Models of migration to the Philippines

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There have been several models of early human migration to the Philippines. Since H. Otley Beyer first proposed his wave migration theory, numerous scholars have approached the question of how, when and why humans first came to the Philippines. The question of whether the first humans arrived from the south (Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei as suggested by Beyer) or from the north (Yunnan via Taiwan as suggested by the Austronesian theory) has been a subject of heated debate for decades. As new discoveries have come to light, past hypotheses have been reevaluated and new theories constructed.

Beyer's Wave Migration Theory[edit]

The most widely known theory of the prehistoric peopling of the Philippines is that of H. Otley Beyer, founder of the Anthropology Department of the University of the Philippines. Heading that department for 40 years, Professor Beyer became the unquestioned expert on Philippine prehistory, exerting early leadership in the field and influencing the first generation of Filipino historians and anthropologists, archaeologists, paleontologists, geologists, and students the world over.[1] According to Dr. Beyer, the ancestors of the Filipinos came in different "waves of migration", as follows:[2]

  1. "Dawn Man", a cave-man type who was similar to Java man, Peking Man, and other Asian Homo erectus of 250,000 years ago.
  2. The aboriginal pygmy group, the Negritos, who arrived between 25,000 and 30,000 years ago via land bridges.
  3. The seafaring tool-using Indonesian group who arrived about 5,000 to 6,000 years ago and were the first immigrants to reach the Philippines by sea.
  4. The seafaring, more civilized Malays who brought the Iron age culture and were the real colonizers and dominant cultural group in the pre-Hispanic Philippines.

Unfortunately, there is no definite evidence, archaeological or historical, to support this "migration theory". On the contrary, there are sufficient reasons for doubting it, including the following:[3]

  1. Beyer used the 19th century scientific methods of progressive evolution and migratory diffusion as the basis for his hypothesis. These methods have now been proven to be too simple and unreliable to explain the prehistoric peopling of the Philippines.
  2. The empirical archaeological data for the theory was based on surface finds and mere conjecture, with much imagination and unproven data included.
  3. Later findings contradicted the migration theory and the existence of the "Dawn Man" postulated by Beyer.
  4. Undue credit is given to Malays as the original settlers of the lowland regions and the dominant cultural transmitter.

Objections to the Land Bridge Theory[edit]

In February 1976, Fritjof Voss, a German scientist who studied the geology of the Philippines, questioned the validity of the theory of land bridges. He maintained that the Philippines was never part of mainland Asia. He claimed that it arose from the bottom of the sea and, as the thin Pacific crust moved below it, continued to rise. It continues to rise today. The country lies along great Earth faults that extend to deep submarine trenches. The resulting violent earthquakes caused what is now the land masses forming the Philippines to rise to the surface of the sea. Dr. Voss also pointed out that when scientific studies were done on the Earth's crust from 1964 to 1967, it was discovered that the 35-kilometer- thick crust underneath China does not reach the Philippines. Thus, the latter could not have been a land bridge to the Asian mainland. The matter of who the first settlers were has not been really resolved.

Philippine historian William Henry Scott has pointed out that Palawan and the Calamian Islands are separated from Borneo by water nowhere deeper than 100 meters, that south of a line drawn between Saigon and Brunei does the depth of the South China Sea nowhere exceeds 100 meters, and that the Strait of Malacca reaches 50 meters only at one point.[4] Scott also asserts that the Sulu Archipelago is not the peak of a submerged mountain range connecting Mindanao and Borneo, but the exposed edge of three small ridges produced by tectonic tilting of the sea bottom in recent geologic times. According to Scott, it is clear that Palawan and the Calamianes do not stand on a submerged land bridge, but were once a hornlike protuberance on the shoulder of a continent whose southern shoreline used to be the present islands of Java and Borneo. Mindoro and the Calamianes are separated by a channel more than 500 meters deep.[5] Writing later in 1994, Scott would conclude that "It is probably safe to say that no anthropologist accepts the Beyer Wave Migration Theory today." [6]

