The Ancient Filipino Town in Malacca

Luzones

THE LUZONES TOWN

There was a place called Minjani in the 16th-century Malacca that had a market village that welcomed merchants from the precolonial Philippines. Most likely, these merchants were from Manila, Pampanga, Sulu, Maguindanao, Cebu, and Butuan since they had historical trade dealings with the Sultanate of Malacca.

THE 16TH-CENTURY ACCOUNT OF TOMÉ PIRES
When the Kingdom of Portugal conquered the Malacca Sultanate in 1511, Portuguese apothecary Tomé Pires wrote his Suma Oriental in the years 1512-1515, and his account became one of the most authoritative references about the 16th-century Far East and the Philippines.

Tomé Pires estimated that there were 500 preconquest Filipinos living in Minjani and that they were called the Luções or Luzones. Pires also mentioned that these Luzones had some “important men” and were “good merchants”.

THE FILIPINO DIRAJAS

True enough, this Luzones Town had successful precolonial Filipino businessmen. They owned shops, had trade deals with foreign kingdoms, and had business ventures with the new Portuguese overlords of Malacca. And most of all, some Luzones had diraja titles — diraja is a Malayan term that means “noble royalty” or “royalty by descent”.

THE FILIPINO FOUNDER OF THE LUZONES TOWN
One of them was Regimo Diraja, the founder and the leader of the Luzones Town. He was married to a Malaccan, and he sent merchantmen as far as Sumatra, Sunda, Brunei, Siam, and China. And after the fall of Malacca, he was appointed as a temenggong, tomunguo, or tumangong, a royal position that was equivalent to a chief of police. Regimo Diraja died in 1513.

THE FILIPINO PEPPER TYCOON OF MALACCA
Another successful Filipino diraja was Surya Diraja, who owned vast plantations and country estates in Malacca, and he annually sent 175 tons of pepper to China. When the Portuguese conquered Malacca, Surya Diraja paid 9,000 cruzados in gold to the colonial government to retain his farms and properties.

THE STATE GOODS EXCHANGE

The designs of the precolonial international trade policy were formed through trade alliances and agreements between kingdoms. And in their harbor markets, their exchanges of the exported and imported goods were regulated by their respective royal courts.

This was usually under the administration of the shabandar, a royal-appointed customs officer, who negotiated the exchange, recorded the activity, and collected the trade tribute and anchorage taxes on behalf of his king. And with the presence of the Luzones dirajas, it is believed that the preconquest Filipinos were well represented in the Malaccan court.

THE CONNECTION OF THE THREE NATIONS

The Portuguese in the 16th-century Malacca brought forth unprecedented events that changed the history of maritime navigation and shaped the future of the ancient Philippines. And as succinctly stated by historian William Henry Scott, “Perhaps the ‘discovery of the Philippines’ was made in Malacca.” And there is more to that!

KNOWN ALLIES OF THE MALACCAN SULTAN
Tomé Pires mentioned that some Luzones in Minjam, who were known allies of the recently deposed Malaccan sultan, were not permitted to enter the Malaccan capital by the current Portuguese-influenced Malaccan trade officials, for they suspected that the Luzones were aiding the dethroned ruler in recovering his occupied kingdom.

THE LUZONES FOUGHT THE PORTUGUESE
The Portuguese-knee-bending Malaccan trade officials were correct in their suspicions. For in 1525, the Luzones warriors aided Sultan Mahmud Shah in retaking Malacca from the Portuguese. However, it was an unsuccessful reclaim. Nonetheless, the bravery of the ancient Filipinos was immortalized when the Portuguese described them as “the most warlike and valiant”.

ABOUT THE ANCIENT PHILIPPINES
In Malacca, the Portuguese learned a hint about the pre-Hispanic Philippines, for Tomé Pires reported that the Luzones’ homeland was about ten sails away from Borneo; had foodstuff, beeswax, honey, and gold to offer; and were governed by elders.

