Trans-Pacific Exchanges between Hawai’i, Spain and Latin America

While Spanish galleons on route to either Mexico or the Philippines might have stumbled on Hawai’i prior to the 18th century, the first undisputed documented presence of Spaniard in the Hawaiian Islands was of Don Francisco de Paula Marin.  He deserted a Spanish naval ship and became a resident of Honolulu around 1793 or 1794. Marin was originally from Jerez de la Frontera in Cadiz, Spain, and impressed into naval service as a seaman.  Jerez de la Frontera was well known for its agriculture and that seems to have been where Marin’s passion lay. Marin had knowledge of skills involving medicinal herbs, wine making, and wheat production. He also spent a great deal of time in Mexico and the Pacific Northwest so he was familiar also with many of crops from the Americas.   He arrived in Hawai’i as King Kamehameha I was unifying the Hawaiian Kingdom.  He quickly impressed King Kamehameha I and the king incorporated him into his court.  Eventually Marin served in various capacities including accountant, business adviser, interpreter, herbalist and agricultural adviser.  Despite being a Roman Catholic, Marin lived in accordance to Hawaiian customs and had three conjugal unions with chiefly women which produced numerous children. Through his service to King Kamehameha I and his business acumen, Marin acquired large land leases and wealth. He also introduced a number of plants to Hawai’i including:  apples, apricots, asparagus, avocados, cabbage, carrots, chile pepper, a variety of coffee, eggplant, lemons, limes, macadamia, nectarines, nuts, olives, onions, oranges, parsley, peas, peaches, pears, a variety of pineapple, Irish potatoes, rice, tea, tobacco, and tomatoes.  
Marin, in his role as interpreter, also helped to broker a treaty between King Kamehameha I and Captain Hipólito Bouchard in 1818. This Treaty of Friendship between the Hawaiian Kingdom and the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata (now called Argentina) is considered the first international recognition of the independence of Argentina by an outside power.   Calle Hawai in Buenos Aires is named after this event and King Kamehameha I was made a Lt Colonel in the Argentine army.  This treaty also marked the first treaty that the Hawaiian Kingdom made as an independent power and reaffirms that Kamehameha I saw himself as an equal ruler and not a vassal of some other power like Great Britain, the US, France or Spain.  It also reaffirms Kamehameha I’s foresightedness that the Spanish Empire in the Americas was collapsing and Hawai’i needed to open new channels of friendship, trades and diplomacy to these emerging Latin American nations.
Image result for ka'iana hawaii
It is also interesting to note that around the same time as Marin arriving in Hawai’i, developments were occurring with Spanish Captain Estevan Jose Martinez, who was key in the Spanish exploration of the Pacific Northwest. In 1789, Martinez had captured British corvette under the command of Captain James Colnett in Nootka Sound which almost triggered a war between Spain and Great Britain. The Viceroy of New Spain, based in Mexico City and uncle to Martinez, had ordered Spanish vessels to stop Russian and British ships from colonizing the Pacific Northwest. Among the crew of Colnett, there happened to have been Hawaiians in particular a chief named Ka’iana or Tiana, Tajana or Tayana in Spanish.   Ka’iana was the half- brother or cousin (depending on the account) of King Kaumuali’i and the first Hawaiian documented to have visited China, the Philippines, Java, California, Mexico, Alaska, British Colombia, Oregon  and Washington.  Martinez treated Ka’iana well due to his travel experience and rank as a chief. Before being released from Spanish custody, Ka’iana and his fellow Hawaiian crewmates helped Martinez and the Franciscan Father Lorenzo Socies to compile a 200 word Spanish-Hawaiian vocabulary which was published through the Colegio de San Fernando in Mexico City and given to the Viceroy. This was the first time a Hawaiian vocabulary list outside of English speakers had been compiled and the first time Hawaiian was compared to Nootka, Nahuatl, Spanish, and Philippine languages. The purpose of the vocabulary list was to help induce the Spanish government in Mexico City to sent a Roman Catholic Mission to Hawai’i, which would not happen due to the outbreak of the Mexican War for Independence.  But Ka’iana and his crew’s presence that early on shows that while we may remember people such Marin coming to Hawai’i, Hawaiian sailors and adventurers were also going around Latin America and the world.  The interaction and exchanges between Hawai’i, Spain and Latin America was going two ways,

