28. The Philippines and Pacific Islanders

Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are a diverse group of people who trace their ancestry to various countries and regions in Asia, including East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Pacific Islands.

In addition to the Philippines, Pacific Islanders include people from Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia, such as Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji, and Guam. It’s also important to note that this community is not a monolith, and this group has significant cultural, language, religious, and socio-economic status diversity.

A Brief Overview of History in the Philippines.

What is known today as Republika ng Pilipinas is an archipelagic country in the western Pacific Ocean consisting of 7,641 islands which are broadly categorized into three main geographical divisions from north to south: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

They share maritime borders with Taiwan to the north, Japan to the northeast, Palau to the east and southeast, Indonesia to the south, Malaysia to the southwest, Vietnam to the west, and China to the northwest. It is the world’s thirteenth-most-populous country, with Manila as its capital, and its largest city is Quezon City; both are within Metro Manila.

Before the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in the Philippines, the archipelago residents did not refer to themselves as a single unified entity. The islands were inhabited by various indigenous communities, each with their own names for their respective islands or regions. Some had names for specific islands or island groups. For example, the Tagalogs referred to the island of Luzon as ‘Kalilayan’ or ‘Taramon,’ while the Visayans called the island of Panay’ Aninipay.’ But these names were specific to the islands and not the entire archipelago.

The Aetas, Agta, or Ayta are considered the original ‘first wave’ people from Stone Age times. They still live in the scattered, isolated mountainous northern part of The Philippines on Luzon. They are relatively small in stature and have darker skin and frizzy hair, giving the Spaniards a reason to name them ‘Negritos,’ a term many still use. But any direct connection with Africa is hotly debated. Some see them as descendants of an ancient and now disappeared aboriginal people from Taiwan or others that crossed from the island of Borneo between 20 and 30 thousand years ago, using a land bridge into ‘Sundaland’ that was only partially covered by water around 5,000 years ago but is now the archipelago.

The ‘second wave’ were Austronesian language speakers who reached the Philippines from Taiwan around 2200 BC, settling the Batanes Islands (where they built stone fortresses known as ijangs) and northern Luzon. From there, they spread southwards to the rest of the Philippine islands and Southeast Asia. They assimilated to some degree with the ‘Negrito,’ resulting in the modern Filipino ethnic groups, which have a variety of genetic admixture between Austronesians, Negritos, and others.

The Deutero-Malays were the third wave, a mixed-blood sailing people who arrived around 1500 BC to dwell along the coastlines. They had advanced seafaring, canoe-building, and fishery skills. They intermarried with peoples of the southern islands.

Awaiting Magellan

The fourth and final wave were the Spaniards starting in the 1500s. Early Spanish explorers dubbed the archipelago’ La Isla de Los Pintados,’ or the Islands of the Painted Ones. Tattooing was a way for one tribal people to distinguish themselves from others around them and was prevalent among the people in the Cordillera, Central Visayas, and Southern Mindanao.

Before colonization, the people in the islands were prosperous, relatively peaceful among themselves (but not always), and even thriving. The land was plentiful and fertile for various crops, and the sea was always nearby for fishing and trade. The larger cities had developed a class structure with priests and warriors, but the inland areas and mountains remained matriarchal, relatively classless, and semi-autonomous. There were several sources of gold, but people used it for jewelry and ornaments, not as currency to be obsessed over, as the Spaniards did.

But the Spanish explorer Ruy López de Villalobos gave the name’ Philippines’ to the archipelago in 1543, after King Philip II of Spain. It remains to this day.

The Spaniards were latecomers. In 1380, Makhdum Karim from the Persian Gulf reached the Sulu Sub-Archipelago and established Islam in the country through trade in several regions of the islands. Other Muslims arrived from southern India, the Malay Archipelago, and China. The first missionaries then followed in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Muslims comprise about 7% of the island population, mainly in Mindanao. They are referred to as ‘Moros’ from ‘Moors.’

 The Moros have a history of resistance. They fought against Spanish, American, and Japanese rule for over 400 years. The current Moro leaders view their struggles as part of this long effort morphing into their recent wars for independence against the Philippine state.

Spain and the Galleons

Once Spain had its foothold in the Philippines, it designated the islands as a stopping point for a circular trade starting from Acapulco on New Spain’s west coast to the Philippines and other ‘spice islands,’ then to China, then back to southern California and finally Acapulco again. The galleon captains bought and sold goods at each stop. They thus returned home laden with new merchandise and treasure. The Philippines became a subordinated entity under ‘New Spain,’ along with Mexico.

