Z is for the Zarzuela


As we end April with the letter Z, let me just say first that I’ve had a lot of fun doing the Blogging A to Z challenge and I’m grateful for the wonderful organizers who thought and planned this all up.  I had decided to tackle the challenge so that I could informally round up my research on Old Manila and it sure has been an eye-opening experience – and fun, too.

So without further ado (you must be tired of all the Old Manila posts by now!), here’s letter Z, which is for the Zarzuela, a Spanish musical drama that Filipinos completely took over to be their own.

In 1657 at the Royal Palace of El Pardo, King Philip IV of Spain, Queen Mariana and their court attended the first performance of a new comedy by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, with music by Juan de Hidalgo. El Laurel de Apolo traditionally symbolises the birth of a new musical genre which had become known as La Zarzuela – after one of the King’s hunting lodges, situated in a remote countryside thick with zarzas or brambles.

La Zarzuela was often visited by clowns and actors from the city of Madrid, and perhaps the piece Calderón and Hidalgo provided, running the theatrical gamut from classical opera to low slapstick and popular song – a bit like Dryden‘s work with Purcell in England – reminded the courtiers of a typical La Zarzuela entertainment.

via Zarzuela! a brief history.

However, the rise of Italian opera made the zarzuela unfashionable and by the 1780’s, there were only a handful of zarzuelas still playing in Madrid.


The zarzuela would reach its golden age in the 1800’s again, when Francisco Arsenjo Barbieri, along with his contemporaries like Manuel Bretón de los Herreros, wrote zarzuelas that became popular all over again.  When the zarzuelas that took Madrid by storm reached Manila, the aristocratic Spanish society in the colonies took to it quite easily.

In 1878, the first zarzuela was presented in the Philippines. It was Barbieri’s Jugar con Fuego (Playing with Fire).  In 1880, Eliseo Raguer, a former zarzuela actress in Madrid and her director, Alejandro Cubero organized a zarzuela troupe composed of Filipino actors and actresses in the Philippines.  Cubero would later be given the unofficial title of “el padre del teatro español en Filipinas” for his efforts as an untiring stage director.

Barbieri's Jugar Con Fuego
Barbieri’s Jugar Con Fuego

Zarzuelas would be composed of amateur troupes as well, with the Ateneo de Manila’s presentation of Jose Rizal’s one-act zarzuela, Junto al Pasig (Beside the Pasig).  Teatro Zorilla, the famous theater, hosted the first zarzuela production, El Diablo Mundo, that featured music composed by a Filipino, Maestro Jose Estrella.  Estrella, a pianist, composer and conductor, was known as the “waltz king of the Philippines.”

“From then on, till the first decades of the 20th century, Spanish theater artists continued to stage zarzuelas not only in Manila but in rich provincial centers, like those of Iloilo, Cebu, Bicol. Among the zarzuelas they popularized were La Mascota, El Rey que rabio (The King who went into a rage), Elanillo de hierro (Ring of Iron), La Pasionaria (The Passion Flower), Boccaccio, La Marcha de Cadiz (The March of Cadiz), Chateaux Margaux, Nina Pancha, Pascual Bailon, and El duo de la Africana. To these Spanish zarzuelistas may be attributed the popularization of the form. For it was they who trained Filipino artists to act and sing for these plays (Cubero recruited talented Filipinos like Praxedes “Yeyeng” Fernandez, Patricinio Tagaroma, Nemesio Ratia, and Jose Carvajal), just as it was they who developed a taste among Filipino urban and rural audiences for this type of Musical. It is perhaps for this reason that the El Rencimiento later called Cubero “the Father of the Spanish Theater in the Philippines.”

….Formed by these various theatrical influences, the Filipino sarswela was finally born in the layers of the 19th century, with the presentation of Budhing Nagpahamak, ca. 1890, with libretto by an anonymous Bulacan playwright, and music by Isidro Roxas. Soon other sarswelas were staged in other provinces.

via What is a Sarswela? | Raindrops and Roses.

Sarsuwela-scene from an early sarswela 2

While the zarzuelas were presented in Spanish, in a few years, as the productions left Manila for the neighboring towns, it was soon presented in the local languages.  When America took over the country, the zarzuelas presented during those years showed influences of the moro-moro.

Moro-moro is believed to be an offshoot of a chivalric-heroic poem called the awit and a legendary religious poem called the corridor that had swept the country as early as 1610 up to the beginning of the twentieth century. It tells of the loves and brilliant deeds and adventures of king and queens, of princes and princesses, of counts and dukes. It also relates of giants, tigers, lions, bears, serpents, dragons, angels, saints, and devils. Often tinged with supernatural and miraculous forces, it may present poisons, magic rings, birds that drop messages, people who get enchanted in the forest. The hero is expected to emerge victorious despite all obstacles and to risk his life for the hand of his lady love (Carpio 2001).

via From Zarzuela to Sarwela | Vocalises of the Mind.

