The Former Philippines thru Foreign Eyes
By Fedor Jagor et al

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Public Domain Books

Chapter III

[The walled city of Manila.] The city proper of Manila, inhabited by Spaniards, Creoles, the Filipinos directly connected with them, and Chinese, lies, surrounded by walls and wide ditches, on the left or southern bank of the Pasig, looking towards the sea. [42] It is a hot, dried-up place, full of monasteries, convents, barracks, and government buildings. Safety, not appearance, was the object of its builders. It reminds the beholder of a Spanish provincial town, and is, next to Goa, the oldest city in the Indies. Foreigners reside on the northern bank of the river; in Binondo, the headquarters of wholesale and retail commerce, or in the pleasant suburban villages, which blend into a considerable whole. [Population.] The total population of city and suburbs has been estimated, perhaps with some exaggeration, at 200,000. [Bridges.] A handsome old stone bridge of ten arches serves as the communication between the two banks of the Pasig, which, more recently, has also been spanned by an iron suspension bridge. [43] Very little intercourse exists between the inhabitants of Manila and Binondo. [Friction between classes.] Life in the city proper cannot be very pleasant; pride, envy, place-hunting, and caste hatred, are the order of the day; the Spaniards consider themselves superior to the creoles, who, in their turn, reproach the former with the taunt that they have only come to the colony to save themselves from starvation. A similar hatred and envy exists between the whites and the mestizos. This state of things is to be found in all Spanish colonies, and is chiefly caused by the colonial policy of Madrid, which always does its best to sow discord between the different races and classes of its foreign possessions, under the idea that their union would imperil the sway of the mother country. [44]

[Few large landowners.] In Manila, moreover, this state of things was rendered worse by the fact that the planter class, whose large landed possessions always give it a strong interest in the country of its inhabitance, was entirely wanting. At the present day, however, the increasing demand for the produce of the colony seems to be bringing about a pleasant change in this respect. [Spaniards transient.] The manner in which the Spanish population of the Islands was affected by the gambling ventures of the galleons, at one time the only source of commercial wealth, is thus described by Murillo Velarde (page 272):–"The Spaniards who settle here look upon these Islands as a tavern rather than a permanent home. If they marry, it is by the merest chance; where can a family be found that has been settled here for several generations? The father amasses wealth, the son spends it, the grandson is a beggar. The largest capitals are not more stable than the waves of the ocean, across the crests of which they were gathered.”

[Discomforts and the high cost of living.] There is nothing like the same amount of sociability amongst the foreigners in Binondo as prevails in English and Dutch colonies; and scarcely any intercourse at all with the Spaniards, who envy the strangers and almost seem to look upon the gains the latter make in the country as so many robberies committed upon themselves, its owners. Besides all this, living is very expensive, much more so than in Singapore and Batavia. To many, the mere cost of existence seems greatly out of proportion to their official salaries. The (European style) houses, which are generally spacious, are gloomy and ugly, and not well ventilated for such a climate. Instead of light jalousies, they are fitted with heavy sash windows, which admit the light through thin oyster shells, forming small panes scarcely two square inches in area, and held together by laths an inch thick. The ground floors of the houses are, on account of the great damp, sensibly enough, generally uninhabited; and are used as cellars, stables, and servant’s offices.

[Native houses comfortable and unchanged.] The unassuming, but for their purposes very practical houses, of boards, bamboos, and (nipa) palm leaves, are supported on account of the damp on isolated beams or props; and the space beneath, which is generally fenced in with a railing, is used as a stable or a warehouse; such was the case as early as the days of Magellan. These dwellings [45] are very lightly put together. La Pérouse estimates the weight of some of them, furniture and all, at something less than two hundred pounds. Nearly all these houses, as well as the huts of the natives, are furnished with an azotea, that is, an uncovered space, on the same level as the dwelling, which takes the place of yard and balcony. The Spaniards appear to have copied this useful contrivance from the Moors, but the natives were acquainted with them before the arrival of the Europeans, for Morga mentions similar batalanes.

