Ten Proofs We Inherited Our Love for Drinking from Pre-Colonial Filipinos

It’s the holiday season once again, and the occasion entails drinking and partying among family members and friends. As a matter of fact, in many parts of the world, drinking has always been a part of celebrations that it already became a form of normative social interaction.

In the Philippines, drinking and getting drunk was deeply embedded in our historical blueprint. What is a Filipino party without the abundance of alcoholic drinks! Although alcoholic beverages have been usually attributed as a gift from the West, pre-colonial Filipinos had their own flavors when it comes to their alcoholic drinks. They even had customary traditions that ensured they were responsible drinkers.

So, whenever we think of contemporary Filipinos’ passion for drinking, let’s remember that this trait was recorded way back to the sixteenth century when Spaniards set foot in the Visayan islands. This may even be an inherited cultural tradition we got from our ancestors.

Here are ten proofs we got our love for drinking from pre-colonial Filipinos:

1) Ferdinand Magellan was given distilled liquors when he arrived in Homonhon.

Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan’s chronicler, recorded that Magellan was given what the locals called uraca, which was a derivative of the Malay-Arabic word arak that means distilled liquors. What better way to welcome foreign guests than with alcoholic drinks, right?

Arrival of Magellan in Cebu painting from Fort San Pedro in Cebu. Accessed from Xiao Chua files.

2) A local harvest was delayed because of a drinking session between Cebuano royalties and Pigafetta’s team.

Pigafetta was welcomed by no less than Cebuano royalty Rajah Kolambu when he arrived in Limasawa. Their interaction? A drinking session where Kolambu allowed Pigafetta to drink from his own cup.

Pigafetta’s translator, meanwhile, partied with the locals so hard that he drank too much alcohol he was not used to.
A few days after this drinking session, the local harvest had to be delayed because Kolambu and his brother Awi could not function while they were fighting off their hangover.

Antonio Pigafetta photo from Wikimedia Commons

3) Pigafetta was no match in drinking compared to Cebu royalties.

Cebu offered Pigafetta a local palm wine the natives called tuba nga nipa. He even got to drink this with other leaders in Cebu like Rajah Humabon.

However, when Pigafetta visited a place called Quipit, he had to surrender to the drinking prowess of one ruler named Rajah Kalanaw. His reason? Kalanaw and his friends drank a whole jar of alcohol without eating anything.

Rajah Humabon Painting from Fort San Pedro in Cebu. Accessed from Xiao Chua files.

Now you get the picture of how heavy drinkers our ancestors were.

4) The Spaniards named Visayan social occasions bacanales, which means drinkfests.

Each occasion the Spaniards attended when they were in the Visayas was filled with so much drinks they had to name social occassions bacanales or drinkfests. However, Spanish historians like Loarca regarded the fact that Visayans “rarely get angry when drunk.”

Another Spanish historian, Father Chirino, commended the Boholanos for their responsibility when it comes to drinking. He said that no matter how drunk Boholanos were, they never failed to find their way back to their houses. They also could still proceed with their business without compromising accuracy especially in dealing with buying and selling of products.

Painting by Manuel Pañares

5) Visayans had five kinds of alcholic beverages.

You may be wondering what our alcohol-loving ancestors loved drinking. Here are their favorites:

Paog (nipa tuba) which is a drink extracted from sap of wild trees and given red color by adding ground barks of trees the natives called tungug or lawaan. However, tuba made from coconut palms was regarded as better and of bigger value in trade.

Kabarawan was a kind of wood whose bark was decocted to produce the specific drink. This decoction was boiled, and mixed with an equal amount of fresh honey. This drink was naturally fermented until it becomes a smooth, strong liquor.

Intus or sugarcane juice extracted and boiled before adding kabarawan bark as seasoning. It was then left to ferment.

Pangasi or what we commonly know now as basi  or rice wine.

Alak or Alaksiw was a drink made from alakan or still like alak sa sampaga or sampaguita perfume. This drink was usually extracted from hollow tree trunks. It was popular back then that Visayans called drunkards as makialak.

Painting by Botong Francisco

6) Visayans never drink without company.

Drinking was always done in small groups and anyone passing by was welcome to join the fun. When the Spaniards met the Visayans, they noted that they never drank alone and they never showed manifestations of being drunk in public.
See how strong they were? The next time you get drunk, be like a pre-colonial Visayan and never show any sign of weakness!

Native Visayan Pintados. Photos from the Boxer Codex

7) Drinking started with a ritual.

Drinking is practiced with a traditional ritual that starts with agda, or the manner in which a person, or even a diwata, was asked to take the drink first.

Painting by Manuel Pañares

8) Food must accompany the drinks. Pulutan, anyone?

They called the pulutan or food eaten with the wine sumsum.  A famous example was the plate of pork Rajah Kolambu shared with Pigafetta in one drinking session.

Illustration by Boizei Malicdem/Summit Books

9) All official transactions were accompanied by drinking.

Spaniards fondly noted the term pagampang which means drinking. The colonizers recorded that business transactions, family issues and other community decisions were talked about with wine present during meetings.

Painting by Fernando Amorsolo

10) Drinking was a very important attribute of the Bicolanos.

Everyday life with pre-colonial Bicolanos meant for the people to do their routines with wine. Some terms recorded by the Spaniards detailed this attribute.

Tabang means two things for the Bicolanos: to help somebody out, and for two men to drink together; Silo means visiting another person’s house to give fish or meat hoping that the person visiting would get a drink in return; Tabad is the manner of giving a drink in return; and, Patulid was a drinkfest to bid farewell to somebody leaving for another place.

Painting by Manuel Pañares

The ten historical proofs mentioned above attested how our ancestors gave prime importance to drinking as a form of social interaction. Drinking could be a way of life for them but not for nothing. Drinking carried a very special meaning to pre-colonial society than meant for them to form alliances and create stronger bonds to the people within the same society.

Thus, this holiday season, may we drink to our heart’s desires. But remember, drinking sessions must not end in brawls but in stronger relationships among the people.

Source: Scott, William Henry. (1994). Barangay: Sixteenth Century Philippine Culture and Society. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.


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John Mychal Feraren

Crazy about popular culture, pre-colonial, and Spanish-era studies. Fan of Christina Aguilera and Katrina Halili.