It is thought that the earliest inhabitants of the Philippines lived some 40,000 years ago. On Palawan human bones have been found that date to about 22,000 years ago. Stone tools dating to 30,000 to 40,000 years ago have also been found on Palawan (See Tabon Man Below). Analysis of these tools shows that they have similar features to tools found on Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo).

Negritos, proto-Malay, and Malay peoples were the principal peoples of the Philippine archipelago in pre-historic and ancient times. The Negritos are believed to have migrated by land bridges some 30,000 years ago, during the last glacial period. Later migrations were by water and took place over several thousand years in repeated movements before and after the start of the Christian era. During pre-historic Ice Ages sea levels dropped and exposed land bridges between Asia and islands in what are now the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia. When sea levels rose, ocean waters covered these land bridges, cutting off the islands from the Asian mainland. Early settlers on the Philippines may have also arrived by boat.

People have lived in Australia for at least 60,000 years and no land bridges connected Australia to anywhere during the Ice Ages. During ice ages land bridges connected Sumatra, Java, Bali and Borneo with Southeast Asia. The Philippines and the Indonesian islands of Sulawesi, Lombok, Flores, Timor and the Moluccas were not connected by land bridges to Southeast Asia. Land bridges connected New Guinea and Australia with each other but not with Indonesia or Southeast Asia. It was long thought that early man was unable to migrate past the 15-mile-wide Lombok Straight between Bali and Lombok. Stone flakes possibly produced by humans have been found in 730,000-year-old deposits on Flores, which has been offered as evidence that early man was able to cross the Lombok Strait.

The Philippines were probably first occupied by people who arrived in small migrations from mainland Southeast Asia. The first of these are believed to be Negritos (See Below). About 2300 years ago Malayan people arrived from the mainland in the Philippines and brought a more advanced culture; dairy, iron melting and production of iron tools, pottery techniques and the system of sawah's (rice fields). In the tenth century Muslim traders came from Kalimantan (Indonesia) to the Philippines. Islam in the Philippines has traditionally been based Mindanao and the other smaller islands in the southern Philippines.

Tabon Man

Hominid remains dating back to around 28,550 B.C. old have were found in Tabon Cave on the island of Palawan. It is possible there were people much earlier than this. People have lived in Australia for 60,000 years.

According to Lonely Planet: “Thanks to 'Tabon Man', who left a bit of his (or her, according to some) skull in a cave in Palawan at least 47, 000 years ago, a sliver of light shines into the deep, dark prehistory of the Philippines. The oldest known human relic of the islands, this bone fragment suggests that the Tabon Caves helped early Homo sapiens survive the last ice age. [Source: Lonely Planet =]

“The ocean and the boat have always been powerful symbols in the Philippines. The word barangay, which refers to the basic Filipino social unit or a community, is derived from the ancient balangay, or sailboat. The longest-held theory on the origins of Tabon Man is based on distinct waves of migration. Assuming that much of modern-day Asia was linked by land bridges, this theory posits that around 250,000 years ago our earliest human ancestors simply walked over to what is now the Philippines.” =

Negritos (Aeta) in the Philippines

The Philippines were probably first occupied by people who arrived in small migrations from mainland Southeast Asia. The first of these were believed to be Negritos. The only survivors of the original hunter gathers that inhabited Southeast Asia are Semang Negritos of peninsular Malaysia and the Negritos of the mountains of Luzon and some islands of the Philippines.

Negritos — -or the Aeta as they are sometimes called in the Philippines— are very small people with a dark skin and curly brown hair. The Aeta are thought to have arrived in the Philippines between 13,000 and 10,000 years ago from the Asian continent, most likely from what is now the Malay Peninsula or Borneo (and perhaps even Australia). In earlier times they lived widespread throughout the Philippines. Today they are live only in the remote highland areas of Luzon, Palawan, Panay, Negros and Mindanao.

The origin of the forest dwelling Negritos of Luzon is obscure. As is also true with the Negroid tribes of the Malaysia, and the Indian Ocean islands who are of an unknown origin, some anthologist believe they are descendants of wandering people that "formed an ancient human bridge between Africa and Australia.” It was originally thought that the first settlers were people who resembled the Melanesians on Papua New Guinea and the Aboriginals in Australia. But these theories have largely been discredited because there is no firm evidence to back them up.

