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October 06, 2003


That culture is both a liberating and limiting force is not well known to many people. A society’s culture is an unwritten constitution containing its principal assumptions about life. It is the matrix of norms, skills, knowledge, attitudes and values which order and give meaning to every aspect of human thought, feeling, and behavior of its members. It is a system of vital ideas that largely governs and determines the way a people relate to their inner selves; each other, nature, time and space, the spirit world, work and activity; or life and the world. As such, it can open certain possibilities of experience and action but at the same time close all the rest to its members. For instance, once a culture assumes that only material reality is possible, then its members will find it hard to recognize honor and dignity as human virtues since nothing in the material world even comes near to suggesting such ideas.

Cultures may either emphasize individualism or groupism. Individualism believes that a person is endowed with a being of his own, a being that is separate from another person’s being not only physically but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Groupism, on the other hand, assumes that a person’s being though it may be unconnected with it in many subtle ways, either through cooperative action, social organization, emotional involvement or sensitivity, imaginative engagement, a concept of shared being, invisible, vital energies, psychic forces, or spiritual links transcending time and space.

Raja Humabon of Sugbu

Historian Wolff noted that at the time of Magellan’s arrival in 1521, Malay was already widely understood and was the language used in negotiations with the king of Cebu. One example statement, told by an intermediary to Humabon, “Cata Raja Chita,” (noted down by Pigafetta) is normal Malay meaning “the king has spoken.”

One can assume that Raja Humabon must have come from a long line of the Srivijayan trader-rulers at the Port of Sugbu at the time when Enrique came back to his homeland bringing with him Magellan, the great explorer to conquer Sugbu for Spain.

The answer to this is Pigafetta’s account, at the time when the Magellan expedition sailed into Cebu harbor on April 7, 1521 when a large settlement of people hugging the shore greeted the Spanish. Sugbu was strung out four to five miles along the shore with a population estimated to number several thousands.

A narrow channel separated the settlement from the small flat island of Mactan, Cebu which was then ruled by a Rajah who was called Humabon–the title obviously appropriated from Malay. Pigafetta noted down the word Raja for King. He also mentioned two Siamese junks in Cebu with a cargo of gold and slaves.

Raja Humabon, Pigafetta further describes, “was seated on the ground on a mat of palms, with many people. He was quite naked, except for a cloth covering his private parts.”

“Round his head was a very loose cloth, embroidered with silk. Round his neck was a very heavy rich chain, and in his ears were two gold rings hung with precious stones. He was a short man, and fat, and had his face painted with fire in diverse patterns. He ate on the ground from another palm mat, and then he was eating turtle eggs on two porcelain dishes, and he had four jars full of palm wine, which he drank with reed pipes.”

It can also be mentioned that “barter rings” (large rings of pure gold) were used as currency–the size were as big as doughnuts, which traders carried and used in transacting business. Ancient Filipino gold, according to Ramon Villegas, was known as “Tumbaga” or red gold.

Jewelry making in Cebu, and other areas in the Philippines, could be one of the oldest in the world. The craftsmanship and artistry of early goldsmiths rival the finest that have come out of ancient jewelry centers like Bactria, India, and the Middle East, and Majapahit, Indonesia.

The unique characteristic of producing droplets of the granulated gold beads, each perfectly round, is a feat matching the early Etruscan’s. Copper ring was found beside a copper tweezer-like object in Cebu similar to what was later found in Butuan, suggesting goldsmith or jewelry-making in Cebu. The copper tweezers were probably used to pick up minute gold granules or gold filigree.

In Naga, Cebu, 22 kilometers south, a burial site yielded an adze used for boat-making, native pottery shards, shell bracelets, beads and iron points.

From the artifacts unearthed in the three excavation sites in Cebu City, Dr. Rosa Tenazas and Carl Hutterer, a team of anthropologists from the University of San Carlos point to Cebu as a fishing village that evolved into a trading center, a manufacturing center that produced metal craft, jewelry, boats and cotton cloth.

It was also a trading center where nearby islanders could exchange forest products and food crops with finished goods or imported commodities. It was this concentration of technological skills and its strategic location that must have drawn people in ancient times to flock to old Sugbu.


The Southwestern University Museum, together with 15 other museums in Cebu has made a commitment to use the rare artifacts found in the Cebu Collections speak for itself. The rich legacy reflects not only of a trading port, vibrant commerce both of local interisland and foreign trading but also of a manufacturing and technologically advanced industry of gold jewelry-making, weaving, boat-making. Cebu today, reflects all these. It has become the center of trade, manufacture, and export of jewelry and furniture for the world market and shipbuilding, especially Balamban.