Monday, January 25, 2010

Goldworking in the Philippines

The Moros [of the Philippines] understand the laws of gold better than we do.

-- Francesco de Sande, 1577

They mix it [gold] with copper so skillfully they will deceive the best artisans of Spain.

-- Hernando Riquel, 1573

Upon their arrival, the Spanish noted the importance of gold in Philippine cultures. Gold was highly abundant in the soil, including native gold of very high grade. The quantity of gold possessed by the people was very great and everyone regardless of their place in society seemed to possess abundant gold jewelry and heirloom gold. The indigenous people were also highly skilled at gold working.

So important was gold trading that the third governor of the Philippines, Francisco de Sande, writes that most people could determine the relative value of gold:

Should a Spaniard buy food or anything else from a native, the Moro immediately takes out the touchstone which he carries with him; and, even if the value be not over two reals, he takes great pains to see if the gold be conformable to the aforesaid standard. Although it may be stamped and assayed, the Indian will trust to no reckoning but his own. Neither is there any rule by which to pay, beyond the weight and value of the gold; this applies likewise to the orejeras or panica, for all the gold which is used in trade is mixed with other substances, to make the other grades of base gold. Although I have intended and tried to remedy this, it is impossible, as the majority of them are silversmiths for this very purpose; and if any restrictions were made, they would think that they were about to be ruined. It has seemed to me that the country is very new for establishing any other currency than gold, which here is like the king's fifth of silver in Nueva Espana.

A good illustration of the abundance of gold in these islands is given by Francisco Alcina in 1664 or about a century after the beginning of Spanish colonization:

I do remember that once when I was solemnizing a marriage of a Bisayan principala, she was so weighed down with jewelry that it caused her to stoop — to me it was close to an arroba or so (1 arroba = 25 lbs.), which was a lot of weight for a girl of twelve. Then again, I also heard it said that her grandfather had a jar full of gold which alone weighed five or six arrobas. Even this much is little in comparison to what they actually had in ancient times.”

By Alcina's time, the craft of goldmaking had deteriorated markedly as he found that ancient works like the kamagi were of "higher gold content and craftmanship than what is being made now," and that "one who knows how to make them today is hard to find." The kamagi was one of the complex types of jewelry found on the islands. William Henry Scott describes the kamagi:

The most spectatular item in the Visayan inventory was the kamagi, a heavy gold chain of such tightly interlocked links it hardly looked like a chain at all, but rather as solid and sinuous as a gold serpent. These included both what are now called "gear-bead" necklaces and multiple "loop-in-loop" chains...A single large kamagi strand called, saay, but the the long thin barbar could reach 4 meters and so swing grandly to the ground even when doubled or tripled...[kamagi] contain hundreds of links and rods and wires.

A royal gold chain of the Makassar Gowa dynasty in Sulawesi is said to have come originally from Manila and is of the kamagi type.

The importance of gold can be seen in the vast terminologies applied to gold and gold-making, and in Marcos de Lisboa's Bicol dictionary alone there are more than 300 such words.

Gold reckoning

There were various systems of valuing gold that existed in the Philippines at the coming of the Spanish. Here are a few examples:

Guinogulan -- 22 carats, not traded
Panica -- 16-18 carats, 5 pesos per tael
Linguingui -- 4 pesos per tael
Bielu -- 3 pesos per tael
Malubai -- 2 pesos per tael

-- Gov. Francisco de Sande (1577)

Ariseis -- 23 carats three granos, 9 eight-real pesos per tael
Guinogulan -- 20 carats, 7 pesos per tael
Orejeras (Panica) -- 18 or 19 carats, 5.5 pesos per tael
Linguin -- 14 - 14.5 carats, 4 - 4.5 pesos per tael
Bislin -- 9 - 9.5 carats, 3 pesos per tael
Malubay -- 6 - 6.5 carats, 1.5 - 2 pesos per tael

-- Martin Castanos, Procurator-General (1609-1616)

Guinuguran -- not traded
Ylapo -- not traded
Panica -- not traded
Linguinguin -- four pesos a tael
Malubay -- two pesos a tael
Bizlin -- two pesos a tael

-- Andres de Mirandaola (1569-1576)

Idelfonso de Santos found the following terminology used in the Tagalog language for reckoning gold purity:

