The Boxer Codex

September 8, 2011

The Boxer Codex aka Sino-Spanish codex. The Visayans.

The illustration above is from one of the pages of the “Boxer Codex” or the “Sino-Spanish Codex”, written around 1590. It shows two tattooed individuals from the Visayan region in the Philippines.

A big salamat to the Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN for photographing each of the pages, 625 photos total!

When I first heard of the “Boxer Codex” I thought, finally, a collection of the greatest Philippine boxers who ever lived in one tell-all manual!

Greatest Philippine Boxers by LeRoid David

But I was wrong, it’s actually something just as interesting, if not more so (graphic above by artist LeRoid David via

The “Boxer Codex” (wiki) is a 16th century (421-year-old) 600+ page manuscript binded into a book or “codex” that contains descriptions as well as illustrations of various East Asian groups: the Chinese, Japanese, and the inhabitants of pre-colonial Philippines. 15 of the 75 illustrations are of these “pre-colonial Filipinos”, specifically from Zambales and Cagayan as well as a few depictions of the Tagalogs and the Visayans. It is also known as the “Sino-Spanish codex” (Sino- means related to China).

The Boxer Codex aka Sino-Spanish codex. The Tagalogs (the TV show!)

The illustration above shows two people from the Tagalog region wearing a style of dress. The yellow accessories they wear are gold. An extensive exhibition of gold jewelry found in pre-colonial Philippines can be seen in Ayala Museum in Makati, Philippines. More than one thousand gold artifacts from all across the Philippines fill the entire fourth floor, where a short movie is also shown featuring the “Boxer Codex.” The debate on whether most of the gold was obtained via trade or made in the Philippines continues. I don’t know what “Nanirales” (sp?) is.

The Boxer Codex - Binding

The photo above is of the spine of the “Boxer Codex”.

It turns out this “codex” or manual is one of many that the Spanish used to record and understand the populations they colonized (like the Florentine Codex that recorded the lives of inhabitants of what is now known as Mexico and Central America) or as written reports that were required by the Spanish government from the governors living in the colonies.

Codices are usually named after the location they reside, or in this case after the individuals that popularize or study them. The “Boxer Codex” is named after the man who purchased the book from an auction in 1947. The term “codex” refers to the time/method these were made.

Despite the fact that this was produced by the Spanish and carry along with them Spanish colonial biases, the codex provides a look into how life was like at the moment they arrived. No one seems to know the specific reason why the Boxer Codex was written, though there is speculation.


The book is in Spanish and the Lilly Library doesn’t have an English version. Chances are the only translations may be found in the book “The Boxer Codex (The Manners, Customs and Beliefs of the Philippine Inhabitants of Long Ago: Being Chapters of ‘A Late 16th century Manila Manuscript’)” transcribed and annotated by Carlos Quirino and Mauro Garcia. I guess we have more books to find and read!

Until then, we can at least enjoy the illustrations. Below are the 15 illustrations of pre-colonial residents of the archipelago at the time, including illustrations of the Japanese (“Iapon”) and the Chinese (“Sangley”).

Photo #001 - Spine Photo #015 - Cagayan Photo #016 - Cagayan Photo #028 - Negritos

Photo #036 - Zambales Photo #039 - Zambales Photo #040 - Zambales Photo #047 - Visayan

Photo #048 - Visayan Photo #051 - Visayan Photo #052 - Visayan Photo #103 - Nanirales

Photo #104 - Nanirales Photo #108 - Tagalog Photo #112 - Tagalog Photo #116 - Tagalog

Photo #304 - Japan Photo #408 - Sangley Photo #617 - Boxer Seal

Books, books, books!

Speaking of books, I am real excited for the Filipino American International Book Festival on October 1st in San Francisco. I’ll definitely pick the brains of some of the folks there.

Also, check out what is known as one of the first books printed by a press in the Philippines, the Doctrina Christiana (wiki).

-The original Doctrina Christiana in the Library of Congress.
-Doctrina Christiana… the e-book!

Tsismis on the street (word on the street)…

-The illustrator may have been a Chinese artist (speculation made here).
-On the spine of the book reads “Islas del os Ladrones” which I think means “Island of Thieves.” I couldn’t find any info on this so i’ve made an assumption that it is referring to the Mariana Islands that Magellan discovered on March 6, 1521, 10 days before he “found” the Philippines (speculation based on Mariana Islands history).

