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jc gaillard
jc gaillard TWO YEARS ago, I suggested that the alleged two faces of the Kapampangan territory (Gaillard, 2002) may actually mirror the emergence of a distinct ethnic group called Kapanguluan in the dry lands of upper Pampanga and Southern Tarlac (Gaillard, 2012). One of the reasons for putting this proposal forward was that the contours of Kapampangan ethnicity have, in a great extent, been designed by the Spanish conquistadores back in the 16th century rather than by Kapampangan themselves. Henceforth, I would like to take this argument a bit further to suggest that Kapampangan ethnicity actually is a colonial construct.

Ethnicity is a tricky and controversial concept which has stirred much debate amongst academics (e.g. Glazer and Moynihan, 1975; Jenkins, 2008). There is a wide agreement that the members of an ethnic group share a common history and culture materialised by common beliefs, customs, religions and languages. One of the major issues however is to delineate those ethnic features. On the one hand, it has long been assumed that ethnicity is endogenous and inherited from parents and ancestors. In this view, members of a group claim a particular ethnic identity whatever the larger context is. On the other hand, ethnicity is also assumed to be the product of social interactions between groups, often grounded in a specific historical context which has antagonised the members of these groups (Barth, 1969). Therefore, ethnicity does also hold an exogenous dimension. These few elements of theoretical framing are useful for understanding how Kapampangan ethnicity has shaped up over the past centuries.

Indeed, prior to the arrival of the Spaniards in Luzon, there is no available evidence of any group claiming an identity as Kapampangan. Existing Chinese records of trade during the Ming dynasty indeed point to the people of Lu-Song (Wang, 1964; Pangilinan, 2007). Similarly, Portuguese archives make mention to the Lucões of Luzon (Suarez, 1999). Both the Portuguese and Chinese thus refer to a single group to describe those they were trading with in a vast region at the centre of Luzon, which may have stretched from what is nowadays Batangas (Wang, 1964) to Pampanga (Pangilinan, 2012). This does not preclude that some people may have actually claimed different collective identities, including the ancestors of modern-day Kapampangans, but evidence is lacking. In fact, at the time of contact, the Spaniards described a rather fragmented social landscape in the delta of the Pampanga River with separate social and political entities called barangay – some being Muslim, some animist (e.g. Chirino, 1604; Colin, 1663; Blair and Robertson, 1903-09).

The situation persisted when the Spanish Conquistadores took control of Luzon. The so-called ‘Boxer Codex’ of 1590, which describes with minutiae the people of the Philippines, clearly identifies the Negrillos and Zambales of Luzon (Boxer, 1950). However, the other people of the island are all gathered under the appellate ‘Naturales’, without any distinction between those we now call Bikol, Tagalog, Kapampangan, Pangasinense and Ilokano. The very name ‘Pampango’, and thus its subsequent indigenous translation into ‘Kapampangan’ (although the origin of the term when applied to ethnicity is unclear), is in fact likely to be an invention of the Spaniards around this time. Until then, de Plasencia (1589), and indirectly de Morga (1609) and de San Agustin (1699), were referring to the ‘Naturales de la Pampanga’ (hence using the same generic term as found in the ‘Boxer Codex’) to describe those people who lived in the delta of the Rio Grande de Pampanga – a Spanish name for the river derived from the word ‘pampang’ – river bank, hence probably not the name of the river per se but here again evidence is lacking.

Two processes then participated in constructing Kapampangan ethnicity in the late 16th century. First is the division of the centre of Luzon into provinces based on the Spaniards’ interpretation of language diversity (de la Cavada y Méndez de Vigo, 1876). The creation of the province of Pampanga in 1571 provided an artificial spatial grounding for the territory of those living within its borders, hence called ‘Pampango’. Eventually, Spanish friars assigned to the province started to delineate the contours of the local language, also called ‘Pampango’, through the writing of vocabularies and grammar books. Spanish friars’ approach of the Kapampangan language was similar to that they used for Tagalog (Rafael, 1988). The language was formalised using the Roman alphabet and structured in agreement with rules prevailing in Latin languages, e.g. using nouns, pronouns, prepositions, verbs, at the detriment of pre-existing Kulitan script and grammar (Coronel, 1621; de Benavente, 1699). Both the partition of the land in political and administrative entities (and the associated reduccion policy) and the formalisation of local languages were obvious instruments to better exercise colonial power. These further led to the construction of ethnicity as all Naturales living within the borders of Pampanga and speaking the language the Spaniards called Pampango were deemed of Pampango/Kapampangan ethnicity.

