The Former Philippines thru Foreign Eyes
By Fedor Jagor et al
Public Domain Books
[An accident and a month’s rest.] I sprained my foot so badly in ascending Mayon that I was obliged to keep the house for a month. Under the circumstances, I was not sorry to find myself settled in a roomy and comfortable dwelling. My house was built upon the banks of a small stream, and stood in the middle of a garden in which coffee, cacao, oranges, papayas, and bananas grew luxuriantly, in spite of the tall weeds which surrounded them. Several over-ripe berries had fallen to the ground, and I had them collected, roasted, mixed with an equal quantity of sugar, and made into chocolate; an art in which the natives greatly excel. With the Spaniards chocolate takes the place of coffee and tea, and even the mestizos and the well-to-do natives drink a great deal of it.
[Cacao] The cacao-tree comes from Central America. It flourishes there between the 23rd parallel north and the 20th south latitude; but it is only at its best in the hottest and dampest climates. In temperate climates, where the thermometer marks less than 23° C., it produces no fruit.
[High quality.] It was first imported into the Philippines from Acapulco; either, according to Camarines, by a pilot called Pedro Brabo de Lagunas, in 1670; or, according to Samar, by some Jesuits, during Salcedo’s government, between 1663 and 1668. Since then it has spread over the greater part of the Island; and, although it is not cultivated with any excessive care, its fruit is of excellent quality. The cacao of Albay, if its cheapness be taken into consideration, may be considered at least equal to that of Caracas, which is so highly-prized in Europe, and which, on account of its high price, generally is largely mixed with inferior kinds.  The bushes are usually found in small gardens, close to the houses; but so great is the native laziness that frequently the berries are allowed to decay, although the local cacao sells for a higher price than the imported. At Cebu and Negros a little more attention is paid to its cultivation; [Scanty production.] but it does not suffice to supply the wants of the colony, which imports the deficiency from Ternate and Mindanao. The best cacao of the Philippines is produced in the small Island of Maripipi, which lies to the north-west of Leyte; and it is difficult to obtain, the entire crop generally being long bespoke. It costs about one dollar per liter, whereas the Albay cacao costs from two to two and a half dollars per “ganta” (three liters).
[Culture.] The natives generally cover the kernels, just as they are beginning to sprout, with a little earth, and, placing them in a spirally-rolled leaf, hang them up beneath the roof of their dwellings. They grow very rapidly, and, to prevent their being choked by weeds, are planted out at very short intervals. This method of treatment is probably the reason that the cacao-trees in the Philippines never attain a greater height than eight or ten feet, while in their native soil they frequently reach thirty, and sometimes even forty feet. The tree begins to bear fruit in its third or fourth year, and in its fifth or sixth it reaches maturity, when it usually yields a “ganta” of cacao, which, as I have mentioned, is worth from two to two and a half dollars, and always finds a purchaser. 
[Neglect.] The profits arising from a large plantation would, therefore, be considerable; yet it is very rare to meet with one. I heard it said that the Economical Society had offered a considerable reward to any one who could exhibit a plantation of ten thousand berry-bearing trees; but in the Society’s report I found no mention of this reward.
[Damage by storms.] The great obstacles in the way of large plantations are the heavy storms which recur almost regularly every year, and often destroy an entire plantation in a single day. In 1856 a hurricane visited the Island just before the harvest, and completely tore up several large plantations by the roots; a catastrophe that naturally has caused much discouragement to the cultivators.  One consequence of this state of things was that the free importation of cacao was permitted, and people were enabled to purchase Guayaqual cacao at fifteen dollars per quintal while that grown at home cost double the money.
