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History & Culture

Banaue Rice Terraces

The first settlers in the Philippines were tribal people, who bear a close resemblance to Australian aborigines. These people lived in the country several thousand years ago. They were driven into a few isolated mountainous regions by a second, much larger wave of settlers from Malaysia. The majority of Filipino people are descendants of this second wave (and successive waves) of people arriving from Malaysia.

From this starting point of Malaysian heritage, the culture of the Philippines has evolved over the past one thousand years through extensive interaction with other civilizations.

The first major influence was the Arab-taught Makdum, who came to the Philippines in the 14th Century in order to trade and spread their religious beliefs. To this day, in the extreme southern parts of the country (on the island of Mindanao and the islands of the Sulu Sea bordering Indonesia), Islam is the predominant religion.

The next major influence was the Chinese, who also came to the Philippines in order to trade and exploit the country's vast natural resources. The Chinese had a particularly strong influence on the northern island of Luzon. However, the Chinese do not seem to have exerted any religious influence on the country.

Five hundred years ago, in 1521, the Spanish arrived in the Philippines. The Spanish influence on the country was particularly strong. In fact it was actually the Spanish who gave the country its name: in 1543 the archipelago was named the 'Filipinas' after King Philip II of Spain.

Fort San Pedro, Cebu

One of the lasting legacies of Spanish rule is Catholicism. To this day, the Philippines is the only Christian country in Asia. The Spanish influence also extended to architecture, language, cuisine and etiquette. A large percentage of "Filipino" words are Spanish in origin, and many of the national dishes originated in Spain.

Spanish rule of the Philippines ended in 1898, due to the Spanish American War. Many Filipino people aided the American troops, believing that they would gain independence. However, at the end of the war the Americans signed a treaty with the Spanish and took control of the country. Perhaps the most significant legacy of American rule is the introduction of the English language into schools. English is still the language of commerce and politics in the Philippines, and Filipino people have been very successful in finding jobs overseas due to their excellent English.

The Second World War was a particularly brutal time in the history of the Philippines. On December 8, 1941, Japanese forces landed in Luzon and marched to Manila. After bloody fighting between the Allied forces and the Japanese (including the infamous battle for Corregidor Island), the country was captured. From 1941 to 1944, the country remained under Japanese control (although local resistance fighters had some success driving the enemy out of many provinces). Allied forces landed on the island of Leyte on October 20, 1944, and then Mindoro and around the Lingayen Gulf . Fighting was fierce, and parts of the Philippines remained in Japanese control until the official surrender on September 2, 1945.

In 1946, the Philippines achieved full independence. For the past fifty years, the country has attempted to reach the status of an 'Asian Tiger Economy', with varied success. Almost everybody would agree that the country has enormous potential - if only it can overcome a few fundamental political problems and achieve stable growth.

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