During the reign of King Kamehameha III another event would help to shape Hawai’i’s ties to Latin America.  In 1793 British Captain George Vancouver gave King Kamehameha I five head of black longhorn cattle as well as a herd of sheep.  In 1803, Vancouver also gave Kamehameha horses. Kamehameha set them all free to roam the plains of the Big Island of Hawai’i where they multiplied and became a nuisance. As they were technically the cattle, sheep and horses of the king and therefore his property and was under kapu, people could do very little.  King Kamehameha III, seeing the problem, wrote to Mexico in 1832 asking for vaqueros(professional herders or “cowboys”) to deal with the cattle and to train Hawaiians in ranching.  In 1836, Mexico sent about 200 vaqueros from its region of Alta California (California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas were still all part of Mexico). Since these vaqueros spoke Español or Spanish, Hawaiians called them paniolo. These paniolo introduced the ranching, dive pit herding, the Mexican saddle, the guitar, and the cowboy hat.  Eventually many of vaqueros returned to Mexico, but their legacies live on through the Hawaiian paniolo traditions and Parker Ranch. Also from this cultural exchange, a distinctive Hawaiian type of music emerged–kī hōʻalu—that blended vaquero guitar music with Hawaiian rhythms and expressions.  Another important aspect is that the Hawaiian paniolo traditions are older than American cowboy traditions by some 30 years. As a side note, one of the promoters of paniolo traditions was Prince Jonah Kūhiō Kalanianaʻole, who admired the paniolos.
Another important tie between Hawai’i and Latin America was the arrival of the first Puertorriqueños or Puerto Ricans in 1900.  In August of 1899, San Ciriaco, a huge hurricane, punished Puerto Rico for two days with winds of 110mph – 150mph.  It left the island completely devastated with thousands of agriculture workers unemployed. The Hawai’i Sugar Planters Association (HSPA) was looking for experienced workers for their plantations and saw the potential of Filipino and Puerto Rican workers. The Philippines and Puerto Rico had just been “acquired” by the United States in 1898 and due to colonial politics, Filipinos and Puerto Ricans were considered US nationals rather than aliens (unllike the Japanese and Chinese) and therefore would be exempted from alien exclusion acts.  When the HSPA found out about the hurricane, they saw it as an advantage and quickly started recruiting desperate workers from Puerto Rico.  Between 1900 and 1901, the HSPA brought 5,000 Puerto Ricans workers to toil on Hawai’i’s plantations. As a result of this migration and with many local Puerto Ricans no longer speaking Spanish, some Puerto Rican traditions and foods were adapted.  The traditional “arroz con gandules” became “gandule rice” and “pasteles” become “pateles.”

Around the same time in 1907, the HSPA also began to recruit Spanish workers mainly from Málaga. These Spanish workers were mainly recruited to replace the local Portuguese, who were increasingly leaving the plantations for other employment opportunities.  This importation of Spanish workers continued for ten years but by 1930, over 95% of these Spanish workers either left for the continental US or went back to Spain as they found plantation conditions unbearable.

1.  Nathaniel Portlock, A Voyage Round the World . . . in 1785, 1786, 1787, and 1788 (1789; New York: Da Capo Press, 1968)
2.  John Meares, Voyages Made in the Tears 1788 and 1789 from China to the North West Coast of America . . . (1790; New York: Da Capo Press, 1967)
3. Ralph S. Kuykendall, The Hawaiian Kingdom, vol. 1, 1778-1854 Foundation and Transformation (Honolulu: U P of Hawai’i, 1938) 429-30.
4.  Samuel M. Kamakau, Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii (Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools Press, 1961) 5. David Samwell, “Journal,” The Journals of Captain Cook . . ., by John C. Beaglehole (Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1967).
5. George Dixon, A Voyage Round the World . . . (1789; New York: Da Capo Press, 1968) 

Honoring Filipino Ancestors: Building Balangay

Article Repost

Honoring Filipino Ancestors: Building Balangay


The Voyage of the Balangay has just started last June 2009. In Manila, the Balangay landed near Harbor Square, Manila Bay. We conquered the stormy weather just to experience the great ancient vessel: the Balangay.

Balangay was used by our ancestors to sail across the the oceans. I’ve seen it personally and I can say that this kind of boat is amazing and built faithfully. It is huge, and looks invulnerable to ocean waves.

The main objective of The Voyage of Balangay is Boat Building. The authentic Balangay will be crafted by master boat builders from the Island of Sibutu and Sitangkay in Tawi-Tawi, whose skills had been handed down through generations.

This will not only showcase the capability of the Filipino boat builders but would also be our way of instilling and propagating the idea among the present Filipinos, particularly the youth, that the Filipinos have been world-class boat builders even before the coming of the Western colonizers.

