Crossroads Research

Lecture Series: The Continuity of Pre-colonial Trade Networks into the Late Seventeenth-Century Philippines, by Nicholas Sy and Grace Concepcion

February 23, 2023, 10:00 AM CET

Chinese trade with the Philippine archipelago’s indigenous polities declined after the establishment of the Galleon Trade. The existing literature agrees about that. The galleon trade was more profitable for the Chinese than their trade with indigenous communities. But conquest was a protracted process. Although archaeological evidence hints that direct regional trade between Chinese and indigenous communities continued into the 1600s, exactly how late this trade extended is unclear. How abruptly or gradually did the Galleon trade disrupt these autonomous relationships? How much is the literature’s emphasis on that disruption a reflection of reality? How much is it the result of a perspective circumscribed by the colonial archive?

This study hypothesizes continuities in the trading relations among the Chinese and the native Filipinos outside the region of Manila, the center of colonial control. It uses entries from one seventeenth-century register of media anata (payments of half a year’s salary made to obtain privileges from the crown). Within this register are permits made out to Chinese to trade. Between 1655 and 1663 multiple Sangleys sought licenses to open shops in provinces surrounding Manila. Others paid for the positions of Sangley governor and army officers in Visayas, suggesting that a Chinese colony existed there. The media anata register presents an opportunity to map and measure the trade’s decline. Any findings will be corroborated with data from transcribed epics and from archaeological findings.

The authors explore how local dynamics supported or undermined the colonial government’s economic agenda. They examine how seemingly isolated occurrences at the borders of colonial power explain larger issues in indigenous-Spanish relations. By focusing on Chinese trade with native Filipinos, it decenters the Eurocentric narrative that has tended to characterize borderlands history—a novel approach. Much of Philippine history written by Filipinos were never framed within studies of borderlands dynamics.

Grace Liza Y. Concepcion is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Asia and the Pacific where she teaches classes in Philippine history and Rizal. She holds a Ph.D. in History from the  University of the Philippines Diliman. Her current research interests include women’s property and indigenous land ownership.

Nicholas Sy is PhD Candidate at the Department of History, Radboud Unviersity Nijmegen where he specializes in colonial demography. He is also Assistant Professor of History at the University of the Philippines Diliman. His research interests include history of religion, indigenous agency, and slavery.   

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