The genetic affinities of the Negritos in Malaysia are much more similar to the people around them than to Africans. This suggests that Negritos and Asians had the same ancestors but that Negritos developed feature similar to Africans independently or that Asians were much darker and developed lighter skin and Asian features, or both. The Semang of Malaysia are probably descendants of the Hoabinhian rain forest foragers who inhabited the Malay Peninsula from 10,000 to 3,000 year ago. After the arrival of agriculture about 4,000 years, some became agriculturalist but enough remained hunter gatherers that they survived as such.

See Negritos Under Minorities

Arrival of Malay People in the Philippines

It is believed that around 3000 B.C. Malay people—or people that evolved into the Malay tribes that dominate Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines—arrived in the Philippines. About 2300 years ago Malay people from the Asian mainland or Indonesia arrived in the Philippines and brought a more advanced culture; iron melting and production of iron tools, pottery techniques and the system of sawah's (rice fields). Additional migrations took place over the next millennia.

Many believe the first Malays were seafaring, tool-wielding Indonesians who introduced formal farming and building techniques. According to Lonely Planet: “ It's fair to assume that this bunch was busily carving out the spectacular rice terraces of North Luzon some 2000 years ago. With the Iron Age came the Malays. Skilful sailors, potters and weavers, they built the first permanent settlements and prospered from around the A.D. 1st century until the 16th century, when the Spanish arrived. The wave migration theory holds that the Malays arrived in at least three ethnically diverse waves. The first wave provided the basis for the modern-day Bontoc and other tribes of North Luzon. The second laid the foundations for the most dominant of modern-day indigenous groups - the Bicolano, Bisayan and Tagalog. The third wave is thought to have established the fiercely proud Muslim Malays.” [Source: Lonely Planet =]

Over time, social and political organization developed and evolved in the widely scattered islands. The basic unit of settlement was the “barangay” (a Malay word for boat that came to be used to denote a communal settlement). Kinship groups were led by a “datu” (chief), and within the “barangay” there were broad social divisions consisting of nobles, freemen, and dependent and landless agricultural workers and slaves. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The social and political organization of the population in the widely scattered islands evolved into a generally common pattern. Only the permanent-field rice farmers of northern Luzon had any concept of territoriality. The basic unit of settlement was the barangay, originally a kinship group headed by a datu (chief). Within the barangay, the broad social divisions consisted of nobles, including the datu; freemen; and a group described before the Spanish period as dependents. Dependents included several categories with differing status: landless agricultural workers; those who had lost freeman status because of indebtedness or punishment for crime; and slaves, most of whom appear to have been war captives. *

Written records and archeological artifacts from this period are few. “Migration is only one theory. “An alternative proposed by some Philippine scholars suggests that the early inhabitants of Southeast Asia were of the same racial group (the Pithecanthropus group, to be exact), with more or less the same traditions and beliefs. Over time, they say, divisions formed according to the demands of the environment.” =

Over the centuries, Indo-Malay migrants were joined by Chinese traders. A major development in the early period was the introduction of Islam to the Philippines by traders and proselytizers from the Indonesian islands. By A.D. 1500, Islam had been established in the Sulu Archipelago and spread from there to Mindanao; it reached the Manila area by 1565. In the midst of the introduction of Islam came the introduction of Christianity, with the arrival of the Spanish. *

Chinese Links to First Wave of Settlers to the Philippines

The ancestors of modern Laotians, Thais and possibly Burmese, Cambodians, Filipinos and Indonesians originated from southern China. This belief is partly based on linguistic evidence. The Austronesian family of languages—which are spoken as far west as Madagascar, as far south of New Zealand, as far east as Easter island and which all Philippine and Polynesian languages belong— most likely originated in China. A great diversity of these languages is found in Taiwan, which has led some to conclude they originated there or on the nearby mainland. Others believe they may have originated in Borneo or Sulawesi or some other place.