These moro-moro inspired zarzuelas depicted conflicts between the Filipinos and the Spaniards, and alwasy with the Filipinos always winning.  This also changed the traditional Spanish zarzuela into a production that used propaganda.

The zarzuela – or once assimilated into the Philippine culture, sarswela – continued to be popular throughout the American occupation years and through the 20th century although it has declined in recent years.

A zarzuela does not only introduce Filipino values to the young, but it also offers entertainment that is creatively presented. It can be appreciated by both the young and the old…

via Zarzuela: A values-filled entertainment | Sun.Star.

And there you have it – A to Z blogging challenge all done and dusted!  I hope you enjoyed reading each letter as much as I enjoyed researching and writing about them.

Till next year!

A to Z Challenge

Y is for Ylang-Ylang, the Flower of Flowers

YYlang-ylang isn’t really translated as ‘the flower of flowers,’ as stated by Britannica.com, but it might as well be, at least for me.  It’s one of my favorite aromatherapy essential oils (not fragrance oils, mind you) and one that I use primarily for myself as it can be quite overpowering to the uninitiated.

It also comes with quite an interesting history when it comes to Old Manila, involving quite a few enterprising Germans and Botica Boie, a popular drugstore in operation till the 1960’s which had the original soda fountain in Manila.

Cananga odorata, or ylang ylang
Cananga odorata, or ylang ylang

Ylang-ylang’s botanical name is cananga odorata and is a fast-growing tree that can exceed 15 feet per year.  It grows in full or partial sun and has large, drooping, long-stalked flowers with greenish-yellow petals.

Two men are credited to be the first to begin distilling the oil of the ylang ylang – Albertus Schwenger and Frederick Steck.

“…the first distillation of the oil is credited to Albertus Schwenger, who operated a small mobile still in the Philippines in the mid-nineteenth century, and the  first commercial operation was started by Steck, who ran a German apothecary, and his nephew Paul Sartorius; the oil was marketed as “Ylang Ylang Sartorius” and it gained an international reputation.   Ylang ylang oil was one of the new scents exhibited at the Paris World Exhibition in 1878 (Morris 1984).”

Fragrance and Wellbeing: Plant Aromatics and Their Influence on the Psyche – Jennifer Peace Rhind – Google Books.

Locally known as Don Frederiko, Steck owned Botica de Santa Cruz located on the Escolta.

F. Stek would be the first to devote himself in Manila to the distillation of ilang-ilang oil [Pharm. Zentralh 9. (1868) 46]; the Sartorius brand of this essence, then the object of a flourishing industry in Manila, came to acquire a worldwide claim.”

Alexander Schadenberg: his life and work in the Philippines / Otto Scheerer.

Botica Santa Cruz
Botica Santa Cruz

His enterprise won the gold medal and highest awards at the expositions of Madrid in 1887 and St. Louis in 1904 under the trade mark of Pablo Sartorius,” his nephew’s name. (The patent for “ilang-ilang” now belongs to YSL and it is sourced mainly from India.) It commanded the highest prices in the European market. A total of 2.504 kilos was exported in 1914.

Seeing the success of Steck, others came up with similar products but of inferior quality or produced even artificial oils, causing the market to falter. The market never recovered, especially  since the places where “ilang-ilang” grew were converted into housing projects.”

via  Sense and Sensibility: The Original Soda Fountain by Bambi Harper. Originally published on page A14 of the May 21, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

in 1921, Coco Chanel asked Russian Ernest Bo (Beaux) to “make an ideal smell of a woman.”

“…he presented two series of samples: from the 1st to the 5th, and from the 20th to the 24th. Chanel chose the 5th, which consisted of the aromas of a rose, a jasmine and Ylang-Ylang flowers.

When questioned about giving it a name, she answered that the collection would be on sale on the 5th day of the 5th month, and consequently it was called “Chanel # 5.”

via Cananga odorata, Ylang-Ylang: Queen of the Perfume World – TopTropicals.com.

Since the after WWII, the fragrant flowers of the ylang-ylang are often strung together into necklaces along with the delicate flowers of the sampaguita and sold nearby churches in Manila.

White Sampaguita and ylang ylang strung in a necklace
White Sampaguita and ylang ylang strung in a necklace

The necklaces, which resemble of lei of flowers, unfortunately don’t last too long.  By the following day, they dry up though the scent lingers on, but pull the flowers from the thread holding them together and place them in a bowl of water, and you’ll have its scent, with its deep notes of rubber and mustard and bright notes of jasmine and neroli wafting about the room.

A to Z Challenge


X Is For Ox-Tail Stew


There really isn’t anything I can think of about Old Manila that starts with the letter X – especially considering that X is not part of the native alphabet to begin with.  So I’m going to cheat and use a word that though it does not begin with the letter X, has a letter X in it.

