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The Hispanization of the Philippines by the Spaniards during the late sixteenth century offers several interesting reflections, as this process of colonization cannot be compared to any other in the Spanish colonial history. In the first part of his work about the reaction and adaptation of the Filipinos to the Spanish culture, John Leddy Phelan outlines a profile of both the conquerors and the conquered, highlighting the commercial and religious forces behind the colonization, and how the socioeconomic structure, as well as the unique geographical configuration of the Philippines, contributed to creating unusual outcomes.
The colonization of the Philippines started in 1565 with the expedition led by Miguel López de Legazpi. The aim of the expansion was economic and represented the effort of the Spanish crown to gain a share in the profitable spice trade, dominated by Portugal; moreover, the geographical location of the archipelago made the Philippines an ideal market to trade the silver collected from the colony of Mexico with the Chinese silk.
Nor it should be forgotten the coeval religious drive to convert indigenous populations to Christianity. In this case, most missionaries saw the Philippines as a bridgehead for further penetration into China and Japan. Interestingly, Phelan (4) notices how personal ambitions, desire for fame, and riches combine and confound with the ideal of the Reconquista, where the goal of eradicating paganism had gained the humanistic goal of Hispanize the natives.
Hispanization and Christianization were to be attained by resettling the natives in large villages, where they could be indoctrinated in Christianity and taught to live like Europeans. However, the extreme fragmentation of the Filipino society hindered the process of colonization remarkably. Filipinos lived in small political unities, characterized by few social classes, with a complex system of rituals and working relationships similar to the idea of debt peonage and sharecropping.
The fragmentation mirrored a rural economy based mainly on the cultivation of rice. Hence, people were reluctant to move into larger communities. A large number of islands, often with a mountainous morphology contributed to contrast a consistent Hispanization. Though the Spanish influence is essential and unquestionable, Filipinos maintained a robust cultural Independence. Phelan (27) notes how the role played by the Spaniards in Filipino society is very different than in Mexico: while in Mesoamerica the Spaniards colonized an isolated civilization, the Philippines were already in contact with the sophisticated civilities of China and Japan.
The spread of Catholicism was also influenced by geopolitical fragmentation. Moreover, unlike in the other Spanish colonies where the power of the Church was administrated by the secular clergy, the religious matter within the Philippines was in the hands of the regulars orders. Lack of regular flow of new friars, isolation and the influence of the free habits of Filipinos, and the temptations offered by temporal power and economic benefits marked the diffusion of Christianity within the Philippines. The prevailing pattern of practicing religion was the visit to a chapel, where nonresident clergy officiated more or less regularly.
Importance of the reading
The reading is critical to understand why the colonization of the Philippines can be regarded as only partially successful. The failure of consistent resettlement of the natives is the failure of the Spanish vision of the city as a model of aggregation. Also, it suggests that morphological, ethnic, and geopolitical patterns of the natives might play a major role in colonization, where the capability of adapting the original culture to the imposed one, and geographical characteristics can diminish the effects of colonialism.
Phelan, John Leddy, The Hispanization of the Philippines: Spanish Aims and Filipino Responses, 1565 – 1700, University of Wisconsin Press, 1967.