The History of Subanen since the Neolithic Era or the Stone Age

Subanon or Subanen was established in Mindanao Island before 500 BC. During the Neolithic Era, or new stone age where the period in the development of human technology taken place on 2,000 BC, Subanen tribes found to have started developing and discovering technology that later led to an accidental discovery of the "fire piston" for their demand of fire for their slash and burn kaingin system . The evidence of old stone tools in Zamboanga del Norte indicates a late Neolithic presence. Burial jars, both earthen and glazed, as well as Chinese celadons, have been found in caves, together with shell bracelets, beads, and gold ornaments. Many of the ceramic wares are from the Yuan and Ming periods. Evidently, there was a long history of trade between the Subanen and the Chinese long before the latter’s contact with Islam.

For some time before the Spaniards came and during the period of colonial rule; the Subanen had already contacts with the Tausug and the Maranao tribes to share their products for commercial and the most notable invention of now such called Fire Piston that spread trhough out Southeast Asian countries. This relationship was not all commercial, however. To a large extent, it was one of domination by a powerful group over a relatively weaker one, since the Subanen were often subjected to Muslim raids for the purpose of capturing slaves and exacting tribute. The Muslims not only controlled coastal trade, but also extracted dues or tithes from the subjugated Subanen.

The coming of Spain to the Philippines as a colonial power complicated the picture. The Spanish colonial government sought to extend its sovereignty over the whole of southern Philippines. Declaring its intention to “protect” the un-Christianized, non-Muslim Subanen of the Sibuguey (now Zamboanga) peninsula, the government under General Valeriano Weyler constructed a series of fortifications across the Tukuran isthmus “for the purpose of shutting out the Malanao Moros. . . from the Subano country, and preventing further destructive raids upon the peaceful and industrious peasants of these hills” (Finley 1913:4). Spanish military control of the Tukuran garrison and fortifications ended in 1899, under the terms of the Treaty of Paris.

Before the American government could put in its occupation troops, the Muslims from the lake region went across the isthmus, and attacked the Subanen in the two districts of Zamboanga and Misamis. These renewed raids took their toll of lives and property, and many Subanen were even carried off into bondage by the invaders. The military garrison was taken over by Muslim forces, and a kota (fort) and several villages were established on the isthmus. The place was abandoned, however, when the American expeditionary forces appeared in October 1900.

Despite the long history of hostile actions against them by their culturally assertive neighbors, the Subanen have managed to preserve their tribal unity and identification, their language and dialects, their customs and traditions, and their religious world view.

Since the beginning of the present century, the Subanon’s contact with the outside world broadened, to include the Visayan and the latter-day Chinese. Aside from the influx of these settlers and traders, there has been a massive penetration of the national government into the Subanen hinterlands for purposes of administrative control, tax assessment and collection, and police enforcement of national law.