X is for Ox-Tail Stew, or Kare-Kare, a popular Filipino dish that, as the name implies, uses ox-tail as well as ox tripe as its meat component cooked in a peanut sauce along with local vegetables like eggplant, green beans, and bok choy.

Guest post on Onecookbook.com by Raymund of Ang Sarap (A Tagalog Word for Delicious!)
Guest post on Onecookbook.com by Raymund of Ang Sarap (A Tagalog Word for Delicious!)

With its sauce of roasted peanuts, ground toasted rice and annatto seed extract, or for those in a hurry, peanut butter, it’s often accompanied by a small side of bago-ong, or salted shrimp fry.  The saltiness of the bago-ong enhances the flavors of the peanuts and the ox-tail just right.

No one really has a definite answer when it comes to learning about the origins of this dish, though some say that the name kare is Japanese for curry, and therefore is how it got its name.  But then, kari means curry in Bahasa Indonesia, and their dish is also eaten with something similar to bago-ong, called sambal ulek or sambal bajak.  Some say that it came from Pampanga, known as the culinary capital of the Philippines.

But wherever its origins, there’s no doubt that this is one dish, at least for me, that ranks up there among my favorites – though these days I make the vegetarian version below.

Astig Vegan's vegetarian version of kare-kare
Astig Vegan’s vegetarian version of kare-kare

A to Z April Challenge

W is for the Working Women of Old Manila

WIn Old Manila, we learned that there was a caste system of sorts, beginning – from the highest level – the Peninsulares (Spaniards born in Spain), Insulares (Spaniards born in the colonies, like Philippines or Mexico), mestizos (those of mixed Spanish blood), Sangleys (Filipinos with Chinese blood), and indios (natives).

Women within these classes also had roles to play to maintain their status, especially for the wealthy and educated classes. The rise of idealized version of the Filipino woman, as depicted by Jose Rizal’s mestiza or mixed-race Maria Clara, epitomizes an almost-universal view of how Filipino women continue to be seen by many,  as someone who is shy, timid, and unquestioning.

Yet there was another group of Filipino women in the 19th century that was so far removed from the mythical being or the idealized version of Maria Clara.  She was the india, the native or local Filipino woman, comprising rest of the population of women in Old Manila (apart from the wealthy mixed-race women of the upper classes).

Embroiderers in Old Manila with American troops in 1899
Embroiderers in Old Manila with American troops in 1899

These were the working women of Old Manila, and according to Ma. Luisa Camagay, they were:

  1. Cigarreras – those who rolled cigars
  2. Vendaderas or tenderas – vendors and shopkeepers
  3. Bordadoras and costareras – embroiders and seamstresses
  4. Criadas – domestic servants
  5. Maestras – teachers
  6. Matronas titulares – schooled midwives
  7. Mujeres publicas – prostitutes

Majority of the working women of Old Manila were employed by the tobacco factories as cigareras, the ones who deftly rolled cured tobacco leaves into cigars.   In 1816, cigareras staged a walkout after having had enough of the terrible working conditions.

“…One of their demands was for the tobacco leaves be given to them ready for rolling since, they claimed, they were not being paid for the added tasks of cleaning and stretching the leaves. In response, management acted immediately and favorably on all their complaints and demands.

The job of cigarrera ranked first as a career option for Filipino women in the 19th century Manila mainly because the tobacco monopoly, which was at the time a huge government business, aggressively recruited the women into the factory system.


"CIGARRERAS" [Cigarette Makers] Image Creator: J. Laurent [1816-1888] EXPOSICIÓN DE FILIPINAS, MADRID Date Published: 1887 Colorized by Reimbau Lluvia
[Cigarette Makers]
Image Creator: J. Laurent [1816-1888]
Date Published: 1887
Colorized by Reimbau Lluvia

“The cigar factories alone employed more than twenty thousand workers, mostly women.  Those who failed to get employment in the factories became labradora, lavandera, costurera, domicilla, or tindera.  Many of them became prostitutes as manifested in the court records (espedientes) of the period.

– Via Prostitution in Old Manila, Luis Dery, Ateneo de Manila (pdf file)

The vendaderas or vendors carried around their portable stores of vegetables, fruits, or fresh carabao milk watered down with coconut water or water left from the washing of rice to cut costs.  The tenderas or shopkeepers opened small shops from their homes, selling customers (who were usually their own neighbors) everything from eggs, fruits, and knick knacks.

The bordadoras and costareras, embroiderers and seamstresses, respectively, worked at making the beautiful clothes for the upper classes, often unable to even afford a yard of the piña cloth they wove or embroidered on from scratch.

