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Early Spanish Colonialism in Manila, the Philippines: An historical archaeological viewpoint


My dissertation seeks to elucidate the nature of power relationships between the Spanish, the Tagalog and the Chinese in Manila during the early Spanish colonial period (i.e., late 16th to early 17th centuries). Scholars often highlight Manila as a critical link among global networks during this pivotal period in world history; however, little attention has been paid to the colonial lives in Manila. To remedy this gap, I applied postcolonial theory to offer a brand new picture of ethnic relationships in colonial Manila.

Two sets of data were analyzed: the illustrations of the Boxer Codex, a Spanish manuscript containing images of people in the Philippines and other surrounding areas, and various ceramics excavated previously from sites representing Intramuros (the Spanish walled city) and Parian (the Chinese quarter). The results show that (1) The Spanish with high social-economic status enjoyed high-quality customized Chinese products, whereas others with lower class lived with a different consumption pattern. (2) Compared with the Spanish sites, the material culture in the Chinese quarter shows a strong connection between the Chinese and their homeland. However, some evidence indicates that the Chinese also wove in the colonial society. (3) The cultural continuity and change of the Tagalogs before and after the Spanish arrived could both be observed. The early modernity of the Tagalog should be considered from the perspective of labor relationships in the colonial setting. The research attests the early hybridity of Spanish Manila, which was contributed by all main ethnic groups in the society. The physical condition and natural settings of the city, the pre-Manila past of each group, the colonial structure, and the dynamics of the outside world all mattered regarding the process of hybridization.

This research improves the understanding of Philippine history by filling the gap between the pre-Spanish period and the late colonial period. It enriches our knowledge about early modern global history by giving voice to non-elite Spanish, Chinese diaspora and indigenous communities who left little trace in historical documents. It enhances the postcolonial theory in the archaeological study by providing a case study in an East and Southeast Asian setting.

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