Boxer Codex

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Reception of the Manila Galleon by the Chamorro in the Ladrones Islands, ca. 1590

The Boxer Codex is a late sixteenth century Spanish manuscript that was produced in the Philippines. The document contains seventy-five colored illustrations of the peoples of China, the Philippines, Java, the Moluccas, the Ladrones, and Siam. About 270 pages of Spanish text describe these places, their inhabitants and customs. An additional eighty-eight smaller drawings show mythological deities and demons, and both real and mythological birds and animals copied from popular Chinese texts and books in circulation at the time.

The eminent historian, Charles Ralph Boxer, purchased the manuscript in 1947 from the collection of Lord Ilchester in London. Boxer recognized the importance of what he called the "Manila Manuscript" and published a paper in 1950 with a detailed description of the codex. He made the manuscript freely available to other researchers for study and it became known as the "Boxer Codex" in recognition of its owner. Eventually Boxer sold the codex to Indiana University where it is held by the Lilly Library.

Description and contents[edit]

The manuscript was written circa 1590[1] and contains illustrations of ethnic groups in the Philippines, ethnic groups across Southeast Asia, East Asia, and Micronesia at the time of the early Spanish contact. It also contains Taoist mythological deities and demons, and both real and mythological birds and animals copied from popular Chinese texts and books in circulation at the time. Aside from a description of, and historical allusions to what is now the Philippines and various other Far Eastern countries, the codex also contains 97 hand-drawn color paintings and illustrations depicting peoples, birds and animals (both real and mythological) of the Philippines, the Indonesian Archipelago, Japan, Taiwan, China and mainland Southeast Asia. It has been pointed out more than once[by whom?] that the depictions of peoples from the Far East are the first ever created for European eyes. The first illustration is an oblong fold-out, 74 are full-page colored illustrations and the remaining are arranged four to a page on 22 pages (with some of the quarters remaining blank). Most of the drawings appear to have been copied or adapted from materials brought to the Philippines from China by Martin de Rada: the Shānhǎi Jīng (山海经, The Classic of Mountains and Seas), and books from the shenmo (神魔) genre, which depict deities and demons. The remaining drawings represent individuals, often a male and female pair, as inhabitants from tributaries of China and Taiwan with their distinctive costume; some of these have been refashioned as warriors. The depictions of inhabitants from Chinese tributaries may have been copied from a pre-existing source, drawn from memory or perhaps even drawn according to instruction given by Rada or one of the other Europeans who visited China.[2] At least fifteen illustrations deal with the inhabitants of the Philippine Archipelago.[3]

History and provenance[edit]

The Boxer Codex does not bear any direct statement of authorship or dates of production and there is no dedication that might indicate who was the patron of the work or for whom the work was intended. Based on the contents of the manuscript, it can be inferred that it was written in Manila during the early 1590s. The manuscript was likely compiled at the direction of Gómez Pérez Dasmariñas, the Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines, or his son, Luis Pérez Dasmariñas.[4]

The Boxer Codex depicts the Tagalogs, Visayans, Zambals, Cagayanes or possibly Ibanags, and Negritos of the Philippines in vivid color. The technique of the paintings, as does the use of Chinese paper, ink, and paints, suggests that the unknown artist may have been Chinese.[5][2]

It is believed that the original owner of the manuscript was Luis Pérez Dasmariñas, son of Governor General Gómez Pérez Dasmariñas, the Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines. Luis succeeded his father in office as Governor-General of the Philippines. Since Spanish colonial governors kept extensive written reports of the territories they governed, it is likely that the manuscript was written under the orders of the governor.[5]

The manuscript's earliest known modern owner was Lord Ilchester. The codex was among what remained in his collection when his estate, Holland House in London, suffered from direct German shelling on September 27, 1940 during the Blitz. The manuscript was auctioned in 1947 and came into the possession of Professor Charles Ralph Boxer, an authority on the Far East, and after whom the document is named. It is now owned by the Lilly Library at Indiana University.[3]

Picture gallery of the illustrations in Boxer Codex[edit]

Natives of the Philippines[edit]

[2](All Captions Below Based on Source)

Foreigners present in the Philippines[edit]

[2](All Captions Below Based on Source)

See also[edit]



  • Boxer, C. R. (1950). "A Late Sixteenth Century Manila MS". The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1/2): 37–49. ISSN 0035-869X.
  • Crossley, John N. (2014). "The Early History of the Boxer Codex". Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. 24 (1): 115–124. doi:10.1017/S1356186313000552. ISSN 1356-1863.
  • Roces, Alfredo R., ed. (1977), "Boxer Codex", Filipino Heritage: the Making of a Nation, vol. IV, Philippines: Lahing Pilipino Publishing, Inc.
  • Souza, George Bryan; Turley, Jeffrey Scott (2015). The Boxer Codex: Transcription and Translation of an Illustrated Late Sixteenth-Century Spanish Manuscript. Brill. ISBN 978-9004292734.
  • "Boxer Codex". The Lilly Library Digital Collections, Indiana University. Retrieved August 17, 2021.

External links[edit]