THE PRECONQUEST MARKET HARBORS
Aside from what Tomé Pires had mentioned about the local products of the Luzones, the preconquest Philippine market harbors had offered rice, paddies, tobacco, tortoise shells, cinnamon, slaves, coconut oil, bird’s nests, areca nuts, sago, pearls, deer pelts, and others. The precolonial Filipinos also had distributed luxury items from Asia, such as chinaware, Japanese silk and kitchenware, and Siamese products.

RULED BY THE MALAYAN KINGS
As for the governance, the 16th-century Philippines had already formed complex political structures, which were ruled by the Malayan kings, such as rajas, lakans, and haris.

ENRIQUE OF MALACCA
In 1511, Portuguese Captain Ferdinand Magellan captured a teenage boy in the royal Malaccan complex, and their fateful meeting changed the history of maritime navigation and of the Filipino people. For this Malayan boy was soon christened as Enrique and served as an interpreter of Magellan in discovering the Philippines for the Spanish crown.

SHARIF KABUNGSUWAN
When the Portuguese dethroned Sultan Mahmud Shah of Malacca, his royal house had a brave prince by the name of Sharif Kabungsuwan, and he founded the Maguindanao Sultanate, which went toe-and-toe with the 16th-century European superpower that was the Spanish Empire.

CONCLUSION

Before the Spanish conquest of the Philippines, we can learn that the Malaccans, the precolonial Filipinos, and the Portuguese had already written a rich and colorful past of trade and swords.

As for the Luzones Town in the 16th-century Malacca, as if the ubiquitous modern-day China Towns, tells the innate entrepreneurial savviness of the ancient Filipinos.

Lastly, the Luzones, who joined in kingly battles to regain foreign-occupied kingdoms, proved that the martial spirit and the noble nature are ingrained in the heart and soul of every Filipino.

REFERENCES

  • Filipino Heritage: The Making of a Nation, Volume 5. Manila: Lahing Pilipino Publishing, 1978.
  • Flores, Penélope V. 2015. “Magellan’s Interpreter, Enrique, Was The First To Circumnavigate The World.” Positively Filipino, March 24, 2015.
  • Laarhoven, Ruurdje. Triumph of Moro Diplomacy: The Maguindanao Sultanate in the 17th Century. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1989.
  • Lach, Donald F. Asia in the Making of Europe, Volume I: The Century of Discovery, Book 2. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1965.
  • Larkin, John A. The Pampangans: Colonial Society in a Philippine Province. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1993.
  • Majul, Cesar A. Muslims in the Philippines. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1999.
  • Ocampo, Ambeth R. 2013. “Pinoys and World Domination.” Philippine Daily Inquirer. September 20, 2013.
  • Pires, Tomé, and Francisco Rodrigues. ca. 1512-1515. The Suma Oriental of Tomé Pires: An Account of the East, from the Red Sea to Japan, Written in Malacca and India in 1512-1515; And, the Book of Francisco Rodrigues: Rutter of a Voyage in the Red Sea, Nautical Rules, Almanack and Maps, Written and Drawn in the East before 1515. Translated and edited by Armando Cortesão. London: The Hakluyt Society, 1944.
  • Saleeby, Najeeb M. The History of Sulu. Manila: Bureau of Public Printing, 1908.
  • Scott, William Henry. Barangay: Sixteenth-Century Philippine Culture and Society. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1994.
  • ———. Cracks in the Parchment Curtains and Other Essays in Philippine History, Emended Edition. Quezon City: New Day Publisher, 1982.
  • ———. Prehispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History, Revised Edition. Quezon City: New Day Publisher, 1984.
  • Wilkinson, Richard James. A Malay-English Dictionary. Raffles Place: Kelly & Walsh, 1901.

Illustration Sources: The image detail at the top is from Lendas da Índia by Gaspar Correia (1550-1563), retrieved from Wikipedia; the image remix is brought to you by Datu Press®.

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