The ancestors of modern Southeast Asian people arrived from Tibet and China about 2,500 years ago, displacing the aboriginal groups that occupied the land first. They subsisted on rice and yams which they may have been introduced to Africa. In the Philippines, Austronesian-speaking people probably began arriving around 3000 B.C., most likely via Taiwan. After that they came in successive waves. The early people are believed to have migrated from south China through Taiwan and into Luzon and then followed he Cagayan River Valley.

Pottery and stone tools of southern Chinese origin dating back to 4000 B.C. have been found in Taiwan. The same artifacts have been found in archeological sites in the Philippines dating back to 3000 B.C. Because there were no land bridges linking China or Taiwan with the Philippines, one must conclude that ocean-going vessels were used to get to the Philippines. Genetic studies indicate that the closest genetic relatives of the Maori of New Zealand—which is very long way from any Ice Age land bridges— are found in Taiwan.

Southern Chinese culture, agriculture and domesticated animals (pigs, chickens and dogs) is believed to have spread from the Philippines through the islands of Indonesia to the islands north of New Guinea. By 1000 B.C., obsidian was being traded between present-day Sabah in Malaysian Borneo and present-day New Britain in Papua New Guinea, 2,400 miles away. Later southern Chinese culture spread eastward across the uninhabited islands of the Pacific, reaching Easter Island (10,000 miles from China) around A.D. 500.

Chinese researchers Feng Zhang, Bing Su, Ya-ping Zhang and Li Jin wrote in an article published by the Royal Society: “There has been controversy regarding the origin of Polynesian populations, which have been classified as a part of the Austronesian linguistic family. The express train hypothesis, a well-accepted theory on the origin of Austronesian (Diamond 1988), postulates that Proto-Austronesian originated in Taiwan and began to expand southward ca 5000–6000 years ago, by way of the Philippines and eastern Indonesia, and eventually navigated eastward to Micronesia and Polynesia. The ‘express train’ refers to the swift migration in the last leg of this journey starting from eastern Indonesia. Pertaining to East Asian diversity studies, the hypothesis of Taiwanese origin (referred to as the Taiwan homeland hypothesis) requires careful examination. [Source: “Genetic studies of human diversity in East Asia” by 1) Feng Zhang, Institute of Genetics, School of Life Sciences, Fudan University, 2) Bing Su, Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Evolution, Kunming Institute of Zoology, 3) Ya-ping Zhang, Laboratory for Conservation and Utilization of Bio-resource, Yunnan University and 4) Li Jin, Institute of Genetics, School of Life Sciences, Fudan University, 2007, The Royal Society ***]

“To test the Taiwan homeland hypothesis, Su et al. (2000a,b) examined 19 Y-SNPs in 551 males from 36 populations living in Southeast Asia, Taiwan, Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia. Surprisingly, there is a virtual absence of the Formosan haplotypes in Micronesia and Polynesia. However, the presence of all the Polynesian, Micronesian and Formosan haplotypes in Southeast Asians suggested that Southeast Asians might be the ancestral population for Formosan and Polynesian (Su et al. 2000a,b). Recently, Jin and colleagues examined 20 Y-SNPs and 7 Y-STRs in 1325 males from 29 Daic, 23 Polynesian and 11 Formosan populations, and showed that Taiwan is unlikely to be the homeland of Austronesian; and that Austronesian is not a genetically monophyletic group. Furthermore, the NRY evidence supported the idea that Polynesian and Formosan derived from Daic separately (Li Jin 2005, unpublished data). ***

“By assessing mtDNA variations in 640 individuals from nine tribes from Taiwan, Trejaut et al. (2005) showed the prevalence of several haplogroups (B4, B5a, F1a, F3b, E and M7) in the Formosan populations, which indicated that Taiwan was the common origin of the Austronesian populations. In addition, a new sub-haplogroup (B4a1a) was defined according to the sequence data, which supported the origin of Polynesian migration as being from Taiwan (Trejaut et al. 2005). One explanation for the inconsistent results, mainly between the NRY evidence and the mtDNA data, is that the migration pattern of the Proto-Austronesian populations may be different for the paternal and maternal lineages.” ***

Chinese Culture Displaces the Indigenous Culture

Inventions such as the animal harness and iron-making gave the ancient Chinese a technological advantage over their Stone Age neighbors. As people of Chinese origin moved across Asia they displaced and mixed with the local people, mostly hunter-gatherers whose tools and weapons were no match against of those the Chinese. It is also likely that many of the indigenous people died form diseases introduced by the people from China just as the original inhabitants of America were killed off by European diseases for which they had no resistance.

