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Journey of the Barong Tagalog, Spanish Colonial Philippines Part 2: the Influence of Islam

When many discuss Philippine history, religion and culture, Islam and Muslim people are often not mentioned. Despite arriving in the Philippines in the 13th century and being the first recorded monotheistic religion there, Islam is hardly recognized for its influence on Tagalog history, culture and on the development of the Barong Tagalog.


In the 16th century, when the kingdom of Spain first arrived in many parts of the Philippines with intentions to convert the population to Catholicism, organized religions - Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and animism - were already established and practiced. Muslim traders and settlers already converted many people to their religion and shared their architecture, political systems and clothing.


When Spanish forces first arrived in Manila Bay in 1570, they were welcomed by the native Tagalog people, and they formed an alliance and eventually a peace pact with the rulers of Manila - Rajah Soliman (or Sulayman) and Rajah Ache (or Matanda), and their cousin Lakan Dula, the ruler of Tondo. This allowed Spain to occupy these two Islamized states.


Stamp from the Philippines of Rajah Soliman, 16th Century Ruler of Manila


Statue of Rajah Soliman, 16th Century Ruler of Manila


Looking at the images of Tagalogs depicted in the Boxer Codex, from our last installment, we see visuals of how the Spanish saw Tagalog people dressed in the 16th century. Given the historical background, the Tagalog royalty, nobles and common people portrayed by the artist were likely Muslim or influenced by Muslim culture.


Royal Tagalog couple in Red from the Boxer Codex


When looking at the 1st and 2nd pictures of this post of Rajah Soliman (above) and comparing it to the 3rd picture of Tagalog Royalty from the Boxer Codex (above), we can see common garments, accessories and jewelry aside from the Rajah’s protective armor and helmet. When looking at the 4th picture of this post from the Boxer Codex (below), it is believed these common Tagalog women depicted were Muslim because of their clothing. When we compare this to the 5th picture of a present day Muslim Filipina woman in Manila (below), it’s an understandable position to take.


Common Tagalog Women from the Boxer Codex


Present Day Filipina Muslim Woman in Manila


As we continue through history, we will see more Muslim influence on Tagalog clothing and the Barong Tagalog.