In the never-ending search for our origins, nothing has provided more insight into the forgotten past than man’s own need to document everything in writing. With ancient texts and stories that shed an illuminating light over events from times long lost, we have been able to piece together the narrative of our race – an amazing story of heroic feats and unimaginable tragedy woven into one epic tale. Yet, not everything has survived the test of time. Much has been left shrouded in darkness, and many memories of our ancestors remain buried in mystery, waiting for the day their secrets are unlocked for all to know.
Such is true in the case of the Philippines, our beloved nation, given the name of a Spanish king and whose pre-colonial history remains as fragmented as the island archipelago she calls home. For many years, our very own educational system has taught us that the history of our country began with Spanish occupation, only mildly touching on the people who preceded it. However, due to the recent discovery of the Laguna Copperplate – an artifact dating back to the year 900 CE containing the details of an agreement between the Commander and Chief of Tundun and a certain Lady Angkatan, to clear the debt of a man named Namwaran as a favor due to his loyalty as a subject or slave – it has become apparent that an organized civilization did exist on this land prior to the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in 1521. Following is the official translation of the Laguna Copperplate Inscription:
“Long Live! Year of Siyaka 822, month of Waisaka, according to astronomy. The fourth day of the waning moon, Monday. On this occasion, Lady Angkatan, and her brother whose name is Buka, the children of the Honorable Namwaran, were awarded a document of complete pardon from the Commander in Chief of Tundun, represented by the Lord Minister of Pailah, Jayadewa. By this order, through the scribe, the Honorable Namwaran has been forgiven of all and is released from his debts and arrears of 1 katî and 8 suwarna before the Honorable Lord Minister of Puliran, Ka Sumuran by the authority of the Lord Minister of Pailah. Because of his faithful service as a subject of the Chief, the Honorable and widely renowned Lord Minister of Binwangan recognized all the living relatives of Namwaran who were claimed by the Chief of Dewata, represented by the Chief of Medang. Yes, therefore the living descendants of the Honorable Namwaran are forgiven, indeed, of any and all debts of the Honorable Namwaran to the Chief of Dewata. This, in any case, shall declare to whomever henceforth that on some future day should there be a man who claims that no release from the debt of the Honorable… “
The Laguna Copperplate indicates that there already existed a complex social system with concepts of time, currency, sovereignty, law, and government – showing that these basic tenets of civilization were not introduced by the Spanish colonizers as may have once been suggested. Furthermore, it acts as a written account that supports the notion that the settlement of Tundun operated like an independent city-state that engaged in international relations with the Kingdom of Medang, located in Java, and that our ancestors were very closely connected to the Indian, Malaysian, and Indonesian cultures based on the use of Kawi script, a language derived from Sanskrit, Old Malay, and Old Javanese.
Sadly, the inscription ends abruptly as no other pieces of the Laguna Copperplate have ever been found. What could have become of Tundun and the surrounding polities and settlements had the Spanish never arrived? Were we on the way to forging our own unique cultural identity before being subjugated under colonial rule? Sadly, these questions may never be answered, but at the very least this cultural treasure proves that our civilization was alive and kicking well before the arrival of our conquerors – giving us a reason to keep searching for our links to the past.