The Republic of the Philippines, a tropical archipelago in Southeast Asia, is comprised of more than 7,000 islands. The major island groups include Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, Negros, and Cebu. The country is believed to have been first settled by the Aetas (who the Spanish settlers named Negritos). Although the Aetas' short stature, dark skin and curly hair has caused them to be compared to African pygmies, scholars believe they migrated, not from Africa, but from the Asian mainland about 30,000 years ago (possibly across the land bridge that is thought to have existed at the time), and developed their phenotypic traits in situ. Later, around 4000 BCE, successive waves of people from South-East Asia and other Pacific Islands started to settle in the Philippines bringing with them the Malay and Hindu cultures and, later, Islam.
Named by the Spanish after King Phillip II (1527-1598), the islands were conquered by Spain in the 16th century. Spanish rule continued for the next few hundred years, punctuated with uprisings and attempts at interference from other countries. In 1898, when the Spanish-American War broke out in Cuba, the Philippines took the opportunity to declare independence. Later the same year, Spain ceded the islands to the United States, but it soon became clear that America was not going to recognize independence - which resulted in the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902.
In 1916, the United States granted the Philippines autonomy and promised eventual self-government. The islands were established as a US commonwealth in 1935 but full independence did not come until 1946, after the 1941-1945 Japanese occupation of the Philippines in World War II.
Since then, the Philippines have seen periods of guerrilla unrest; the notorious twenty year presidency of Ferdinand Marcos; martial law; and Marcos's attempt to return to power in the mid-1980s, which lead to his search for asylum in the United States, as well as to further instability within the country. The '90s were similarly troubled by tension between the government and Marxist and Muslim rebel groups. In May 2010, the country elected its 15th President, Noynoy Aquino.
Through much of its history, the Philippines has been influenced by traders from China, the Arabic world, and other countries, a diversity that is reflected in the culture and cuisine. Over a hundred dialects exist, though the Filipino language (derived from the Austronesian language, Tagalog) is spoken by nearly half of the population. English is also widespread and over 80% of the population is Catholic; the remainder claim a mix of religions including 5% Muslim.
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This article was originally published in June 2010, and has been updated for the
May 2011 paperback release.
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