Philippines Prehistoric Religion

Belief in the afterlife and other religious beliefs

Burial jars that have been unearthed suggest that prehistoric man believed in the afterlife. The Manunggul vase is perhaps the most blatant statement of this among the jars that have been dug up. Jars unearthed in the Bato Caves in Sorsogon also contain bodies of the dead. The bodies were first treated ritually and then hidden in inaccessible limestone caves.

However, other jars also give subtle indications of prehistoric man's belief in the afterlife. Earthenware vessels used in making rice wine for rituals have been excavated. Some burial jars were covered with a plate or large bowls on its mouth, and other, smaller jars contained animal bones. These are said to be the food of the dead in their journey to the afterlife.Also uncovered were tall foot stands supporting a shallow plate. Fox believes that this was used for ritual offerings.

Precolonial Religion

When the Spaniards arrived in the country, the Tagalogs already had their own religious beliefs and practices. One of these Spaniards, a Franciscan named Juan de Plasencia, noted down the Tagalog customs that he had observed.

According to de Plasencia, the people celebrated a festival, which they called pandot or "worship," in the big house of the village chief. The house then served as a simbahan (place of adoration) while the feast lasted, which was usually four days.

Precolonial Religion...

The Tagalogs worshiped the sun, the moon, and the stars, but they especially worshiped Bathala, a name which seems to mean "all powerful," or "maker of all things." The people also owned many idols in various shapes referred to as lic-ha. Among these idols were Dian Masalanta, the patron of lovers and of generation, and Lacapati and Idianale who were the patrons of the cultivated lands and of husbandry.

During feasts, the people beseeched the idols to grant them favors by offering sacrifices such as cloth, animals or gold, anointing them with perfumes. The group was led in poetic songs by a priest, a male or female called catolonan who was usually a person of rank. Sometimes the body of the catolonan was possessed by the devil, an event that was feared by those who saw it.

The animals, like goats, fowls and swine, after being offered to the idol, were then eaten by the guests along with rice that was ceremonially cooked, fried food and fruits. The people ordinarily offered these sacrifices for the recovery of a sick person, for a successful voyage or delivery in childbirth, for a good harvest, for a favorable outcome in battle, and for a happy marriage.

In addition, the Aetas believed in another life of rest called maca and "a place of anguish" called casanaan where the demons or sitan lived. Furthermore, for the Aetas, no one would go to heaven, where only Bathala lived.

Religious Beliefs and Practices in the Visayas

According to the reports of the first Spanish settlers and explorers in the country in the latter half of the 16th century, the Visayans worshipped nature spirits, gods of specific places or activities, and their own forefathers.

First, the spirits or forces of nature that the Visayans revered were mainly the sun and the moon. However, they also gave offerings to the gods of the rivers and seas, prayed to the winds for good weather, and to the stars and constellations for a successful harvest. Besides these, they venerated the crocodiles and the spirit of the balete or strangler fig tree because of the latter's ominous powers.

Second, the Visayans revered gods and goddesses whom they called diwata, a Malay-Sanskrit word meaning god or godhead. Visayans believed that they were outnumbered by different invisible beings, spirits, and gods, but they were generally good or neutral. Through rites, the people could invoke the diwata for good crops, health, and fortune. However, if they were not respected, they could cause sickness or misfortune.

Third, people in the Visayas worshipped the spirits of their ancestors, and they called these umalagad, from alagad which means follower. The Visayans said invocations to the umalagad on leaving the house and in performing agricultural rites for good harvest and fortune.

The Visayans believed in a kalag or soul, which might separate from the body in the event of a dream, sickness, or insanity, or be claimed by a diwata for envy or desire. The kalag and the umalagad were considered to be the primary objects of Visayan adoration.

The people conducted ceremonies to communicate with spirits that were called paganito in honor of a diwata or umalagad for fertility of crops, newlyweds, or domestic animals, for good weather, for success in war, for recovery from sickness, or for the appeasement of a dead person's kalag. Anito was the usual Visayan term for sacrifice. The act of worship was performed by the babaylan, a shaman or medium who, during communication with the spirits, was given to seizures and trances and foamed at the mouth. The babaylan was often a woman, but could also be a man or a male transvestite called asog. His/her compensation was usually a share of the offerings.

The paganito was commonly performed in fields, at beaches or streams, gravesites, and sacred areas outside the community. The people had no temples, but they had small platforms or sheds where they could place their offerings. Such platforms were situated at the entrance to the village. Furthermore, minor paganito could be held in the privacy of a home by a member of the household.

In each house the family kept small idols that guarded their welfare, and which were their recourse in times of trouble or illness. These idols included taotao, a little tao or human being; batabata wahich was a small bata or great grandparent; and ladaw or larawan, meaning an image or model. The early residents of Surigao made idols from wood and even painted them.

The people also avoided naturally hostile beings, such as monsters and ghouls. The most comon and most feared of these beings was the aswang that ate away the liver of a living person. Other related terms were the mantiw or ghost, the landung or imaginary phantom, baliw or to change from one thing into another, and the ogima, a demon with the shape of a man and the hind quarters of a beast. To prevent any misfortune caused by such creatures and by supernatural forces, the people, led by the babaylan, held omen-seeking ceremonies, the most common of which was asking the diwata to reply to their appeal by making an inanimate object move. Another method was himalad or fortune-telling by examining the lines of the palm (called palad).

The babaylan was not the only one possessed strange powers; there was the sorcerer as well. Where as the babaylan experienced a calling through attacks of sickness and madness that could only be stopped by acknowledging the call and being alabay or apprentice to an older babaylan, the sorcerer was believed to have secret knowhow of black magic that came from unnatural forces. S/He used spells called habit, incantations (mantala), and charms like lumay, a love potion, and tagarlum, an herb that could make its owner invisible.

A datu could also have some knowledge of balck magic believed to be passed on from one generation to the next, and such ability could increase the people's fear of him. His charms included ropok, which made its receiver follow like a slave, and bosong, which could induce intestinal swelling to those who did something wrong to him.

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