Gems of History

The 11th-century kingdom of Namayan

Long before the arrival of the Spaniards in the Kingdom of Manila or even before Rajah Soliman ruled in the 16th century, there already existed an ancient kingdom called Namayan. Established in the 11th century, the precolonial settlement in Santa Ana was the oldest along the Pasig River.

Last October, the revised edition of the evocative and superbly researched work of National Artist for Historical Literature Carlos L. Quirino (1910-1999), Maps and Views of Old Manila (first published 1971), was released. The second edition, Old Manila, was edited by Maria Eloisa G. Parco de Castro and published by Vibal Foundation.

In “Manila Chronology” (p. 284), the second entry is “Late Eleventh Century: The Kingdom of Namayan (in Santa Ana) initiates trade with China and other neighboring lands.”

What we’d like to highlight here is not only this important historical knowledge about Namayan that every Filipino should know, but also the close relations between Namayan and China as early as the Song Dynasty (960-1211). In fact, the excavation of Song Dynasty ceramics and archaeological studies on them corroborate and give credence to the existence the ancient Namayan.

Quirino’s narration on Namayan is in the section titled “Namayan: Oldest Settlement along the Pasig”:

Several miles up the Pasig River from Intramuros lay the ancient Manilan settlement of Namayan, adjacent to a marshy ground called sapa. The Franciscans, who evangelized the place, called it Santa Ana de Sapa, and built their church on or near its cemetery. The main street of this erstwhile suburb of Manila bears the name of Lamayan, after the original kingdom of Lakantagcan. Lakan was a title used in pre-Hispanic time to denote royalty as in the case of Lakandula of Tondo. According to Franciscan chronicler, Fray Felix de la Huerta, Lakantagcan was married to Buan (Tagalog for moon) and had five sons by her. He also had a bastard son by a Bornean slave: to this son named Pasay, he gave all the lands extending to the bay, a name by which the district is known to this day.
The kingdom of Lakantagcan was quite extensive, and included what we now know as Mandaluyong, Makati, Paco, Pandacan, Malate, San Juan del Monte, Quiapo, Sampaloc, San Miguel and even as far inland as Taytay. But with his death, the sons divided the area, and thus the kingdom vanished. His great- great-grandson was baptized under the name of Martin in 1570. No record exists of present-day lineal descendants of the rulers of the kingdom of Namayan.

To further enrich our knowledge of this important historical period, we quote in length the updates and emendations in the second edition:

Dr. Robert Fox of the National Museum of the Philippines led the excavation of the Santa Ana churchyard and patio in 1966, continuing the initial work directed by Leandro and Cecilia Locsin from 1961 to 1962. His findings confirmed it as a pre-Hispanic iron-producing trade settlement that flourished from the 11th to 14th century. Shell middens and human remains in gravesites with ceremonially arranged Sung Dynasty ceramics supported the existence of a strategic trading site that controlled waterway traffic from Manila Bay to Santa Ana (the Chinese junks) and from Santa Ana to the inland rivers and coasts of Laguna de Bay. Recent archaeological studies are corroborating the strong evidence that the lakeside communities of Laguna de Bay had a strong impetus in the development of historically rich sites as Manila, Tondo, Santa Ana (or Sapa/ Namayan) Bay and Pila.

In 1977, the National Museum team under Dr. Fox systematically excavated the inner patio and its surrounding areas.

They uncovered one of the oldest artifacts, a blue-and-white Chinese bowl adorned with floral designs, which dated back to the late 11th century A.D. Most of the Chinese porcelain tradeware dated from the 12th to the 13th centuries. In all, 71 human graves were recovered in the churchyard and inner patio, and another 21 in the adjoining property.

The reconstructed history of the ancient settlement is as follows: In the late 11th century, people from the hilly sides of Manila moved into the Namayan area, which is now called Santa Ana. Although swampy (hence the name sapa), the site was located less than 300 meters from the river Pasig and abounded with deer shell food. It also offered the possibilities of external trade with foreign traders that docked along the Pasig River, which coursed to either Manila Bay or Laguna de Bay.

The remains found during the diggings revealed traces of metals, cloth and an astounding range of Chinese trade pottery. It is assumed that the highly refined and attractive porcelains and stone wares brought the most valuable possessions of early Tagalogs, thus supplanting the locally made palayok pottery. Recent excavations have revealed that many large pre-Spanish settlements and protohistorical burial sites were already existing along the shores of the Pasig River and Laguna de Bay before the arrival of the Spaniards.

Fox concludes that “the great number of trade pottery in the Santa Ana graves points, nevertheless, to the developed commerce between China and the Philippines during the 12th and 13th centuries long before the Philippines was ‘discovered’ by Magellan in 1521.”

Other associated material remains such as animal bones, charcoal, local pottery and iron slags indicated that the site was abandoned by the 15th century. One possibility is that a new site with a more strategic location – especially in terms of controlling and taxing river traffic – had overshadowed Namayan. This would not be so fatal if only native travelers were concerned. The trade with the Chinese had become vital to everyday living, affecting not only life on earth but also beyond it. Chinaware had become part and parcel of rites and ceremonies so that whoever controlled its supply would hold the key to influence, wealth and power. The palisaded settlement of Rajas Soliman and Laya may have been a factor in the abandonment of Namayan. Robert Fox speculated that its abandonment was “probably due to the appearance of Islam and Muslim traders in the 15th century, which interrupted the Chinese trade in the Manila Bay area.”