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Conquest and Pestilence in the Early Spanish Philippines

Linda A. Newson

Publication Year: 2009

Scholars have long assumed that Spanish colonial rule had only a limited demographic impact on the Philippines. Filipinos, they believed, had acquired immunity to Old World diseases prior to Spanish arrival; conquest was thought to have been more benign than what took place in the Americas because of more enlightened colonial policies introduced by Philip II. Conquest and Pestilence in the Early Spanish Philippines illuminates the demographic history of the Spanish Philippines in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and, in the process, challenges these assumptions.

In this provocative new work, Linda Newson convincingly demonstrates that the Filipino population suffered a significant decline in the early colonial period. Newson argues that the sparse population of the islands meant that Old World diseases could not become endemic in pre-Spanish times. She also shows that the initial conquest of the Philippines was far bloodier than has often been supposed and that subsequent Spanish demands for tribute, labor, and land brought socioeconomic transformations and depopulation that were prolonged beyond the early conquest years. Comparisons are made with the impact of Spanish colonial rule in the Americas.

Newson adopts a regional approach and examines critically each major area in Luzon and the Visayas in turn. Building on a wide range of primary and secondary sources, she proposes a new estimate for the population of the Visayas and Luzon of 1.57 million in 1565—slightly higher than that suggested by previous studies—and calculates that by the mid-seventeenth century this figure may have fallen by about two-thirds.

Based on extensive archival research conducted in secular and missionary archives in the Philippines, Spain, and elsewhere, Conquest and Pestilence in the Early Spanish Philippines is an exemplary contribution to our understanding of the formative influences on demographic change in premodern Southeast Asian society and the history of the early Spanish Philippines.

16 maps

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

Illustrations and Tables

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Having worked for some years on the demographic impact of Spanish colonial rule in various parts of Latin America, I became increasingly curious about an oft-repeated statement that the population of the Philippines did not suffer the same demographic disaster that afflicted Native American populations following European...

PART I Introduction

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CHAPTER 1 A World Apart?

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pp. 3-9

Spanish conquest and colonization of the Philippines brought fundamental changes to the political, economic, social, and cultural life of the islands. Scholarly studies of the early colonial period, such as those by John Phelan, Nicholas Cushner, and Martin Noone have focused on the initial conquest of the islands and Spanish attempts to set up an effective administration,1 while others, such as Horacio de la Costa...

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CHAPTER 2 The Role of Disease

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pp. 10-23

Southeast Asia is generally considered to have been part of the Eurasian disease pool, with Old World diseases spreading to the islands as trading contacts with the mainland developed in the Christian Era.1 Hence, the lower level of depopulation in the early colonial Philippines compared to the Americas is often attributed to its...

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CHAPTER 3 Colonial Realities and Population Decline

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pp. 24-36

Despite the Crown’s intention that the “pacification” of the Philippines should be brought about peacefully and its subjects well treated, the conquest and establishment of Spanish rule in the islands was characterized by conflict and bloodshed, which in some regions was prolonged throughout the colonial period. Conflict arose initially...

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CHAPTER 4 Interpreting the Evidence

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pp. 37-50

No one will ever know exactly how many people there were in the Philippines when the Spanish arrived or the extent to which the Filipino population declined in the subsequent two centuries. However, through a careful analysis of the evidence available, the demographic history of the Philippines can be discerned in sufficient detail...

PART II The Visayas

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CHAPTER 5 Conquest and Depopulation before 1600

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pp. 53-79

Miguel López de Legazpi’s expedition to the Philippines dropped anchor in Gamay Bay off Samar on 13 February 1565 (see Map 5.1).1 Preoccupied with finding provisions, the expedition skirted the coasts of Samar and Leyte and finally encountered the relatively large settlement of Cabalian on the east coast of Leyte. There it seized...

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CHAPTER 6 Wars and Missionaries in the Seventeenth-Century Visayas

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pp. 80-112

A fter the Spanish shifted their base in the Philippines to Luzon in 1571, the Visayas became an economic backwater. However, the islands were not abandoned totally, for they were of strategic importance in the Hispano- Dutch War and in holding the frontier against Moro incursions. Particularly important were Panay and...

PART III Southern Luzon

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CHAPTER 7 Manila and Tondo

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pp. 115-132

Dissatisfied with the island of Panay as the center of Spanish rule in the Philippines, Legazpi sought a location that had better food supplies, a more secure port, and preferably regular trade with China. Having heard rumors through traders of the existence of a settlement at Pasig River, in 1570 Legazpi dispatched the first of three...

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CHAPTER 8 Southwest Luzon

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pp. 133-152

For the purposes of this study, southwest Luzon comprises the administrative jurisdictions of Laguna de Bay and Cavite, together with regions on the south coast variously known as Balayan, Bonbón, Batangas, Calilaya, and Tayabas, as well as the island of Mindoro.1 The history of southwest Luzon was closely tied to that of Manila. The friar estates that developed in the west of the region became major suppliers of provisions

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pp. 153-165

Bikol is a geographically fragmented region composed of an elongated peninsula and four islands. In colonial times overland travel was hampered by the rugged terrain, while the frequency of tropical storms and the lack of deep, well-sheltered harbors, especially on the western coast, made communications by sea difficult. The only...

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CHAPTER 10 Pampanga and Bulacan

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pp. 166-176

Pampanga and Bulacan were among the most fertile and densely settled provinces that the Spanish encountered in the Philippines. However, in the colonial period their natural and human assets worked to their disadvantage as they became vital sources of provisions and timber, as well as labor to support the city of Manila and...

PART IV Northern Luzon

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CHAPTER 11 Ilocos and Pangasinan

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pp. 179-200

During colonial times travel to Pangasinan was generally conducted by sea since the Central Plain of Luzon was more heavily forested than at present and Zambal attacks made overland travel hazardous. Hence, although Pangasinan comprised part of the Central Plain of Luzon, its colonial history was more closely tied to that...

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CHAPTER 12 Cagayan

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pp. 201-217

In Spanish colonial times the Cagayan Valley formed the backbone of the Dominican province of Cagayan. It encompassed the present-day provinces of Cagayan and Isabela, as well as the northern cordilleran provinces of Apayao and Kalinga. When the Spanish arrived, the region was ridden by internal conflict and soon the “Cagayan nation” came...

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CHAPTER 13 Interior Luzon

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pp. 218-248

The mountain region that forms the backbone of northern Luzon constitutes a formidable landscape of rugged, forested terrain dissected by deep canyons and fast-flowing rivers. Composed of three mountain ranges, the Cordillera reaches between 8,000 and 9,000 feet in the south and descends to about 3,000 feet in the north.1 It receives high...

PART V Conclusion

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CHAPTER 14 Demographic Change in the Early Spanish Philippines

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pp. 251-264

In general terms, demographic trends following European contact in both Southeast Asia and the Americas followed a similar trajectory, with indigenous peoples in both regions experiencing a significant decline followed by a slow recovery. In Southeast Asia the decline does not appear to have been as great, but it extended through the seventeenth century...


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pp. 265-312


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pp. 313-314


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pp. 315-380


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pp. 381-384


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pp. 385-406


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pp. 407-420

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780824861971
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824832728

Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Philippines -- Population -- History.
  • Philippines -- Colonization -- History.
  • Spain -- Foreign relations -- Philippines -- History.
  • Disease -- Philippines -- History.
  • Philippines -- Foreign relations -- Philippines -- History.
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