Home > History > The Filipino Woman in Pre-Hispanic Times

The Filipino Woman in Pre-Hispanic Times

Datu & Queen

Datu & Queen

In popular thinking, the Filipina is most commonly identified with Maria Clara who is a character in the novel “Noli Me Tangere” written by Jose Rizal.  Her image is demure, modest, religious and submissive. Traditional women were taught to be more like Maria Clara. They were trained to be a model wife and mother and concentrated only on taking care of her husband and children. She is supposed to be obedient to her parents and let the men in her life make the important decisions. Most of the time they have no influence or only a little when it comes to the community except for serving in the Catholic church. But this is more to assist in maintaining order or arranging events like the town fiesta. In other words they have no important political or social role outside of their immediate family.

But this is an incomplete description of the Filipina as we can see in pre-Hispanic Philippine history. Before the Spaniards came there already was an established political, social and economic system. People in the community, including women, have important roles and the community itself has structure. (Dolan, 1993)

Maria Clara

Maria Clara

The term “barangay” has other translation in Philippine culture but in all these social structures, women and men are basically equals. There was an egalitarian relationship between husband and wife and daughters and sons. Both male and female offspring have importance and inheritance is divided equally. The only exception is illegitimate children who may or may not be given inheritance or get less than siblings born within marriage. (Titgemeyer, 1997)

The Filipino wife in pre-colonial times was treated as a companion, not as a lesser person. One example is the story of Queen Maniwantiwan of Panay being consulted by her husband Datu Marikudo before selling his land to Datu Puti. (Philippinealmanac.com, 2010)

She enjoyed freedom to decide for the whole family and her role is not limited to domestic issues or bearing children. In fact many women then, especially those who live near the sea, believe that having many children are like procreating like pigs. (Titgemeyer, 1997)

Most women before the Spanish colonization have decision-making powers about the family’s land and side-by-side with the men work in farms on agricultural and other duties. It is common for them to be in charge of weaving, making pottery or trading their own products but they also have political roles.

Ancient barangay

Ancient barangay

A popular example is the “babaylan“. Even today the name is associated with strength and power. Most babaylans in pre-Hispanic times are female although males also take the role. Traditionally they are considered healers or shamans, a religious leader in the community, and a fortune-teller. In many places people look up to them to perform miracles including bringing rain or stopping typhoons, and praying for a bountiful harvest.

Traditionally their most popular function is like an “arbularyo” or “hilot” who has supernatural ability. In Philippine indigenous culture the formal definition of a babaylan is someone who is in touch with the spirit world. Sometimes because they practice chanting and have some kind of trance when they meditated, they are misunderstood as witches or “mangkukulam” and “mambabarang”. The proper Filipino terms for them are Mombaki, Dawac, Balyan or Balian, Katalonan, Ma-Aram, Mangngallag, Mumbaki and Mambunong (Center for Babaylan Studies, n.d.)

Babaylan healing the sick

Babaylan healing the sick

The babaylan is also connected to early Filipino psychology studies. Traditionally the psychological knowledge of the native Filipino is an expertise of the babaylan in the Visayas, “catalonan” in Central Luzon, and “baglan” in Northern Philippines. (Enriquez, 1992)

The bababylan is considered as the first Filipino psychologist. She uses “anting-anting” or amulets, “dalangin” or prayer and “bulong” or whisper. She is also knowledgeable in other informal psychology practices. She was also honored because she possesses sacred knowledge. (Ibid)

According to the Center for Babaylan Studies the terminology babaylan is applied to those who are spiritual and inspired. They took on important responsibilities like “the spirit of revolution against colonization, their belief in Sacred Wholeness, their love of mother country, the desire to serve their communities in achieving justice and peace.” (Center for Babaylan Studies, n.d.).

