Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Glimpse of Chinese History in the Philippines and the Celebration of New Year




History tells us that long before the Spanish arrived in the Philippines, Filipinos have already established trade relations with the Chinese as evidenced by a collection of invaluable Chinese artifacts found in the Philippines dating back as early as the 10th century.

Chinese inhabited permanently in the Philippines after the Spanish conquest. In the early development of the Spanish colony, their trade and labor were of great importance, and because of that they became economically successful branching out into leasing land, lending money and later landholding. Spanish authorities encouraged the Chinese male immigrants to convert to Catholicism. They were then converted, baptized and their names were Hispanized, allowing them to marry the locals. They organize themselves as Principalia and were given certain privileges by Spanish authorities.

The term Mestizos de Sangley or Chinese mestizos referred to those children born from the union between a Chinese and a Filipino. TornatrĂ¡s referred to those born from the union of Spanish and Chinese. As decades passed, the situation between the Chinese and the Filipinos improved.

The way of living among the Chinese was quite dissimilar from the patterns displayed among the masses of Filipinos and Spanish surrounding them. And one of their most remarkable qualities is their geographic stability that has remained in the same neighborhood with the same rich culture. Binondo and Sta.Cruz in Manila have traditionally been the place where many Chinese Filipinos lived, worked, shopped, and socialized. In 1839 the government issued a decree granting them freedom of occupation and residence.

In the early nineteenth century, the Chinese comprised about 5 percent or 2.5 million of the total population of the Philippines. They concentrated in the more developed provinces of the country, particularly in the areas of Central Luzon and in Manila and its neighboring provinces. Although much less significant number inhabited in places such as Cebu and Iloilo, and on Mindanao

The centers of inter-island trading, besides Manila, were Cebu, and the settlements of Molo and Jaro in Iloilo. These areas have the largest bodies of mestizos. The mestizos of Cebu, Molo, and Jaro carried on an important trade, collecting raw materials in the Visayas and transporting them to Manila where they sold them to Chinese or European merchants for export overseas. The textile industry in Molo and Jaro were dominated by Chinese-Filipino merchants. In the later part of the century, the mestizos de sangley wore embroidered barong tagalog while indios wore multicolored camisa de chino.

In the early 18th century where Molo's population was of 16,000 and 1,000 were mestizos, but it was they who controlled trade and owned the carriages in Molo. European goods were brought from Manila to the port of Iloilo by mestizo and Chinese traders, and subsequently distributed at Molo, Jaro, and other large towns. The goods appear on weekly fair or market of Jaro, and are subsequently offered to be sold in Molo, Mandurriao, Oton, or Arevalo. They are carried to and
from the different towns in cumbrous or solid-wheeled vehicles, drawn by buffaloes and oxen.

The mestizos of Molo and Jaro who traded with Manila owned their own ships and had much invested in the trade. Another enterprise in which the Molo and Jaro mestizos were engaged was the manufacture of pina cloth, a popular export item. Weaving was a home industry, and in houses of the mestizos and rich indios are dozens of looms used to make the prized fabric.

In downtown Iloilo, the streets of Iznart and J.M. Basa or popularly known as Calle Real was once tagged as the “Escolta” of Iloilo. It is lined by businesses owned mostly by Filipino-Chinese traders. The area is the site of most European, Chinese and American retail stores. Presently, it boasts of buildings that date back during the Spanish and American colonial periods.

Tsinoy

At present, a Filipino-Chinese is popularly known as Tsinoy--- a Filipino of Chinese ethnicity but born or raised in the Philippines. Tsinoy is derived from two words, Tsino or Chinese and Pinoy, a slang referring to a Filipino.

Tsinoys in the Philippines preferred to retain as much of their culture as possible.
All over the Philippines, particularly in areas with Chinese districts, the celebration of Chinese New Year are also held and has been an annual event for many years. Generally, these include many of the traditional rituals and some local traditions are also included in the festivities.

History of Chinese New Year

The celebration of the Chinese New Year started thousands of years ago. It began as a legend handed down from generation to generation.

Most popular is the legend of Nian---an awful, fierce beast that has a lion-type head and an elephant-type body that lived beneath the sea or deep in the mountains. The beast would come out every New Year’s Eve to find the food in the cold winter time, because many animals hibernated in the mountains, the beast has to go down from the mountain to find the livestock. Later, Nian become a man-eater and eats enough people to carry on itself until the following year. The villagers knew Nian was afraid of loud noises, fire, and the color red. And to keep them from being eaten by the beast, they all dress-up in red, stay up all night clanging their metal objects, lighting torches and firecrackers to keep Nian at bay.

The entire village survived and celebrated. They felt like a restarting point after passing the disaster. Then, they called Guo-Nian or passing Nian as the day before the new starting day.


Celebrating Chinese New Year

The celebration of Chinese New Year is perhaps the most sophisticated, lively, and important of all traditional Chinese festivities. Celebrated on the first day of the First Moon of the lunar calendar, Chinese New Year falls on a date in the solar calendar and varies as early as the 21st of January till the 19th of February.


The festivity is a time of congratulating themselves and each other for making it through the year and welcoming the new year. It is also a time for family reunions, and for visiting friends and relatives. It emphasizes the importance of family ties where the celebration is strictly a family affair. All members of the family would gather for the significant family meal on the eve of the new year. At midnight following the feast, the younger members of the family would bow and pay their respects to their parents and elders. Children were given red envelopes known as Lai-See where money is wrapped as a sign of good luck.

On its second day, Chinese go out to visit their friends and relatives and give gifts and be greeted with traditional Chinese New year delicacies like melon seeds, flowers and fruits such as tangerines, oranges and pomelos that are frequently displayed in their homes and stores. They are symbols of good luck and wealth. Most Chinese families also keep a tray full of dried fruits, sweets, and candies to welcome guests and relatives. This tray is called Chuen-hop or Tray of Togetherness, traditionally made up of eight compartments where each is filled with special food items of significance to the New Year season. They also prepare New Year cakes known as Niangao.

Most Chinese stores are closed for the entire first week of the New year is a time for meeting people and enjoyment. Lion dances, acrobats and theatrical shows are performed on the streets along with other pastimes. They also enjoy lighting firecrackers almost every day of the week in their belief that it drives away evil spirits that brings bad luck to the family. On its seventh day of the celebration, everyone is considered a year older. Traditionally, every Chinese add a year to his age at New Year rather than during his birthday.


The celebration ends on the 15th day with a festival of lanterns. On the evening of that day, people carry lanterns into the streets and take part in a great parade. It is highlighted with a dragon dance.

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