I DID not expect that my first column for this year elicited a big response from the readers. Some told me that it was "bitin" and I should have made this into a series. I need ample time to do more research because this deals mainly on a search of our past and knowing our true identity as a people.

Who are we? Are we the descendants of the Visayans who migrated to Mindanao during the Spanish colonial times or millennia earlier? Or do we come from the Bukidnons and the Maranaos who are considered the lumads of this island? This is an absorbing, intriguing and almost sacred question for perhaps, we might have the key of knowing our real identity as a people.

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Early Spanish chroniclers (those who came with the Magellan expedition in 1521 up to the early part of the 1600s), wrote that the Visayans were found in Panay, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, Samar and the northeastern coast of Mindanao. They later noted that the Visayan culture was very prevalent from Surigao in the east to Sindangan Bay in the west; that the missionaries who first came to Mindanao were able to make themselves understood in Cebuano.

You will be surprised as I was to know that it was in the areas of what is today Surigao del Sur and Davao Oriental that the Spaniards first heard of the name "Vizaya." (Scott, William Henry.1997.p.162).Early Dutch records called southeastern Mindanao as "Bisaya." And when Ruy Lopez de Villalobos and his expeditionary group circumnavigated Mindanao in 1542 - 1543, he named the present Davao Gulf, the Bisaya Bay.

In my last article, I wrote that we have yet to discover or obtain a prehispanic document that is of uncontested authenticity. There were several prehispanic documents supposedly dated between 1239 and 1498 but they all turned out to be dubious. The next best thing our historians and scholars did was to search the old documents of neighboring countries for possible references about the Philippines. It is China that has a rich trove of state documents that date back to the pre- Christian era.

Chinese record has a wealth of references that showed that it had trade relations with our country from the 10th to the 15th centuries. Since this was long before we became one nation known as the Philippines, the documents mentioned different places like P'u-tuan or Butuan, the island Mintolang or Mindanao, Pa-lao-yu or Palawan and Liu-hsin or Luzon.

A 1612 Ch'uan - chou gazetter wrote about the P'i-she-ya. They were more likely to be Visayans or Bisaya. This is the earliest recorded reference to the Visayans who were described as tattooed and were sea raiders. This sea raid in China was celebrated in an old epic that was sung by Visayan bards of a Datung Sumanga and his warriors who raided China so he can marry his lady love who was a princess of Bohol.

We know through our history books that the Spaniards stayed for fifty years in the Visayas islands before moving to Luzon. So the early chroniclers eagerly recorded what they saw and heard. At that time, the Visayan culture and languages were widely dispersed in the archipelago.

So it is today. Have you ever stopped and wondered why Cebuano is commonly spoken and understood all over the Mindanao and Visayas islands? This is indicative of the fact that the Visayan culture has continued to flourish and evolve and still wield a strong influence among the Mindanaoans for over a thousand years!

In the monumental book of the late distinguished historian, William Henry Scott titled, "Barangay:Sixteenth- Century Philippine Culture and Society" (1997), a large and substantial portion is devoted to the Visayans from their physical appearance to food, religion, warfare and even tattooing. The book's main references among others are from "The Philippine Islands,1493 - 1898" by Emma Blair and James Robertson, Juan Plasencia's 1589 treatises on custom laws and religious practices to Francisco Alcina's "Historia de las islas e Indios de Bisayas" of 1668, where he tried to reconstruct the prehispanic Visayan society by interviewing the oldest residents.

Next week, I will discuss the book at length and the similarities of the 16th century Visayan culture with the present one here among the Mindanao Visayans.

ERRATA:

Col. Fidencio Laplap died on March 8, 2009 not 2008 as reported in this column. This correction came from his daughter,Ms. Penny Laplap-Dharamdas.

In last week's article, the first sentence should have been - "It is unfortunate that the Philippines has no authentic and existing prehispanic document..." Not "prehistoric document" for there was no system of writing during the prehistoric period. And eleven balanghai boats have already been discovered not eight and they are centuries old not just a century old. Our apologies