Hispanic culture in the Philippines

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The British historian Arnold J. Toynbee once asserted in one of his works that "the Philippines is a Latin American country that was transported to the Orient by a gigantic marine wave". While it’s impossible to deny the many Hispanic contributions made to the culture of the Philippines, Toynbee's romanticized assertion fails to acknowledge the cultural contributions made by the indigenous Austronesian culture, and Malay, Chinese, Muslim and Hindu traders who settled in the islands between the 9th and 15th century and more recently contemporary influences from the United States following the Philippine-American War during the 20th century.

The Philippines, having been one of the few Spanish possession in Asia, endured the least amount of Spanish influence on its people in terms of Demography. This was primarily due to Population geography and small amounts of European population in the islands. Consequently, the Philippines was able to retain most of its predominantly indigenous population. Nonetheless, many of the Hispanic elements in the Culture of the Philippines have been incorporated into the native core. Since the 16th century, Spanish culture has transformed the Filipino cultural landscape of today. While remaining Austronesian at its core, Filipino culture is described as a unique blend of the East and West. [1]



Main article: History of the Philippines

The Philippines was ruled from Mexico City as a territory of New Spain, from 1565 to 1821 and as a province of Spain until 1898.

In the past few years, the Philippines has began to re-establish closer ties to its former colonial rulers, Spain. The King and Queen of Spain attended the Centennial celebration of Philippine Independence from Spain on June 12, 1998 in recognition of a shared history and cultural ties.


Main article: Spanish in the Philippines

Since the Philippines was a province of New Spain (Mexico) rather than Spain herself during the colonial period, the Spanish language spoken in the Philippines had a greater affinity to Mexican Spanish (i.e., Spanish as spoken in Mexico) rather than that of European Spanish (as spoken in Spain).

In fact, of the great number of Spanish loan words that exist in the various Filipino languages, a few are actually of Nahuatl origin that were first incorporated into Mexican Spanish, and which do not exist in European Spanish. These include nanay(nantl), tatay(tatle), bayabas [from guayaba(s), guava], abokado (avocado), papaya, zapote, etc.

Since the 20th century, the use of the Spanish language has declined, but in recent years there has been a re-birth of the language, largely due to efforts of re-establishing a sense of nationalism amongst the Filipino people and partly due to the increasing demands from call center industries seeking to employ fluent Spanish speakers in the country.

Most Filipino indigenous languages have significantly assimilated aspects of the Spanish language and contain thousands of loan words. Numerous words of Spanish origin are still used in Tagalog and Cebuano, despite systematic purges in the decades following Philippine independence from the United States.

Names of the country, provinces and cities

The name of the country itself comes from the king of Spain, Philip II. The name was given by Ruy López de Villalobos who gave the name to the Samar and Leyte regions in his expedition in 1543. It was later given to all of the islands in 1565 after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors.

There are many Provinces in the Philippines with Spanish names, including Nueva Vizcaya, Nueva Ecija, Quezon, Laguna, Isabela, Quirino, Aurora, La Union, Marinduque, Antique, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, and Valle de Compostela.

Many cities and towns are also named in Spanish, such as Medellin, Santander, Nueva Valencia, Las Piñas, Prosperidad, Isabela, Sierra Bullones, Angeles, La Paz, Esperanza, Buenavista, Pilar, La Trinidad, Garcia Hernandez, Trece Martires, Los Baños, Floridablanca and many more. There are numerous other towns named after saints, such as San Fernando, Santa Rosa, Santa Rita, San Jose, and San Pablo, as well as after Spanish cities such as Sevilla, Toledo, Cadiz, Zaragoza, Avila and Salamanca.

Many others with indigenous names are spelled using Spanish orthography, such as Cagayán de Oro, Parañaque, and Cebú.


One of the most visible marks left by Spanish rule in the Philippines is the prevalence of the Roman Catholic religion and Hispanic names and surnames among most Filipinos (see:Catálogo alfabético de apellidos. Over 90% of the population are predominantly of indigenous ancestry. Filipinos of Chinese descent, who had been settling in the Philippines since pre-Hispanic times, currently forms the largest non-Austronesian ethnic group. The population of people with mixed Mexican or Spanish ancestry is unknown. Another interesting aspect of this naming custom is that unlike the peoples of the Hispanic world, and to the exclusion of around 2% of the Philippine population which is comprised of Spanish-Mexican mestizos, among other Filipinos a Spanish surname does not indicate of Spanish-Mexican ancestry.

