Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Hispanic Asia/Oceania

The Asia and Oceania continents have been affected by Hispanic culture to a lesser degree than on others yet it has still shaped the modern lgbt community and identity, most noticeably in the Philippines.

First of all, a quick look at the areas where the Spanish and Portuguese empires reached across the continent, many of which were small settlements not easily shown on the map above.

The 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas established that new territories discovered to the west of a line of longitude down the Atlantic were Spanish, and new lands to the east were Portuguese (except for Brazil, which I explained last time). Therefore, there was only one direction the Portuguese could go.

The quest for trade routes to the Indies was the main reason for Columbus going across the Atlantic in the first place. So it’s ironic that the Portuguese, going the long way round Africa, got there first. They were also the first to establish a European settlement in India, and followed this up by taking control of vital sea routes out of the Red Sea into the Indian Ocean. Several more settlements were made in India and into south east Asia. They didn’t expand their empire into large colonies as Spain had done in the Americas. The native Indian kingdoms were very strong and powerful. The spice trade ensured that the Portuguese were the first to profit from the traffic in luxury goods.

The Spanish pursued it’s westward quest for the Indies and voyaged across the Pacific from Mexico to establish a colony in the Philippines (named after their king) in 1565.

When the Spanish and Portuguese arrived in Asia and Oceania they encountered more of the gender and sexual variations that they had discovered in Africa and the Americas. When the Europeans arrived they considered all sexual “deviation” as un-Christian, and rather than try to understand it they tried to suppress it.

In both Asia and Oceania there were societies which contained men who dressed and behaved as women, are treated as women, and who identified with the female gender. Each nation has it’s own name for these men, though they are often referred to today by the collective name of Third Gender. Most of these societies had no problem accepting the sexual and gender differences. These Third Genders had sex, and were often married to, heterosexual men. The heterosexual husbands never thought of themselves as anything but straight and may have had female wives as well.

The European colonists, as has been seen on other continents, were unsuccessful in eliminating same-sex activity and desire among indigenous cultures, and often their own beliefs influenced attitudes among the indigenous people. An example of this can be seen in the Third Gender community in the Philippines.

The Philippines was home to a thriving Third Gender community. They were often shamans or ceremonial/ritual participants who, as such, were held in high regard and respect in their communities. They had many different terms, but the Spanish called them “bakla”, a derogatory term originating from the name of a species of bamboo.

Even though the Philippine tradition of the bakla continued, the Christian morality of sodomy began to become associated with them. Over time the bakla stopped being respected and accepted and began to acquire the demonised and persecuted status as the sodomites of Europe. Even the bakla themselves began to loose their pride in being who they were and how they lived.

In the 21st century the bakla and other Third Gender communities across Asia and the Pacific have started to regain much of their pre-colonial status in their societies. Where once no distinction was made, Third Genders are keen to differentiate themselves from the European concept of a gay man and homosexuality. In nations in Asia and Oceania there is much anti-gay legislation, yet the traditional Third Gender culture is generally accepted (though often, still, with overtones of European prejudice).

That concludes my brief mini-series for Hispanic Heritage Month. In my articles it has been seen how the Iberian colonists have spread to all continents taking their European Christian ideas of same-sex activity with them. They have tried to suppress the many diverse same-sex roles and identities they encountered, which managed to survive through imperial rule. My articles have also shown that, even though the western concept of homosexuality prevails around the world, indigenous same-sex identities are reclaiming their special place alongside their national Hispanic heritage.

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