Core Population Theory[edit]

A less rigid version of the earlier wave migration theory is the Core Population Theory first proposed by anthropologist Felipe Landa Jocano of the University of the Philippines.[7] This theory holds that there weren't clear discrete waves of migration. Instead it suggests early inhabitants of Southeast Asia were of the same ethnic group with similar culture, but through a gradual process over time driven by environmental factors, differentiated themselves from one another.[8][9][10]

Jocano contends that what fossil evidence of ancient men show is that they not only migrated to the Philippines, but also to New Guinea, Borneo, and Australia. He says that there is no way of determining if they were Negritos at all. However, what is sure is that there is evidence the Philippines was inhabited as early as 21,000 or 22,000 years ago. In 1962, a skull cap and a portion of a jaw, presumed to be those of a human being, were found in a Tabon Cave in Palawan. The discovery may show that humans reached the Philippines earlier than the Malay Peninsula.[11][12] If this is true, the first inhabitants of the Philippines did not come from the Malay Peninsula. Jocano further believes that the present Filipinos are products of the long process of cultural evolution and movement of people. This not only holds true for Filipinos, but for the Indonesians and the Malays of Malaysia, as well. No group among the three is culturally or genetically dominant. Hence, Jocano says that it is not correct to attribute the Filipino culture as being Malayan in orientation. According to Jocano's findings, the people of the prehistoric islands of Southeast Asia were of the same population as the combination of human evolution that occurred in the islands of Southeast Asia about 1.9 million years ago. The claimed evidence for this is fossil material found in different parts of the region and the movements of other people from the Asian mainland during historic times. He states that these ancient men cannot be categorized under any of the historically identified ethnic groups (Malays, Indonesians, and Filipinos) of today.[7]

Other prominent anthropologists like Robert Bradford Fox, Alfredo E. Evangelista, Jesus Peralta, Zeus A. Salazar, and Ponciano L. Bennagen agreed with Jocano.[10][13] However some still preferred Beyer's theory as the more acceptable model, including anthropologist E. Arsenio Manuel.[10]

Diffusion of Austronesian languages[edit]

Another, more contemporary theory based on the study of the evolution of languages suggests that starting 4000–2000 BC, Austronesian groups descended from Yunnan Plateau in China and settled in what is now the Philippines by sailing using balangays or by traversing land bridges coming from Taiwan. Many of these Austronesians settled on the Philippine islands and became the ancestors of the present-day Filipinos and later colonizing most of the Pacific islands and Indonesia to the south. The Cagayan valley of northern Luzon contains large stone tools as evidence for the hunters of the big game of the time: the elephant-like stegodon, rhinoceros, crocodile, tortoise, pig and deer. The Austronesians pushed the Negritos to the mountains, while they occupied the fertile coastal plains.

Solheim's hypothesis[edit]

Anthropologist Wilhelm Solheim II posited an alternative model based on maritime movement of people over different directions and routes. It suggests that people with distant origins from 50,000 years ago in the area of present day coastal eastern Vietnam and Southern China had moved to the area of the Bismarck Islands south and east of Mindanao and developed Pre-Austronesian. Proto-Austranesian then later developed and spread among seafarers from the area to the rest of Island Southeast Asia and areas along the South China Sea. In support of this idea Solheim notes there is little or no indication that Pre- or Proto Malayo-Polynesian was present in Taiwan. According to Solheim, "The one thing I feel confident in saying is that all native Southeast Asians are closely related culturally, genetically and to a lesser degree linguistically."[14]

New developments[edit]

The "out of Taiwan" model based on Austronesian linguistic evidence that had become the mainstream explanation is in turn being challenged by newer findings. Studies based on mitochondrial DNA show greater genetic diversity in southern regions than in northern ones suggesting that a significant migration wave was in a south-to-north direction. Older populations entered Southeast Asia first following the coastal regions from Africa then slowly spread north to populate East Asia.[15][16][17][18][19][20][21]

See also[edit]

