20 May 2016

Did the Tagalog People Originate from Batangas? (And Other Notes About the Origins of the Tagalogs)

Image credit: by Sulbud at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Percy Hill, in an article published by the Philippine Magazine in 1937, seemed to think so. “The shores of the lake [Taal], its towns and river settlements, are in all probability the ancestral birthplace of the Tagalogs, who, according to tradition, were named taga-ilogs (people from the river) from their primitive nayon (village) on the Pansipit…1

He went on, “The settling of the original town of Taal, named after the ta-alan trees in the vicinity, and located on the southeast shore of the lake, is traditionally ascribed to the Datus Dumangsil and Kalinsuela.”

From this, we can deduce that his source was probably the Maragtas (meaning History) as told in a book by the Visayan public official and poet Pedro Alcantara Monteclaro. The book was published in Iloilo in 1907 in the Hiligaynon and Kinaray-a languages, the latter widely used in Antique.

The American historian William Henry Scott would, in a dissertation which would be published as a book in 1984, show that the Maragtas story of the Bornean datus was more legendary rather than historical. Writer Cecilio D. Duka even went so far as to call it “the imaginary creation of Pedro A. Monteclaro.2

Much as Hill’s pronouncement, were it true, would have given all of us here in Batangas bragging rights, Scott’s research and subsequent conclusions rendered it, therefore, suspect. But who, then, were the Tagalogs? Historical sources give clues about them; but from where they originated, so far nothing incontrovertible appears to have been written.

The earliest Hispanic reference to the Tagalogs was made by the friar Agustin de Albuquerque, fourth Agustinian Superior in the Philippines and first rector of Taal, in a book entitled “Arte de la Lengua Tagala” (Art of the Tagalog Language) which was published in 1637.3

Later, the Jesuit professor Pedro Murillo Velarde, in a book published in 1752, would describe Manila at the mouth of the Pasig River as, “Este territorio se llama de Tagalos, alterado el nombre de Taga-ilog…4” (Roughly, the territory of the Tagalos, otherwise known as the Taga-ilog.)

The closeness, in a verbal sense, of the word “Taga-ilog” to Tagalog has always made the former, even in the present day, the traditionally cited derivation of the name of the Tagalog ethnic group of people. This is one of those things that is, however, best not taken at face value, as I will explain later in this article.

Murillo Velarde’s description of Manila as territory of the Tagalogs was later reiterated by the Agustinian historian Joaquín Martínez de Zúñiga y Díaz de Ilarraza, who in a book published in 1803, however, referred to the Manila area as part of the “Tagala” nation. The nation had “many towns and mud villages, [and was] governed by petty chiefs. It is now divided into various provinces, under the government of their respective Alcaldes Mayores, who collect the royal tribute, and administer justice among the Indians.5” (The “Indian” being the “Indio” or native Filipino.)

J. Leyden, writing in an 1811 Bengali journal, gave valuable insights about the Tagalas. He called their language “Tagala” or “Ta-Gala” or simply just the Gala language. Keep this in mind as we shall be returning to Leyden’s use of “Gala” a little later in the article. At any rate, he described the Tagala alphabet as similar to the Bugis (used in Sulawesi) and Batta (used in Sumatra).

The Tagalas wrote “with an iron style on bamboos and palm leaves…” Leyden also noted that they probably wrote from bottom to top, and that their writing was still being used in Comintan (Batangas) and generally by other Tagalas who had not embraced Christianity.6

There were more insights about the Tagalogs given by Walter Hamilton in the 1828 East Asian Gazetteer. Hamilton described the inhabitants along the “Manilla River” (likely the Pasig River of the present day) as subsisting on fishing, industrious and of gentle disposition. Tagalas living east of Laguna de Bay, however, carried on unceasing warfare against each other and held off expeditions by the Spaniards.7

Meanwhile, David Brinton, in an 1898 publication, gave a more anthropological description of the Tagalas. He wrote that they belonged to the second wave of migration by peoples of Malay descent into the country between 100 and 500 A.D. This wave also included the Bicols, the Bisayas and the Ilocanes.

Brinton said that the Tagalas occupied central and southern Luzon, which is still pretty much how modern day Tagalogs continue to be basically dispersed. They had a patriarchal society with a dato or chief taking care of each village’s interests. He categorically stated that the language of the Tagalas was Tagalog, and that the language’s “phonetics are soft and harmonious, and to a linguist it is easy of acquisition.”8

From all these bits of information, we are able to establish a few things about the Tagalogs based on documents. First, they were likely part of a second wave of Malay migrations into the country sometime between the second and sixth centuries. They communicated using a form of writing similar to those used by Malays in Indonesia and had some form of governance.