“TEJEDORAS TRABAJANDO” [Female Weavers] Image Creator: Jean Laurent [1816-1886] Year Taken: 1883 (Pearl Orient Collection)
The criadas worked for the wealthy families.  Usually around 13 years old, they cooked the food, cleaned the house, fetched water for baths, and washed the clothes.

If one received a college education, one could work as a maestra although the pay was very low.  She educated many of the rich families’ children and traveled wherever the work took her.

1920167_611034148984988_1965046769_nThe matrones titulares (schooled midwives) were responsible for birthing the children of the wealthy, though she is not to be confused with the matrona or partera (midwife), who was without a degree or a license from the university.    However, she did not have the appropriate education to treat diseases.

The pay for these lines of work would often be so low that many of the women ended up as mujeres publicas or prostitutes.    They were known as vagamundas, indocumentadas (the latter two because of her traveling lifestyle and that she usually did not possess the cedula, the form of identification for tax purposes in Old Manila), and prostitutas, and often came from far-flung areas of the country.

Prostitutes arrested in the 19th century were in their late teens and early 20’s. Older prostitutes who were in their 30’s or 40’s were either married or widowed.

“Spanish legalization of gambling as a source of revenue added to the inhabitants’ demoralization.  In many cases, it was a major reason for men made destitute by gambling to induce their wives or women friends to engage in prostitution or to commit crimes…Even Governor William H. Taft noted that the gambling habit among the inhabitants was ‘so great that men will gamble the chastity of their daughters and their wives” just to satisfy their vice.”

– Via Prostitution in Old Manila, Luis Dery, Ateneo de Manila (pdf file)

There were four categories of prostitutes, depending on where they worked and who their clients were.

The first category were the ones who worked in prostitution houses, usually ran by an ama or amo, a pimp.

“…They were native Filipinos who stated their profession as cigarrera or costurera. The Filipino amo identified himself as a sastre so it was not surprising that this tailor would act as an amo considering that he did have access to the male population who might desire the services of a prostitute.

Another category of prostitutes included those who plied their trade by posting themselves along certain streets like Calle Iris of Quiapo, Paseo de Azcarraga, Gandara, and Santa Cruz, Binondo and Singalong, Herran, San Marcelino in Paco Dilao under the supervision of amas or amos.

….Another category of prostitutes visited their clients in their own homes. These were the prostitutes who, from the archival sources, rendered service to Chinese males who came to the Philippines both single and married. Serapia was the name of their pimp, or corredora.

Finally, the last category of prostitutes included women who invited clients back to their own homes. Belonging to this category were Madame Sanchez, a Spaniard who lived in No. 6 Calle Uli-uli in San Miguel; Antonelle, an American who lived in No. 16 Calle Labasan in Sampaloc; and Lorenza, an Englishwoman who lived in No. 20 Calle Balmes in Quiapo. Presumably these women catered to men who belonged to the higher echelons of society.”

via The oldest profession | Sunday Life, Lifestyle Features, The Philippine Star | philstar.com.

If they were arrested, punishment usually meant being exiled to far-flung areas such as Davao in the southern island of Mindanao or Palawan.  However, they could be saved from such fate in two ways – (1) petition from their parents to the governor-general or the friar-curate or (2) an offer of marriage.

“Petitions of mothers and father of prostitutes were made to the Governor-General. Invoking reasons such as ill health, citing that the daughter was the sole breadwinner of the family or even issuing an outright denial of her activities as a prostitute by mothers was a common ploy used to avoid being deported to Mindanao.

Marriage or the offer of marriage circumvented the deportation of a prostitute. The Servidumbres Dometicas of the National Archives reads that, in 1849, Romana Pablo was on the list of those to be deported to Davao but was spared from exile because of Gilberto Escueta’s request for permission to marry her. Sotera Almario was likewise spared from serving this punishment when Don Jose Maria Medina, a Spanish mestizo, requested that she be released from prison because he planned to marry her.

….Marriage was viewed as a means of reforming prostitutes. For these prostitutes, marriage was thought to be a means of “sobering them up.” Based upon available records after three years, a deportee could petition the Governor-General to end her deportation.

via The oldest profession | Sunday Life, Lifestyle Features, The Philippine Star | philstar.com.

Wow, I never thought I’d have way more information about prostitutes in Old Manila than any other.  Well, there was a lot to write about the cigarera, but nothing, I believe, can trump the idea of reformation by marriage.

Just. Wow.

A to Z Challenge

Update for 03/25/2021: While some of the links may no longer be available, I have found another source regarding Prostitution in the Philippines:

From Oripun to the Yapayuki-San: An Historical Outline of Prostitution in the Philippines
D’oripun à yapayuki-san: un aperçu historique de la prostitution aux Philippines
François-Xavier Bonnet
p. 41-64

V is for the Vendors of Old Manila Who Sold You Just About Everything


Life in Old Manila would not be complete without the sound of street vendors selling their wares from the crack of dawn till night.  With baskets over their heads, or baskets hanging form a long piece of bamboo over one’s shoulders, V is for the street vendors of Old Manila, the ones who sold everything from bananas and fish to jugs of milk and fresh drinking water, and kerosene lamps of all sizes.

