By Andrew Lim
AN ALTERNATIVE VIEW OF PEDRO CALUNGSOD
In the context of the Spanish-Chamorro Wars 1671-1698
Applying what a Filipino historian wrote, it could be a case of veneration without understanding.
But history is indeed written by the victors, and this is no exception. What is sorely lacking is the viewpoint of the vanquished- the Chamorro natives.
The widely accepted context is that the indigenous peoples of the islands formerly known as the Ladrones were “barbarians”, “uncultured” and needed to be “saved” by converting them to Spanish Catholicism, which parallels the Philippine experience. This begs the questions of who defines what, and who needs to be saved from what.
There is plenty of historical evidence on the brutality of Spanish authorities in the Marianas – if it had happened today, the perpetrators would have been brought to the International Court of Justice in the Hague! Large scale clashes include Hurao's attack on the Agana forts (1671-1672), Aguarin (1676-77) and the Apurguan uprising (1684).
Robert Haddock on A History of Health on Guam: “. . . as the Spanish eventually quelled the Chamorro rebellion, “peace” was established at the price of the extinction of a race.”
Francis X. Hezel, SJ writes: “ What began as a religious mission to proclaim the gospel of peace soon degenerated into an out-and out war of military conquest which, as the histories have it, killed off vast numbers of native Chamorros before the missionaries were finally able to make believers out of the few survivors.” (From Conversion to Conquest: the Early Spanish Mission in the Marianas, Journal of Pacific History, pp 115-137, 1982.)
SPREAD OF DISEASE
An Infographic (Rappler, 10/21/2012) on the life of Calungsod states that “... Calungsod's group is blamed for babies who got ill allegedly due to baptism.” This was not unfounded. Although baptismal water is unlikely the means of transmission, there is evidence that there was an introduction of new diseases – measles and smallpox, previously non-existent in the islands, and inadvertently brought in by the Spaniards themselves. The Chamorros had no natural immunity to these, and medical care by physicians was largely unavailable. Then there are also cases of infertility due to venereal diseases which was brought by Spanish soldiers. (Destiny's Landfall, by Robert Rogers. p71.)
Based on the first census of the Marianas, the population in 1710 was a mere 3,539 – a big drop from an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 due to the combined effects of oppression and disease.
WHAT THE NATIVES FELT
Hurao was a Chamorro chief who organized resistance to the Spaniards in the islands in the 1600s.
Read his speech to his fellowmen, it eerily sounds like the letters written by our own heroes:
The Spaniards would have done better to remain in their own country. We have no need of their help to live happily. Satisfied with what our islands furnish us, we desire nothing. The knowledge which they have given us has only increased our needs and stimulated our desires. They find it evil that we do not dress. If that were necessary, nature would have provided us with clothes. They treat us as gross people and regard us as barbarians. But do we have to believe them? Under the excuse of instructing us, they are corrupting us. They take away from us the primitive simplicity in which we live.
They dare to take away our liberty, which should be dearer to us than life itself. They try to persuade us that we will be happier, and some of us had been blinded into believing their words. But can we have such sentiments if we reflect that we have been covered with misery and illness ever since those foreigners have come to disturb our peace?
Before they arrived on the island, we did not know insects. Did we know rats, flies, mosquitoes, and all the other little animals which constantly torment us? These are the beautiful presents they have made us. And what have their floating machines brought us? Formerly, we do not have rheumatism and inflammations. If we had sickness, we had remedies for them. But they have brought us their diseases and do not teach us the remedies. Is it necessary that our desires make us want iron and other trifles which only render us unhappy?
The Spaniards reproach us because of our poverty, ignorance and lack of industry. But if we are poor, as they tell us, then what do they search for? If they didn’t have need of us, they would not expose themselves to so many perils and make such efforts to establish themselves in our midst. For what purpose do they teach us except to make us adopt their customs, to subject us to their laws, and to remove the precious liberty left to us by our ancestors? In a word, they try to make us unhappy in the hope of an ephemeral happiness which can be enjoyed only after death.
They treat our history as fable and fiction. Haven’t we the same right concerning that which they teach us as incontestable truths? They exploit our simplicity and good faith. All their skill is directed towards tricking us; all their knowledge tends only to make us unhappy. If we are ignorant and blind, as they would have us believe, it is because we have learned their evil plans too late and have allowed them to settle here.
Let us not lose courage in the presence of our misfortunes. They are only a handful. We can easily defeat them. Even though we don’t have their deadly weapons which spread destruction all over, we can overcome them by our large numbers. We are stronger than we think! We can quickly free ourselves from these foreigners! We must regain our former freedom!
As told to French Jesuit Father Charles Le Gobien, secretary to the French Jesuit missions in 1700. ( Histories des Isles Marianes Paris 1700.)
Thankfully, in current times, the respect for indigenous cultures is now part of CBCP teaching.
Viewed from this perspective, Pedro Calungsod, by being a loyal ally/assistant of the imperialist Spanish forces led by Diego de Luis de San Vitores , was a small player in the subjugation of an indigenous people that had its own thriving society and culture. Rina Jimenez-David, the Inquirer writer cites his small role in her opinion column, “Saintly saling pusa” (saintly accidental participant).
In reality, it was an imperialist war; it was a war to gain access to more resources and to establish a forward staging base for the Spaniards in the ongoing battle with Portugal and England for world supremacy at the time.
So next time you feel like praying for intercession from Blessed Calungsod, say a prayer, too for the Chamorros who suffered and died defending what was really their own – their land and their culture - from an invading force.
It should make you ask: Is the destruction of an indigenous culture worth the price of missionary work, of which Calungsod was part of?
- A History of Guam, Lawrence Cunningham and Janice Beaty. Bess Press 2001. Guam Department of Education.
- The Chamorro Spanish War 1671-1698. The Guam Website. (http:// NS.Gov.Gu)
- Diego Luis de San Vitores Wikipedia entry.
- Hurao's speech. Guampedia.com.
- Saintly “saling pusa” by Rina Jimenez-David, Inquirer column October 20, 2012.
- Northern Mariana Islands. Spanish colonial rule, .p2. Britannica.com
- Timeline: Pedro Calungsod, Inquirer October 21, 2012.
- Destiny's Landfall, Robert Rogers. University of Hawaii Press. 1995.
- What history says about Pedro Calungsod by Paterno Esmaquel II Rappler article October 21, 2012.
- Infographic: Life of Pedro Calungsod, Visayan teenage saint, Rappler article, October 21, 2012.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the views of The Society of Honor, Joe America, other contributors or those who comment on this blog.