Even these Negritos adopted Chinese-influenced languages. The ancestors of the hunter-gatherers lives on in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands and other Pacific islands. Seafarers that originated Southeast Asian colonized Philippines, Indonesia, Pacific islands such as Hawaii and Easter Island, New Zealand and even Madagascar in the first millennium A.D.

Not everyone agrees with these theories. Based on links between ancient Chinese history, the early Thai language and archeological discoveries in Southeast Asia, the scholar Paul Benedict has argued that Southeast Asia was a “focal point” for the cultural development of ancient man. There is some evidence that the earliest known agriculture and earliest metal working took place in Southeast Asia. Benedict is author of “Austro-Thai Language and Cultur “.

Angono Petroglyphs: Philippines' Oldest Artworks

The Angono Petroglyphs, which date back to around 3000 B.C., are the most ancient works of art in the Philippines. In addition to their artistic and historical value the enigmatic carvings also offer a glimpse into the life the some of the Philippines oldest people. The site has been included in the World Inventory of Rock Art under the auspices of UNESCO, ICCROM and ICOMOS and nominated as one of the “100 Most Endangered Sites of the World. Little else is known about the figures in the art, or the people who etched them.

The Angono Petroglyphs are located near Binangonan, Philippines short drive from Manila. Situated on a small rock wall they comprise 127 engravings of people, animals and geometric shapes. Mynardo Macaraig of AFP wrote: “The artworks have been declared a national treasure, regarded as the best proof that relatively sophisticated societies existed in the Philippines in the Stone Age. "They show that in ancient times, the Philippines did have a complex culture. It's a recording of our ancestors," said Leo Batoon, a senior researcher of the National Museum. Museum scientists believe the carvings date back to 3000 BC, based on carving tools and pottery shards discovered at the site, indicating they originated before the use of metal tools. This makes them far older than the country's second oldest known artworks, a series of geometric shapes in the mountainous northern Philippines that are believed to date to 1500 BC, according to Batoon. [Source: Mynardo Macaraig, Agence France-Presse, April 20, 2014 /*/]

“But museum workers say it is difficult to conclusively determine the age of the carvings – scientifically referred to as 'petroglyphs' – due to technical and financial constraints. "Most of our artifacts in the museum are sent abroad and only if we have partners and proponents to spend for such dating," said Batoon. Little else is known about the figures, or the people who etched them. One clue is that many of the human carvings appear to be in a squatting position, which has led scientists to theorise that the area was a place of worship. /*/

“The carvings were first documented by acclaimed Philippine artist Carlos Francisco in 1965 while he was leading a Boy Scout troop on a hike. Since then, they have been known as "the Angono Petroglyphs," after Francisco's hometown nearby. Despite their rich importance to the nation's history, the carvings are not a major tourist attraction. The national museum has constructed a small wooden viewing deck so visitors can get a good look at the petroglyphs without getting close enough to deface them, but there is little else to attract. Tattoo artist Myke Sambajon did make the trip from Manila recently with his friends to see the carvings and said it was worth the long motorcycle ride despite being initially disheartened by rudimentary nature of the tourist site. "I felt pride because I never knew our people had anything this old," Sambajon told AFP. "I thought only other people had these things. We realised we also have an ancient history." /*/

Angono Petroglyphs in Danger of Disappearing

Reporting from Binangonan, Mynardo Macaraig of AFP wrote: “Enigmatic carvings that are believed to date back 5,000 years are in danger of disappearing before their mysteries can be solved. The 127 engravings are the Philippines’ oldest known artworks, but encroaching urbanisation, vandals and the ravages of nature are growing threats. "Eventually they will disappear... preservation is out of the question," veteran anthropologist Jesus Peralta, who did an extensive and widely respected study of the carvings in the 1970s, told AFP.[Source: Mynardo Macaraig, Agence France-Presse, April 20, 2014 /*/]

