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Journey of the Barong Tagalog, Spanish Colonial Philippines Part 9: the Principalia

Spanish Augustinian friar Martin de Rada described Tagalogs as being more businessmen, or traders, than warriors. In the early to mid-16th century, Spanish forces found native Filipinos already governing in organized kingdoms, rajahnates, confederacies, principalities, and lordships over a complex barangay (neighborhood) system. The aristocratic datu class ruled this system.

The Spanish government then built their rule on top of this system. They allowed the indigenous noble class to remain, and they worked with and incorporated them into their colonial government. These indigenous municipal leaders in the Spanish government would be called the principalia.

The principalia were upper class people born into noble families. The official offices included the barangay leader, called cabeza de barangay or teniente del barrio; the lieutenant of justice; and the gobernadorcillo, the town mayor.

Principales (principalia class people) were often educated in and traveled to Spain, or other parts of Europe, and were around Spaniards. So they were exposed to Spanish and European culture. Since adopting western customs was a path to being accepted into higher European society, principales were inclined to adopt Spanish or European styles of dress.

Artist rendering of Filipino man of the principalia class wearing untucked barong under his jacket in the Philippines during Spanish colonial times from The Barong Tagalog: The Philippines’ National Wear (1986) by Visitacion R. de la Torre.

Artist rendering of Filipino man of the principalia class wearing untucked barong under his jacket in the Philippines during Spanish colonial times from The Barong Tagalog: The Philippines’ National Wear (1986) by Visitacion R. de la Torre.

 

Principales were amongst the first to see the latest European styles and goods coming from the Manila Galleon Trade and were amongst the few that could afford them. So they often dressed in flashy, opulent, exaggerated and impractical styles to make their class status obvious.

By the mid-19th century, everyday principalia class men’s outfits included a black jacket, a long sleeve barong, European trousers, an expensive salakot (helmet-like native Philippine headwear) or European hat, and colored velvet slippers or leather shoes. Gobernadorcillos would carry tasseled canes with precious metals, and lieutenants would carry wands or staffs.

Regardless of how well-made or fancy their barongs were, principales men treated their barongs as mere shirts and secondary parts of their ensembles in their pursuit to look and be more European.

Both images above are artist renderings of Filipino men of the principalia class in the Philippines during Spanish colonial times. They both wear jackets over their untucked barongs as part of their European-style outfits. Illustrations are from The Barong Tagalog: The Philippines’ National Wear (1986) by Visitacion R. de la Torre.