The true history of Hilongos

The history of Hilongos is a moving history, which not only began in the 12th Century.

Many details can be understood only with the history of the Visayas and Leyte. This is so far reaching, exciting and for many citizens and city officials of Hilongos forgotten history. One must research very carefully in ancient records of China, India, Taiwan, Spain and Portugal to discover it.

During the Qin Dynasty and the Tang Dynasty (200 BC) China already knew the "golden islands” far in the south. This was the Visayas region. The Buddhist pilgrim I-Tsing named them as Chin-Chou, “Golden Islands” in his notes, coming back on the seaway from India. The Muslims of the Middle Ages described the islands rich in gold, like the kingdoms of ZABAG and Wakwak. He mentioned the location as the eastern islands of the Malay Archipelago, this corresponds to the exact location of the region of the Visayas.

In these early days they were trading with clay jugs and pots, which were considered as a symbol of wealth, later it was metal, salt and especially tobacco. In return, they exchanged with feathers, rhino horns, the hornbill beaks, beeswax, birds nests, resin and rattan.

India started the expansion in the Far East and in the Malay Archipelago already in pre-Christian times. The southern Indian kingdom of Pallava expended strongly to Indonesia. There are clear reports, that this trading nation had have close trade relations with the Khmer, Chinese and many Islands in this area. It is reported from the fact that they traded gold, shells and pottery from the region of Samar, Leyte, Bohol and Mindanao against other goods. Hilongos wasn’t named at that time but there are entries about trade bases located in the middle of one of the twin islands beside a great river.

These mentioned twin islands are Leyte and Samar; the commercial center at the great river might be the first indication of a population of Hilongos.

The entire region has developed to an important commercial point at this time (500 AD). Trade relations with Sumatra, Borneo, Thailand, Java, China, India, Arabia, Japan and the Kingdom of Ryukyu in Okinawa flourished during this period. There was a significant sea trade zone with fixed rules in international trade (thalassocracy).

Leyte was also served by Arab, Chinese and Siamese sea traders and merchants of the ancient kingdom of Champa (Khmer). Shall the present place of Hilongos already have been an established trading posts of this realm?

At that time there were small settlements in economic key positions on the coasts. Even then these settlements were called as "Barangay" which united about 100 families. Some barangays were already large communities and have been named on several geographic cards, such as Zubu (Cebu), Butuan, Maktan (Mactan), Mandani (Mandaue), Ogmok (Ormoc), Lalan (Liloan), Irong-Irong (Iloilo), Bigan (Vigan), and Selurong (Manila). Each of these big barangays had already a population of more than 2,000 families.

Consider the map and draw a line from one to the other notified trade center: Cebu - Mandaue - Mactan - Liloan - past Poro - Ormok - Butuan - then one will clearly notify that on this way is missing a staging point, a station that could be reached by boat in just one day from Ormoc or Butuan.

Should this be another sign that Hilongos at these times already appeared in the list of major trading points? Hilongos has a firstly flat and then low-sloping coastal strip in the area of it’s today's harbor. Even that might be an indication that transport ships landed there once.

In the 9th century, after the downfall of the kingdom of Pallava in Indonesia, the Buddhist Sri Vijaya Empire (800 - 1377) arose. It was only the marriage of a prince of Sulu to a princess of Banjarmasin that affiliated the surrounding islands to the Sri Vijaya Empire. The name of the group of islands in the center of the Philippine Archipelago "Visayas" goes back to these early settlers from the Sri Vijaya Empire.

In the first half of the 13th Century a further surge of immigrants reached the Philippines: The new track of Malay colonization extends from Brunei and the northwest coast of Borneo via Palawan to the central Philippines (especially Panay, Mindoro and the southwest of Luzon). The new immigrants - Malay Datu ("chiefs"), with their followers, fled from the tyranny of borneian sultans and founded their settlements on the coastal strips, after they had purchased the land from the natives by barter trade.

Mostly they lived from fishing and rice cultivation and inhabited lake dwellings comparable to those that can still can be found throughout Southeast Asia. The fertile alluvial soil along the rivers were drained by an extensive channel system and reprocessed for agricultural use.

