Vibal Foundation's 'Boxer Codex' book presents ancient Philippines' culture and politics

Published August 5, 2021, 6:09 PM

by John Legaspi

It recently hit number one on Amazon!

Books are vessels of history. They document significant events and immortalize notable personalities, giving a chance to time travel to eras eons ago. For Filipinos, among the many titles that possess early days of the Philippines is the “Boxer Codex.”

The 307-page manuscript of the late 1500s dives deep into the ancient Philippines, its people, culture, and system, during the time when the Spaniards first reached our soils. With its colorful drawings and stories, it is one of the best materials to use in knowing who we are before we are influenced by our colonizers.

In the decades since this manuscript was discovered in 1947, a constellation of scholars has expanded our understanding of this valuable document, which gives us the clearest depiction of the lives of early Filipinos as well as the culture and politics of early modern Asia.

Vibal Foundation’s “Boxer Codex”

Reintroducing the knowledge in its pages to Filipino readers is Vibal Foundation with its “Boxer Codex: A Modern Spanish Transcription and English Translation of 16th-Century Exploration Accounts of East and Southeast Asia and the Pacific.” Marking the 500th anniversary of the Filipino- Hispano relation, the book is the latest addition to the foundation’s “Seryeng Kinsentenaryo (Quincentennial Series),” first published in 2016.

Transcribed and edited by Isaac Donoso and translated and annotated by National Artist for Literature Carlos Quirino, together with Ma. Luisa Garcia and Mauro Garcia, the is a sixteenth-century codex that was eventually named after its last owner, the British scholar Charles R. Boxer. The meticulously bound and illustrated manuscript contains a collection of eyewitness accounts of various cultures and places in East and Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. These accounts—rich with anthropological detail about pre-colonial customs and beliefs and lavishly illustrated with depictions of native peoples in their traditional costumes—were compiled into a book with the purpose of convincing the king of Spain to launch further expeditions in the region.

In addition to presenting the Spanish text and English translation side by side for comparison, Vibal’s edition contains an insightful and synthesizing introduction by Isaac Donoso that situates the codex within global and historical context at the time it was written.

Boxer Codex on amazon-final

Recently, the book has made it to the top of Amazon’s list of “Hot New Releases” and took the number one slot in the historical study reference category on Aug 2, 2021.

In an interview, Vibal Foundation executive director Gaspar Vibal expressed his surprise as to how an academic book rose to the top of the Amazon list. He attributed its startling success to the pan-Asian appeal of a late sixteenth-century Spanish text that not only concerned itself with early modern Philippines but also China, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia.

“This goes to show that it is possible after all for a Philippine publisher to be seen worldwide and to ride to the top of the Amazon lists,” Gaspar said.

Interested readers may purchase “Boxer Codex” and other Vibal books at Amazon, Lazada, and Shopee. The “Boxer Codex second edition” is also available for preorder at the Vibal online shop.