[Diseases and pests.] The plant is sometimes attacked by a disease, the origin of which is unknown, when it suffers severely from certain noxious insects.  It is also attacked by rats and other predatory vermin; the former sometimes falling upon it in such numbers that they destroy the entire harvest in a single night. Travellers in America say that a well-kept cacao plantation is a very picturesque sight. In the Philippines, however, or at any rate in East Luzon, the closely-packed, lifeless-looking, moss-covered trees present a dreary spectacle. Their existence is a brief one. Their oval leaves, sometimes nearly a foot long, droop singly from the twigs, and form no luxuriant masses of foliage. Their blossoms are very insignificant; they are of a reddish-yellow, no larger than the flowers of the lime, and grow separately on long weedy stalks. The fruit ripens in six months. When it is matured, it is of either a red or a yellow tint, and is somewhat like a very rough gherkin. Only two varieties appear to be cultivated in the Philippines.  The pulp of the fruit is white, tender, and of an agreeable acid taste, and contains from eighteen to twenty-four kernels, arranged in five rows. These kernels are as large as almonds, and, like them, consist of a couple of husks and a small core. This is the cacao bean; which, roasted and finely ground, produces cacao, and with the addition of sugar, and generally of spice, makes chocolate. Till the last few years, every household in the Philippines made its own chocolate, of nothing but cacao and sugar. The natives who eat chocolate often add roasted rice to it. Nowadays there is a manufactory in Manila, which makes chocolate in the European way. The inhabitants of the eastern provinces are very fond of adding roasted pili nuts to their chocolate. 
[Chocolate.] Europeans first learnt to make a drink from cacao in Mexico, where the preparation was called chocolatl.  Even so far back as the days of Cortes, who was a tremendous chocolate drinker, the cacao-tree was extensively cultivated. The Aztecs used the beans as money; and Montezuma used to receive part of his tribute in this peculiar coin. It was only the wealthy among the ancient Mexicans who ate pure cacao; the poor, on account of the value of the beans as coins, used to mix maize and mandioca meal with them. Even in our own day the inhabitants of Central America make use of the beans as small coins, as they have no copper money, nor smaller silver coins than the half-real. Both in Central America and in Orinoco there yet are many unpenetrated forests which are almost entirely composed of wild cacao-trees. I believe the natives gather some of their fruit, but it is almost worthless. By itself it has much less flavor than the cultivated kinds. Certainly it is not picked and dried at the proper season, and it gets spoilt in its long transit through the damp woods.
[An uncertain venture.] Since the abolition of slavery, the crops in America have been diminishing year by year, and until a short time ago, when the French laid out several large plantations in Central America, were of but trifling value. According to F. Engel, a flourishing cacao plantation required less outlay and trouble, and yields more profit than any other tropical plant; yet its harvests, which do not yield anything for the first five or six years, are very uncertain, owing to the numerous insects which attack the plants. In short, cacao plantations are only suited to large capitalists, or to very small cultivators who grow the trees in their own gardens. Moreover, as we have said, since the abolition of slavery most of the plantations have fallen into decay, for the freed slaves are entirely wanting in industry.
[Use in Europe.] The original chocolate was not generally relished in Europe. When, however, at a later period, it was mixed with sugar, it met with more approbation. The exaggerated praise of its admirers raised a bitter opposition amongst the opponents of the new drink; and the priests raised conscientious scruples against the use of so nourishing an article of food on fast days. The quarrel lasted till the seventeenth century, by which time cacao had become an everyday necessity in Spain. It was first introduced into Spain in 1520; but chocolate, on account of the monopoly of the Conquistadores, was for a long time secretly prepared on the other side of the ocean. In 1580, however, it was in common use in Spain, though it was so entirely unknown in England that, in 1579, an English captain burnt a captured cargo of it as useless. It reached Italy in 1606, and was introduced into France by Anne of Austria. The first chocolate-house in London was opened in 1657, and in 1700 Germany at last followed suit. 
[Coffee.] The history of coffee in the Philippines is very similar to that of cacao. The plant thrives wonderfully, and its berry has so strongly marked a flavor that the worst Manila coffee commands as high a price as the best Java. In spite of this, however, the amount of coffee produced in the Philippines is very insignificant, and, until lately, scarcely deserved mention. According to the report of an Englishman in 1828, the coffee-plant was almost unknown forty years before, and was represented only by a few specimens in the Botanical Gardens at Manila. It soon, however, increased and multiplied, thanks to the moderation of a small predatory animal (paradoxurus musanga), which only nibbled the ripe fruit, and left the hard kernels (the coffee beans) untouched, as indigestible. The Economical Society bestirred itself in its turn by offering rewards to encourage the laying out of large coffee plantations. In 1837 it granted to M. de la Gironnière a premium of $1,000, for exhibiting a coffee plantation of sixty thousand plants, which were yielding their second harvest; and four premiums to others in the following year. But as soon as the rewards were obtained the plantations were once more allowed to fall into neglect. From this it is pretty evident that the enterprise, in the face of the then market prices and the artificially high rates of freight, did not afford a sufficient profit.
