plates, dishes, bottles, kendis, and boxes which may be ascribed to the Wan Li Period of the Ming Dynasty; more than seven hundred and fifty Chinese, Thai, Burmese, and Spanish or Mexican stoneware jars; over seventy Philippine-made earthenware potteries influenced by European stylistic forms and types; parts of Japanese samurai swords; fourteen bronze cannons of different types and sizes; parts of European muskets; stone and lead cannonballs; metal navigational instruments and implements; silver coins from the mint at Potosi; two iron anchors; animal bones and teeth (pig and chicken); and seed and shell remains (prunes, chestnuts, and coconut), all of which shed invaluable light on the physical reality of a Manila Galleon.
Recovered from the San Diego was this part of a larger, mass produced set of Chinese porcelain with a deer motif – each hand painted, varying organically, but following the same design. (Manila, Philippines, 2018.)
Another fine example of Chinese porcelain recovered from the San Diego. (Manila, Philippines, 2018.)
This Mexican made vessel is decorated with Mediterranean influenced designs. It was aboard the San Diego when it sunk. (Manila, Philippines, 2018.)
Also aboard the San Diego were these silver coins were mined and minted in Potosi, in modern day Bolivia. (Manila, Philippines, 2018.)
Design a chart that lists the items in the room around you by their locations of manufacture. Check labels on the items themselves or, when all else fails, ask Google.
Speculate/Research: Choose one of the items that you use every day. Who physically made this item – were they rich or poor, young or old, male or female? Under what conditions do they live and work? Was this item cheap or expensive – why? Who got most of the money that you or your parents paid – the worker or the corporation whose logo appears on the item? Consider yourself, the worker, and the corporation – who are the economic winners and losers in this system? How would your life and the lives of Filipino workers be different if this trade connection did not exist?
Research: What are the primary exports of your country to the Philippines and the rest of the world? What are the Philippines’s primary exports to your country? What is the estimated value of trade in both directions? What kind of modern cultural exchange might accompany this economic exchange?
Use www.marinetraffic.com/ to examine cargo shipping around the globe. What patterns do you notice? Where are the ships most densely clustered? Find a large port near your hometown – where are these ships coming from and going to? Can you determine roughly how long it takes for a ship to travel between the Philippines and the US? Choose several ships and check back in on them over the coming days or weeks – do you notice a route or a pattern for this specific ship, how long it takes to complete this pattern, and so on?
Compare and contrast trade along the Manila Galleon route with modern trade networks. How have changes in technology changed both how goods are traded – and what is traded? Does more or less international trade happen now? Does more or less cultural exchange happen now? Is trade a force for good or ill in the world?
For Discussion: What kind of resources are involved in the manufacture and transportation of new goods? Are there more responsible ways to consume? Ways to avoid consumption all together?
History isn’t only what you read in books or see on YouTube. It’s not just big men, and they’re not all from Europe, even if mine were…
History isn’t just famous people. It’s your family, too. In that spirit, this assignment asks you to document your own family history – what kind of interesting stories lie back a generation or more in your family tree?
Often times, young people don’t ask because they assume their elders are boring – that’s just dad, just grandma, and they’ve never done anything interesting. And their elders don’t share out of modesty, or because they assume that young people aren’t interested anyway.
When my own grandfather died, it was with tons of stories – of his young years as an orphan, as one of the first Americans into Nagasaki after the bomb, as a police officer during the 1960s in the racially divided and restive city of Gary, Indiana… And now I think of all of the tragic hours that we spent sitting in the same room, some football game that didn’t really matter blasting, drowning out any potential for conversation… When I was young, I didn’t think to ask, he didn’t think to share – and now that he is gone, all I know of any of this is the barest of sketches.
The goal here is to give you a reason to document your family before it is too late… To put it in the form of a book or something else (not an over-sized poster destined for the recycling bin) that can be tucked into a drawer or a closet – until you’re old enough to care yourself…
Your family history book will include three key components:
Family Tree – stretching back in history as far as you can go, including birth and death dates. This information should be presented graphically. Along one axis of your page, include a timeline marking out key events in US history as they roughly align with your family’s. That will look something like this.
Biographical Summary – Compose a brief biographical blurb for each person including information like: profession, military service, interesting facts, etc. These can be as short as a few complete sentences. Include pictures (or your own drawings) if available.
Biography – Choose someone other than a member of your nuclear family on which to write a more detailed biography, preferably a few pages in length. (12 point font, double spaced, Times New Roman)
Sources for this project can include:
Family members (duh)
-Documents and artifacts held in your family’s possession
–ancestry.com (This costs money, but with your parents’ help you can sign up for a free trial. Just make sure you cancel your membership before the end of the trial or you’ll be charged.)
You should include a works cited page in your book.
Alternatively, you may create a website that meets all of the criteria outlined above. This need not be publicly searchable on the web.
Suggested questions if you’re having trouble interviewing someone and can’t quite get started… You should listen more than you speak, but here are some questions to get the ball rolling… Be authentic and natural, and the stories will come:
Who has been the most important person in your life? Can you tell me about him or her?
What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?
Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?
Who has been the kindest to you in your life?
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?
What is your earliest memory?
What is your favorite memory of me?
Are there any funny stories your family tells about you that come to mind?
Are there any funny stories or memories or characters from your life that you want to tell me about?
What are you proudest of?
When in life have you felt most alone?
If you could hold on to one memory from your life forever, what would that be?
How has your life been different than what you’d imagined?
How would you like to be remembered?
Do you have any regrets?
What are your hopes for what the future holds for me? For my children?
If this was to be our very last conversation, is there anything you’d want to say to me?
For your great great grandchildren listening to this years from now: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
Is there anything that you’ve never told me but want to tell me now?
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