What do the Japanese think of Filipinos?

Philippines: The legendary treasure of the Japanese goes back to much older tradition

Jena - Illegal treasure hunters have already destroyed many archaeological sites in the Philippines. The aim of the many soldiers of fortune is a legendary treasure from the Second World War that Japanese soldiers are said to have left behind. In fact, the alleged gold hoard may never have existed, but rather is based on much older folk tradition, as researchers working with Piers Kelly from the Max Planck Institute for the History of Man in Jena are now showing.

According to a popular account, Japanese soldiers used the Philippines as a hideout for treasures they had looted in occupied territories during World War II. At the end of the war, they are said to have left the treasures in several secret locations. Even today, treasure hunters damage important archaeological sites in the Philippines in the hope of riches. Conspiracy theories abound. This also includes the assumption that high-ranking politicians have claimed treasures for themselves and have therefore kept the relevant discoveries secret.

But the infamous treasure from World War II may never have existed, says Piers Kelly, linguistic anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Man in Jena. In a recent article in The Journal of Folklore Research, Kelly argues that the famous story is the continuation of a long folklore tradition that began well before the war.

Hidden treasures as moral support

"Filipino storytellers have been telling legends about hidden treasures such as gold, church bells, silver coins and fine tableware since at least the 19th century," explains Kelly. "By examining different variations of this story, we were able to show that its popularity coincided with times of war and crisis. The promise of future wealth may have served to raise the morale of the population."

Such legends were also used to explain the unequal distribution of wealth. When a neighbor is inexplicably rich, Kelly said, it is easier to imagine they have discovered a treasure than it is to grapple with economic injustices.

In today's age of globalization, stories of lost treasure in the Philippines are also viewed as a way to increase feelings of national pride. According to Kelly, the imaginary gold embodies a future golden age in which the Philippines will overcome its colonial past and regain importance. (red, August 13, 2016)