P is for Piña Cloth, One of the Most Beautiful Fabrics of Manila


P is for Piña fabric, a filmy fiber stripped from the Red Spanish variety of pineapple grown outside of Old Manila.  Piña fabric is well known as a lustrous, transparent cloth made from pineapple leaf fibers, which are stripped off, dried, tied together to form a continuous strand and then woven.

It is painstaking job, and not one to be relegated to machinery, as each strand of piña fiber is hand-scraped and knotted together one by one to produce a continuous strand.

Scraping a pineapple leaf to expose the fibers
Scraping a pineapple leaf to expose the fibers

“Handwoven piña cloth embroidered intricately were greatly prized then and believed to have matched, or even surpassed, the most intricate laces or other luxurious handiworks in vogue in Spain and France at the time. Piña cloth was such an important novel cloth material that in 1571, it was used to pay royal tribute or poll tax imposed on the inhabitants.

“Piña cloth weaving reached its peak of perfection in the late 18th century and in the first half of the 19th century. Piña cloth became one of the most sought after handwoven materials because it was a suitable wear to tropical climate and due to its uniqueness and beauty, it offered the most feminine and refined look in an age of elegance and romanticism. Piña cloth then was described as “one of the most beautiful fabrics of Manila . . . only used in the dress of the wealthy, being too costly for common use…”

“Philippine piña was so notable then that items like handkerchiefs, gowns and linens were considered worthy gifts for royalty. In 1862, a piña handkerchief was presented as a wedding gift to Princess Alexandra on the occasion of her marriage to Edward VII by Edward Parr, one of the moving spirits of the Manila British Community. Today, a replica of this can be found in the piña collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Other outstanding gifts to royalty and heads of state were also discovered and were said to be so well-received.

– Via pineapple, Fiber Industry Development Authority

Piña cloth was one of the Manila’s major exports.  It was often blended with other indigenous materials like cotton, abaca or silk to produce a soft delicate-looking fabric.  When woven with silk it was called piña-silk or piña-seda.  Piña fabric even found its way in the Americas, as seen in this 1855 dress made.

American ensemble of piña and silk. 1855. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Kerchief made of piña cloth and linen.  Early 19th century.  Metropolitan Museum of Art
Kerchief made of piña cloth and linen. Early 19th century. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Philippine baro or blouse made of piña and cotton. Early 19th century. Metropolitan Museum of Art
Philippine baro or blouse made of piña and cotton. Early 19th century. Metropolitan Museum of Art

Among the most notable uses of the piña cloth is in the national costume, specifically for the baro or blouse which Filipino women wore, and the present-day Barong Tagalog, the national dress shirt of the Filipino male.

Man's shirt made of piña cloth. Late 19th - 20th century with inscription: G. G. Arrés/1455 G. del Pilar, Manila
Man’s shirt made of piña cloth. Late 19th – 20th century with inscription: G. G. Arrés/1455 G. del Pilar, Manila

The shirt is translucent, silky and often accented with delicate embroidery. It is worn untucked, reminiscent of the way Indios, or the natives were supposed to be dressed during the Spanish colonial period to distinguish them from the Spaniards, mestizos and other non-natives.

Here is a look at how piña cloth is made, all by hand.

Blogging A to Z Challenge

O is for “Oro, Plata, Mata” and Other Superstitions & Omens


Filipinos believe in many superstitions and omens.  Whether you’re building a home, are pregnant, celebrating new year’s eve or happen to have a mole somewhere in  your body, there’s a superstition for that.  If you drop a fork or a spoon on the floor, if someone leaves the table before everyone else is done, or if a ring is present around the moon, there’s an omen for that.

Balustrade at the Quema House in Vigan, built in the 1820's
Balustrade at the Quema House in Vigan, built in the 1820’s

One of the superstitions that I grew up with had to with the stairs in one’s house – the direction you turned to get to the stairs and when you get there, the total number of steps built.

As for stairs, they should always turn right, that being the righteous path. This particular belief applies best to the marital bond. An opposite direction signifies infidelity. Note that the vernacular term kaliwete (left-handed) refers to the wanton spouse. Since we are on the subject of stairs, can steps be far behind?

Among the Tagalogs, stair steps are erected with a ritual that calls for alternate counting to three, using the chant “Oro, plata, mata” (Gold, silver, death) for each count. Of course, the counting commences with the lowest rung. The topmost step should never end with “mata,” that being a symbol of bad luck. On the other hand, “oro,” and “plata” represent good luck.

via Building A House? Oro, Plata, Mata — Positively Filipino | Online Magazine for Filipinos in the Diaspora.

