Are You a Limahong Descendant?


Legend has it that Limahong, the Chinese pirate who raided Manila back in the 1500s, escaped to the Cordilleras when Spanish/Filipino soldiers regrouped to kick his ass out of the capital.

According to the legend, Limahong and his band of pirates sought refuge in the Cordilleras and married the local women. This supposedly explains why a lot of Igorots have some East Asian features. See above photos for instance.

It would be cool to have a pirate for a forefather but the legend is, apparently, only a legend. From the writings of Francisco Antolin in 1789 (translated by William Henry Scott):

1574: At the end of this year the famous pirate Limahon came with many sampans and armed Chinese to take Manila which he was unable to do due to the resistance of the Spaniards. He had to retreat and seek refuge in Pangasinan, and they also drove him from there.

The histories of Father Colin, Father Gaspar, and the Franciscans, refer to this whole affair with considerable detail, and none of them says that any of these Chinese took refuge farther inland in the mountains of the Igorots, but rather that those who survived at liberty took to sea in their sampans, besides some 52 captives and prisoners in the fort in Pangasinan, who returned to China from Manila with the Chinese merchants.

An early account by Father Chirino printed in Rome in 1604 also recounts this event, and says that after the few Spaniards of Manila had vanquished the enemy Limahon, who had brought more than a thousand warriors with him, they made him retreat to Pangasinan, and even from there he was forced to flee from us with light boats which they carried to the sea on their shoulders, leaving the heavier ones in the river and some spoils in their forts and camps, which our forces took.

Thus there is no basis in the early histories for the idea that the Igorots are descended from these Chinese of the pirate Limahon.

So I guess that settles it. But, then again, one can argue that just because no Spanish writer “says that any of these Chinese took refuge farther inland in the mountains of the Igorots” does not mean that it didn’t happen. After all, school history books don’t mention that Gabriela Silang is part Tingguian but this doesn’t mean that she is not. And it’s not like a pirate running away from authorities would shout, “Hey, I’m going to hide in the Cordilleras.”

Anyways, what we find most interesting in Antolin’s writing is the fact that, apparently, questions regarding the Igorot-Chinese link is not a recent “modern day” issue (Read this blog for instance) but dates back to as early as the 1700s.

INFO SOURCE: Nanzan/PDF File. Click here for a non-PDF version. PHOTO CREDITS: Dialoguebetweennations for Vicky’s photo. Girlwithagun for the boy’s picture.

12 thoughts on “Are You a Limahong Descendant?”

  1. this account is really interesting. i’ve heard of similar stories also saying that people from the cordilleras may have descended from chinese origins. i’ve also heard that they may be of vietnamese. we can never really be that certain but from what i’ve read, original settlers in the philippines did originate from the mainland years ago so it can account for apparent similarities but separated by many centuries of isolation and environmental nuances in the philippines that may not be found in the mainland.
    i’ve also wondered about similarities between some features from people from the cordilleras and people who live in the himalayas.

  2. I suppose one can check the genome project, where they try to trace one’s ancestry through one’s genes. i saw it on PBS a few years ago.

  3. Hi Arcibald,
    Thanks. I think you’re right about Filipinos actually coming from the Asian mainland. At least that’s the more accepted theory now rather than the theory than we came from Indonesia/Malaysia as we learned in school. Thanks again.

    Hi Wil,
    I heard of that too. It’s kind of controversial though especially among IP groups and there’s been a complicated debate about it since the 90s. Thanks.

  4. the genome project reminds me of one controversial issue about obtaining genes especially from IPs. i was told that an old woman from an IP group in south america, i think, has genes that are useful for HIV or cancer, i don’t really remember. and a company who discovered it had tried to own the gene of the old woman by applying for a patent for the gene. fortunately this was brought to the attention of the world and i think the company recalled its application for the gene.
    imagine a situation where a company would already own different genes that make up life. looks bleak.

  5. Hi Arcibald,
    Yup that’s true. I wonder if there have been patented genes like that which escaped the world’s notice because no one reported it. This gene patenting is bad. It is as if nothing is sacred anymore to those who want to make money. And to think that all they do is identify a gene. Thanks.

  6. I was reading the link provided by commenter pecson and this quote towards the end of the link caught my eye:

    The brief Chinese stay of about seven months in Pangasinan was a blessing in disguise to the province for there was embedded in the lives of the natives some good Chinese characters such as thrift, industry, tenacity, and farsightedness…..

    Many of the most thrifty and most intelligent citizens of Lingayen and other towns in this part of the province and along the Agno River are of Chinese ancestry.

    It sounds a bit racist. Is the writer of this “historical account” suggesting that the natives of Pangasinan never possessed these traits until Limahong came along?

  7. If you just study the facial features and linguistics of northerners and the southern part of the Philippines (Central Luzon down to Mindanao) , and Indonesians , the conclusion would be : that southerners came from the Indonesian archipelago.

    Northern tribes or inhabitants are more likeky to have come from Taiwan by way of southern China.

  8. Maybe, i like to believe so, if only for the sake of a good story to tell drunken buddies.

    limahong and the spaniards didnt mix at all so spanish accounts of the demise of limahong should be taken with a grain of salt. Just like William Henry Scotts book detailing the spanish bias against igorots for our ancestors refusal to bow down and hand over their gold mines. Their are still stories by old folks of chinese-japanese looking men (warrior?) intermarrying with natives along the agno river during the spanish era. Also the dearth of chinese antique kitchen wares spread along the agno river communities are among several interesting suggestions of chinese-limahong influences which cannot be easily dismissed. Also that burial mound (chinese?) in Kabayan isnt exactly “kabayan burial style”. I was also told their was once a guy who was an expert in swords.
    I myself have been ACCUSED (Scolded actually) of being chinese by chinese-pinoys, mistaken as a korean by koreans (to my constant embarassment!)and once politely asked if japanese by a japanese. hehehe. although i couldnt trace any foreign ancestors despite my tribes strong oral history. So that “limahong decendants” legend cannot be easily written off.

  9. Tracing and knowing your roots is really interesting and adds up to “enlightenment”. Can somebody also share an account on who are the original natives of the cordilleras before Limahong or even the colonizers came. Sounds tough but any idea would be appreciated.

  10. my ancestor was name siaco lim he became a christian and change his name to vicente limsiaco who live and died in bacolod neg. occ. he was one of the captain in limahong fleet. if you want to trace his family. you trace will it in kabangkalan neg. occ. U will see there the family tree of saico lim.

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