Jose Honorato Lozano. "Vista de la entrada de la Calzada de San Sebastian hasta la Yglesia de Nuestra Senora del Carmen" (View of the entrance from San Sebastian Street to the Our Lady of Carmen Church). 1867. Watercolor on paper. Approximately 36 cm. x 49 cm. Private Collection.
Jose Honorato Lozano. “Vista de la entrada de la Calzada de San Sebastian hasta la Yglesia de Nuestra Senora del Carmen” (View of the entrance from San Sebastian Street to the Our Lady of Carmen Church). 1867. Watercolor on paper. Approximately 36 cm. x 49 cm. Private Collection.

Women vendors sold tobacco leaves laid out on large woven trays called bilao, which the buyer would then cut up and roll for smoking.  I used to watch my grandmother’s servant Gertrudes do this with the tobacco leaves my grandmother would buy for her every time she went to the outdoor market.  After she’d tell Gertrudes that smoking was bad for one’s health (Gertrudes was probably already in her late 80’s by then), I’d watch the old woman smooth the leaf on her lap and roll it patiently.  Then when she had the perfectly rolled cigar in her fingers, she’d  light it up and then she shoo us out of the kitchen so she could enjoy her smoke.

Besides tobacco leaves or fresh fruit and vegetables, vendors also sold snakes, which would coil along the bamboo poles they carried, or safe in their baskets.

“Pythons or sawa were sold on the streets in an age that was environment-friendly. Rats were a common household pest but people did not use poison on them because if they died in some hidden nook they would stink up the house.

Mousetraps were not popular either because these, more often then not, broke the little fingers of curious children…

Cats were not a viable option either because they reproduced so quickly they later became a problem rather than a solution.

Foreigners describe how a live snake was chosen from an assortment coiled on a long bamboo pole carried by a vendor. The python was let loose in the ceiling where it needed no batteries.

Up in a ceiling the python fed on rats and slept most of the time. With a python one was rodent-free, though most foreigners who could hear it moving about often worried that it might come down for a snack while they were asleep in bed.”

via Street Vendors.

In Old Manila, Chinese were excellent not just at selling produce but they were the go-to persons in case you wanted a really good ear cleaning.   I know you’re not supposed to put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear but residents of Old Manila did not get that memo…and I bet they all probably had cleaner ears than you and me.

My grandmother used to line us grandkids up at night so she could clean our ears.  It was a strange experience to sit on her lap while she did whatever she needed to do to clean our ears with her little Chinese made tool, but it was also weirdly soothing.

Chinese ear cleaner
Chinese ear cleaner


Blogging A to Z Challenge

U is For The Letters Between Urbana and Feliza

UI thought I’d hit a wall with letter U in the A to Z Challenge, even though I do have something to write about – or had something to write about.  Then I changed my mind because some of it rankles me, so I went for the second choice (there aren’t that many U words to choose from really), but that rankled me even more.  I mean, how pleasant can writing about uprisings against the Spaniards (none of them successful) be?

So I’ll return to the first choice, and that is Urbana at Feliza, a missive written by D. Modesto De Castro in the early 19th century that exhorted how Filipinos were supposed to behave.  It was based on the world that De Castro lived in as a secular priest, which was dictated by Christian morals and values as well as European influences in conduct and ethics.


One of the things that set Urbana at Feliza apart was that it was written in Tagalog instead of Spanish, so its intended target market was quite obvious.  The narrative is presented through letters written between two sisters, Urbana and Feliza.

The letters go through all the stages of one’s life on earth – from birth, childhood, adulthood, old age and death.   In the preface, De Castro emphasizes the link between one’s love of God to that of his love of his neighbor.

“…one who loves God knows how to deal with his/her neighbor well, and anyone who does not know should strive to learn, because this knowledge springs from good action which God delights in.

…Thus this knowledge is a precious gem to a woman, honor to a gentleman, ornament to a young man, beauty and loveliness associated with good behavior that captures the heart.”

– Via Urbana at Felisa by Soledad S. Reyes, Philippinestudies.net

De Castro stressed the importance of parents teaching their children good manners, and should they lead “bad lives,” woe then unto the parents for they have been neglectful (I really would have sucked big time if I had lived in this era…), adding that he saw himself as the sower who sows the seeds in the field with his teachings.