[Exports.] In 1856 the exports of coffee were not more than seven thousand piculs; in 1865 they had increased to thirty-seven thousand, five hundred and eighty-eight; and in 1871, to fifty-three thousand, three hundred and seventy. This increase, however, affords no criterion by which to estimate the increase in the number of plantations, for these make no returns for the first few years after being laid out. In short, larger exports may be confidently expected. But even greatly increased exports could not be taken as correct measures of the colony’s resources. Not till European capital calls large plantations into existence in the most suitable localities will the Philippines obtain their proper rank in the coffee-producing districts of the world.
[Highest grades.] The best coffee comes from the provinces of Laguna, Batangas and Cavite; the worst from Mindanao. The latter, in consequence of careless treatment, is very impure, and generally contains a quantity of bad beans. The coffee beans of Mindanao are of a yellowish-white color and flabby; those of Laguna are smaller, but much firmer in texture.
[French preference.] Manila coffee is very highly esteemed by connoisseurs, and is very expensive, though it is by no means so nice looking as that of Ceylon and other more carefully prepared kinds. It is a remarkable fact that in 1865 France, which imported only $21,000 worth of hemp from the Philippines, imported more than $200,000 worth of Manila coffee, a third of the entire coffee produce of the Islands.  Manila coffee is not much prized in London, and does not fetch much more than good Ceylon ($15 per cwt.).  This, however, is no reproach to the coffee, as every one acquainted with an Englishman’s appreciation of coffee will allow.
[Prices.] California, an excellent customer, always ready to give a fair price for a good article, will in time become one of its principal consumers.  In 1868, coffee in Manila itself cost an average of $16 per picul.  In Java, the authorities pay the natives, who are compelled to cultivate it, about $3.66 per picul.
[Philippine exports.] Although the amount of coffee exported from the Philippines is trifling in comparison with the producing powers of the colony, it compares favorably with the exports from other countries.
[Javan and Ceylon crops.] In my Sketches of Travel, I compared the decrease of the coffee produced in Java under the forced system of cultivation with the increase of that voluntarily grown in Ceylon, and gave the Javanese produce for 1858 as sixty-seven thousand tons, and the Cingalese as thirty-five thousand tons. Since that time the relative decrease and increase have continued; and in 1866 the Dutch Indies produced only fifty-six thousand tons, and Ceylon thirty-six thousand tons. 
[Amateur scientists.] During my enforced stay in Daraga the natives brought me mussels and snails for sale; and several of them wished to enter my service, as they felt “a particular vocation for Natural History.” At last my kitchen was always full of them. They sallied forth every day to collect insects, and as a rule were not particularly fortunate in their search; but this was of no consequence; in fact, it served to give them a fresh appetite for their meals. Some of the neighboring Spaniards paid me almost daily visits; and several of the native and mestizo dignitaries from a distance were good enough to call upon me, not so much for the purpose of seeing my humble self as of inspecting my hat, the fame of which had spread over the whole province. It was constructed in the usual judicious mushroom shape, covered with nito,  and its pinnacle was adorned with a powerful oil lamp, furnished with a closely fitting lid, like that of a dark lantern, so that it could be carried in the pocket. This last was particularly useful when riding about on a dark night.
[Nito cigar cases.] In the neighboring pueblo cigar-cases were made out of this nito. They are not of much use as an article of commerce, and usually are only made to order. To obtain a dozen a would-be purchaser must apply to as many individuals, who, at the shortest, will condescend to finish one in a few months. The stalk of the fern, which is about as thick as a lucifer match, is split into four strips. The workman then takes a strip in his left hand, and, with his thumb on the back and his forefinger on the edge, draws the strips up and down against the knife blade until the soft pithy parts are cut away, and what remains has become fine enough for the next process. The cases are made on pointed cylindrical pieces of wood almost a couple of feet long. A pin is stuck into the center of the end of the cylinder, and the workman commences by fastening the strips of fern stalk to it. The size of the case corresponds to the diameter of the roller, and a small wooden disk is placed in the bottom of the case to keep it steady while the sides are being plaited.
