Gold of Our Ancestors

From left: Gold sash or caste cord from Surigao del Sur (part of ancient Butuan-Calaghan), ca. 10th-13th century, from the collection of Ayala Museum; a Luzon noble with a gold sash and a Visayan noble decked out with gold ornaments, from the Boxer Codex of The Lilly Library, Indiana University

On March 29, 500 years ago, Magellan was surprised by the gold in the life of our ancestors. He realized this when he met at Limasawa (in today’s Southern Leyte) the brother of Rajah Colambu, Siaiu, the rajah of Butuan-Calaghan. Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler of the first circumnavigation of the world, described the Rajah of Butuan as “very grandly” dressed and decorated. He was “the finest looking man that we saw among those people,” he added.

Through Pigafetta’s description of the rajah of Butuan we can further imagine how a pre-colonial ruler looked like: “His hair was exceedingly black, and hung to his shoulders. He had a covering of silk on his head and wore two large golden earrings fastened in his ears. He wore a cotton cloth all embroidered with silk, which covered him from the waist to the knees. At his side hung a dagger, the haft of which was somewhat long and all of gold, and its scabbard of carved wood. He had three spots of gold on every tooth, and his teeth appeared as if bound with gold. He was perfumed with storax and benzoin. He was tawny and tattooed all over.”

Pigafetta’s observation of the Butuan rajah is consistent with the civilization Butuan had, especially the abundance of gold, to wit: “Pieces of gold, of the size of walnuts and eggs, are found by sifting the earth in the island of that king (Siaiu) who came to our ships.”

Watch a glimpse of Ayala Museum’s gold collection here

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In 2021, we will commemorate the Philippine part in the achievement of science and humankind in circumnavigating the planet for the first time. Central in this commemoration is the 500th anniversary of the Victory at Mactan on 27 April 2021. These and more are collectively known as the 2021 Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines by virtue of Executive Order No. 103 (2020). Know more about the event here:

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