After my recent health troubles (tuberculosis, complex regional pain syndrome, sleeping problems, and probable depression), I began to notice that they have enervated my passion for reading which, in turn, affected whatever agreeable writing habits that I had in the past. But one thing that keeps me away from not being idle is the fight against the so-called Leyenda Negra or the Black Legend. It annoys me so much that even in my most painful moments, I really had to get up from bed to read and write and bash those that needed online bashing.
In his book “The Colonial Period in Latin American History” (University of California, 1958), Charles Gibson, a distinguished ethnohistorian from New York, astutely defined leyenda negra as “the accumulated tradition of propaganda and Hispanophobia according to which the Spanish Empire is regarded as cruel, bigoted, exploitative, and self-righteous in excess of reality”. He continued that the (contemporary) teacher is confronted with the serious problem of dealing with it since students are already predisposed towards it. Although he did not mention the reason for that predisposition, it is obvious that it has been so for the past several decades after the fall of Catholic Spain as an empire. The usual theme of teaching history with regard to the Spanish conquests is this: Spain invaded weaker cultures, subjugated them, and exploited them for the benefit of the Crown. Therefore, the teacher “runs the danger of pronouncing an unconvincing apologia” when it comes to discussions about the subject.
“The difficulty lies in the fact that Spaniards were cruel, bigoted, exploitative, and self-righteous, though not consistently and not in any simple way,” Gibson continued. “The subject has been over-argued, so that any factual statement concerning it likewise appears argumentative, and it may be that a direct attack upon the ‘legendary’ exaggerations will prove less successful than an indirect approach that relates the Spanish achievement simply and affirmatively”.
The teaching of our country’s Spanish past, for example, has been this simplistic: we were “invaded” by Spain and enslaved for more than three hundred years. The abuse produced several rebellions which eventually led to a national revolution. That revolution ended when its leader, Emilio Aguinaldo, was exiled to Hong Kong until, at long last, the mighty but “benevolent” United States of América saved us from three centuries of Spanish tyranny.
Classic leyenda negra at its finest.
Time and again, I have always stated the contrary. We were never invaded. We were created. We were never colonized in the sense that we were exploited. We were reared, fashioned, molded. For three hundred years, our national identity took shape into something that is no longer indigenous but simply Filipino, an amalgam of East and West. Three attributes make up a Filipino:
1) Hispanic culture, with Malayo-Polynesian elements as a substrate.
2) The Spanish language.
3) Christianity (Roman Catholic Religion).
Without any of these three attributes, a Filipino will only be a half-baked Filipino, a Filipino merely by citizenship. Nothing more. Nothing less. But Hispanophobic historians and ultranationalists will contend that the true Filipino is the pre-Hispanic Filipino, or what they proudly call as the indio. This, however, is erroneous and anachronistic because the term Filipino in itself, together with all its ethnographic and linguistic connotations and implications, is basically Spanish. The word Filipino itself is Spanish. The Filipino cannot be indio because he is not aboriginal. Simply put, the concept of the Filipino before the Spanish arrival did not exist. Before the Spanish conquest of the archipelago which we now call the Republic of the Philippines, those aboriginal or ethnolinguistic groups such as the Tagálogs, Bicolanos, Capampañgans, Bisayas, etc. were all disunited. Each considered their respective group as a separate entity, virtually a separate nation, from all the others. Each has its own culture, set of beliefs, traditions, cuisine, etc. Then the Spaniards arrived, conquered them (or to be more precise, they were invited to be placed under Spanish rule via a 1599 synod-plebiscite held in Manila), then united them into one compact, homogeneous group. The Spaniards united the archipelago into one. From there came into being the three major island groups that we have enshrined as stars in our national flag.