[A Filipino theater.] When my ankle began to get better, my first excursion was to Legaspi, where some Filipinos were giving a theatrical performance. A Spanish political refugee directed the entertainment. On each side of the stage, roofed in with palm leaves, ran covered galleries for the dignitaries of the place; the uncovered space between these was set apart for the common people. The performers had chosen a play taken from Persian history. The language was Spanish, and the dresses were, to say the least, eccentric. The stage was erected hard by a public street, which itself formed part of the auditorium, and the noise was so great that I could only catch a word here and there. The actors stalked on, chattering their parts, which not one of them understood, and moving their arms up and down; and when they reached the edge of the stage, they tacked and went back again like ships sailing against the wind. Their countenances were entirely devoid of expression, and they spoke like automatons. If I had understood the words, the contrast between their meaning and the machine-like movements of the actors would probably have been droll enough; but, as it was, the noise, the heat, and the smoke were so great that we soon left the place.
[An indifferent performance.] Both the theatrical performance and the whole festival bore the impress of laziness, indifference, and mindless mimicry. When I compared the frank cheerfulness I had seen radiating from every countenance at the religious holidays of Europe with the expressionless and immobile faces of the natives, I found it difficult to understand how the latter were persuaded to waste so much time and money upon a matter they seemed so thoroughly indifferent to.
[Interest in festival.] Travellers have remarked the same want of gaiety amongst the Indians of America; and some of them ascribe it to the small development of the nervous system prevalent among these peoples, to which cause also they attribute their wonderful courage in bearing pain. But Tylor observes that the Indian’s countenance is so different from ours that it takes us several years to rightly interpret its expression. There probably is something in both these explanations. And, although I observed no lively expression of amusement among my native friends at Legaspi, I noticed that they took the greatest possible pleasure in decorating their village, and that the procession which formed part of the festival had extraordinary charms for them. Every individual was dressed in his very best; and the honor of carrying a banner inspired those who attained it with the greatest pride, and raised an amazing amount of envy in the breasts of the remainder. Visitors poured in from all the surrounding hamlets, and erected triumphal arches which they had brought with them ready-made and which bore some complimentary inscription. I am obliged to confess that some of the holiday-makers were very drunk. The inhabitants of the Philippines have a great love for strong drink; even the young girls occasionally get intoxicated. When night came on, the strangers were hospitably lodged in the dwellings of the village. On such occasions native hospitality shows itself in a very favorable light. The door of every house stands open, and even balls take place in some of the larger hamlets. The Spanish and mestizo cavaliers, however, condescend to dance only with mestiza partners, and very seldom invite a pretty native girl to join them. The natives very rarely dance together; but in Samar I was present on one occasion at a by no means ungraceful native dance where “improvised” verses were sung. The male dancer compared his partner with a rose, and she answered he should be careful in touching it as a rose had thorns. This would have been thought a charming compliment in the mouth of an Andalusian.
[Servant subterfuges.] The idle existence we spent in Daraga was so agreeable to my servants and their numerous friends that they were anxious I should stay there as long as possible; and they adopted some very ingenious means to persuade me to do so. Twice, when everything was prepared for a start the next morning, my shoes were stolen in the night; and on another occasion they kidnapped my horse. When a native has a particularly heavy load to carry, or a long journey to make, he thinks nothing of coolly appropriating the well-fed beast of some Spaniard; which, when he has done with it, he turns loose without attempting to feed it, and it wanders about till somebody catches it and stalls it in the nearest “Tribunal.” There it is kept tied up and hungry until its master claims it and pays its expenses. I had a dollar to pay when I recovered mine, although it was nearly starved to death, on the pretence that it had swallowed rice to that value since it had been caught.
[Petty robberies.] Small robberies occur very frequently, but they are committed–as an acquaintance, a man who had spent some time in the country, informed me one evening when I was telling him my troubles–only upon the property of new arrivals; old residents, he said, enjoyed a prescriptive freedom from such little inconveniences. I fancy some waggish native must have overheard our conversation, for early the next morning my friend, the old resident, sent to borrow chocolate, biscuits, and eggs of me, as his larder and his hen-house had been rifled during the night.
[Daraga market.] Monday and Friday evenings were the Daraga market nights, and in fine weather always afforded a pretty sight. The women, neatly and cleanly clad, sat in long rows and offered their provisions for sale by the light of hundreds of torches; and, when the business was over, the slopes of the mountains were studded all over with flickering little points of brightness proceeding from the torches carried by the homeward-bound market women. Besides eatables, many had silks and stuffs woven from the fibers of the pine-apple and the banana for sale. These goods they carried on their heads; and I noticed that all the younger women were accompanied by their sweethearts, who relieved them of their burdens.