Last updated on September 30, 2019
The earliest evidence of human life around present-day Manila is the nearby Angono Petroglyphs, dated to around 3000 BC. Negritos, the aboriginal inhabitants of the Philippines, lived across the island of Luzon, where Manila is located, before the Malayo-Polynesians migrated in and assimilated them.
Manila was an active trade partner with the Song and Yuan dynasties. The polity of Tondo flourished during the latter half of the Ming dynasty as a result of direct trade relations with China. The Tondo district was the traditional capital of the empire, and its rulers were sovereign kings, not mere chieftains. Tondo was christened under the Chinese characters for “Eastern Totality (All)” or “東都” due to its location east of China. The kings of Tondo were addressed variously as panginuan in Maranao or panginoón in Tagalog (“lords”); anák banwa (“son of heaven”); or lakandula (“lord of the palace”). The Emperor of China considered the Lakans—the rulers of ancient Manila—”王”, or kings.
In the 13th century, Manila consisted of a fortified settlement and trading quarter on the shore of the Pasig River. It was then settled by the Indianized empire of Majapahit, as recorded in the epic eulogy poem “Nagarakretagama”, which described the area’s conquest by Maharaja Hayam Wuruk. Selurong (षेलुरोङ्), a historical name for Manila, is listed in Canto 14 alongside Sulot, which is now Sulu, and Kalka. Selurong (Manila) together with Sulot (Sulu) was able to regain independence afterwards and Sulu even attacked and looted the Majapahit province of Po-ni (Brunei) in retribution. During the year 1405, Manila was attacked by a Chinese invasion force commanded by Zheng He who wanted to incorporate Luzon into the Ming Empire. The Imperial attack devastated the city but the attack was repulsed by an alliance of local kingdoms. The invaders were forced to settle farther away at Pangasinan where they made the kingdom of Caboloan a vassal-state and a colony of the dynasty. It was an act of generosity and solidarity of the people of Pangasinan with the people of China, since even though they descend from Warrior-Princess Urduja whom Ibn Battuta stated was a powerful rival of even the whole Mongol Empire, yet, the people of Pangasinan paid tribute to the Ming Dynasty which was formed to fight off and rebel against the injustices and genocides of their predecessors, the Mongol-lead Yuan dynasty.
During the reign of the Arab Emir, Sharif Ali’s descendant, Sultan Bolkiah, from 1485 to 1521, the Sultanate of Brunei which had seceded from Hindu Majapahit and became a Muslim, had invaded the area. The Bruneians wanted to take advantage of Tondo’s strategic position in trade with China and Indonesia and thus attacked its environs and established the Muslim Rajahnate of Maynilà (كوتا سلودوڠ; Kota Seludong). The rajahnate was ruled under and gave yearly tribute to the Sultanate of Brunei as a satellite state. It created a new dynasty under the local leader, who accepted Islam and became Rajah Salalila or Sulaiman I. He established a trading challenge to the already rich House of Lakan Dula in Tondo. Islam was further strengthened by the arrival of Muslim traders from the Middle East and Southeast Asia.