“The World Monuments Fund, a New York-based private group that works to protect historical sites, placed the Angono Petroglyphs on its list of endangered monuments in 1996 and has provided help in their preservation. The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has also placed the petroglyphs on its "tentative list" of world heritage sites. But that has done little to stem the powerful tide of neglect. /*/

“The carvings are in mountains about 90 minutes' drive from Manila that only a few decades ago were entirely forested. But most of the trees have since been chopped down to make way for the country's fast-growing population, with a holiday resort, a golf course and upper-class housing now surrounding the rock wall. A real estate developer owns the land on which the petroglyphs sit. He donated the hillside on which the carvings are located back to the national museum but allowed only a small buffer zone, and a road runs just 10 metres (33 feet) from the carvings. /*/

“Wind and rain, as well as plant roots creeping through the stone, have also damaged the soft rock where the carvings are etched. The poorly funded national museum cannot afford to pay for adequate security so vandalism is also a constant worry. People have scrawled their names on the rock and there are slash marks on some carvings that archaeologists have determined were only made recently. Mining at a nearby gravel pit a few years ago also shook the ancient site, Roden Santiago, a national museum guide, told AFP. Fortunately, after the museum made a request, the pit owners found a less threatening way to extract their minerals, according to Santiago, but he fears the foundations of the rock wall face more threats. He said planned new housing developments nearby would mean more underground pipes, which could weaken the hillside.” /*/

Philippines Creation Story

According to description written by John Maurice Miller, author of Philippine Folklore Stories (1904), “Thousands of years ago there was no land nor sun nor moon nor stars, and the world was only a great sea of water, above which stretched the sky. The water was the kingdom of the god Maguayan, and the sky was ruled by the great god Captan. Maguayan had a daughter called Lidagat, the sea, and Captan had a son known as Lihangin, the wind. The gods agreed to the marriage of their children, so the sea became the bride of the wind. Three sons and a daughter were born to them. The sons were called Licalibutan, Liadlao, and Libulan; and the daughter received the name of Lisuga. [Source: John Maurice Miller, Philippine Folklore Stories (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1904), pp. 57-64]

Licalibutan had a body of rock and was strong and brave; Liadlao was formed of gold and was always happy; Libulan was made of copper and was weak and timid; and the beautiful Lisuga had a body of pure silver and was sweet and gentle. Their parents were very fond of them, and nothing was wanting to make them happy. After a time Lihangin died and left the control of the winds to his eldest son Licalibutan. The faithful wife Lidagat soon followed her husband, and the children, now grown up, were left without father or mother. However, their grandfathers, Captan and Maguayan, took care of them and guarded them from all evil. After a time, Licalibutan, proud of his power over the winds, resolved to gain more power, and asked his brothers to join him in an attack on Captan in the sky above. At first they refused; but when Licalibutan became angry with them, the amiable Liadlao, not wishing to offend his brother, agreed to help. Then together they induced the timid Libulan to join in the plan.

When all was ready the three brothers rushed at the sky, but they could not beat down the gates of steel that guarded the entrance. Then Licalibutan let loose the strongest winds and blew the bars in every direction. The brothers rushed into the opening, but were met by the angry god Captan. So terrible did he look that they turned and ran in terror; but Captan, furious at the destruction of his gates, sent three bolts of lightning after them. The first struck the copper Libulan and melted him into a ball. The second struck the golden Liadlao, and he too was melted. The third bolt struck Licalibutan, and his rocky body broke into many pieces and fell into the sea. So huge was he that parts of his body stuck out above the water and became what is known as land. In the meantime the gentle Lisuga had missed her brothers and started to look for them. She went toward the sky, but as she approached the broken gates, Captan, blind with anger, struck her too with lightning, and her silver body broke into thousands of pieces.

