Burial Caverns And Funeral Customs Of The Ancient Bisayans Icon

February 10, 2022

In Guiuan, I was visited by some Micronesians. For the last 14 days, they had been in Sulangan on the small neck of land south-east from Guíuan, diving for pearl mussels (mother-of-pearl).

They had sailed from Uleai (Uliai, 7° 20’ N., 143° 57’ E. Gr.) in 5 boats. Each boat:

  • had a crew of 9 men
  • carried 40 gourds full of water, with coconuts and batata.

Every man received 1 coconut and 2 batatas daily, which they baked in the ashes of the cocoa shells. They caught some fish on the way, and collected a little rain-water.

During the day, they directed their course by the sun, and at night by the stars. A storm destroyed the boats. Two of them sank, together with their crews, before the eyes of their companions, and of these, only one-probably the sole individual rescued—two weeks afterwards reached the harbour of Tandag, on the east coast of Mindanao.

The party remained at Tandag 2 weeks, working in the fields for hire, and then proceeded northwards along the coast to:

  • Cántilang, 8° 25’ N.
  • Banóuan (called erroneously Bancuan by Coello), 9° 1’ N.
  • Tagankan, 9° 25’ N.

From there, to Surigáo on the north point of Mindanao. Then with an easterly wind, in 2 days, direct to Guíuan.

  • The following communication appeared for the first time in the reports of a session of the Anthropological Society of Berlin ; but my visitors were there denominated Palao islanders. But, as Prof. Semper, who spent a long time on the true Palaos (Pelew) islands, correctly shows in the “Corresp.-Bl. f. Anthropol.," 1871, No. 2, that Uliai belongs to the group of the Carolinas, I have here retained the more common expression, Mikronesian, although those men, respecting whose arrival from Uliai no doubt existed, did not call themselves Caroline islanders, but Palávs. As communicated to me by Dr. Gräffe, who lived many years in Mikronesia, Paláos is a loose expression like Kanaka and many others, and does not, at all events, apply exclusively to the inhabitants of the Pelew group.

In the German translation of Captain Salmon’s “History of the Oriental Islands” (Altona, 1733), it is stated that

“Some other islands on the east of the Philippines have lately been discovered which have received the name of the New Philippines because they are situated in the neighbourhood of the old, which have been already described.

Father Clain, in a letter from Manila, which has been incorporated in the “ Philosophical Transactions,” makes the following statement respecting them :

It happened that when be was in the town of Guivam, ‘on the island of Samar, he met 29 Palaos (there had been thirty, but one died soon after in Guíuan), or natives of certain recently discovered islands, who had been driven thither by the east winds, which prevail from December to May.

According to their own statement, they were driven about by the winds for 70 days, without getting sight of land, until they arrived opposite to Guivam. When they sailed from their own country, their two boats were quite full, carrying 35 souls, including their wives and children.

But several had died miserably on the way from fatigue. When someone from Guivam wished to go on board to them, they were thrown into such a state of terror that all who were in one of the boats sprang overboard, along with their wives and children.

However, they at last thought it best to come into the harbour ; so they came ashore on the December 28, 1696.

They fed on cocoa-nuts and roots, which were charitably supplied to them, but refused even to taste cooked rice, which is the general food of the Asiatic nations.

Two women who had previously been cast away on the same islands acted as interpreters for them. The people of the country went half naked, and the men painted their bodies with spots and all kinds of devices. As long as they were on the sea they lived on fish, which they caught in a certain kind of fish-basket, with a wide mouth but tapering to a point at the bottom, which was dragged along underneath the boats ; and rainwater, when they could catch it (or, as is stated in the letter itself, preserved in the shells of the cocoa-nut), served them for drink.

When they were about to be taken into the presence of the Father, whom, from the great respect which was shown to him, they took for the governor, they coloured their bodies entirely yellow, an operation which they considered highly important, as enabling them to appear as persons of consideration. They are very skilful divers, and now and then find pearls in the mussels which they bring up; which, however, they throw away as useless things.”

