The Philippines an archipelago of 7,000 islands is named after King Philip II of Spain (1556-1598). By the 12th Century AD Arab merchants reached the Philippines and they introduced Islam and chess. Then in 1521 Ferdinand Magellan sailed across the Pacific. He landed in the Philippines and claimed them for Spain. In 1571 the Spanish conquistadors had the Philippines well under control. Together with conquistadors came friars who converted the Filipinos to Catholicism. The friars also built schools and universities.
Then in 1898 came war between the USA and Spain. On 30 April 1898 the Americans defeated the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay and the Philippines became part of the USA. During this time there was also a strong impedance movement, which is reflected in the Maria Clara chess set. Today we still see Muslim, Christian and Tribal influences in historical chess sets.
The Maria Clara chess set is inspired by the Philippine national hero, Jose Rizal (1861-1896). He is said to have inspired the Filipinos to revolt against their Spanish rulers through his nationalistic writings and supported a local propaganda movement. His two main novels, Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not) and El Filibusterismo (The Subversive), “awakened a nation from a long, deep slumber and highlighted the need for significant reforms and an end to Spanish abuses. The heroine in his novels was a girl called Maria Clara, who is now a local “folk hero” who has inspired a dance, a song and a form of national dress. She is also the inspiration for a figural chess set.
These sets originate from the Ivatan people of the Batanes islands, which is the northern most region of the Philippines.
As in other good Filipino sets, the natural hardwoods are simply polished and oiled. The white side is made from Acacia (Light Brown) and the black side is made from Kamagong or Banti wood (Dark Brown). The king stands tall at 126 mm.
The chess pieces are:
Source: Jim Joannou in the Chess Collector 2/2009.