Here is a sampling of other superstitions and omens prevalent still prevalent in the Philippines:

  • During the building of a house, an injured worker is a bad omen and to counteract its effects, one must sacrifice a pig or a white chicken and sacrifice its blood to the spirits.
  • Never pay any debt at night.
  • Breastfeeding mothers should drink milk if they want to increase their milk production. (So this is where I got this silly belief!)
  • Don’t sweep the floor at dusk because lizards will fall from the ceiling.
  • A black butterfly entering a house means that there will be an impending death.
  • If someone at the table needs to leave before the meal is finished, everyone must turn their plates clockwise so that he will arrive at his destination unharmed.
  • If a spoon falls to the floor, you will have a female visitor.  If it’s a fork, then you’re going to have a male visitor.  This begs the question though – what happens when you drop a spork?
  • A mole on one’s foot means he/she is an adventurer.
  • A mole above the lip means he/she is lucky in business.

Here’s one that involves a snake in one’s house:

A snake that enters the house brings good luck as long as it doesn’t bite any of the occupants. This is probably based on the practice of Filipinos during the Spanish colonial times to keep pythons in the partition between the roof and the ceiling to reduce the rodent population the house.


As to the practice of keeping snakes in side the house, it really was true, as seen by the Spaniards and the Americans when they occupied Manila in the early 19th century.

books“Most of the living is done in the second story while the first or ground floor the Philippino keeps his store or his stable. Upstairs live the house snakes which are to Manila what the dogs are to Constantinople, the unlicensed scavengers of the city.  They are quite harmless to mankind, although it takes some time for the stranger to become accustomed to the eight or nine feet of reptile, wriggling after the rats, which are the snakes’ legitimate supply and one of the many pests of Manila.  So many and so fierce are these rats that if it were not for the snakes Manila would be overrun by them and would be as uninhabitable as Hamelin.”

– Via With Dewey at Manila: Being the Plain Story of the Glorious Victory of the United States Squadron Over the Spanish Fleet, Sunday Morning, May First, 1898, as Related in the Notes and Correspondence of an Officer on Board the Flagship Olympia (Google eBook)

So there you have it – Oro, plata, mata.  How many steps do your stairs have?

Blogging A to Z Challenge




What’s in a Name? N is for the Names The Country Inherited


“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

The Philippines was named for the king of Spain, Felipe II, who lived from May 1527 – September 1598.  His empire was described as “the empire on which the sun never sets” and included many territories in every continent known then to Europeans, and for a time, he was even the King of England and Ireland, when he was married to Queen Mary I.

Many of the provinces and cities in the Philippines bear Spanish names, such as Nueva Ecija, Nueva Viscaya, and Trinidad, as well as the names of the Catholic saints like San Isidro, San Pedro, San Rafael and Santa Rosa – just to name a few.  Certain cities and provinces were also named after Spanish towns and cities like Madrid, Toledo, Valencia and Pamplona.

The Alcala Church in Pamplona, Cagayan.   Photo by Victor Villanueva
The Alcala Church in Pamplona, Cagayan.
Photo by Victor Villanueva
Fishermen help pull their catch together in the midst of Union beach's tranquil setting in Madrid, Surigao del Sur.  Photo by Erwin Mascarinas, InterAksyon.com.
Fishermen help pull their catch together in the midst of Union beach’s tranquil setting in Madrid, Surigao del Sur.
Photo by Erwin Mascarinas, InterAksyon.com.

The Philippines did not just inherit the names of places.  They also inherited their Spanish surnames – which had nothing to do with familial relations.  So when someone tells you today that they are descended from Spanish ancestors because they have a Spanish surname, or that, “hey! we have the same last name, we’re related,” they just might be…well, wrong.

The thing is, the Spaniards never fully intermarried with the natives in the Philippines as they did in Mexico, Venezuela, and their other former colonies. And according to verifiable archival documents, more than 90% of each town’s population were described as indio (or native Filipino) in most church records. During the Spanish period one could be described as a peninsulares or a Europeo Espanol, an insulares or a Filipino Espanol, sangley, a mestizo (usually mestizo Espanol or mestizo sangley), infieles, or the most common of all: an indio.

via Filipino Genealogy Project: Claveria and the Myth of the Spanish Ancestors.