Kalinga woman

Kalinga woman

For the Kalingas the women had the right to be the highest rank of society like men. Females have the same rights and privileges of males with the same rank or position. They were pact holders which are those who “held agreement with a prominent citizen of another tribe or community in which each party agreed to give protection and aid to all members of each other’s community while they were in his/her territory.” She decides the punishment if the pact is broken or rules are violated. (Infante, 1969) The position of pact-holder can be passed on to her children or relatives only.

Even during the Spanish rule of the Philippines, Filipinas in some parts of the country have influence. According to Gloria Esguerra Melencio, Rizal said: “The Tagal wife is free, and treated with consideration; she trades and contracts, almost always with the approbation of her husband, who consults her in all her acts. She takes care of the money and educates the children, half of whom belong to her…” (Melencio, 2009)

The concept of gender equality already existed in Filipino culture before the American occupation. Filipinas back then held respected positions in society. This changed when the Spaniards came and patterned the image of the Filipina to a meek and submissive individual, (Titgemeyer, 1997)

Our culture today is considered generally patriarchal. Filipino men who are not so educated or enlightened think it is good to be called “macho”. They do not understand that casual actions like whistling at a passing woman or saying sexual remarks jokingly is disrespectful. Where sexism is often validated by social norms and tradition, it is encouraging that Filipinas are still considered as one most empowered and politicized in Asia. (Helium, 2008) The Filipino woman in pre-Hispanic times is proof of this.


Center for Babaylan Studies (n.d.). About Us. Retrieved February 2012, from http://www.babaylan.net

Dolan, R. (1993). Philippines : A Country Study . Washington, DC: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. Retrieved February 2012, from http://memory.loc.gov/frd/cs/phtoc.html

Enriquez, V.(1992). From Colonial To Liberation Psychology: The Philippine Experience. Manila: De La Salle University Press

Fitzsimmons, G. (2008). The Changing Role Of Women In Philippine Society. Helium. Retrieved February 2012, from http://www.helium.com/items/1105590-role-of-women-in-philippine-society-filipino-women-and-feminism

Infante, T.(1969). The Woman In Early Philippines And Among The Cultural Minorities. Manila: University of Santo Tomas Press

Melencio, G. (2009). Historical Markers On Filipino Women’s Sexuality During Spanish Colonial Times. Retrieved February 2012, from http://philippinehistory.ph/historical-markers-on-filipino-women%E2%80%99s-sexuality-during-spanish-colonial-times

Philippinealmanac.com (n.d.). The Ten Bornean Datus And The Purchase Of Panay. Retrieved February 2012, from http://www.philippinealmanac.com/2010/07/430/the-ten-bornean-datus-and-the-purchase-of-panay.html

Titgemeyer, L. (1997). La Mujer Indigena-The Native Woman. Retrieved February 2012, from http://www.univie.ac.at/ksa/apsis/aufi/wstat/mujer.htm


Aboutph.com. (n.d.) Maria Clara. [Photograph], Retrieved February 2012, from http://aboutph.com/2010/05/the-song-of-maria-clara-by-dr-jose-rizal/

A visit with the Kalinga people. (n.d.) kalingabig4. [Photograph] Retrieved February 2012, from http://www.oocities.org/glenn_ord/Kalinga.html

Mi Dulce Vida. (n.d.) Babaylan1. [Photograph] Retrieved February 2012, from http://poetryandpotion.blogspot.com/2011/08/babaylanismo-bringing-back-old-ways.html

Project Gutenberg (Photographer) The Filipina as Ritualist and Warrior (2011). datuWife. [Photograph], Retrieved February 2012, from http://www.fmapulse.com/content/fma-corner-filipina-ritualist-and-warrior

Pryo.net. ancient-fils. [Photograph] Retrieved February 2012, from http://www.pryo.net/history-001.html

  1. jcee
    December 10, 2012 at 11:52 am

    Tnx po sa post!!

    • December 18, 2012 at 8:21 am

      Thanks for leaving a comment to my report.

  2. Rika
    September 8, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Well done. thank youu.

  3. antonette
    September 19, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    Very informative, complete with bibliography. Good Job!

  1. August 15, 2017 at 9:19 pm

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