The Former Philippines thru Foreign Eyes
By Fedor Jagor et al
Public Domain Books
[To Bulacan by steamer.] My first excursion was to the province of Bulacan, on the northern shore of the Bay of Manila. A couple of hours brought the steamer to the bar of Binuanga (not Bincanga as it is called in Coello’s map), and a third to Bulacan, the capital of the province, situated on the flat banks of an influent of the Pampanga delta. I was the only European passenger, the others were composed of Tagalogs, mestizos, and a few Chinese; the first more particularly were represented by women, who are generally charged with the management of all business affairs, for which they are much better fitted than the men. As a consequence, there are usually more women than men seen in the streets, and it appears to be an admitted fact that the female births are more numerous than the male. According, however, to the church-record which I looked through, the reverse was, at any rate in the eastern provinces, formerly the case.
[Carromatas.] At the landing-place a number of carromatas were waiting for us,–brightly painted, shallow, two-wheeled boxes, provided with an awning, and harnessed to a couple of horses, in which strangers with money to spend are quickly driven anywhere they may desire.
[Town of Bulacan.] The town of Bulacan contains from 11,000 to 12,000 inhabitants; but a month before my arrival, the whole of it, with the exception of the church and a few stone houses, had been burnt to the ground. All were therefore occupied in building themselves new houses, which, oddly enough, but very practically, were commenced at the roof, like houses in a drawing. Long rows of roofs composed of palm-leaves and bamboos were laid in readiness on the ground, and in the meantime were used as tents.
[Frequence of fires.] Similar destructive fires are very common. The houses, which with few exceptions are built of bamboo and wood, become perfectly parched in the hot season, dried into so much touchwood by the heat of the sun. Their inhabitants are extremely careless about fire, and there are no means whatever of extinguishing it. If anything catches fire on a windy day, the entire village, as a rule, is utterly done for. During my stay in Bulacan, the whole suburb of San Miguel, in the neighborhood of Manila, was burnt down, with the exception of the house of a Swiss friend of mine, which owed its safety to the vigorous use of a private fire-engine, and the intermediation of a small garden full of bananas, whose stems full of sap stopped the progress of the flames.
[To Calumpit by carriage.] I travelled to Calumpit, a distance of three leagues, in the handsome carriage of an hospitable friend. The roads were good, and were continuously shaded by fruit-trees, coco and areca palms. The aspect of this fruitful province reminded me of the richest districts of Java; but the pueblos here exhibited more comfort than the desas there. The houses were more substantial; numerous roomy constructions of wood, in many cases, even, of stone, denoted in every island the residence of official and local magnates. But while even the poorer Javanese always give their wicker huts a smart appearance, border the roads of their villages with blooming hedges, and display everywhere a sense of neatness and cleanliness, there were here far fewer evidences of taste to be met with. I missed too the alun-alun, that pretty and carefully tended open square, which, shaded by waringa trees, is to be met with in every village in Java. And the quantity and variety of the fruit trees, under whose leaves the desas of Java are almost hidden, were by no means as great in this province, although it is the garden of the Philippines, as in its Dutch prototype.
[Calumpit.] I reached Calumpit towards evening, just as a procession, resplendent with flags and torches, and melodious with song, was marching round the stately church, whose worthy priest, on the strength of a letter of introduction from Madrid, gave me a most hospitable reception. Calumpit, a prosperous place of 12,250 inhabitants, is situated at the junction of the Quingua and Pampanga rivers, in an extremely fruitful plain, fertilized by the frequent overflowing of the two streams.
[Mt. Arayat.] About six leagues to the north-west of Calumpit, Mount Arayat, a lofty, isolated, conical hill, lifts its head. Seen from Calumpit, its western slope meets the horizon at an angle of 20░, its eastern at one of 25░; and the profile of its summit has a gentle inclination of from 4░ to 5░.
