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Oct 04th
Home Columns Noy (Bicol Column) Siamese Traders Introduced Thai Cooking and the Muaythai Boxing to the Philippine Region of Bicol
Siamese Traders Introduced Thai Cooking and the Muaythai Boxing to the Philippine Region of Bicol PDF Print E-mail
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Columns - Noy (Bicol Column)
Wednesday, 05 September 2007 18:19

By Lolo Bobby M. Reyes of Sorsogon City

W hy is the Bicol (pronounced "Be cool") Region the only place -- out of 13 regions in the Philippines -- that uses a lot of pepper in its cooking? This was the question that a fellow member of the Philippine History Group of Los Angeles (PHGLA), Copper Sturgeon, asked me in 1998. I told Copper that I honestly did not know the answer. But I ventured out a guess: I said that perhaps settlers from India must have taken with them their fondness for spices and pepper. A former distinguished congressman from Sorsogon Province, the late Vicente Peralta, was of Indian and Indonesian descent. But then Indian migration came mostly after the British invasion of the Philippines and their occupation of Manila from 1762-1764. The use of pepper must have occurred earlier in the history of the Bicol Region.

Copper says that the other Philippine regions are like Indonesia and Malaysia that use only insignificant to moderate amounts of spices and pepper in cooking their regional or national dishes. This prompted me to inquire via the Internet from among fellow Bicolanos and contacts the logical answer to Sturgeon's query.

Australian Museum Curator's Proofs

Basil Rossi, an Australian of Italian ancestry and who has a Bicolano wife from Naga City (in Camarines Sur), provided the answer. Rossi, who was a former museum curator in Singapore, said that Siamese (Thai) recipes, which were introduced by early traders from Thailand, heavily influenced the Bicol foods. He said the Bicol Region has many archaeological sites that yielded Siamese pottery pieces. He said also that some Bicol recipes were exactly the same, peppers for pepper, ingredients for ingredient, as those found in some Thai cities that he had visited. He said that he would discuss fully his findings with, and provide, me with the recipes if I visited with him in the Bicol Region or if he traveled to Los Angeles. (Editor's Note: Mr. Rossi died a year after his online dialogue with Bobby Reyes. Reyes unfortunately never met in person Mr. Rossi.)

After Mr. Rossi died, I started a quest to find historical data to prove his assertion. Historian E. P. Patanne in his book, "The Philippines in the 6th to 16th Centuries," reported that a Robert Fox-led Philippine National Museum team found in 1959 in Calatagan, Batangas, pre-Spanish burial sites with more than 500 graves. The archaeological dig yielded some 1,135 pieces of trade pottery of Chinese, Annamese and Siamese make going back to the late 14th and early 16th centuries. The burial sites yielded beads, bracelets, gold objects and earthenware. A Prof. Olov A. T. Janse made the first systematic excavation in Calatagan in 1940. What Professor Janse found what that the Calatagan excavations revealed extensive Philippine trades with China, Annam and Siam in ceramics during the 5th century. It was logical to assume, in the absence of primary historical data, that these traders from China, Annam (now Vietnam) and Siam (now Thailand) traded with other areas of the Philippines, especially on the Island of Luzon, where Batangas is found. Batangas lies north of the Bicol Region, about 600 kilometers from the southern tip of Luzon, Sorsogon Province (the southern end of the Bicol Region). Batangas is also less than 400 kilometers from Camarines Norte Province, the northern-most province in the Bicol Region.

Fox, together with Filipino archaeologist Alfredo Evangelista, undertook in 1956 an excavation in the Bato Cave of Bacon district of Sorsogon City. The artifacts Fox and Evangelista found consisted of burial jars and stone tools, which were carbon dated at 2,280 years old, plus or minus 250 years.

In his book Patanne mentioned: "Another jar burial site was excavated in Sorsogon, where no Chinese trade wares were found but recovered were multicolored flat, round and spherical opaque glass beads." Patanne also wrote in the same page that: "The Aguit-it site in Camarines Norte containing jar burials have been excavated from 1982 to 1983. Recovered were over 200 earthenware jars and pots, bowls and plates, iron implements, glass beads and stone anvils." I said to Copper that Patanne's phrase, "No Chinese trade wares were found," implied that the artifacts recovered in Sorsogon were from Siam and/or Annam.

Patanne's book reported also that "a National Museum staff member, Generoso Maceda, excavated three sites in Pilar, Sorsogon Province, the burial jars yielded bone fragments, glass and paste beads, iron implements and some evidence of cloth. H. Otley Beyer dated the sites as between AD 300 and 800."

Muaythai Boxing

In the field of Filipino martial arts, while most of the regions in the Philippines have the Arnis (stick fighting), the Bicol Region has the so-called "sole fighting." The local term for this version of kick boxing is "Rapandapanan." The Bicol version of Muaythai Boxing uses, however, only the soles of the feet. It would be conceivable and even logical that the Bicolanos copied from the Siamese traders the ancient Thai martial arts of Muaythai.


Then there is one unique Bicol trait that must have been copied also from the Thai traders. Remember the Thai way of greeting? The Thais press their hands together (finger to finger), hold them close to the mouth and nose and make a slight bow, as they greet "Swadikap."

The Bicolanos use now the handshake like most Filipinos because of the nearly 400 years of combined Spanish and American influences. But when Bicolanos pass before a group of persons, especially in front of seated elders or community leaders, they also press their hands -- finger to finger but with the right hand slightly held higher -- and point them towards the ground or floor nearly at the level of their stomach. Then they make a slight bow, as they pass before the elders or leaders. # # #

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 August 2017 09:36
Comments (2)
1 Saturday, 07 August 2010 02:04
this article is very interesting. hope we can find more evidences to support this
2 Sunday, 17 April 2011 20:42
Hot chili was introduced by Spain and it quickly replaced true pepper(as chili is not true pepper) which was native to Southeast Asia, pepper has many varieties, the difference is in size, color and shape.

Filipino cooking did at one time have spicy flavors contributed by various native spices, like cinnamon, peppers, star anise, cloves, ginger, lots of garlic and onions.

All these changed except for Bicol.

Copper Sturgeon

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If a man will begin with certainties,he shall end with doubts;but if he will be content to begin with doubts,he shall end in certainties.-- Sir Francis Bacon, 1561-1626