Some tribes were peaceful but others were belligerent and frequently fought against each other. These tribes were dispersed from the central to southern parts of the island of Luzon. They were referred to as Tagalos, Tagalas and even just as Tagals by some historians.

The language that they spoke was called Tagalog; and the lands that they occupied were referred to by historians as the Tagala nation. The traditional derivation of the name is from the word taga-ilog, insinuating that the earliest tribes grew from river settlements. Exactly which river, this I am unable to establish. This is assuming that a credible document exists from which to do so.

At this point, allow me to introduce an alternative but nevertheless very viable possible derivation of the name Tagala if not the contemporary Tagalog. This comes from the notes of the French orientalist Albert Étienne Jean Baptiste Terrien de Lacouperie dated 1887.

Terrien de Lacouperie cited an obscure Chinese document entitled “A Description of the Miao and Man Tribes,” written by a Tsao Shu-K’iao of Shanghai, which described a “Ha-la” people of the south (i.e. of China) as “dark, with deep-set eyes” and did not know how to chew betel. His conclusion was that these Ha-la were the same as the Gala or Ta-gala of the Philippines (possibly taking into consideration Chinese phonetics.)9

The historian Austin Craig pitched in with a possible explanation for the omission of “ta,” quoting an opinion by a certain Leyden that the Chinese probably mistook the prefix to mean the Chinese word “great,” and refused to use it in reference to any state considered inferior to China.10

But just who, exactly, were the Ta-gala to the Chinese? Terrien de Lacouperie’s notes cited the Yang tchou wen Kao (apparently a History of Formosa, present-day Taiwan) which said that Formosa used to be part of a Liu-Kiu state that was founded by descendants of the Ha-la or Gala. This state is even mentioned in the Dynastic History of the Sui, dated 581-618 A.D.

Craig’s conjecture was that “Liu” was probably “Liu-sin” or Luzon; and Kiu was “K’iu-lung” or Formosa. Terrien de Lacouperie’s notes called the Gaddans and Kalingas as Tagala tribes. There are present-day northern Luzon tribes of the same names; but neither tribe calls Tagalog as a native language.

Could it be, then, that the name Ta-gala was much earlier used to refer in a general sense to the inhabitants of Luzon; and only with the onset of the Hispanic period was the name used in particular to distinguish the Tagalog ethnic group that occupied the central to southern parts of the island from the rest?

For the record, there is a present-day group of people called the Tagals which are scattered around the island of Borneo.11 Any relevance of that tribe to the gist of this article, however, will have to wait for further investigation.

[Thanks to Jigger Gilera, M.D. for his assistance with some resource materials.]

Notes and References:

1 Taal and Its History by Percy Hill, published in the Philippine Magazine 1937
2 Struggle for Freedom by Atty. Cecilio D. Duka, Ed.D.
3 U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin, Issue 1855, Part 1
4 Geographia historica, de las Islas Philipinas, del Africa, y de sus islas adyacentes: Vol. VIII, by Pedro Murillo Velarde, 1752
5 An Historical View of the Philippine Islands, by Joaquín Martínez de Zúñiga, 1803, translated by John Maver
6 On the Languages and Literature of the Indo-Chinese Nations, By J. Leyden, M. D., published in the Asiatic researches or transactions of the Society instituted in Bengal By Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1811
7 The East Indian Gazetteer: containing particular descriptions of the Empires, Kingdoms, Principalities, Provinces, Cities, Towns, Districts, Fortresses, Harbours, Rivers, Lakes, Etc. of Hindostan and the Adjacent Countries, India Beyond the Ganges, and the Eastern Archipelago Volume 2 By Walter Hamilton (M.R.A.S.), London 1828
8 The Peoples of the Philippines, Published in American Anthropologist Volume 11 Number 10, 1898
9 Formosa Notes, by Albert Étienne Jean Baptiste Terrien de Lacouperie, Hertford 1887
10 Particulars of the Philippines’ Pre-Spanish Past, by Austin Craig 1916
11 Murut, Tagal in Malaysia, online at Joshua Project

If you like this post, please share it freely on social media. It helps to pay this site's domain name and maintenance costs.

Share |




If you wish to support this site by making a donation for the maintenance costs of this site, please click the PayPal button below:

Big thanks to donors:
Glenn Amante
Timothy Guevarra
John Toomey



Email *

Message *