The novella goes on to teach about how women and men were to act in just about every aspect of life, from keeping oneself clean, how to act at school, at church, at dealing with vices which for men included gambling and drunkenness.   And then there is this regarding women’s indiscretions which, compared to men’s gambling and drunkenness finds its equivalent in lust:

“In time, after numerous dalliances, her honor is shattered, her family’s reputation is tarnished while the townsfolk tattle, but the most painful is the lost of the souls of these unfortunate women, and the many people who sinned because of these women’s bad examples?  Who will God blame for these sins but the negligent parents?”

Via Urbana at Felisa by Soledad S. Reyes, Philippinestudies.net

Oy vey, now you know how trying the letter U has been so far for me.  As they say, I can’t even…

But moving on, apparently he also differentiated with the “taong-labas” or the outsider.  And this would not just include the tulisanes or robbers and bandits, but those who ate with their hands instead of using a spoon and a fork, and shared bowls of food with their family members – all actions of a native community.

Those who could not afford to throw lavish parties and use lace tablecloths, linens and silver, and even differentiate the many different kinds of writing paper belonged to the taong-labas (outsiders) and were taga-bukid (from the mountains), that group of people who refused to be subjugated by the Spanish and adapt to their colonizer’s ways.

I must have studied this in high school but I feigned not understanding how to read Tagalog.  And probably for good measure.  I would have been exorcised from Catholic school if I had read this then.

So anyway, that’s as far as I’m going with the letter U.  Maybe I should have stuck with all those uprisings against the Spanish government after all…









T is for Tobacco


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


S is for “The Spoliarium”


I’ve been waiting for “S” for some time now – because there’s a masterpiece I can’t wait to share with everyone. It’s one that not a lot of people know about, nor even realize was painted by a Filipino.

Juan Luna’s Spoliarium was the life-sized painting he submitted during the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1884 held in Madrid. It won the first of three gold medals and garnered him more commissions by the Spanish government.


Four injured and dying gladiators who entertained their oppressors in the arena with their lives are being dragged in by Roman soldiers in the dark and dingy crematory. Cheering spectators and greedy faces below eagerly await to strip off the fallen combatants of their armor. The barbarism sharply contrasts with the humanity of a woman sprawled on the floor as an old man with a torch locates a son.

Often misspelled as “Spolarium,” spoliarium is Latin for the basement of the Roman Coliseum where dead and dying gladiators were dumped and deprived of worldly possessions. It was what we refer to now as a morgue.

“The Spoliarium” is not a mural as it is not painted on a wall. It is also not a canvas. It was painted on poplar, a polished wood that is typically straight, with uniform grain and a medium texture. Its low natural luster makes it suitable for painting.

via Jose Rizal and Juan Luna catching fire | Manila Bulletin | Latest Breaking News | News Philippines.

Newspapers would rave about the painting and Luna thus:

“The largest work, the most frightful, the most discussed work of the Exposition.”

“It is more than a painting, it is a book, a poem.”

“It is something more than the mere mechanism of genius, of the art composition…Luna is a thinker.

“A giant of art, a kind of Hercules, that enters furiously leveling down all the gods with blows from his club, bringing in a new art, full of ideas and forms, carrying a Spartan soul and the brush of Michelangelo.  More than sixty years did Michaelangelo study!  How many years did Luna study?  Six!  Let us wait.”

National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

Another Filipino, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, won top honors during that Exposition, and together, they were able to prove to the world that despite what the first world considered as their barbarian race, indios could paint better than their colonizers.  Luna’s achievement would also set the mind of Jose Rizal at work, and get the wheels in motion for the novel, Noli Me Tangere.

Retrato de Juan Luna Novicio, Pedro Paterno, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, Miguel Zaragoza, J. Pueblo y hermanos Juan Antonio y Mariano Benlliure, 1881 Image Source: Archivo Benlliure, Madrid, Spain
Retrato de Juan Luna Novicio, Pedro Paterno, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, Miguel Zaragoza, J. Pueblo y hermanos Juan Antonio y Mariano Benlliure, 1881
Image Source: Archivo Benlliure, Madrid, Spain

After winning the gold medal at the Madrid Exposition of Fine Arts, the life-sized painting was purchased by the provincial government of Barcelona in 1887 and later moved to the Museum of Modern Art.  There it remained in storage for years till the museum was burned and looted during the Spanish civil war in 1937.

The damaged painting was then sent to Madrid for restoration, and for 18 years, it stayed there till the 1950’s when it was sent to Manila as a gift from the Spanish government to the independent government of the Philippines.


Spoliarium would be cut into three pieces by careless packers, and later, inexpertly restored.  Spanish-trained art restorers were later sent to do whatever they could to restore the painting but could not erase the damage wrought by the cutting of the painting into three pieces.

Filipino artist Antonio Dumlao would later restore the masterpiece to what it looks now, greeting one as they enter the Hall of the Masters at the National Museum of the Philippines.