[Picking fish.] At Calumpit I saw some Chinese catching fish in a peculiar fashion. Across the lower end of the bed of a brook which was nearly dried up, and in which there were only a few rivulets left running, they had fastened a hurdle of bamboo, and thrown up a shallow dam behind it. The water which collected was thrown over the dam with a long-handled winnowing shovel. The shovel was tied to a bamboo frame work ten feet high, the elasticity of which made the work much easier. As soon as the pool was emptied, the fisherman was easily able to pick out of the mud a quantity of small fish (Ophiocephalus vagus). These fishes, which are provided with peculiar organisms to facilitate respiration, at any rate, enabling them to remain for some considerable time on dry land, are in the wet season so numerous in the ditches, ponds, and rice-fields, that they can be killed with a stick. When the water sinks they also retire, or, according to Professor Semper, bore deeply into the ooze at the bottom of the watercourses, where, protected by a hard crust of earth from the persecutions of mankind, they sleep away the winter. This Chinese method of fishing seems well adapted to the habits of the fish. The circumstances that the dam is only constructed at the lower end of the watercourse, and that it is there that the fish are to be met with in the greatest numbers, seem to indicate that they can travel in the ooze, and that as the brooks and ditches get dried up, they seek the larger water channels.
[To Baliwag.] Following the Quingua in its upward and eastward course as it meandered through a well-cultivated and luxuriantly fertile country, past stone-built churches and chapels which grouped themselves with the surrounding palm-trees and bamboo-bushes into sylvan vignettes, Father Llano’s four-horsed carriage brought me to the important town of Baliwag, the industry of which is celebrated beyond the limits of the province.
[Board houses and their furniture.] I visited several families and received a friendly reception from all of them. The houses were built of boards and were placed upon piles elevated five feet above the ground. Each consisted of a spacious dwelling apartment which opened on one side into the kitchen, and on the other on to an open space, the azotea; a lofty roof of palm-trees spread itself above the dwelling, the entrance to which was through the azotea. The latter was half covered by the roof I have just mentioned. The floor was composed of slats an inch in width, laid half that distance apart. Chairs, tables, benches, a cupboard, a few small ornaments, a mirror, and some lithographs in frames, composed the furniture of the interior. The cleanliness of the house and the arrangement of its contents testified to the existence of order and prosperity.
[Tapis weaving.] I found the women in almost all the houses occupied in weaving tapis, which have a great reputation in the Manila market. They are narrow, thickly-woven silk scarves, six varas in length, with oblique white stripes on a dark-brown ground. They are worn above the sarong.
[Petaca cigar cases.] Baliwag is also especially famous for its petaca cigar-cases, which surpass all others in delicacy of workmanship. They are not made of straw, but of fine strips of Spanish cane, and particularly from the lower ends of the leaf-stalks of the calamusart, which is said to grow only in the province of Nueva Ecija.
[Preparation of material.] A bundle of a hundred selected stalks, a couple of feet long, costs about six reals. When these stalks have been split lengthways into four or five pieces, the inner wood is removed, till nothing but the outer part remains. The thin strips thus obtained are drawn by the hand between a convex block and a knife fixed in a sloping position, and between a couple of steel blades which nearly meet.
[Costly weaving.] It is a task requiring much patience and practice. In the first operation, as a rule, quite one-half of the stems are broken, and in the second more than half, so that scarcely twenty per cent of the stalks survive the final process. In very fine matting the proportionate loss is still greater. The plaiting is done on wooden cylinders. A case of average workmanship, which costs two dollars on the spot, can be manufactured in six days’ uninterrupted labor. Cigar-cases of exceptionally intricate workmanship, made to order for a connoisseur, frequently cost upwards of fifty dollars.
[Volcanic stone quarries.] Following the Quingua from Baliwag up its stream, we passed several quarries, where we saw the thickly-packed strata of volcanic stone which is used as a building material. The banks of the river are thickly studded with prickly bamboos from ten to twelve feet high. The water overflows in the rainy season, and floods the plain for a great distance. Hence the many shells of large freshwater mussels which are to be seen lying on the earth which covers the volcanic deposit. The country begins to get hilly in the neighborhood of Tobog, a small place with no church of its own, and dependent for its services upon the priest of the next parish. The gentle slopes of the hills are, as in Java, cut into terraces and used for the cultivation of rice. Except at Lucban I have never observed similar sawas anywhere else in the Philippines. Several small sugar-fields, which, however, the people do not as yet understand how to manage properly, show that the rudiments of agricultural prosperity are already in existence. The roads are partly covered with awnings, beneath which benches are placed affording repose to the weary traveller. I never saw these out of this province. One might fancy oneself in one of the most fertile and thickly-populated districts of Java.
