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Looking Back

Waves of migration, old and new

/ 04:04 AM October 09, 2019

Reading old history textbooks makes me wonder how many Filipinos have unlearned the now discredited wave migration theory. The peopling of the Philippines, according to H. Otley Beyer, came from outside in waves of migration that first arrived traversing land bridges that emerged during low tide, and later arrived by sea on prehistoric craft like the balanghai.

The first wave were the Homo erectus, like the Peking or Java man 250,000 years ago; The second wave were Negritos or aboriginal pygmy groups between 25,000 and 30,000 years ago; The third wave were Indonesian types who were more developed than the previous migrants because they used stone tools and were seafarers; And the fourth wave were Malay types who raised the archipelago from the “Stone Age” into the so-called “Iron Age.”

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In its time, the wave migration theory was a lot better than the legend of Malakas and Maganda emerging from a split bamboo to become our version of Adam and Eve. But with half a century of archaeological and anthropological data available, plus the recent discovery of Homo luzonensis, we can be sure that present Philippine prehistory is in for significant revisions.

When the academic jargon has been simplified and a narrative crafted for textbooks, I expect to read about our long and intimate relationship with the sea. People in an archipelago, after all, lived by the coasts, riverbanks and waterways. They did not need the Spanish introduction of the wheel, roads and bridges from the 16th century, because to them, an archipelago was a group of islands connected rather than separated by water. Transportation, navigation, boat-building, communication and interisland trade all moved on water. Our language provides further evidence of this relationship: Tagalog is from “Taga-ilog.” Tausug comes from “tau” (people) and “sug” (sea). Cebu came from “Sug bu,” and Pampanga referred to a long riverbank.

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Our relationship with the sea can be traced as far back to the 8th century BC, the time when the Manunggul Jar was created. It is a burial jar that shows two souls traveling on a boat into the afterlife, the designs on the lid of the jar simulating waves of the sea. Filipinos should learn about the balanghai, many excavated from Butuan, the oldest dating back to 900 AD, and relate it with the barangay as the smallest political unit in the Philippines. The balanghai should be connected to merchant and cruise vessels manned, navigated and serviced by overseas Filipinos today.

The idea of prehistoric Waves of Migration was about immigration to the Philippines, while contemporary wave migration is about emigration from the Philippines. The first wave of Filipino migration came with the Galleon Trade (1565-1815), which connected East and West, with the nexus of trade, communication and cultures in the ports of Manila and Acapulco now recognized as early globalization. What happened to Filipino sailors who never returned and settled instead in the coastal cities of Mexico? The governor of Guerrero in the 1950s was Alejandro Gómez Maganda, whose beautiful surname suggests Filipino ancestry. There were Filipinos who jumped ship and settled in the US, like the Louisiana Manila Men first documented in 1883, which is another engaging narrative.

The second wave resulted from US discrimination against Chinese and Japanese workers in the late 19th century, which led to Filipino migration to Hawaii sugar and pineapple plantations in the early 20th century. Filipinos also worked the fish canneries of Alaska and provided agricultural or ranch labor in California. Being from a US colony, Filipinos were preferred; besides, they were hardworking, accepted low wages, and did not, until much later, join or form unions. Pensionados were another type; sent to the US for higher education, they returned home to jobs in the colonial bureaucracy.

The third wave were Filipino veterans of World War II who became US citizens and petitioned their families to join them. Another type were doctors and nurses who arrived in the US as whole families on the basis of “occupational immigration.” Settling in the US East Coast, they contrasted with Filipinos in the West Coast who were from humbler origins.

The 1970s Middle East oil boom saw the fourth wave of men going abroad to work and returning home at the end of their contracts. The fifth wave were composed of women who worked abroad as nurses, domestics and entertainers, leading to a disruption in Philippine society and family life.

These waves of migration partially explain why we are what we are at present.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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