Ginugilan -- 22 carats
Hilapo -- 20 carats
Palambo -- 20 carats
Wasay -- 20 carats
Urimbuo -- 18 carats
Panika -- 16 carats
Panikang bata -- 14 carats
Lingginging -- 12 carats
Lingginging bata -- 10 carats
Bislig -- 8 carats

And from William Henry Scott, also using Tagalog sources:

Dalisay -- 24 carats
Ginugulan -- 22 carats
Hilapo -- 20 carats
Panangbo -- "Somewhat less than 20 karats"
Panika -- 18 carats
Linggingin -- 14 carats
Bislig -- 12 carats

Furthermore, each of the above categories could be divided into "senior" (matanda) or junior (nabata) sub-divisions. Thus, dalisay nabata was less pure than dalisay matanda.

Traditionally, Filipinos traded only gold at about the panica level and below, with the purer gold kept only as heirlooms to be passed on from one generation to the next.

People carried small portable scales and weights for trading purposes. The base of the Philippine system was the saga or rosary bean (Abrus precatorious), which was the basic weight used to measure gold. The term saga is also found in the Malay system.

There were three palay (rice grains) in a saga, and three saga in a bahay. According to the modern Malay system, there are 3 saga in a kupang, and 12 saga in an amas. Thus, the bahay is the same as a kupang, and there were 192 saga to a tael or to a Chinese liang. In the Visayas, the saga was known as bangati. The term "kupang" may come from the cupang tree, which is also known as the copang, and which produces a large, heavy, dark bean.

Piloncito gold coins may have been patterned after the beans, seeds and stones used to weigh gold.

The gold belts like the one above, and the gold sash below at the Ayala Museum in Manila are made of pure gold.

Gold mining

Natural gold of exceptional high purity could be found in the Philippines. Tomas de Comyn, writing in 1810, says that natural gold of up to 22 carats could be found in the mines of Caraga, a province of Mindanao. Possibly the high quality of native gold was one reason that early European explorers thought these islands might be identical with the Biblical land of Ophir. According to St. Jerome, there were seven grades of gold and the gold of Ophir was the purest.

Most gold mining in the country was placer mining conducted along streams and rivers. Wooden pans, often called dulang, were used to sift through the sand. The gogo vine (Entada purseta) was used to help during the sifting. Gogo contains saponins that cause the soil and other materials to suspend in water. The plant was also used as a soap and shampoo by the local people for bathing purposes.

Sometimes pits or mines were excavated and some on the island of Masbate were said to be up to 15-18 feet deep. The extracted rocks were broken into smaller pieces and then crushed by a sort of stone mill driven by water buffalo. The crushed stone mixed with water became muddy in consistency and was then sifted like alluvial sediment.

Gold refining

Gold was refined in clay crucibles using the salt process. Into the molten gold, the goldsmith added salt, rock salt, and/or saltpeter to form compounds with other metals, including silver, and separate them from the gold. The process could be repeated until the desired purity was reached. A touchstone was used to test for gold levels. However, observers noted that most people, and even children, could estimate the relative value of a gold object by observation alone.

In some cases, the goldsmiths purposely combined gold with other metals including silver, copper, brass and tin. Among some of the names for alloys found in the Philippines are:

tumbaga -- gold mixed with copper
sumbat -- gold mixed with silver
hutok -- gold mixed with copper and silver
malamote -- gold mixed with silver
sombat -- gold mixed with various metals including copper, brass and silver
lauc -- any gold alloy

Ramon N. Villegas notes that to give an outward appearance of gold to alloys like tumbaga, the smiths often used plant acids to burn off the copper at the surface. However, for alloys that contained silver, a metal that is very stable like gold, other processes had to be used to achieve a golden lustre.

Pasaoli -- La ultima operacion que hace el platero para dar color al oro (The final operation of the silversmith in giving a golden color.)

-- Lorenzo Fernández Cosgaya (1661-1731)

The last operation referred to in the Pangasinan term above is the use of red earth mixed with salt to reduce silver on the surface of the alloy. Dampierre, writing in 1687, stated that the smiths of the Philippines would smear gold-silver alloys with a paste of red earth when the metals lost their luster. There are various terms used for this paste mixture in Philippine languages including sangag: salt and tierra roja "red earth" -- Pampanga; and polog: tierra colorada "red earth" -- Bisaya. After being smeared with the paste, the object was heated in fire until red hot and then submerged in water. The red earth is believed to contain ferrous sulphate, which breaks down into sulfuric acid in heat and dissolves the silver. A similar process was used in ancient Peru where they mixed yellow clay containing nitrates and sulphates with salt to remove silver from the surface of tumbaga.

