(Editor's Note: Today starts the INQUIRER countdown to the end of the 20th century on Dec. 31, 1999. We celebrate the century with a procession of native artifacts that speak of the nobility and pride of the Filipino race.)
ONCE upon a time, as most fairy tales begin, the Philippines had a golden age. Isn't there a legend that Panay was bought for the price of a golden salakot?
While the golden salakot is mythical, Philippine gold is not. The Philippines is still a major gold-producing country but no longer in the volumes recorded in the account of the chronicler of the Magellan expedition to the Philippines in 1521, Antonio Pigafetta.
The Pigafetta account of Philippine gold sounds like a fairy tale, but helps today's Filipino realize a pride in his race.
Pigafetta noted that gold was so abundant that the Filipinos traded these liberally for items of a much-lesser value like iron, thus exposing the Magellan expedition to greed.
''For metal iron, and other large wares, they gave us gold and for the other smaller and meaner goods, rice, pigs, goods, and other provisions. And they gave us ten weights of gold for fourteen pounds of iron. Each weight is a ducat and a half. (Magellan) did not wish us to take a great quantity of gold, lest the sailors should sell what they had too cheaply for greed of gold. Some sailors would have given all that they owned for a small amount of gold, and would have spoiled the trade forever. Magellan wished to sell at a better rate,'' Pigaffeta wrote.
Many archaeological artifacts now extant in Philippine museums remind us that pre-colonial Filipinos literally lived in a golden age.
Recent archaeological finds suggest that some parts of the country, like Butuan and Surigao, had a sophisticated gold industry as early as the 10th century.
Excavated gold jewelry and ornaments of outstanding quality can now be viewed in the Central Bank Gold collection that is worth a visit if only to come face to face with an extraordinary craftsmanship that has not been seen in almost a millennium.
Two ceremonial daggers, now in a private collection in Manila, were excavated in Butuan. The daggers have gold handles exquisitely crafted to form the mythical Sarimanok and could very well match those described by Pigafetta.
Pigafetta wrote: ''In the island of that king who came to the ship are mines of gold, which is found by digging from the earth large pieces as large as walnuts and eggs. And all the vessels he uses are likewise (of gold), as are also some parts of his house, which was well fitted in the fashion of the country.
''And he was the most handsome person whom we saw among those peoples. He had very black hair to his shoulders, with a silk cloth on his head, and two large gold rings hanging from his ears. He wore a cotton cloth embroidered with silk, which covered him from his waist to his knees.
''At his side he had a dagger, with a long handle, and all of gold, the sheath of which was of carved wood. (He had three spots of gold on every tooth, and his teeth appeared as if bound with gold.) Withal he wore on his person perfumes of storax and benzoin. He was tawny and painted (i.e. tattooed) all over.
''His island is called Butuan and Calaghan (i.e. Carara) and when the two kings wish to visit each other, they go hunting on the island where we were. Of these kings, the aforesaid painted one is Raia Colambu, and the other Raia Siaiu.''
In the late 1980s the Philippines was among the top 10 producers of gold in the world. Today we have slipped down the rankings but still maintain a place in the top 20. Gold is still found in mines or patiently sifted in pans by people along the rivers of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Raw gold is sold and eventually refined in the Central Bank complex in Quezon City that is more than a minting plant for our paper bills and coins. Philippine gold is exchanged for hard currency and forms part of the country's international reserve.
September 23, 1999
RP golden age not mythical
RP golden age not mythical