SPOLIARIUM. Antonio Dumlao, a Filipino artist that specializes in art restoration, was commissioned to give this obra maestra a facelift after it was sliced into 3 parts because the Spanish government had to ship it as a gift to the Philippines.
At the Hall of Masters, Juan Luna’s “Spoliarium” reigns supreme, a favorite among visitors of the National Museum. Picture-taking is allowed in the galleries, but flash photography, commercial photography, use of tripods and videography are not permitted. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag for InterAksyon.com.

And before you think that Juan Luna was a one-hit wonder, think again.  Here are just a sampling of his other paintings.

R Is For Rio Pasig, the River That Fed Old Manila


Come to the banks of Pasig, oh darling of mine,
Come, for the light of the day is about to fade,
Come right now, only for you my banca’s waiting
By the side of the quite bank underneath the leafy bamboo shade.

Excerpt from By the Banks of the Pasig River,
poem by Jose Rizal, 19th century

Rio Pasig or the Pasig River (Ilog Pasig in Filipino) was Manila’s lifeline and center of economic activity.  During pre-Hispanic times, some of the prominent kingdoms of Namayan, Maynila and Tondo thrived along its banks.    When the Spanish established Manila as their site of operations in the Far East, they built the walled city, Intramuros, along the river’s southern bank.

Map of Intramuros with Pasig River in the upper left side
Map of Intramuros with Pasig River in the upper left side

To get to and from the different districts outside of Intramuros and along the region, ferryboats were the mode of transportation.  However, by the 1600’s, bridges were built to connect one district to another.

Among the well known bridges built over the Pasig River was the Puente de España (Bridge of Spain), which connected the districts of Binondo and Santa Cruz.  This was the first bridge to ever cross the Pasig River and was opened in 1630, replacing the ferry service before it.  Interestingly, it was built at no cost to the Spanish royal treasury, because it was built by the Chinese mestizos or sangleys to relieve  themselves of the ferryboat charges.

Puente de España
Puente de España

The bridge was damaged during the 1863 earthquake and damaged again during a flood in 1914.  It has been replaced by the Jones Bridge during the American Occupation.

Esteros or canals all emptied into the Pasig River from various districts and municipalities of Manila. Houses along the banks had the view of the water which no doubt fed their gardens and provided them with water for bathing.

Another geographical feature of the city of Manila is its system of esteros. These esteros were actually the Pasig river’s estuaries branching throughout the city. Through the esteros, farmers all the way from Laguna peddled their vegetables and other goods to the residents of the city who waited for the boats of these vendors to pass by the back of their homes. The products were usually tossed up to the buyers. The esteros served also as drainage, as a means to easily put out fires and to give off that cooling effect. Imagine having clean streams of water running behind your house!

via Manila’s Edge: Its Geography | HECHO AYER.


Mangroves called “nilad” and bamboo plants used to grow abundantly by its banks—Pasig River was never still, as bancas, cascos, and steam boats cruised by and residents took quick afternoon dips to cool off from the tropical heat.

via The once thriving urban waterfront of the Pasig River | The Manila Times Online.

Phillipines1aOne of the main modes of transport along the Pasig River were the cascos.  Cascos were wide flat-bottomed boats with arched roofs that transported people, livestock and cargo through the many districts found along the river.  Families lived on these cascos as well.

Loading cascos at Pasig River


Washing clothes, Pasig River, Manila, Philippines, late 19th or early 20th Century
Washing clothes, Pasig River, Manila, Philippines, late 19th or early 20th Century

The Pasig River of today, however, is but a memory of what it used to be.  With industries cropping up along the banks of the river, and temporary dwellers lining up every space available along the esteros and the river itself, it has become so polluted that ecologists have considered it unable to sustain life.

There are ongoing programs to clean the Pasig River one estero at a time.  It will take time to recover its grandeur, which American urban planner Daniel H. Burnham described in 1910 as the “Venice of the Far East,” but with hard work and education, it will happen.

(left photo) Prior to its rehabilitation, the Estero de Paco was overflowing with tons of garbage. The second photo (right) – taken on January 17, 2013 after the rehabilitation of the creek – shows the same spot as the first, highlighting the vast improvements done to rehabilitate the waterway using PAGCOR’s P20 million donation for the “Kapit Bisig para sa Ilog Pasig” project spearheaded by ABS-CBN Foundation. (Photos courtesy of ABS-CBN Foundation’s KBPIP)
(left photo) Prior to its rehabilitation, the Estero de Paco was overflowing with tons of garbage. The second photo (right) – taken on January 17, 2013 after the rehabilitation of the creek – shows the same spot as the first, highlighting the vast improvements done to rehabilitate the waterway using PAGCOR’s P20 million donation for the “Kapit Bisig para sa Ilog Pasig” project spearheaded by ABS-CBN Foundation. (Photos courtesy of ABS-CBN Foundation’s KBPIP)

Blogging A to Z Challenge

Q is for the Quiapo, the Downtown of Manila


The area outside of Old Manila before the Spaniards came used to be farmland, flanked by water canals because of its close proximity to the Pasig River flowing into the Manila Bay.   Among the many water-based plants growing in the region was a variety of cabbage called Pistia statiotes, which the natives called kiapo.  As time went on, the areas were reclaimed from the marshes and along with the areas of Binondo, San Nicolas and Ermita, the district of Quiapo was born.