As noted in the previous post, this practice of giving an outward appearance of gold to alloys including tumbaga was already a developed art in the Philippines, as noted by the earliest visitors including Juan de Salcedo and Hernando Riquel. Both of these men accompanied Legazpi's armada, so this technology was not brought by the Spanish Galleons as suggested by Blust.

Red earth or red ochre (porog in Bisayan) was also added to gold alloys to impart a reddish color.

Gold crafting

Filipino goldsmiths used a wide variety techniques to create gold jewelry and other items to include the cire perdue moulding method, annealing, filigree and granulation. In the area of granulation, they were particularly skilled and Scott says that in this technique "ancient Filipino goldsmiths have never been surpassed."

Granules of gold (daou in Bisaya, sibug in Pampagan, sinnabug in Ilocano) were created in two ways. In one method, gold and charcoal were placed in alternate layers in a crucible. When sufficiently heated, the gold in the charcoal would melt and form into tiny balls. Later the charcoal is washed off leaving the granules. In the other method molten gold is dropped on a smooth stone or piece of metal. The granules are sorted by size using gauged sieves.

An organic adhesive said to be made from fish was used to attach the granules to a base surface, sometimes mixed together with a copper salt. Metallic materials used for soldering were known as pidal and ampay in Bicol, and as piral in Tagalog. The same glue was used for filigree decoration using tiny wires soldered to a base with heat. In many cases, hundreds of granules could be placed on a square centimeter and in some cases up to 1600 granules could be used on the same surface area.

The smiths also beat gold dust into extremely thin gold foil for gilding, or created "ropes" by intertwining very thin filigree wires.

Using moulds with the lost wax method was known as limbag in Pampanga, bosog in Bicol, bobo and bosog in Hiligaynon, and silog in Waray. Repoussé and chasing were used to create designs on gold surfaces, and a great number of motifs and themes were used.

Gold repousee from the Surigao Treasure at the Ayala Museum.

Medieval accounts tell of gold collars used for dogs and monkeys in this region (Wak-wak), and the Spanish mention gold bowls, and even gold that was used to decorate homes.

Interestingly, Bergano lists the word bascal as a dog collar, possibly used in ancient times, that apparently was made of gold. The related word cabascalan (ca-bascal-an) means the gold sufficient to make a bascal. In connection with this there is also the myth of Apung Sinukuan in which the animals of Arayat were adorned with gold jewelry. Among the many gold artifacts held at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas in Manila is a gold bowl weighting between 600 and 700 grams.

Gold bowl from the Surigao treasure

The following condensation by Edward William Lane of notices on the islands of Wakwak from the works of al-Kazwini and al-Wardi is probably exaggerated but also undoubtedly contains a fair degree of truth.

"...navigation to them [Wakwak islands] is by the stars. They are said to be one thousand and seven hundred in number, and governed by a woman, named Demharah, who wears a robe woven with gold, and has shoes, (or sandals) of gold. No one walks in all these islands with any other kind of shoe : if he wear any other kind, his feet are cut. The Queen rides amid her slaves and troops with elephants and standards and drums and trumpets and beautiful female slaves. The place of her abode is an island called Amboobeh, the inhabitants of which are skillful in manufactures, so that they weave shirts of one piece each, sleeves and body together, and make great ships of small pieces of wood, and make houses of wood that move upon the face of the water.

'Eesa (or Moosa), the son of El-Mubarak, Es-Seerafee, relates, " I went in to this Qneen, and saw her sitting naked upon a couch of gold, with a crown of gold upon her head, and before her were four thousand maid-servants, beautiful virgins....No one knoweth what is beyond it save God. From one of these Islands of Wak-Wak there issueth a great torrent like pitch, which floweth into the sea, and the fish are burnt thereby, and float upon the water.—The islands of Wak-Wak contain gold in such abundance that the inhabitants make the chains of their dogs and other beasts, and the collars of their apes, of that metal; and the great men make bricks of gold, and build with them palaces and houses, well and skilfully

Paul Kekai Manansala


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