Please contact me if you see any errors, or if you have anything enlightening to add. Salamat (thank you)!

17 Responses to “The Boxer Codex”

  1. Dmitri:

    Wonderful topic very insightful! Finally saw the entire set of pictures. you have a good sense of humor :D

    • Filipeanut:

      Salamat Dmitri, now I just need to find a translation of the book. That’s gonna be tough. Mi no speak espanol =(.

  2. willy:

    hi, i really like your pictures of the boxer codex. I’m always interested in pictures that are pre-colonial or those that are “primitive.” I think it gives us a sense of identity since there were based on people found by the spaniards when they landed in our shores.

    • Filipeanut:

      Salamat Willy, you’re right. These are the only documents that give us any indication of how life was like before colonial rule. And thanks for putting quotations around the word “primitive”, the word has been thrown around a lot to suggest many things about our people. Even today, “westerners” will tend to use it about our people in general.

  3. Gyrovago:

    Hi! It is a good post indeed. I am working in the Spanish colonial history of the Philippines and I am trying to make the transcription of the whole work. All the info you gave is right. Additional can be collected from Boxer’s article about the Codex, which I actually have in a pdf (and it can’t posted due to the copyright) Maraming salamat!!

    • Filipeanut:

      Sounds awesome Gyrovago! Would love a link to more of your research if possible if not one day. Any chance you could email that pdf? I never knew Boxer actually wrote about the codex, but after some thought I probably should have been more surprised if he didn’t. Salamat din Gyrovago!

  4. mynayve:

    Hi! I am so thrilled to finally end up with the complete pages of the Boxer Codex in full color. I have always been fascinated by our culture and heritage. This one would provide lots of insights. Salamat for posting!

    • Filipeanut:

      I feel the same way! The next step is to find the translation and put it online. Hopefully someone finds it soon!

  5. mario:

    thanks for this! it is very interesting and hopefully UP will have some sort scan for the book by Garcia and Mauro. Ambeth Ocampo has an article about it as well on the Philippine Daily Inquirer website and has put some translations of superstitions! pretty cool… perhaps a trip to UP is in order :D

    • Filipeanut:

      I hope UP has something, you’ve brought up a very possible lead. I would also think UP would have some sort of copy of the translation. A visit is definitely a must! Hopefully I get to make a trip there later this year. But if you go first, let us know what you find!

  6. Dracarys:

    Hi! I am a bit late to the conversation but oh well, someone may read it.
    Cool blog and great post! The Boxer Codex is truly a fascinating document, which sadly does not enjoy the fame and recognition of the Mexican codices. It is one of the best examples of a “hybrid” source, made by pulling together knowledge, observations and expertise from many different places, but in this case with a clear colonial purpose and thus bias. In my view, it constitutes a kind of political ethnography, a handbook to inform, however imperfectly, the Spanish governors of a vast, complex and sophisticated maritime world (Southeast Asia and the South China Seas) of which they knew very little about.
    “Nanirales” is actually “Naturales”, a Spanish word meaning native from a place.
    The whole book is now available online at the Lilly Library webpage (link in the wikipedia page of the Boxer Codex).

    • Filipeanut:

      I didn’t know that’s what “Naturales” meant in the codex. Thanks so much! One of these days I have to visit Lilly Library and see it myself. But I have yet to find translations first =(.

  7. […] So far so good. For the past 7 years I’ve been tweeting, blogging, and learning about the Philippines from my computer in California. I’ve read books about the Philippines, attended Filipino cooking events, and browsed photos online of Philippine historical artifacts. […]

  8. angelica:

    sa susunod po bigyan nyo po kami ng tagalog nyan ha!

    • Filipeanut:

      Maraming salamat Angelica! Sorry po kasi hindi pa ako marunong tagalog. Conti na conti lang ang aking salita lol. Pero, pa-practice ako araw-araw dito. Baka in a few months mag-sulat ako in Tagalog and hopefully I can find isang Boxer Codex translation in Tagalog! Ingat!

Leave a Reply

Twitter: filipeanut