The social and political organization of the population in the widely scattered islands evolved into a generally common pattern. Only the permanent-field rice farmers of northern Luzon had any notion of territoriality. The basic unit of settlement was the barangay, formerly a kinship group headed by a datu (chief). Within the barangay (Malay term for boat; also came to be used for the communal settlements established by migrants who came from the Indonesian archipelago and elsewhere. The term replaces the word barrio, formerly used to identify the lowest political subdivision in the Philippines), the broad social divisions consisted of nobles, including the datu; freemen; and a group described before the Spanish period as dependents. Dependents included several categories with differing status: landless agricultural workers; those who had lost freeman status because of indebtedness or punishment for crime; and slaves, most of whom appear to have been war captives.
In the 14th century Arab traders from Malay and Borneo introduced Islam into the southern islands and extended their influence as far north as Luzon. Islam was brought to the Philippines by traders and proselytizers from the Indonesian islands. By the 16th century, Islam was recognized in the Sulu Archipelago and spread from there to Mindanao; it had reached the Manila area by 1565.
The first Europeans to visit (1521) the Philippines were those in the Spanish expedition around the world headed by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. Other Spanish expeditions followed, including one from New Spain (Mexico) under López de Villalobos, who in 1542 named the islands for the infante Philip, later Philip II. Muslim immigrants introduced a political concept of territorial states ruled by rajas or sultans who exercised suzerainty over the datu. Neither the political state concept of the Muslim rulers nor the limited territorial concept of the inactive rice farmers of Luzon, however, spread beyond the areas where they originated. The majority of the estimated 500,000 people in the islands lived in barangay settlements when the Spanish arrived in the 16th century.
Philippine Country Links