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Population and history. The demographic origins of the modern Philippines. (The Philippines).

Population and History. The Demographic Origins of the Modern Philippines


Madison: University of Wisconsin- Madison, Center for Southeast Asian Studies Monograph Number 16/Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1999. Pp. xi, 431. Tables, Maps, Graphs, Figures, Bibliography, Index.

Southeast Asia in the nineteenth century was a demographic anomaly. Its populations and human densities, even in many of the areas showing greatest potential for human settlement, were much lower than those in China and India. Nineteenth - and twentieth-century population growth in the region has been very rapid, though not without its vicissitudes. There is therefore an important story to be told, a story with important ramifications for demographic and social theory. But for Southeast Asia as a whole, there are precious few records on which a sound study of demographic change in the nineteenth century and earlier could be based.

The Philippines, however, provides an outstanding exception. Parish records relating to births, deaths and marriages kept by the Catholic Church provide a similar foundation for historical demographic analysis as has been productively mined in Europe and Latin America. Somewhat surprisingly, little use had been made of these records until relatively recently, except for some interesting studies by the editors of this book and others, notably Norman Owen. But, thanks to the ongoing efforts of Peter Xenos, Michael Cullinane and later by the Genealogical Society of Utah in putting together a microfilm record of parish and civil registers, this oversight is being gradually redressed, making records more accessible to researchers. The chapters in the book provide ample testimony to the value of such records to a fuller social history of the Philippines. For example, in the late nineteenth century, economic expansion 'collapsed into a decade of virulent epidemics, mass mortality, and the destruction of the country' s plow animals' (p. 13), raising some profound questions about the underlying causes of the peasant and elite revolts that make up the Revolution of 1896-98.

The editors modestly describe the book as a reconnaissance, an enticement to demographers, sociologists, historians and historical geographers to join the effort to produce a comprehensive demographic history of the Philippines intertwined with the study of social and economic change across the archipelago. They are too modest. The book is a significant contribution, not only to our understanding of Philippine demographic and social history, but also to the worldwide enterprise of historical demography.

Studies included in the book utilise two of the classical techniques for historical demographic analysis: aggregative analysis and family reconstitution. The scope of the studies ranges from archipelagic through major regions to single parishes or urban districts. The geographic scope is not comprehensive, but the variety of local and regional results is striking. 'Clearly, we have just begun to construct the textured mosaic that will take on a larger pattern only when a sufficient number of pieces are in place' (p. 12).

Linda Newson's chapter addresses the much debated issue of why the Philippines escaped the demographic collapse of Spanish America, related to the introduction of Old World diseases. Newson argues that the main difference in the role of epidemic disease was not so much between the Philippines and Spanish America but between different types of society in both regions. The impact of acute infections in the early colonial period may not have been much different from that among tribal groups in Spanish America. But the small size of the population in the Philippines (a size held down partly by prevalence of chronic infections) and its dispersal throughout several thousand islands seem to have moderated the impact of epidemics in early colonial Philippines. The impact of acute infections was greater in the nineteenth century, when larger populations and improved communications facilitated their spread.

Part 2 of the book deals with dynamic regions, and includes chapters by Xenos on the Ilocos coast since 1800, by Cullinane and Xenos on Cebu and by Daniel Doeppers on migration to Manila. These are all richly textured studies. To this reviewer, the Ilocos study is outstanding because of its application of the notion of multiphasic response to population growth in a region that faced much greater demographic pressure on the land than other regions of the Philippines. Xenos relates patterns of heavy outmigration to other responses including delayed marriage, high levels of celibacy and diminished levels of childbearing within marriage. As a result, between 1903 and 1970, the population of the Ilocos coast 'only' doubled, whereas the rest of the Philippines population grew five times. The chapter on Manila challenges the Todaro thesis on causes of rural-urban migration, as well as showing that the recent predominance of female migrants among the Manila-bound actually had its origins in the 1920s and 1930s. Its a nalysis of the detailed settlement patterns of migrants from various places of origin in Manila reflects a real 'feel' for the geographic realities of the region.

Part 3 turns to detailed locality studies, starting off with Xenos and Shui-Meng Ng on Nagcarlan in Laguna. This is a fascinating study based on very complete parish records (more than 200,000 events recorded on more than 42,000 manuscript pages) as well as census-type civil records, also maintained by the parish priest or his representative and comprising another 20 volumes. These data enable a detailed demographic history of this parish in the nineteenth century to be reconstructed, and questions to be raised about such things as the response of marriage patterns (a falling age of marriage for females towards the end of the century) to the increasing incidence of crisis mortality late in the century. Norman Owen's study of a Bikol parish is self-admittedly not as far along in terms of demographic analysis as the Nagcarlan study, but it confirms falling ages of female marriage (though for a different period) and raises important issues about under-registration and its effect on the demographic measures. This part of the book concludes with two brief papers by Doeppers on social stratification in Manila and Iloio.

A substantial final section provides (appropriately in a book seeking to enlist others to use the historical records) a detailed description and assessment of the ecclesiastical and civil records that can be used as sources for Philippine historical demography.

With this book, the editors have pushed forward the frontiers of Philippine historical demography. Such demography is hard work, but it is to be hoped that, in discovering the insights into social history that emerge from the careful historical demography represented in the book, some who read it will join the enterprise.
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Author:Jones, Gavin W.
Publication:Journal of Southeast Asian Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 2001
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