Captan then came down from the sky and tore the sea apart, calling on Maguayan to come to him and accusing him of ordering the attack on the sky. Soon Maguayan appeared and answered that he knew nothing of the plot as he had been asleep far down in the sea. After a time he succeeded in calming the angry Captan. Together they wept at the loss of their grandchildren, especially the gentle and beautiful Lisuga; but with all their power they could not restore the dead to life. However, they gave to each body a beautiful light that will shine forever. And so it was that golden Liadlao became the sun, and copper Libulan the moon, while the thousands of pieces of silver Lisuga shine as the stars of heaven. To wicked Licalibutan the gods gave no light, but resolved to make his body support a new race of people. So Captan gave Maguayan a seed, and he planted it on the land, which, as you will remember, was part of Licalibutan's huge body.

Soon a bamboo tree grew up, and from the hollow of one of its branches a man and a woman came out. The man's name was Sicalac, and the woman was called Sicabay. They were the parents of the human race. Their first child was a son whom they called Libo; afterwards they had a daughter who was known as Saman. Pandaguan was a younger son and he had a son called Arion.

Pandaguan was very clever and invented a trap to catch fish. The very first thing he caught was a huge shark. When he brought it to land, it looked so great and fierce that he thought it was surely a god, and he at once ordered his people to worship it. Soon all gathered around and began to sing and pray to the shark. Suddenly the sky and sea opened, and the gods came out and ordered Pandaguan to throw the shark back into the sea and to worship none but them. All were afraid except Pandaguan. He grew very bold and answered that the shark was as big as the gods, and that since he had been able to overpower it he would also be able to conquer the gods. Then Captan, hearing this, struck Pandaguan with a small thunderbolt, for he did not wish to kill him but merely to teach him a lesson. Then he and Maguayan decided to punish these people by scattering them over the earth, so they carried some to one land and some to another. Many children were afterwards born, and thus the earth became inhabited in all parts.

Pandaguan did not die. After lying on the ground for thirty days he regained his strength, but his body was blackened from the lightning, and all his descendants ever since that day have been black. His first son, Arion, was taken north, but as he had been born before his father's punishment he did not lose his color, and all his people therefore are white. Libo and Saman were carried south, where the hot sun scorched their bodies and caused all their descendants to be of a brown color. A son of Saman and a daughter of Sicalac were carried east, where the land at first was so lacking in food that they were compelled to eat clay. On this account their children and their children's children have always been yellow in color. And so the world came to be made and peopled. The sun and moon shine in the sky, and the beautiful stars light up the night. All over the land, on the body of the envious Licalibutan, the children of' Sicalac and Sicabay have grown great in numbers. May they live forever in peace and brotherly love!

Tagalog Creation Story

The Tagalog are the dominate ethnic group in the Philippines. Summarizing their creation story, Mabel Cook Cole wrote in “Philippine Folk Tales” (1916): “When the world first began there was no land, but only the sea and the sky, and between them was a kite (a bird something like a hawk). One day the bird which had nowhere to light grew tired of flying about, so she stirred up the sea until it threw its waters against the sky. The sky, in order to restrain the sea, showered upon it many islands until it could no longer rise, but ran back and forth. Then the sky ordered the kite to light on one of the islands to build her nest, and to leave the sea and the sky in peace. [Source: pitt.edu/~dash, Mabel Cook Cole, Philippine Folk Tales (Chicago: A. C. McClurg and Company, 1916), pp. 187-188]

Now at this time the land breeze and the sea breeze were married, and they had a child which was a bamboo. One day when this bamboo was floating about on the water, it struck the feet of the kite which was on the beach. The bird, angry that anything should strike it, pecked at the bamboo, and out of one section came a man and from the other a woman. Then the earthquake called on all the birds and fish to see what should be done with these two, and it was decided that they should marry. Many children were born to the couple, and from them came all the different races of people.

After a while the parents grew very tired of having so many idle and useless children around, and they wished to be rid of them, but they knew of no place to send them to. Time went on and the children became so numerous that the parents enjoyed no peace. One day, in desperation, the father seized a stick and began beating them on all sides. This so frightened the children that they fled in different directions, seeking hidden rooms in the house — some concealed themselves in the walls, some ran outside, while others hid in the fireplace, and several fled to the sea.

Now it happened that those who went into the hidden rooms of the house later became the chiefs of the islands; and those who concealed themselves in the walls became slaves. Those who ran outside were free men; and those who hid in the fireplace became negroes; while those who fled to the sea were gone many years, and when their children came back they were the white people.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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