[Neglected river and canals offensive.] In the suburbs nearly every hut stands in its own garden. The river is often quite covered with green scum; and dead cats and dogs surrounded with weeds, which look like cabbage-lettuce, frequently adorn its waters. In the dry season, the numerous canals of the suburbs are so many stagnant drains, and at each ebb of the tide the ditches around the town exhibit a similar spectacle.

[Dreary and unprogressive life.] Manila offers very few opportunities for amusement. There was no Spanish theatre open during my stay there, but Tagalog plays (translations) were sometimes represented. The town possessed no club, and contained no readable books. Never once did the least excitement enliven its feeble newspapers, for the items of intelligence, forwarded fortnightly from Hongkong, were sifted by priestly censors, who left little but the chronicles of the Spanish and French courts to feed the barren columns of the local sheets. [46] The pompously celebrated religious festivals were the only events that sometimes chequered the wearisome monotony.

[Cock-fighting.] The chief amusement of the Filipinos is cock-fighting, which is carried on with a passionate eagerness that must strike every stranger. Nearly every man keeps a fighting cock. Many are never seen out of doors without their favorite in their arms; they pay as much as $50 and upwards for these pets, and heap the tenderest caresses on them. The passion for cock-fighting can well be termed a national vice; but the practice may have been introduced by the Spaniards, or the Mexicans who accompanied them, as, in a like manner, the habit of smoking opium among the Chinese, which has become a national curse, was first introduced by the English. [Probably Malay Custom.] It is, however, more probable that the Malays brought the custom into the country. In the eastern portion of the Philippines, cock-fighting was unknown in the days of Pigafetta. The first cock-fight he met with was at Palawan. “They keep large cocks, which from a species of superstition, they never eat, but keep for fighting purposes. Heavy bets are made on the upshot of the contest, which are paid to the owner of the winning bird.” [47] The sight is one extremely repulsive to Europeans. [The cockpit.] The ring around the cockpit is crowded with men, perspiring at every pore, while their countenances bear the imprint of the ugliest passions. Each bird is armed with a sharp curved spur, three inches long capable of making deep wounds, and which always causes the death of one or both birds by the serious injuries it inflicts. If a cock shows symptoms of fear and declines the encounter, it is plucked alive. Incredibly large sums, in proportion to the means of the gamblers, are wagered on the result. [Its bad influence.] It is very evident that these cock-fights must have a most demoralising effect upon a people so addicted to idleness and dissipation, and so accustomed to give way to the impulse of the moment. Their effect is to make them little able to resist the temptation of procuring money without working for it. The passion for the game leads many to borrow at usury, to embezzlement, to theft, and even to highway robbery. The land and sea pirates, of whom I shall speak presently, are principally composed of ruined gamesters. [48]

[Feminine attractiveness.] In the comeliness of the women who lend animation to its streets Manila surpasses all other towns in the Indian Archipelago. Mallat describes them in glowing colors. A charming picture of Manila street life, full of local color, is given in the very amusing Aventures d’un Gentilhomme Breton. [49]

[Mestizas.] How many of the prettiest Filipinas are of perfectly unmixed blood, it is, I confess, difficult to decide. Many of them are very fair and of quite an European type, and are thereby easily distinguished from their sisters in the outlying provinces. The immediate environs of Manila can boast many beautiful spots, but they are not the resort of the local rank and fashion, the object of whose daily promenade is the display of their toilettes, and not the enjoyment of nature. In the hot season, all who can afford it are driven every evening along the [The Luneta.] dusty streets to a promenade on the beach, which was built a short time back, where several times a week the band of a native regiment plays fairly good music, and there walk formally up and down. All the Spaniards [The Angelas.] are in uniform or in black frock coats. When the bells ring out for evening prayer, carriages, horsemen, pedestrians, all suddenly stand motionless; the men take off their hats, and everybody appears momentarily absorbed in prayer.

