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!
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 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 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”).
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).
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)!