T is for Tobacco

T

If you happen to have many colonies under your control, it can be quite an expensive habit to maintain.  And when it came to the Philippines, it proved to be a drain on Spain’s treasury.  Expenses incurred in the colony were usually paid via an annual subsidy sent from Mexico, another of Spain’s colonies.

But with each year’s maintenance proving to be more expensive than the year before, the Spanish government had to come up with a plan.  So Francisco Leandro de Vianna, royal fiscal in Manila, came up with a tobacco monopoly.

Tobacco was already widely consumed by both the Spaniards and the indios, as well as foreigners in Manila, and though it would take some time before King Carlos III would issue a royal decree to set the plan in motion (when later on, Governor General Basco claimed that such a monopoly would make the colony self-sufficient), when he did, the tobacco monopoly was born on February 9, 1780.

By this decree a monopoly was created which remained in operation for a hundred years. This monopoly strictly supervised the growing and grading of the leaf and had factories in Manila for the manufacture of cigars, cigarettes and smoking tobacco . In the field the chief appraiser residing at the provincial capital had a force of subordinates known as “alumnos aforadores”. These were in charge of districts composed of municipalities and in each municipality there was a “caudilo” (headman) who was also the “gobernadorcillo” (little governor) who by the aid of his ” tenientes ” (lieutenants or overseers), supervised the growing of tobacco being remunerated for this service by a percentage of the crop produced.

via Tobacco Monopoly – Wikipilipinas: The Hip ‘n Free Philippine Encyclopedia.

Manila cigar factory, 1899
Manila cigar factory, 1899

Though slavery did not exist in the Philippine islands under Spanish rule (there could have been exceptions, of course), this did not prevent the mistreatment of tobacco workers. And of course, a lot of bribery and harassment, from the tobacco fields all the way to the cigar factories in Manila.

“Tobacco is an important crop in the Philippines, and from the year 1781 was cultivated in Cagayan as a government monopoly. In the villages of that province the people were called out by beat of drum and marched to the fields under the gobernadorcillo and principales, who were responsible for the careful ploughing, planting, weeding, and tending, the work being overlooked by Spanish officials. Premiums were paid to these and to the gobernadorcillos, and fines or floggings were administered in default. The native officials carried canes, which they freely applied to those who shirked their work.

“…I have referred to the series of abuses committed under the monopoly: how the wretched cultivators had to bribe the officials in charge of the scales to allow them the true weight, and the one who classified the leaves, so that he should not reject them as rubbish and order them to be destroyed; in fact, they had to tip every official in whose power it was to do them any injustice. Finally, they received orders on the treasury for the value of their tobacco, which were not paid for months, or, perhaps, for years. They sometimes had to sell their orders for 50 percent of the face value, or even less.

However, even the Spanish official conscience can be aroused, and at the end of 1882 the monopoly was abolished.

Here it is only right to honourably mention a Spanish gentleman to whom the natives of the Cagayan Valley in a great measure owe their freedom. Don Jose Jimenez Agius was Intendente General de Hacienda, and he laboured for years to bring about this reform, impressed with the cruelty and injustice of this worst form of slavery. The Cagayanes were prohibited from growing rice, but were allowed as an indulgence to plant a row or two of maize around their carefully tilled tobacco-fields.

Possibly this circumstance has led the author of the circular I have before quoted to make the extraordinary statement: “Tobacco, as a cultivated crop, is generally grown in the same field as maize.” Does he think it grows wild anywhere?

via The Inhabitants of the Philippines, by John Foreman, 1910

The tobacco monopoly was abolished in June 1881, at around the same time when Filipinos were thirsting for independence from Spanish rule.  Smoking is believed to have helped fuel the fight for independence.  According to historical documents, among the expenses by the First Philippine Republic in the late 1890’s were cigarillos distributed to the soldiers of the budding “Philippine Army.”

Compaña General de Tabacos de Filipinas, better known as Tabacalera today, was founded in 1881, just before the abolition of the monopoly took effect the following year.  It was founded by the Marquis of Comillas, Antonio Lopez y Lopez.

But before I conclude my post for letter “T” in the A to Z challenge, here’s one more little tidbit about tobacco in the islands.

Filipinos, it turns out, smoked like it was going out of style.  In those days, even children as young as 2 or 3 years old smoked these huge cigars.  And they were H-U-G-E.  When I started this blog, one of my first posts was on a newspaper article  about an “embarrassing use of an instrument of hospitality.”

The Family Cigar
The Family Cigar

It was not unusual to have a “family cigar” hanging on a string from the ceiling and this would be lit and passed around from one family member to another, then to you, their lucky guest.  You, as the guest, would be offending the host if you said, “no, thank you.”

Here are a few pictures from Old Manila for your smoking viewing pleasure.

Blogging A to Z Challenge

 

4 thoughts on “T is for Tobacco

  1. Wow, a family cigar!
    I love the idea of distributing tobacco to the army. I can imagine them coughing and spluttering and stopping to catch their breath as they charge the enemy 🙂

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