Officials of Hilongos point to an Ilongo coming from Iloilo named Amahiwan, who settled in the 12th Century on the coast of the present-day communities of Inopacan, Hindang, Bato and Matalom, as the main founder of Hilongos. This formulation has been repeatedly used without a check or proof in many writings. This person certainly should have been an important trading tycoon of his time. We only have concerns, that neither the municipalities of Inopacan, Hindang, Bato nor even Matalom mention this person.

In 1225, the Chinese trader Chau Ju Kuo described the people of Leyte and Limasawa as friendly and open for trade relations. There is no question about that Hilongos was established as a trading hub on the west coast of Leyte in central position at that time.

About the 13th to 16th Century, there are quite few records about this region. Only the fact that a solid trade route was established from Butuan (Mindanao) to Selurong (Manila), on the western coasts of the islands of Leyte, Masbate, Quezon, Batangas and went on to Selurong. It was operated alike by Chinese and Muslim merchants and sailors.

Already at that time it was known that it was dug for gold in the mountains of Matalom. We do have heard that still today some tunnels testify to this. Since there were established a large settlement of families at the great river, today Hilongos, it can be assumed that trade was operated from here with the growing sultanates in the South.

Here also, grace to Chinese records of 1417 it is mentioned a lively trade with the three kings Patuka Pahala (Paduka Batara) Mahalachi (Maharajah Kamal ud-Din) and Paduka Patulapok.

The Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan reached the Philippine Island of Homonhon on March 16, 1521 as the first European colonizer. Here, short times later, he met with the ruler of Limasawa, Rajah Calambus, who told him about the established trade zone.

Was Hilongos also one of those trading centers?

Garcia Jofre de Loaisa landed in 1526 with his 6 ships in Surigao and followed the information on the trade zone from which the survivors of the Magellan voyage had told. In addition to this center in Mindanoa they visited Leyte and Cebu.

Alvaro de Saavedra Cerón reached the Visayas and Mindanao in 1527 with 3 ships.
Ruy Lopez de Villalobos reached Leyte in 1542 with 6 ships.

It was only in 1565 after the arrival of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, which changed the history of the Visayas and the Philippines. He was the one who made this area, specifically this of the Visayas, and thus that of the existing commercial area, as a gift to the King of Spain Philip II.

Accompanied by Datu Urrao he reached the island of Samar on February 22 to establish trade relations with Spain. Accompanied by Datu Bankaw he visited the trading centers in Leyte and landed in Bohol on March 16, 1565 where he fraternized with Datu Sikatuna and Rajah Sigala.

On his way to Bohol, López de Legazpi took gold and spices with him and explained, that he and his followers weren’t Portuguese but Spanish.

It is unclear where exactly Legazpi received the goods, it is just clear from the records that it was on the west coast of Leyte on his way to Bohol. It must have been a bigger settlement, a trading center for especially these goods.

Can this already have been a first visit to Hilongos by Legazpi?

On April 27, 1565, the Spanish and their native allies sailed back to Cebu and attacked the village of Rajah Tupas, which led to the transfer of the settlements. There, the Spanish erected a colony and named the settlements "Nombre de Jesús Villa del Santisimo" (Place of the Most Holy Name of Jesus) and "Villa de San Miguel" (Saint Michael's church).

On June 01, 1565 he sent back his confidants Urdaneta to Acapulco and asked for help for the establishment and expansion of the commercial zones. 2 years later, 1567, Urdaneta came back with more than 2,100 Spaniards and Mexicans. They built up for their own protection Fort Fuerza de San Pedro (Fort St. Peter) due to assault of the population.

During this, his last years, Lopez de Legazpi wrote several letters to Philip II of Spain about the conquest of the trade area and his successes. These letters are still appreciated in the Archivo de Indias in Seville (Spain). They bear the inscription, "Cartas al Rey Don Felipe II: sobre la expedicion, conquistas y progresos de las islas Felipinas" (Letters to His Majesty King Philip II: Expedition, conquests and progress in the conquest of the Philippine Islands.

In 1568, Legaspi sent a confidant with one of these letters back to Spain and got the return mail order to protect these trade centers for attacks of the Muslims and Chinese pirates. His order was to build up in the key trade areas equal fortress and defensive fortification such as in Cebu.

End of 1569 an Army of 300 Spaniards and some of their local allies left Cebu. They began with the exploration of the Visayan Area and their trading centers. Based on new information obtained on this way Legaspi recruited in 1570 250 Spanish soldiers and 600 native warriors to explore the regions of Leyte further on.

To be continued....