Sunday, March 16, 2014

Spanish Settlement in 17th and 18th Centuries



In 1494, Pope Alexander VI endeavored to settle the commercial and political rivalries of Europe’s major powers, Portugal and Spain by determining the Spanish expeditions should sail westwards and Portuguese expeditions eastwards of an imaginary north to south line in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Hence, Portugal established colonies in Africa, India, Malaya, Indonesian archipelago and on the China coast while Spain moved in the New World, establishing a base in Nueva España, present day Mexico, and from there moving to conquer much of Central and South America. In the 16th and 17th centuries Mexico was a valuable source of silver and gold and being carried across the Atlantic Ocean to Spain in great galleon fleets. 
The failed expedition of Magallanes in searched of the fabled Spice Islands, Maluko in Indonesian archipelago, brought a decision later to occupy Philippine Islands. The Spice Islands had been the long source of expensive spices traded in Europe, hence, Spanish, Portuguese and later Dutch merchants dreamed of acquiring control of the Spice Islands in order to monopolize the supply of spices in Europe. In 1564, Spain was motivated to occupy the Philippines by spreading the Faith of Catholicism and the possibility of opening new trading posts and expanding trade to Asia.  The following year, the first Spanish settlement in Sugbu in Visayas was established. In 1571, Spanish headquarters were moved to Manila which was then a thriving entrepót dominated by Chinese merchants. Hereafter, the beginning of the more than 300 years of Spanish domination and influence on the Philippines.
In the 17th century, Spain tried to create an Asian trading empire, based on Manila as both an entrepót and a naval base from which it could challenge the Dutch in Moluccas. However, their attempt failed. Spanish economic and political power steadily declined and Spain was no match for the resurgent northern Europe protestant nations of United Kingdom of Great Britain and of the Netherlands, both of which aggressively sought Asian empires. The economic base of Spanish occupation of the Philippines in the 17th and 18th centuries was the galleon trade between the Portuguese port of Macao on the south China coast, Manila and Acapulco in New Mexico. It underpinned the Philippines until the Mexicans revolted in 1820, which brought it to an end. Legazpi admired the fine Chinese silks traded at Manila by Chinese merchants and recognized a commercial opportunity for Spanish merchants to supply silk direct to the European market by exchanging silk for Mexican silver and gold. Great galleons left Acapulco for Manila loaded with silver. In Manila the silver was exchanged for Chinese silk brought across from Macao. The silk was then transported to Acapulco and on to Europe where it graced the lives of the European elite, in the process providing very profitable returns to the traders.   
Manila was quickly transformed from a small but busy port town linked to regional trading networks into one of the major colonial port cities in Southeast Asia. Its rival in the 17th and 18th century was Batavia (Jakarta). Chinese merchants controlled Manila’s trading lifeblood, although their numbers were only small. Many of them married local women and over time became a mestizo community. 17th and 18th century Manila was in many ways a Chinese city, or at least a city of Chinese and mestizos. They organized the entrepot trade and provided the internal trading and credit networks essential to that trade. There was never a large Spanish population in the Philippines and most who lived there resided in Manila. Most came via New Mexico and many were themselves creoles who married local Filipinos. The mestizo communities, one Spanish derived and the other Chinese derived, became the most powerful political and economic forces in the Philippines.
While Spanish rule in 17th and 18th centuries had little economic impact on the peoples of the Philippines, its political and religious impact was considerable. In contrast to European invaders elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the Spaniash missionaries were not confronted by the indigenous states supported by the bureaucracies, aristocracies or religious organizations. Spanish rule defined the modern state of the Philippines and its social, religious and ideological underpinnings. Despite constant efforts throughout the 3 centuries to conquer the southern islands, Spain was repeatedly rebuffed by the Islamic Sultanates in Mindanao and Sulu islands. These islands were not incorporated into the Philippines until the Americans took over the colony from Spain at the end of the 19th century.
The vital key to Spanish control of the Philippines was the close relationship between state and church. Spain wanted to convert the peoples of the Philippines for the glory of God. Priests from Spanish orders were sent by the state to the countryside where they evangelized the faith and at the same time established the presence of the colonial state. Indeed, the friars were the state outside Manila, controlling large tracts of land which they developed into plantations and exercising temporal powers alongside their spiritual powers. The natives in the northern and central islands were gradually converted to Catholicism, albeit a Catholicism incorporating pre-Catholic animistic beliefs, symbols and rituals.
Beginning the late 18th century and through to the early of 20th century social and economic structures in the Philippines were transformed. The country was drawn into the world trading system. The catalyst was when Britain occupied Manila in 1762. Spain had allied itself with France in the latter’s war with Britain. Britain occupied Manila in order to prevent a French threat to its China trade. Manila was sacked, galleons were captured and bullion confiscated. After 2 years, the British naval forces quickly departed leaving behind a considerably poorer Spanish colony. In the context of a general decline in Spain’s economic power in the 18th century successive Spanish governors were forced to seek new sources of wealth and revenue.  One initiative was to create a state controlled tobacco monopoly in northern Luzon. Local natives were forced to provide labor on tobacco plantations, producing cheap tobacco for export to European markets and generating considerable profits for the treasuries of both the Philippines colony and the Spanish motherland.
The Philippines was opened to private traders and investors. In addition to the encouragement of private traders, in 1785 the Spanish Crown established the Royal Philippine Company which became an investor in export crops in the Philippines, primarily sugar, coffee, indigo and pepper. In all these crops the Philippines was competing on world markets with the Netherlands East Indies.

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