[A convento and the parish priest.] I passed the night in a convento, as the dwelling of the parish priest is called in the Philippines. It was extremely dirty, and the priest, an Augustinian, was full of proselytish ardor. I had to undergo a long geographical examination about the difference between Prussia and Russia; was asked whether the great city of Nuremberg was the capital of the grand-duchy or of the empire of Russia; learnt that the English were on the point of returning to the bosom of the Catholic Church, and that the “others" would soon follow, and was, in short, in spite of the particular recommendation of Father Llanos, very badly received. Some little time afterwards I fell into the hands of two young Capuchins, who tried to convert me, but who, with the exception of this little impertinence, treated me capitally. They gave me pÔtÚs de foie gras boiled in water, which I quickly recognized by the truffles swimming about in the grease. To punish them for their importunity I refrained from telling my hosts the right way to cook the pÔtÚs, which I had the pleasure of afterwards eating in the forest, as I easily persuaded them to sell me the tins they had left. These are the only two occasions on which I was subjected to this kind of annoyance during my eighteen months’ residence in the Philippines.
[Arrangements for travellers.] The traveller who is provided with a passport is, however, by no means obliged to rely upon priestly hospitality, as he needs must do in many isolated parts of Europe. Every village, every hamlet, has its commonhouse, called casa real or tribunal, in which he can take up his quarters and be supplied with provisions at the market price, a circumstance that I was not acquainted with on the occasion of my first trip. The traveller is therefore in this respect perfectly independent, at least in theory, though in practice he will often scarcely be able to avoid putting up at the conventos in the more isolated parts of the country. In these the priest, perhaps the only white man for miles around, is with difficulty persuaded to miss the opportunity of housing such a rare guest, to whom he is only too anxious to give up the best bedroom in his dwelling, and to offer everything that his kitchen and cellar can afford. Everything is placed before the guest in such a spirit of sincere and undisguised friendliness, that he feels no obligation, but on the contrary easily persuades himself that he is doing his host a favor by prolonging his stay. Upon one occasion, when I had determined, in spite of an invitation from the padre, to occupy the casa real, just as I was beginning to instal myself, the priest appeared upon the scene with the municipal officials and a band of music which was in the neighborhood pending the preparations for a religious festival. He made them lift me up, chair and all, and with music and general rejoicing carried me off to his own house.
[Kupang iron-foundry.] On the following day I paid a visit to Kupang, an iron-foundry lying to the N.N.E of Angat, escorted by two armed men, whose services I was pressed to accept, as the district had a bad reputation for robberies. After travelling three or four miles in a northerly direction, we crossed the Banauon, at that time a mere brook meandering through shingle, but in the rainy season an impetuous stream more than a hundred feet broad; and in a couple of hours we reached the iron-works, an immense shed lying in the middle of the forest, with a couple of wings at each end, in which the manager, an Englishman, who had been wrecked some years before in Samar, lived with his wife, a pretty mestiza. If I laid down my handkerchief, my pencil, or any other object, the wife immediately locked them up to protect them from the kleptomania of her servants. These poor people, whose enterprise was not a very successful one, had to lead a wretched life. Two years before my visit a band of twenty-seven robbers burst into the place, sacked the house, and threw its mistress, who was alone with her maid at the time, out of the window. She fortunately alighted without receiving any serious hurt, but the maid, whom terror caused to jump out of the window also, died of the injuries she received. The robbers, who turned out to be miners and residents in Angat, were easily caught, and, when I was there, had already spent a couple of years in prison awaiting their trial.
[A negrito family.] I met a negrito family here who had friendly relations with the people in the iron-works, and were in the habit of exchanging the produce of the forest with them for provisions. The father of this family accompanied me on a hunting expedition. He was armed with a bow and a couple of arrows. The arrows had spear-shaped iron points a couple of inches long; one of them had been dipped into arrow-poison, a mixture that looked like black tar. The women had guitars (tabaua) similar to those used by the Mintras in the Malay peninsula. They were made of pieces of bamboo a foot long, to which strings of split chair-cane were fastened. 
[Unwelcome hospitality.] Upon my return, to avoid spending the night at the wretched convento where I had left my servant with my luggage, I took the advice of my friends at the iron-works and started late, in order to arrive at the priest’s after ten o’clock at night; for I knew that the padre shut up his house at ten, and that I could therefore sleep, without offending him, beneath the roof of a wealthy mestizo, an acquaintance of theirs. About half-past ten I reached the latter’s house, and sat down to table with the merry women of the family, who were just having their supper. Suddenly my friend the parson made his appearance from an inner room, where with a couple of Augustinian friars, he had been playing cards with the master of the house. He immediately began to compliment me upon my good fortune, “for had you been but one minute later,” said he, “you certainly wouldn’t have got into the convento.”