Those above-mentioned tribes (the politically correct would rather use the term “ethnolinguistic groups”), together with the Chinese immigrants who accepted Catholicism and imbibed Spanish culture and language, became part of that national identity which in time evolved into the Filipino that is celebrated in song, poetry, and nostalgia. José Rizal the Tagálog, Graciano López Jaena the Ilongo, Tomás Pinpín the Chinese, Antonio Abad the Cebuano, Marcelino Crisólogo the Ilocano, and all the other great thinkers and writers of that glorious epoch —not excluding our forefathers, of course— all belonged to that same Filipino cosmos. Even creoles such as Luis Rodríguez Varela were not marginalized from this cultural assimilation.
Those who did not take part in all this —the Ifugaos, the Aetas, the Mañguianes, the Dumágats, the Islamized Lúmads that came to be known as the Moros, and all the other unbaptized tribes— have become trapped in time. They have ceased to become Filipinos (from a socio-historico-cultural viewpoint). But that is another story.
In sum, our more than 7,000 islands technically became a Filipino State under Spain. How then is this “divide and conquer”, a favorite mantra of those hispanophobic historians and ultranationalists, when it is obvious that the Spanish motive was to “assimilate and unify”?
But holding steadfast to their propaganda, these same Hispanophobes will always think of clever ways to prove their point such as the use of a Spanish friar to forward their agenda. A dose of one’s own medicine, as they say in English. For example, a favorite source for their anti-Spanish sentiment is the book “Brevísima Relación de la Destrucción de las Indias” (A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies) written by Fray Bartolomé de las Casas, a Spanish Dominican friar. But this book and its consequences have to be analyzed with more circumspection than rash judgment.
Born in Sevilla in 1484, Fr. de las Casas was once a participant in the violent conquests (and even slavery) of various indigenous tribes, but he had a change of heart later on in life. He became a Protector de Indios (Protector of Indians or natives) and was tasked to advise governors-general with regard to issues concerning the conquered natives, to speak their cases in court, and to send reports back to Spain. In the said book (published in 1552), he chronicled the abuses and atrocities committed by Spanish conquistadores and encomenderos against the indigenous that they have conquered throughout the Américas (North, Central, and South). His persistent criticisms and complaints against abusive officials resulted in the groundbreaking Leyes y ordenanzas nuevamente hechas por su Majestad para la gobernación de las Indias y buen tratamiento y conservación de los Indios (New laws of the Indies for the good treatment and preservation of the Indians) which guaranteed and further strengthened the protection and rights of the governed indios.
Yes, the Spanish conquistadores in the Américas were harsh and cruel. Not all were, of course, but this has been the widely accepted general perception that cannot and should not be denied in the light of the fight for historical truth. Nevertheless, attitudes when it came to conquest changed with Fr. de las Casas and his pro-indio activism. As a result, the succeeding conquistadores, particularly those who arrived in our archipelago, were no longer of the same vile breed as those who had wreaked havoc in the Américas. The indios here were treated differently compared to the poor indios from across the Pacific.
Freemasons which included Rizal were among the first proponents of the black legend in Filipinas. That is why it should no longer puzzle Hispanists as to why Rizal proudly called himself and his friends Indios Bravos. Exposure to liberal ideas in Europe, many of which were anticlerical, influenced his anticolonial nationalism. Remember that the friars were virtually the first teachers of Filipinos when it came to almost everything cultural, not just spiritual. Catholicism and the Spanish government in Filipinas can be looked upon as two sides of the same coin (it is interesting to note that both Freemasonry and the black legend both originated in England).
That is why this indio mentality that we have been carrying all these years is the enemy of the Filipino. Whenever we wield it to spite our Spanish past, we are only spiting ourselves. Whenever we continue glorifying this pre-Hispanic identity that never was, we are only attacking ourselves, not Spain (who truly cared for her subjects) nor her conquistadores and friars. Whenever we call ourselves “indios bravos” in the name of nationalism, we are only making ourselves look like fools. Our national identity is Filipino, not indio. We have ceased to become indio when we became Filipino.
The heroic Fr. Bartolomé de Las Casas, protector of the indians, died in Madrid exactly 453 years ago today, on my 40th birthday. Let us remember him in our prayers.
As for me, life begins… 😇
¡A Dios sea toda la gloria y la honra!