These are the sailing route of Balangay based on the projected timetable.

2009 The Philippines
2010 Southeast Asia
2011 Micronesia and Madagascar
2012 Sail across the Pacific onward to the Atlantic, all the way around the world
2013 Back home to the Philippines

The Philippine Mt Everest Team. Left to Right: Noelle Wenceslao, Carina Dayondon, Dr. Voltaire Velasco, Art Valdez, Leo Oracion, Pastour E

The Balangay Building will be headed by the Philippine Mount Everest Expedition. Their team leader Art Valdez has an organizational expertise and rich experience that can serve as the guiding light in the accomplishment of this project, his new “Everest.”

The Balangay will become the catalyst to stir up historical consciousness among Filipinos today. Without that keen knowledge of history, our people will continue to suffer as our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, aptly described, “Ang taong hindi lumilingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa patutunguhan.”

Kaya ng Pinoy!

The Gold of Our Ancestors

One of the major assumptions even Filipinos make is that the Philippines has had no major artistic traditions before the Spanish colonial period and its a favorite subject of Filipino students (particularly Filipino-Americans students) to ask “What is Filipino culture?” It is true the Philippines does not have a Borobudur or Angkor Watt. It has no Great Pyramid of Giza or Great Wall. But then again, these monuments were often built by toiling masses of people who were told to build them for the pleasure and vanity of their rulers. Perhaps that is something that Filipinos can be proud of–having been a free people with no oppressive central government up until colonial rule. But the other thing that Filipinos can be proud of is that yes the Philippines has had a very long artistic tradition, particularly in pottery and gold going back to at least 6,000 years.

As far as gold is concerned (I will touch upon pottery in another article), the Philippines was and is a gold producing country. The early Spanish such as Fr. Pedro Chirino recounted how “even slaves wore gold” and Filipinos generally only admired gold for decoration. They placed more value on other things such as pottery, silks and jade. In the 1900s, a gold statue of the Bodhisattva, Tara, was unearthed in Butuan, northern Mindanao in the southern region of the Philippines (see red insert from the picture above). This statue was dated to the 10th century AD and due to the decorative elements, it seems to have been locally produced meaning made by Filipino artisans. This confirmed that Filipinos were influenced by the Hindu-Buddhist empires in what is now Indonesia and that that religions were making in-roads with Filipinos. In 1981, another major discovery was made in Surigao, not that far from Butuan, and was nearly melted but was saved by archeologists and today is part of the “Gold of Our Ancestors” Collection at the Ayala Museum–a bit ironic considering that Ayalas are Philippine-born Spaniards and that the ticket price is cost prohibitive for ordinary Filipinos to actually see the gold of their ancestors but its probably safer there than at a government owned museum but that’s another story–in Metropolitan Manila. It consisted of several golden objects including the wardrobe of a high ranking noble, possibly a king, and dated in the 10 to 11th century AD. The decorative elements included the naga (snake), the garuda (a half man half bird that the Hindu God Vishnu rides upon, see picture below), and geometric designs that can still be seen in textiles in Mindanao. Again, this points to the strong Hindu-Buddhist influence in the southern part of the Philippines and again points to the artistry of Filipino goldsmiths. Experts today say that even with our modern technology, it would be difficult to duplicate these pieces because of the intricate details.

One of the more unusual objects found were golden sashes. Sashes made of gold so far are only found in the Philippines and these particular sashes are the same type worn by Hindu deities in artistic depictions. This is quite unusual because no where else so far in South East Asia have these types of pieces of sacred wardrobe were actually physically created.

Normally, one simply sees them in drawings or in temple reliefs. So to have these pieces created from these images shows not a great deal of creative skill but also a great admiration to the power and semiotics of the ideas being presented in these philosophies. Due to the sheer weight of these objects, it probably that they were only worn during important state and religious ceremonies and/or were placed on a religious statue as part of veneration.

What is important about these objects outside of their form and their historical function is their function today. They are a testament to the creativity, industry, and pride of the ancestors. These objects refute what many Filipinos were brought up with–that Filipinos have no history prior to Magellan and that the Filipino has no achievements prior to the Spanish. It signifies the influence of Hindu-Buddhism in the Philippines and the deep connection to those ideas that Filipinos of that era felt–so much so they took the time to give form to these religious beliefs. It answers the questions “What is Filipino culture” by saying–in gold no less–“Look at us, remember us, you are from us”.