The Spaniards eventually used this newly-created ethnicity to antagonise the different groups through providing some with privileges inaccessible to others. Kapampangan then benefited from many opportunities such as those of entering the colonial army, the clergy and the educational system as well as some forms of tax exemption (e.g. Larkin, 1993; Santiago, 1990, 2002). Colonial rule over three centuries thus contributed to further constructing a distinct ethnicity by providing enough time depth to forge a history to which Kapampangan would eventually be referred to as unique. In parallel, population growth, migrations, changing economic activities and political events progressively forced the Spanish colonisers to create new provinces at the centre of Luzon and, in consequence, to reshape and shrink the province of Pampanga (Doepper, 1968; McLennan, 1980). At the end of the Spanish regime, those who still lived within the borders of the province as well those people who had migrated from the delta of the Pampanga River to the upper and dry lands of Southern Tarlac continued to be considered Kapampangan (de la Cavada y Méndez de Vigo, 1876; Sawyer, 1900). This was based upon the three-century-old assumption that all those who hailed from the delta of the Pampanga River and/or live in the eponym province were indeed Kapampangan.

The American period did not mark any change in the way Kapampangan ethnicity was conceived as all assumptions made late in the 16th century by the Spaniards persisted. For example, Beyer’s (1917) survey of the population of the Philippines and his compilation of ethnographic materials on Kapampangan culture (Beyer, 1918) presumed than all those living within the province of Pampanga and Southern Tarlac and speaking a seemingly similar language were Kapampangan. A few decades later, in his study of the people of the Philippines, Krieger (1942) drew a very interesting ethnographic map of the Philippines which similarly labelled all the people living in the Pampanga-Southern Tarlac area ‘Kapampangan’. Since then, many scholars interested in studying every aspects of Kapampangan culture (e.g. Doeppers, 1968; Larkin, 1993; McLennan, 1980), including the author of this essay (Dizon and Gaillard, 2001; Gaillard, 2002), have similarly assumed that there has not been any change in the ethnic landscape of central Luzon despite that ethnicity has long been considered dynamic as ethnic groups constantly evolve, reshape and sometimes break away to form new groups (Nagel, 1994; Jenkins, 2008).

More puzzling is that the very valuable contemporary attempts to define what Kapampangan ethnicity is from an endogenous perspective have not reflected upon the very essence and origin of such ethnicity. In fact, most landmark studies conducted and published over the past few decades in the field of history (Henson, 1963; Dizon, 2000), anthropology (Galang, 1940), linguistics (del Coro, 1988, 2011) and literature (Zapanta-Manlapaz, 1981; Lacson, 1984) have all continued to assume that Kapampangan are those people who live in Pampanga and Southern Tarlac, speak an apparently similar language and claim a common history which traces back to the antagonism with neighbouring groups initiated by the Spaniards. In a nutshell, the contours of Kapampangan ethnicity, as we know them today, have always been taken for granted although they constitute a colonial construct.

Considering Kapampangan ethnicity as a colonial construct does not preclude that there may have been an indigenous Kapampangan identity prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquistador and that this indigenous identity does still exist today. Yet, this has to be defined away from the assumption of the (sole) Spaniards late in the 16th century, which is obviously difficult as there is probably no strong pre-colonial evidence available. The recent attempt (Pangilinan, 2012) to study and revive the pre-Hispanic Kulitan script is a first step in this direction.