[Botanical gardens.] The same governor who laid out the promenade established a botanical garden. It is true that everything he planted in it, exposed on a marshy soil to the full heat of a powerful sun, soon faded away; but its ground was enclosed and laid out, and though it was overgrown with weeds, it had at least received a name. At present it is said to be in better condition. [50]

[Pretty girls in gay garments.] The religious festivals in the neighborhood of Manila are well worth a visit, if only for the sake of the numerous pretty Filipinas and mestizas in their best clothes who make their appearance in the evening and promenade up and down the streets, which are illuminated and profusely decked with flowers and bright colors. They offer a charming spectacle, particularly to a stranger lately arrived from Malaysia. The Filipinas are very beautifully formed. They have luxuriant black hair, and large dark eyes; the upper part of their bodies is clad in a homespun but often costly material of transparent fineness and snow-white purity; and, from their waist downwards, they are wrapped in a brightly-striped cloth (saya), which falls in broad folds, and which, as far as the knee, is so tightly compressed with a dark shawl (lapis), closely drawn around the figure, that the rich variegated folds of the saya burst out beneath it like the blossoms of a pomegranate. This swathing only allows the young girls to take very short steps, and this timidity of gait, in unison with their downcast eyes, gives them a very modest appearance. On their naked feet they wear embroidered slippers of such a small size that their little toes protrude for want of room, and grasp the outside of the sandal. [51]

[Dress of the poorer women.] The poorer women clothe themselves in a saya and in a so-called chemise, which is so extremely short that it frequently does not even reach the first fold of the former. In the more eastern islands grown-up girls and women wear, with the exception of a Catholic amulet, nothing but these two garments, which are, particularly after bathing, and before they get dried by the sun, nearly transparent.

[Men’s clothing.] A hat, trousers, and a shirt worn outside them, both made of coarse Guinara cloth, compose the dress of the men of the poorer classes. The shirts worn by the wealthy are often made of an extremely expensive home-made material, woven from the fibers of the pineapple or the banana. Some of them are ornamented with silk stripes, some are plain. They are also frequently manufactured entirely of jusi (Chinese floret silk), in which case they will not stand washing, and can only be worn once. The hat (salacot), a round piece of home-made plaiting, is used as both umbrella and sunshade, and is often adorned with silver ornaments of considerable value. [The “Principales”.] The principalia class enjoy the special privilege of wearing short jackets above their shirts, and are usually easily recognizable by their amusing assumption of dignity, and by the faded cylindrical hats, yellow with age, family heirlooms, constantly worn. [The dandies.] The native dandies wear patent leather shoes on their naked feet, tight-fitting trousers of some material striped with black and white or with some other glaringly-contrasted colors, a starched plaited shirt of European make, a chimney-pot silk hat, and carry a cane in their hands. [The servants.] The servants waiting at dinner in their white starched shirts and trousers are by no means an agreeable spectacle, and I never realised the full ludicrousness of European male costume till my eye fell upon its caricature, exemplified in the person of a “Manila dandy.”

[Mestiza costume.] The mestizas dress like the Filipinas, but do not wear the tapis, and those of them who are married to Europeans are generally clad in both shoes and stockings. Many of the mestizas are extremely pretty, but their gait drags a little, from their habit of wearing slippers. As a rule they are prudent, thrifty, and [Clever business women.] clever business women, but their conversation is often awkward and tedious. Their want of education is, however, not the cause of this latter failing, for Andalusian women who never learn anything but the elementary doctrines of Christianity, are among the most charming creatures in the world, in their youth. [Ill at ease in society.] Its cause lies rather in this equivocal position; they are haughtily repelled by their white sisters, whilst they themselves disown their mother’s kin. They are wanting in the ease, in the tact, that the women of Spain show in every relation of existence.

[Mestizos.] The mestizos, particularly those born of Chinese and Tagal mothers, constitute the richest and the most enterprising portion of the native population. They are well acquainted with all the good and bad qualities of the Filipino inhabitants, and use them unscrupulously for their own purposes.


Preface  •  Chapter I  •  Chapter II  •  Chapter III  •  Chapter IV  •  Chapter V  •  Chapter VI  •  Chapter VII  •  Chapter VIII  •  Chapter IX  •  Chapter X  •  Chapter XI  •  Chapter XII  •  Chapter XIII  •  Chapter XIV  •  Chapter XV  •  Chapter XVI  •  Chapter XVII  •  Chapter XVIII  •  Chapter XIX  •  Chapter XX  •  Chapter XXI  •  Chapter XXII  •  Chapter XXIII  •  Chapter XXIV  •  Chapter XXV  •  Chapter XXVI  •  Chapter XXVII