Author’s Note: another one of my reaction papers for my SEA-30 class. Needless to say that I enjoyed paper-work in this class the most.
The common notion that the societies that flourished in the Philippines was largely isolated from the rest of its counterparts in Southeast Asia (SEA) and beyond was disputed by recent findings of Philippine trading present in the tributary networks that span SEA to Imperial China. Evidence discovered point to certain coastal trade ports in the Philippines worked as sub-centers providing tribute products such as indigenous resources, earthenware and jewelry to greater emporiums around the region and eventually reaching the coffers of China.
It affirms the notion that the SEA region developed through a process of localization, adapting external culture to their present needs, creating a synthesis of tradition and technology to form their own unique culture. The political structure of the Barangay worked according to their economic needs. Inter-barangay alliances and conflicts depend on which tribe has the stronger economic and military capacities, all working fluidly together to maintain the steady flow of resources and cultural identities to and from barangays.
This gives confirmation to a few trends in society that exist up to the present. For one, it shows that the development of a society’s political system and culture depends on the economy it has. The Marxist base-superstructure framework applies to the shift of primitive communal barangays to the chiefdoms of Datus that require greater wealth to espouse the growth of their trade with larger emporiums, thus spurring their need for greater labor, the primary resource that could only be acquired to tribal conflict. Our present economic quandary is telling of why local ruling classes continue to tighten their grip on our political and cultural institutions.
For another, it confirms the ability of pre-colonial SEA societies to progress without the external stimulus of western expansionist civilizations. Given the natural cycle of trade throughout Asia, technological development was already spurred by the localization of Chinese and Indian advancements in most of SEA, and given that China was considered for a time to be the most scientifically advanced society in the world, its natural satellites wouldn’t be far off. The existence of monumental structures such as the Ifugao Rice Terraces and Angkor Wat was created without Western support, a fruit of the synthesis of local ingenuity and fellow Asian influence (the Terraces arguably existed without prior lowland influence).
Lastly, and in relation to the above, it shows how adverse the effects that colonialism actually had on SEA. Their intention to transform the indigenous civilizations into colonies to support their worldwide expansion for economic and political power might have accelerated development just to an extent, but it has largely stunted the process in an effort to suppress their economies from overcoming dependency. China then with its weak dynasty was in fact subject to the greatest colonial abuse, so it comes as no surprise to see SEA, a region that was largely subordinate to China, to be in the same mold.
While SEA has supposedly gained its independence in the previous Century, some like the Philippines persist to be neo-colonies of its colonial masters. Under what seems to be a guise of benevolent partnership, SEA’s potential to develop continues to be hampered by western imperialist influences. Unfortunately, unless SEA refutes its international chains, their economic, political and cultural growth will remain in shambles in the years to come.