HomeThe Journal of Historyvol. 63 no. 1 (2017)

Beyond Gold: Hindu-Buddhist Cultural Influences Based on Tangible Finds in the Caraga Region

Greg Hontiveros



One of the areas of interest in Philippine history that is steadily gaining much attention is the pre-colonial period. One finds this trend especially in social media, where people are asking more questions about what life was like before the Spanish entry. It looks back to our cultural roots, but this is also among the most contentious subjects, if not the least understood. There is a tendency to view this in the seeming isolation and unchanging tempo of life of our indigenous people. But there is now a growing understanding of the dynamics of interaction in the dim past between the inhabitants of the Philippine islands and Asia’s great civilizations. Among these concerns is the Hindu-Buddhist influence in our cultural heritage. Great advances in linguistic studies have been accomplished by Philippine scholars in pointing out a great number of loan-words from Sanskrit, probably spiritual concepts when introduced into our shores, but now a part of daily usage. Similarly, there are shown to be fascinating parallels in many of our native epics with the great literatures of Asian civilizations. The early Spanish chroniclers and missionaries wrote of finding strange objects of veneration strewn in the thick woods and grassy fields, of “copper statues of the Buddha.” The overlay of Islamic and Christian teachings and iconography from the Middle East and Europe have over time attenuated whatever little was known of that ancient past. The purpose of this paper is a plea for greater attention to tangible objects from the Hindu-Buddhist universe that were found aplenty in the Caraga Region. Doubtless, a good number of these were subjects of in-depth archaeological studies, mainly the Golden Image of Agusan and the fabulous gold collections at the Ayala Museum and the Central Bank collection at the Metropolitan Museum, including the Surigao Treasure. Among the recent studies is by Roderick Orlina on the Mahapratisara amulet found along the Agusan River upstream of Butuan, arguably as significant as the Laguna Copperplate Inscription. Many found objects are not made of gold, and thus easily available to those below the tribal elites, and this implies a deeper social impact on the beliefs and sense of aesthetics of our ancestors. Still, there are a lot more that have not undergone deeper intellectual scrutiny and validation, and it is our purpose to generate interest among archaeologists and historians to take a good look at these objects. It should answer this mystery: why an inordinate number of these items were discovered at the northeast quadrant of Mindanao. Was this due to the gold trade? There is no palpable evidence of an established religious hierarchy, or of an observance of rituals, or of large edifices, yet any belief with its artifacts reveals a community of believers during those times. There are a lot more that we do not know, but definitely this is a challenge to understanding our past, and hopefully an insight on its continuing influence on our lives in the present and towards the future.