Austronesian languages


  1. ^ Zaide 1999, p. 32, citing Beyer Memorial Issue on the Prehistory of the Philippines in Philippine Studies, Vol. 15:No. 1 (January 1967).
  2. ^ Zaide 1999, pp. 32–34.
  3. ^ Zaide 1999, pp. 34–35.
  4. ^ Scott 1984, p. 1.
  5. ^ Scott 1984, pp. 1 and Map 2 in Frontispiece
  6. ^ Scott, William Henry. (1994). Barangay: Sixteenth-century Philippine Culture and Society. Ateneo de Manila University Press. p. 11. ISBN 971-550-135-4. Retrieved 14 May 2009. 
  7. ^ a b Antonio et al. (2007). Turning Points I. Rex Bookstore, Inc. p. 65. ISBN 978-971-23-4538-8. 
  8. ^ Halili, Maria Christine N. (2004). Philippine History. Rex Bookstore. pp. 34–35. ISBN 971-23-3934-3. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  9. ^ Rowthorn, Chris, Monique Choy, Michael Grosberg, Steven Martin, and Sonia Orchard. (2003). Philippines (8th ed.). Lonely Planet. p. 12. ISBN 1-74059-210-7. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  10. ^ a b c Samuel K. Tan (2008). A History of the Philippines. UP Press. p. 30. ISBN 978-971-542-568-1. 
  11. ^ Rosario S. Sagmit & Nora N. Soriano (1998). Geography in the Changing World. Rex Bookstore, Inc. p. 68. ISBN 978-971-23-2451-2. 
  12. ^ These remains are known as Tabon Man. In 2007, fossilized remains were discovered in Callao Cave, Peñablanca, Cagayan. These were found to be at least about 67,000 years old, and are known as Callao Man.
  13. ^ S. Lily Mendoza (2001). "Nuancing Anti-Essentialism: A Critical Genealogy of Philippine Experiments in National Identity Formation". In Lisa C. Bower & David Theo Goldberg. Between law and culture: relocating legal studies. University of Minnesota Press. p. 230. ISBN 978-0-8166-3380-7. 
  14. ^ Solheim II, Wilhelm G. (January 2006). Origins of the Filipinos and Their Languages. Archived from the original on 2008-08-03. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  15. ^ New DNA evidence overturns population migration theory in Island Southeast Asia. (May 23, 2008). Oxford University. Retrieved March 3, 2011 from
  16. ^ Genetic study uncovers new path to Polynesia. (February 3, 2011). Leeds University. Retrieved March 3, 2011 from
  17. ^ Rincon, Paul. (October 5, 2006). Early humans followed the coast. BBC News. Retrieved March 3, 2011.
  18. ^ Genetic 'map' of Asia's diversity. (December 11, 2009). BBC News. Retrieved March 3, 2011.
  19. ^ Soares, Pedro, Jean Alain Trejaut, Jun-Hun Loo, Catherine Hill, Maru Mormina, Chien-Liang Lee, Yao-Ming Chen, Georgi Hudjashov, Peter Forster, Vincent Macaulay, David Bulbeck, et al. (2008-03-21). "Climate Change and Postglacial Human Dispersals in Southeast Asia". Molecular Biology and Evolution 25 (6): 1209–1218. doi:10.1093/molbev/msn068. PMID 18359946. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  20. ^ Human Genome Organisation (HUGO) Pan-Asian SNP Consortium. (2009-12-11). "Mapping Human Genetic Diversity in Asia". Science 326 (5959): 1541–1545. doi:10.1126/science.1177074. PMID 20007900. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  21. ^ Soares, Pedro, Teresa Rito, Jean Trejaut, Maru Mormina, Catherine Hill, Emma Tinkler-Hundal, Michelle Braid, Douglas J. Clarke, Jun-Hun Loo, et al. (2011-02-11). "Ancient Voyaging and Polynesian Origins". American Journal of Human Genetics 88 (2): 239–247. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2011.01.009. PMID 21295281. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 


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