A Glimpse of the Pre-Hispanic Banton

by Mark Andrew Fietas


Before the Spaniards re-discovered the Philipppines in 1521, and before Banton was reached by Martin de Goite the master- of Camp of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi in May 10, 1570, Chinese traders named the islands of Banton, Simara and Sibale as Osigun (Medrana 2005)


Although, we don't have enough historical sources or an eyewitness that will give us an oral history about the pre- historic Banton, we're still lucky because the archeological evidences that were excavated in three Guyangan caves (BN- GI, BN- GII and BN- GIII) are still intact and well preserved in the National Museum.


Historical records show that these caves were first discovered in 1961 by members of the National Museum archeological team led by Alfred Evangelista. Further excavation activities followed until 1966. After tedious and intricate studies of the bones and teeth remains (osteological analysis) this will lead us to a glimpse of the pre- historic Banton.


"Paleodemographic data from Guyangan skeletal population show a wide range for ages, reflecting that while there are individuals dying at young age, there are also these living to an advanced age with the time upon when the cementery was in use. From the 18th century of descriptions of Banton and the present of caries and ovile- mortem tooth loss in the population, there may have been ample floral and faunal resources in the island that were used as food. That availability and other necessities could have also been augmented or diversified through trading activities.


The island's inhabitants, were also undeniably affected by environmental stressors that manifest through their health conditions. Childhood may has been a particularly difficult time for several individuals, as shown by the presence of LEH (Linear Enamel Hypoplasia), porotic hyperostosis and cibra orbitalia. The occurrence of degenerative disease of the bone could mean that intense physical exhaustion was experienced by some mature individual, probably through labor. The degree of labor would also be reflected by physiological changed in bone like the increased eminence of the deltoid tubervity due to greater mass of the deltoids. It could be assumed therefor that although living condition in Banton then were hostile especially to younger inhabitants, there was considerable number of individuals, who managed to survive their childhood and reached old age. This is a sign that the Guyangan population had reached a satisfactory degree of adaptation with their environment.


The apparent absence of burial discrimination between sexes and the ages of childhood to that of the elderly in Guyangan cave in Banton Island seems to suggest a relatively egalitarian society wherein equal treatment were given to people buried in this particular place. However, with the youngest individual aged 4- 6 years old, it is still unknown whether infants or fetuses were given a different disposal or burial treatment. Turning to the problem of whether these burials cross - cut the whole Guyangan society or only represents a social class, the high frequency of artificial cranial reformation may be able to offer parts of the solution. Many for the reasons for artificial head reformation have been associated with more favorable traits like higher social status, aggressiveness, healthiness, and beauty ( Grszten and Gerszten 1995: 379 ) If these were the case, then there is a possibility that the Guyangan caves were a burial ground foe people of a higher social class. The various artifacts related to wealth and importance and which were found in the burial are indicative of this status. It is however unclear if non-Guyangan or non- Banton residents were also interred in this site.


Guyangan society then may have been maintained by a population with or an economy probably based on hunting, gathering, horticulture and trade. It was stratified to a level of having a social organization with the capability to manage trade with partners outside the island. The practice of cranial reformation and tattooing were among the elements of their social norms and expectations, and their worldview features certain notions of death expressed through secondary burial caves overlooking the sun and eastern horizon." This assumption is consistent with the observation of the Spaniards when they reached the island in May 10, 1570 quoting from The Philppine Island 1493- 1898; Blair and Robertson: "After sailing northwest for two days, they arrived at the island of Zibuyan, a high and mountinous land known to posses gold- mines. Without talking to any of the natives, they left that island which situated about fourteen leagues from the river of Panay, and went to the island of Mindoro. Among the other islands passad was that of Banton, where lived certain Spnaiards, who had gone there in vessels belonging to friendly Indians. The island of Banton is about fifteen leagues from Cibuyan,. It is a small circular island, high and mountinous, and is thickly populated. The natives raise a very large number of goats here, which they sell in other places. The natives of this island of banton are handsome and paint themselves."


It was also assumed that the total Guyangan population was 34 (26 adults and 8 juveniles) ages from 4-6 to about 60 years of age in which 18 years old was the bulk of the individuals. Moreover, male populations are taller than females with male's height ranging from 161.58 - 173.11 cm. while females ranging from 144. 542- 153.95 cm.

Moreover, the other artifacts that were excavated form the three caves were as follows:


First cave ( BN- GI )

Earthen ware shred, a glazed vessel, textile, gold ornaments and wooden coffin with serpent ornamentation with human skulls together with the ikat clothe, the oldest clothe in Asia. This coffin is now in exhibit at the National Museum.


Second Cave ( BN- GII )

Yielded mostly vessels and shreds, together with an artifact made of shell. Ceramics from this cave include of Chines origin such as bowls with brown glaze dated to the Sung Dynasty (A.D 960-1278) ( Scot 1954 ), dated to the Ming dynasty ( A.D. 1368- 1644 ) ( Scot 1954 ) like blue bowl originating from Thailand.


Third Cave ( BN- GIII )

Chinese ceramics like monochrome stonewares, jars and celadon plates of the Sung dynasty, celadon plate dated to the Yuan- Ming ( A.D. 1260- 1368 ) ( Scot 1954 ) dynasty period and Sukhotai ( 1295- 1450 A.D. ) ( Scot 1954 ) plate. Also in the cave were beads and artifacts made from bamboo, marine turtle, wood, gold and metals. (source: The People of the Ancient Banton: Assemblage Composition, Population Features and Health Through Osteological Analysis ).


In conclusion thereof, the Guyangan burial site was already in use as early as A.D. 960- 1644 even as early as the Sung dynasty in China. According to that study, it is considered a secondary burial site wherein one year after the burial, the bones were exhumed and transferred to coffins by a panagkutkutan ( Miyamato 1985 ). It also became clear to us that before the Spaniards reached Banton, the people of the island had a satisfactorily way of living, they practiced tattooing and beetlenut chewing or the "nganga" and had a trading relation with the Chinese. This can be attested in the 15th century Chinese trading route in which Banton was part of the trading system. It is also interesting to note that Banton was first reached by Martin de Goite earlier than Manila.