In addition, redefining Kapampangan ethnicity from the inside requires to consider changes in the environment as well as in the social, economic and political landscapes which have occurred over the past four centuries or so. People who have moved out of the delta of the Pampanga River and migrated to upper Pampanga and Southern Tarlac have developed new forms of settlements, means of transportation and livelihoods in harmony with a different, drier environment (Gaillard, 2002). In consequence, the language of these people has evolved as words describing these new resources and patterns of orientation have been needed. Nowadays, the settlers of upper Pampanga and Southern Tarlac also interact with many migrants who do not speak Kapampangan. As a result, an increasing number of idioms are being loaned from Tagalog. The grammar is also evolving with the progressive loss of the cross-referent pronouns (Pangilinan, 2009) and the ellipsis of the determiners (Pangilinan and Kitano, 2012). Furthermore, the recent eruption of Mt Pinatubo and the rapid subsidence of the delta of the Pampanga River have led to massive environmental changes with which people have to cope.

In this context, it is time to ask whether all the people living in Pampanga and Southern Tarlac are indeed Kapampangan as defined by the Spaniards in the later 16th century – since this is still the norm and while awaiting some further critical studies about what Kapampangan ethnicity actually is. The wide array of differences in settlement patterns, means of transportation, sense of direction, language, diet and livelihoods observed between the communities of the delta of the Pampanga River and those of the dry lands of upper Pampanga and Southern Tarlac may, in fact, reveal the progressive emergence of another ethnic group, i.e. the Kapanguluan.


—Barth F. ed. (1969) Ethnic groups and boundaries: the social organization of culture difference. Little Brown and Company, Boston.

—Beyer H.O. (1917) Population of the Philippine Islands in 1916. Philippine Education Co., Manila.

—Beyer H.O. (1918) Philippine folklore, social customs and beliefs (a collection of original sources) – Vol. 19: From the Pampangan peoples. University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City.

—Blair E.H., Robertson J.A. eds. (1903-09) The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898. 55 volumes. A.H. Clark, Cleveland.

—Boxer C.R. (1950) A late sixteenth century Manila MS. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland 1-2: 37-49.

—Chirino P. (1604, republished 1969) Relación de la islas Filipinas. Historical Conservation Society, Manila.

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—Coronel F. (1621, republished 2005) Arte y reglas de la lengua Pampanga. Center for Kapampangan Studies, Angeles City.

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—Dizon L.L. (2000) Amlat: Kapampangan local history contour in Tarlac and Pampanga. Center for Tarlaqueño Studies, Tarlac City.

—Dizon L.L., Gaillard J.C. (2001) Une étude du concept d’île linguistique: le cas de la langue Kapampangan (Central Luzon, Philippines). Cahiers Savoisiens de Géographie 4: 81-92.

—Doeppers D.F. (1968) Hispanic influences on demographic patterns in the Central Plain of Luzon, 1565-1780. University of Manila Journal of East Asiatic Studies 12: 15-95.

—Gaillard J.C. (2002) The two faces of the Kapampangan territory. K Magazine 8: 38.

—Gaillard J.C. (2012) Kapampangan vs Kapanguluan: challenging the alleged two faces of the Kapampangan territory. eK: A Journal of Kapampangan Ideas: http://eksite.com/gaillard.120112.html

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—Lacson E.H. (1984) Kapampangan writing: a selected compendium and critique. National Historical Institute, Manila.

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—Pangilinan M.R.M. (2009) Kapampangan lexical borrowing from Tagalog: endangerment rather than enrichment. 11th International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics, 21-25 June 2009, Aussois, France.

—Pangilinan M.R.M. (2012) An introduction to Kulitan, the indigenous Kapampangan script. Center for Kapampangan Studies, Angeles City.

—Pangilinan M.R.M., Kitano H. (2012) Pámanakmul amánu (word swallowing): ellipsis of determiners in colloquial Kapampangan spoken in Angeles. 12th International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics, 2-6 June 2012, Bali, Indonesia.

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—Zapanta-Manlapaz E. (1981) Kapampangan literature: a historical survey and anthology. Ateneo de Manila University Press, Quezon City.

[About the author. JC Gaillard, PhD, is Associate Professor at the School of Environment of The University of Auckland in New Zealand and former academic staff of the University of the Philippines in Diliman. His teaching, research and practice focus on disaster risk reduction in Asia and the Pacific. He is also interested in Kapampangan studies and the geography of Pinoy rock music. More available from: http://web.env.auckland.ac.nz/people_profiles/gaillard_j/]

-Posted: 8:30 AM 2/24/14 | More of this author on eK!