Galleon under construction

Spain had two problems with this plan. First, what was the way back home? The winds brought them to the east and only blew one way. Where were the ‘westerlies?’ Filipino sailors knew; they had been sailing to Hawaii and other Pacific islands for some time. Finally, a Spanish friar did the required investigation and found they could be reached by sailing north to Taiwan. Then ships could catch proper winds and currents to return to the American continents.

Ancient long-distance Filipino ‘canoe.’

How about the ships? Again, Filipino shipbuilders had been at their craft for centuries. They built sizeable ocean-going light outriggers with dozens of rowers that skimmed the seas at two or three times the speeds of the galleons. But Spain designated the heavier craft, the galleon, capable of heavy loads. No matter. The local woodcutters and crafters proceeded to build them by the dozens. Spain thus helped shape a shipbuilding proletariat in the islands, even as they paid and treated them poorly.

Enter the U.S.

What are some features of U.S. history in the region? The Philippines became a colony of the United States from 1898 to 1946, following its victory over Spain and opposition from Filipino nationalists fighting for independence. The internal insurgency led to a long and violent conflict until 1902. During that time, several significant events and policies shaped Philippine history and its relations with the U.S..

Spanish-American War and the Treaty of Paris

Following the Spanish-American War, Spain ceded The Philippines to the United States in the Treaty of Paris in 1898. American colonial rule over the Philippines started here, leading to the imposition of American political, economic, and cultural influence over the country.

Philippine Independence movement

The colonization was opposed by many in the U.S. Mark Twain was a prominent American writer and social critic known for his scathing commentary on American imperialism and foreign policy. He was a vocal critic of the War in the Philippines, which was fought between the United States and Filipino nationalists who were fighting for independence from American colonial rule.

Twain’s views on the war in the Philippines were shaped by his opposition to American imperialism and his belief in the principles of democracy and self-determination. He viewed the war as a betrayal of American values and a violation of the rights of the Filipino people.

In 1900, Twain wrote an essay, “To the Person Sitting in Darkness.” He criticized the U.S. government for its brutal treatment of the Filipino people and for disregarding their right to self-rule. He called the war a “mess, a quagmire, a desert, a failure” and accused the U.S. government of using “savage methods” to suppress the Filipino insurgency.

Mark Twain, anti-imperialist

Twain also spoke out against the war in public speeches and interviews, and he was a member of the Anti-Imperialist League, a group that opposed American colonialism and expansionism. He argued that the war in the Philippines was a clear example of American hypocrisy and imperialism, and he called on the U.S. government to respect the Filipino people’s sovereignty and withdraw its forces from the country. Twain’s views on these issues continue to be studied and debated by scholars and historians today.

As we advanced, the U.S. implemented an ‘Americanization policy in the Philippines, which aimed to impose American culture, education, and language on Filipinos. By 1935, the Philippines were re-designated as a self-governing ‘commonwealth’ under U.S. supervision, with Manuel Quezon as its first president.

Japan and anti-Japan.

Japan had other plans and invaded the islands in 1942, driving General MacArthur and the Americans out. But the people of the islands had no love for the Japanese. During WW2, the ‘Huks’ (short for Hukbalahap) emerged as anti-Japanese fighters. They were a communist-led guerrilla movement initially formed to fight against Japanese occupation. The Huks were particularly active during the 1940s and 1950s, during a period of social unrest and economic hardship in the country. They were known for using guerrilla tactics, including ambushes and hit-and-run attacks, and their ideology was strongly influenced by Marxist-Leninist thought.

‘Huk’ Guerillas fighting Japan

 The Philippine government was declared independent right after WW2 in 1946 and eventually succeeded in suppressing the Huk rebellion by the mid-1950s. Still, the movement had a lasting impact on Philippine politics and society.

By the 1960s, the Communist Party of the Philippines was refounded under the leadership of Joes Maria Sison, who also founded a National Democratic Front and a New People’s Army to wage ‘protracted people’s war.’ He was arrested under the Marcos regime and imprisoned for nine years until Marcos fell. Once released, he traveled abroad, settling in the Netherlands to operate in exile. The CPC had many gains but suffered defeats as well. Sison died in 2022, but his comrades continued in various forms.

Overall, US history in the Philippines is marked by a controversial legacy, including colonization, imperialism, resistance, cooperation, and development.