Catholic religion

The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country, with (83%) of the population baptized with the rites of the Roman Catholic Church. Roman Catholicism was introduced by the Spaniards. Friars and priests were in charge of converting the entire Filipino population from the previously practiced pagan religions to Christianity.

Many Filipinos at home set up altars in Hispanic Catholic fashion, adorned with icons, flowers, statues, etc. On feast days, various barrios host processions in honor of their patron saint. Many young girls are chosen as the 'queen' of the procession.

Except for the Muslim minority in the southern Philippines, concentrated mainly in the Sulu archipelago, conversion was almost universal. Filipinos, though angered by clergy abuses, widespread church corruption and hypocrisy, nevertheless maintained the religion even after Spanish and Mexican political decline.

With the Hispanic governing minority withdrawing from the islands, Filipinos were able to hold more and higher positions in church life - positions that had been previously reserved for the Spaniards and Mexicans, and strictly prohibited to natives - leading to the fortification of the Filipino relationship with the faith and allowing for its continued position as the country's mainstream religion.

Fiestas and religious holidays

All major Roman Catholic holy days are observed as official national holidays.

Spanish-Mexican Culture and Roman Catholicism has significantly influenced the culture and traditions. Every year on the 3rd week of January, the country celebrates the festival of the "Santo Niño" (Spanish, "Santo Niño"), or "Holy Child Jesus", the largest being held in Cebu City. The country also celebrates the "Patrona" (Female Patron Saint) with festivals nation wide. Millions of Filipinos around the country attend this religious Mardi Gras born from the amalgam of the indigenous Austronesian cultures, devotion to the Holy Child Jesus, Christianity and the founding of the country.

Religious holidays are:

  • "Semana Santa" (Holy Week or Easter), in March or April.
  • "Araw ng mga Kaluluwa" (All Souls' Day) and "Todos Los Santos" (All Saints' Day), October 31 to November 2. Celebrates "Día de los Muertos" (Day of the Dead), where families spend much of the 3 days and 3 evenings visiting their ancestral graves, showing respect and honoring the departed relatives by feasting, decorating and offering prayers.
  • "Pasko" (Christmas), December 25. We party down!

Arts, literature and music

Early Hispanic borrowings, although highly hybridized into the Filipino culture, is essentially based on indigenous and European foundations.

Folk dances and music have remained relatively intact in the 21st century. These were introduced from Spain and Mexico in the 16th century and can be regarded as largely Hispanic in constitution, which have remained in the Philippines for many centuries.


Food reflects on the adaptation of Spanish and Mexican cuisines.

They include:

  • Chorizo
  • Calabaza
  • Camote
  • Tortas
  • Pescado
  • Tamales
  • Menudo
  • Empanadas
  • Ensaymadas
  • Natilla
  • Chicharrón
  • Dulce de membrillo
  • Flan
  • Mazapan
  • Galletas
  • Pan de sal,
  • Avocado (introduced from Mexico),
  • Adobo
  • Lechon
  • Longaniza
  • Tocino
  • Jamon
  • Relleno
  • Embutido
  • Caldereta
  • Tortilla quesada
  • Albondigas
  • Galantina
  • Asado
  • Paella
  • Picadillo
  • Pochero de bacalao
  • Afritada
  • Pastel de lengua
  • Torta del cielo


In the business community, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) plays an integral role in the economic, political and social development of the nation. Historically, the chamber can be traced back as early as the 1890s with the inauguration of the Cámara de Comercio de Filipinas. This organization was composed mainly of Spanish companies such as the Compañía General de Tabaco de Filipinas, Fábrica de Cerveza San Miguel and Elizalde y Cia, among others mandated by Spain under a Royal Grant.

During the first half of the 20th century commerce and industrial trades with other Hispanic countries declined due to the American administration of the country. However the resurgence of trade between Spain and Latin American countries had risen toward the closing of the century. The year 1998 marked the centennial of the end of colonial Spain, however, it also opened a new opportunity for both Spanish and Filipino businesses to reconnect their historic ties as trade between east and west continues to rise during the 21st century.

See also

Original Source

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