Pistia stratiotes, or Kiapo, a type of water cabbage.
Pistia stratiotes, or Kiapo, a type of water cabbage.

Through the years, Quiapo became home to many notable entities, such as the Fabrica de Cerveza de San Miguel (beer!), the Spanish Royal Navy Club, and the El Renacimiento of the Katipunan movement.  It came to be known as the “downtown of Manila” and here, one also found grand residential houses along the many esteros or waterways that channeled clean water for their gardens as well as provide an efficient mode of transportation via cascos.

Men on board a casco with their long bamboo poles called tikines, which they used to push their way through the waterways of Manila.

In a time when the main modes of transportation were chiefly naval, such geographical feature made Quiapo a suitable site to establish trade and commerce, an open port and an easy entrance to the heart of Luzon.


Quiapo was and is also where one finds two grand churches – Quiapo Church and the  Basilica Minore of the Black Nazarene, home to the black Jesus of Nazareth statue revered by millions of Catholics.

The Quiapo Church, also known as St. John the Baptist Church in present day Quiapo
The Quiapo Church, also known as St. John the Baptist Church in present day Quiapo
San Sebastián church in Quiapo. Revista de Obras Públicas. 1897 This was a pioneer in the field of prefabricated construction. It incorporates metal constructions made in Belgium in accordance with the design drawn up by the engineer Genaro Palacios y Guerra.
San Sebastián church in Quiapo. Revista de Obras Públicas. 1897 This was a pioneer in the field of prefabricated construction. It incorporates metal constructions made in Belgium in accordance with the design drawn up by the engineer Genaro Palacios y Guerra.

One of the best known streets in Quiapo is Hidalgo Street, considered in the 19th century as “the most beautiful street in Manila.”  This was where many of the wealthy residents lived (outside of Intramuros) and some of their homes are still there to this day, though one, the Enriquez Mansion which was called “the most beautiful house in the islands” in 1910 was transferred to Bataan and in its place is a 10-story commercial building.

Known as the Home of the Heroes of the 1896 Revolution, the Nakpil-Bautista house was home to Julio Nakpil, musical composer of the 19th century revolutionary movement, the Katipunan and Gregoria de Jesus, organizer of the women’s corps of the Katipunan.

Clockwise: Sala, A typical kapis window of a Bahay na Bato, Tumba-Tumba where Oryang would seat and contemplate about life, Bed of Oryang.
Clockwise: Sala, A typical kapis window of a Bahay na Bato, Tumba-Tumba where Oryang would seat and contemplate about life, Bed of Oryang. From Lonelytravelogue.com
Bahay Nakpil-Bautista prior to World War II: Behind the house was a freely flowing stream which was clean enough to swim in and contained healthy fish that Lola Goria turned into excellent meals. Photo courtesy of Roberto Tañada. From Memories - Lola Goria
Bahay Nakpil-Bautista prior to World War II: Behind the house was a freely flowing stream which was clean enough to swim in and contained healthy fish that Lola Goria turned into excellent meals. Photo courtesy of Roberto Tañada. From Memories – Lola Goria

Quiapo not only had the most beautiful street of Manila, it also housed the loveliest park in Manila, the Plaza del Carmen, and the most spacious public market, the Mercado dela Quinta.

Teatro Zorilla, from the GBR Museum
Teatro Zorilla, from the GBR Museum

Quiapo was also the home to Manila’s early theaters, the only surviving 19th century theater being the Teatro Zorilla, located at the corner of Calle San Pedro and Calle Iris.   Also known as Dulaang Zorilla sa Maynila, it was named after Jose Zorilla, Spanish poet and playright.

“The Teatro Zorilla…was built to serve as theatre or circus without any regard to its acoustic properties; hence only one-third of the audience could hear the dialogue.  There was a permanent Spanish Comedy Company…and occasionally a troupe of strolling players, a circus, a concert, or an Italian Opera Company came to Manila to entertain the public for a few weeks.”

– Via The Philippine Islands: A Political, Geographical, Ethnographical, Social … – John Foreman (F.R.G.S.) – Google Books.

Quiapo today is  a bustling mix of old and new, home to the Black Nazarene and also a large Muslim community in Manila, and is a place to see not just the historic homes (preserved or not), but also experience the food and shopping.

Best though, to have a guide…

Blogging A to Z Challenge