But one of the most important parts of Father Clain’s letter has been omitted by Capt. Salmon :-“ The oldest of these strangers had once before been cast away on the coast of the province of Caragan, on one of our islands (Mindanáo); but as he found only heathens (infidels), who lived in the mountains or on the desert shore, he returned to his own country.”

In a letter from Father Cantova to Father d’Aubenton, dated from Agdana (i.e. Agaña, of the Marianne Islands), March 20, 1722, describing the Carolina and Pelew Islands, it is said :

“The fourth district lies to the west. Yap (9° 25’ N., 138° 1’ E. Gr.),* which is the principal island, is more than forty leagues in circumference. Besides the different roots which are used by the natives of the island instead of bread, there is the batata, which they call camote, and which they have acquired from the Philippines, as I was informed by one of our Carolina Indians, who is a native of the island. He states that his father, named Coorr, …. three of his brothers, and himself had been cast away in a storm on one of the provinces in the Philippines, which was called Bisayas ; that a missionary of our society (Jesus) received them in a friendly manner …. that on returning to their own island they took with them the seeds of different plants, amongst others the batata, which multiplied so fast that they had sufficient to supply the other islands of the Archipelago with them.”

• Dumont d’Urville, “ Voyage to the South Pole,” v. 206, remarks that the natives call their island Gouap or Ouap, but never Yap; and that the husbandry

ima ha had been in the South San. in that place was superior to anything he had seen in the South Sea.

Murillo Velarde states that in 1708 some Palaos were wrecked in a storm on Palapag (north coast of Sámar); and I personally had the opportunity, in Manila, of photographing a company of Paláos and Carolina islanders, who had been the year before cast on the coast of Sámar by foul weather.

Apart from the question of their transport, whether voluntary or not, these simply were six examples, such as still occur occasionally, of Mikronesians cast up on the shore of the Philippines ; and probably it would not be difficult to find several more; but how often, both before and after the arrival of the Spaniards, might not vessels from those islands have come within the influence of the north-east storms, and been driven violently on the east coasts of the Philippines without any record of such facts being preserved ? *

Even as, on the west side of the Archipelago, the type of the race seems to have been modified by its long intercourse with China, Japan, Lower India, and later with Europe, so likewise may Polynesian influences have operated in a similar manner on the east side; and the further circumstance that the inhabitants of the Ladronest and the Bisayans | possess the art of colouring their teeth black, seems to point to early intercourse between the Bisayans and the Polynesians. $

  • The voyages of the Polynesians were also caused by the tyranny of the victorious parties, which compelled the vanquished to emigrate. † Pigafetta, p. 51.

I Morga, f. 127. ♡ “ The Bisayans cover their teeth with a shining varnish, which is either black, or of the colour of fire, and thus their teeth become either black, or red like cinna. bar; and they make a small hole in the upper row, which they fill with gold, the latter shining all the more on the black or red ground.”—(THÉVENOT, Religieux, 54). Of a king of Mindanao, visited by Magellan at Massana, it is written :-” In every tooth he had three machie (spots ?) of gold, so that they had the appearance of being tied together with gold;" which Ramusio interprets—“On each finger he had three rings of gold.”–PIGAFETTA, p. 66; and compare also Carletti, “ Voyages," i. 163.


At Guíuan, I sailed for Tacloban, the chief town of Leyté.

At Nipa-Nipa, a small hamlet two leagues from Basey, they project into the sea in a succession of picturesque rocks, above one hundred feet in height, which, rounded above like a dome, thickly covered with vegetation, and corroded at the base by the waters of the sea, rise out of the waves like gigantic mushrooms.

A peculiar atmosphere of enchantment pervades this locality, whose influence upon the native mariner must be all the more powerful when, fortunately escaping from the billows outside and the buffeting of the north-east wind, he suddenly enters this tranquil place of refuge. No wonder that superstitious imagination has peopled the place with spirits.

  • In one of these cliffs, sixty feet above the sea, beds of mussels were found: ostrea, pinna, chama ; according to Dr. V. M.-0. denticulata, Bron.; 0. cornucopia, Chemn.; 0. rosacea, Desh.; Chama sulfurea, Reeve; Pinna Nigrina, Lam. (3).