The Hawaiian Islands

These islands are the farthest stretch across the Polynesian Pacific from the Philippines and others in the ‘East Indies.’ They are also the closest to North America and have long been coveted by the U.S., the British, and others.

Ancient Polynesians arrive in Hawaii

Polynesian settlement of the islands reaches back to at least 500 CE and perhaps earlier. Before the first European contact by James Cook in 1778, the population had reached somewhere between 200,000 to 1,000,000 people. After contact with the Europeans, however, the population steeply dropped due to various diseases, including smallpox. During a violent confrontation, Cook was killed early on and left behind on the beach by his retreating sailors.

According to Wiki, in the outlook of early Hawaiians, one did not ‘own’ the land but merely dwelt on it. The belief was that both the land and the gods were immortal. This view then informed the belief that land was also godly and, therefore, above mortal and ungodly humans, and humans, thus, could not own land. The Hawaiians thought that all land belonged to the gods (akua). The aliʻi were believed to be ‘managers’ of land.

The ancient Hawaiian economy became complex over time. People began to specialize in specific skills. Generations of families became committed to certain careers: roof thatchers, house builders, stone grinders, bird catchers who would make the feather cloaks of the aliʻi, and canoe builders. Soon, entire islands began to specialize in specific skilled trades. Oʻahu became the chief kapa (tapa bark cloth) manufacturer. Maui became the principal canoe manufacturer. The island of Hawaiʻi exchanged bales of dried fish.

Within a few years of Cook’s death Kamehameha I used European warfare tactics and some firearms and cannons to unite the islands into the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. The population of Native Hawaiians in Hawaii then declined from an unknown number before 1778 (commonly estimated to be around 300,000) to about 142,000 in the 1820s based on the first census conducted by American missionaries, 82,203 in the 1850 Hawaiian Kingdom census, 40,622 in the last Hawaiian Kingdom census of 1890, and 39,504 in the only census by the Republic of Hawaii in 1896.

The Kingdom of Hawaiʻi was sovereign from 1810 until 1893 when resident American and European capitalists and landholders overthrew the monarchy. Hawaiʻi was an independent republic from 1894 until August 12, 1898, when it officially became a U.S. territory. After the annexation of Hawaii to the United States in 1898, the native population was 37,676.

The Japanese are the second largest ethnic group in Hawaii. At their height in 1920, they constituted 43% of Hawaii’s population. They now number about 16.7% of the islands’ population,

Since Hawaii joined the United States in 1959, the Native Hawaiian population in Hawaii has increased with every census to 289,970 in 2010. According to the 2020 United States Census, Hawaii had a population of 1,455,271. The state’s population identified as 37.2% Asian; 25.3% Multiracial; 22.9% White; 10.8% Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders; 9.5% Hispanic and Latinos of any race; 1.6% Black or African American; 1.8% from some other race; and 0.3% Native American and Alaskan Native.

Native Hawaiian culture has seen a revival in recent years as an outgrowth of decisions made at the 1978 Hawaiʻi State Constitutional Convention, held 200 years after the arrival of Captain Cook. At the convention, the Hawaiʻi state government committed itself to a progressive study and preservation of native Hawaiian culture, history, and language.

Hawaiians demanding change

While Native Hawaiian protest has a long history, beginning just after the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, many of the most notable struggles and protest movements by Native Hawaiians were conducted during or after the Hawaiian cultural revival. These include the Kalama Valley protests, the Waiāhole-Waikāne struggle, the Kahoolawe protests, and the Thirty Meter Telescope protests.

The legal status of Hawaii is an evolving legal matter as it pertains to United States law. The U.S. Federal law was amended in 1993 with the Apology Resolution, which “acknowledges that the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii occurred with the active participation of agents and citizens of the United States and further acknowledges that the Native Hawaiian people never directly relinquished to the United States their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people over their national lands.” A recent legal action includes dismissing Hawaiian Kingdom v. Biden on December 14, 2022. Hawaii is internationally recognized as a state of the United States of America.

Sovereignty advocates argue that Hawaii is an independent nation under military occupation because there is no treaty of annexation between the Hawaiian Kingdom and the United States. The legality of control of Hawaii by the United States has also been raised on the losing side in cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. District Court.

