A to Z Challenge – Of Kalesas and Kalabaws


Travel in Old Manila involved the kalesa, the Philippine calash introduced by the Spaniards in the 18th century.  The kalesa was driven by the kutsero (Tagalog version of kochero or coachman) whose commands for his horse would include “mano” for “right” and “silla” for “left.”

But before you think that these words mean right or left in Spanish or Tagalog, guess again.  Instead, it had to do with where the kutsero’s hands were positioned as he drove.  He usually held the whip with his right hand and so a right turn command would mean “mano” or hand, while his left hand, usually gripping his seat or “silla” referred for the direction for the horse to turn left.

The kalesa continues to be used today in Manila, though more as a tourist attraction around Intramuros, since rebuilt since it was just about leveled during WWII.

A calesa in front of the Manila Cathedral 1900 - 1920. Image from John Sewell
A calesa in front of the Manila Cathedral 1900 – 1920. Image from John Sewell

Now if you ever ended up in the countryside where farmers tilled their small pieces of land usually owned by the friars, you would not miss the sight of the trusty kalabaw or carabao, or domesticated water buffalo.  The kalabaw helped till the soil to produce the much needed raw materials required for the export of sugar, tobacco, rice and other cash crops.  They were also widely used for transportation of people and the harvest.

Farm Scene Keystone-Mast Collection
Farm Scene Keystone-Mast Collection

The kalabaw is very well adapted to a hot  and humid climate, and cools itself by lying in a waterhole or mud during the hottest parts of the day (while its owner is best taking a break with his own siesta).  The mud gives it a cooling layer as well as protects it from insects.  They eat reeds, bulrushes, sedges, water hyacinths and marsh grasses.    They live up to 18 – 20 years and a female kalabaw can have one calf per year.

Blogging A to Z Challenge


One thought on “A to Z Challenge – Of Kalesas and Kalabaws

  1. K is for Kudos for all your hard work. Kindly “kintinue” to keep us anxious for each new day’s letter. Along with everything else you have to do everyday, to do this too, amazes me.

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