The Samoas

The Samoan Islands are an archipelago in the Pacific, home to the Samoan people (Samoan: tagata Sāmoa), an indigenous Polynesian people. Today they are divided into two groups, the Independent Republic of Samoa and American Samoa, a colony of the U.S. About 200,000 people live in the Republic of Samoa today, while 50,000 native peoples live in American Samoa.

Many natives believe the Samoan Islands were settled sometime before 1000 BC and later became the central base point for the beginning of the great voyages, the vast Polynesian expansion to the East and South over many centuries. The first contact with Europeans was with the British in the 1700s, with Christianity introduced in 1830 by missionaries from England.

Ancient navigators in Samoa

Because of the Samoans’ seafaring skills, pre-20th-century European explorers referred to the entire island group as the ‘Navigator Islands.’

The Germans, the British, and the U.S. all contended for control of the islands. With the buildup to WW1, the western islands became German Samoa, while those to the east became American Samoa. (The Germans got the bigger islands, and the U.S. got the better harbor at Pango Pango). After WW1, German Samoa became Western Samoa, under the dominance of New Zealand, until they declared their independence in 1997.

Early in the 20th century, one-fifth of the Samoan population died in from the ‘Spanish Flu’ epidemic. The disease was not known in Western Samoa before the arrival of the SS Talune from Auckland on November 7, 1918. The N.Z. administration allowed the ship to berth in breach of quarantine. But within seven days of this ship’s arrival, influenza became epidemic in Upolu and spread rapidly throughout the rest of the territory.

Samoan outrage over New Zealand’s complicity in the spread of the deadly flu continued for decades until the election of a Labor Party in New Zealand agreed with the long Samoa protest movement and finally decided to abandon its trusteeship. Western Samoa thus became one of the first smaller island nations to join the U.N.

American Samoan youth excel at football.

During WW2, nearly half the residents in American Samoa were U.S. servicemen, and they influenced Samoan youth to join the U.S. military. Samoans served in various capacities, including combatants, medical personnel, code personnel, and ship maintenance specialists.

According to Wiki: American Samoa’s Pago Pago International Airport had historical significance with the Apollo Program. The astronaut crews of Apollo 10, 12, 13, 14, and 17 were retrieved a few hundred miles from Pago Pago and transported by helicopter to the airport before being flown to Honolulu on C-141 Starlifter military aircraft. American Samoans often emigrated to Hawaiʻi and the U.S. mainland, adopting many U.S. customs, such as playing American football and baseball.


Guam is the largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands and the largest island in Micronesia. Indigenous Guamanians are the CHamoru, historically known as the Chamorro. They are distantly related to the Austronesian peoples of the Malay archipelago, the Philippines, and Taiwan. About 170,000 people live there today.

The Marianas were first settled around 1500 to 1400 BC by migrants departing from the Philippines in the early long sea voyages. This was followed by a second migration from the Caroline Islands in the first millennium A.D. A third migration wave occurred from Southeast Asian islands, likely from the Philippines or eastern Indonesia, by 900 AD.

Ancient CHamoru settling Guam

The Chamorro were expert seafarers and skilled craftspeople familiar with intricate weaving and detailed pottery-making. The latte stone, a megalithic rock pillar topped with a hemispherical capstone, was used by early Chamorros as a building foundation and has since been appropriated as a national symbol. Their social order is ‘matrilineal avuncuclan,’ one characteristic of which is that the brother(s) of the female parent plays a more primary paternal role than the biological male parent of a child.

After crossing most of the Pacific Ocean, Ferdinand Magellan and his men encountered Guam and their first ‘indios’ en route to the Philippines on March 6, 1521. Later Spanish visitors named the inhabitants’ Chamurres,’ derived from a local term for the upper caste. This was then converted to ‘Chamorros,’ an old Spanish word for ‘bald,’ perhaps regarding the local shaving habit.

During the Spanish colonial era, the Chamorro population was greatly reduced by the introduction of European diseases. An estimated 100,000 Chamorros may have populated the Marianas when Europeans first settled in 1667. By 1800, they numbered under 1,000.

Chamorro in Guam today

The U.S. captured Guam on June 21, 1898. Under the Treaty of Paris, signed on December 10, 1898, Spain ceded Guam to the U.S. effective April 11, 1899. Guam remains among the 17 non-self-governing territories listed by the United Nations.

According to the 2010 census, 148,220 Chamorros live in the United States, mainly from Guam and the Northern Marianas and Saipan. Most emigrated after WW2, worked as farm laborers, were in the military, or married to military people.

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