Claveria's Decree 1849
Claveria’s Decree 1849

You see, in 1849, the Spanish Governor General Narciso Claveria produced the Catálogo Alfabético de Apellidos (“Alphabetical Catalogue of Surnames”) which listed, Spanish, Filipino and Hispanized Chinese words, names and numbers.  This was designed to mainstream the collection of taxes and to stop the pre-colonial practice of Filipinos to take on whatever surname they wanted.  There were just too many De Los Santos (“of the saints”), Del Rosarios (“of the rosary”), Bautists (“baptized”), de Jesus (“of Jesus”) and De la Cruz (“of the cross”) running about for them to be able to differentiate taxes between one family and another.  So once it was enacted, people went by three names:  their given name – mother’s surname – father’s surname.  And without an ounce of Spanish blood in their veins, they immediately, thanks to the catálogo, became “Spanish.”

“During my visit to the majority of the provinces of these islands, I observed that the natives in general lack individual surnames, which distinguished them by families. They arbitrarily adopt the names of saints and this practice has resulted in the existence of thousands of individuals having the same surname. Likewise, I saw the resultant confusion with regard to the administration of justice, government, finance, and public order, and the far-reaching moral, civil and religious consequences to which this might lead, because the family names are not transmitted from the parents to their children, so that it is sometimes impossible to prove the degrees of consanguinity for purpose of marriage, rendering useless the parochial books which in Catholic countries are used for all kinds of transactions.

“For this purpose, a catalogue of family names has been compiled, including the indigenous names collected by the Reverend Fathers Provincial of the religious orders, and the Spanish surnames they have been able to acquire, along with those furnished by the vegetable and mineral kingdoms, geography, arts, etc. In view of the extreme usefulness and practicality of this measure, the time has come to issue a directive for the formation of a civil register, which may not only fulfill and ensure the said objectives, but may also serve as the basis for the statistics of the country, guarantee the collection of taxes, the regular performance of personal services, and the receipt of payment for exemptions. It likewise provides exact information of the movement of the population; thus avoiding unauthorized migrations, hiding taxpayers, and other abuses.

via Filipino Genealogy Project: Claveria’s Renovacion de Apellidos.

There were however, exceptions to this decree.  According to Claveria:

“[f]amilies who can prove that they have kept for four generations their surname, even though it may be the name of a saint, but not those like de la Cruz, de los Santos, and some others which are so numerous that they would continue producing confusion, may pass them on to their descendants; the Reverend Fathers and the heads of provinces are advised to use their judgement in the implementation of this article.”

via Naquem.: How Narciso Claveria altered our genealogical chart

The only major exception to this catalog, of course, were the inclusion of surnames of Spanish nobility and government administrators.

One great impact of Claveria’s decree, while beneficial for the government in the collection of taxes, was the loss of family genealogy as families abandoned their original surnames prior to 1849 and adopted the Spanish surname given to them by the Spaniards.

Blogging A to Z Challenge

M is for the Two Marias and the Dress One Of Them Inspired


Maria is a very common name in the Philippines.  Growing up, many of my classmates’ names began with Maria.  Maria Christina, Maria Victoria, Maria Rosario are a few examples – though I knew them all of them by their shortened names – Maricris, Marivic, and Marirose, respectively.

The use of “Maria” in this case is probably attributed to the Virgin Mary.  However, for my take of the letter M in the A to Z Challenge, the Marias I’ll be writing about are of two feminine ideals who are poles apart – one of pre-Hispanic myth and the other the colonized version of the ideal Filipina woman.

Maria Makiling by Heredion Lovino

The first Maria is Maria Makiling, a diwata or forest nymph named for the dormant volcano that she guards in Luzon, where approximately 2,048 species of plants thrive, including a plethora of birds, reptiles and other fauna. These days, the mountain and its surrounding forest are part of a nature preserve under the care of the University of the Philippines Los Baños.

Mount Makiling in the background Photo by Julia  Sumangil on Flickr
Mount Makiling in the background
Photo by Julia Sumangil on Flickr

It is often said that Mount Makiling resembles the profile of a woman, said to be Maria herself….The mountain’s various peaks are said to be Maria’s face and two breasts, respectively, and her hair cascades downwards a gentle slope away from her body.

via Maria Makiling – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Maria Makiling has been the subject of many oral traditional stories, passed on long before the Spaniards came, and after.  She lives in a hut either in the village or in the forest, and sometimes people may know where to find her when they need help, though in other stories, they don’t know where she lives and she appears to them when she wishes, helping the ones in need.  Men who disappear in the forest are believed to have been entranced by Maria Makiling, marry her and live happily ever after – though most other stories end up with her being heartbroken after being replaced with an earthly woman, and thus retreating into the mountain, never to be seen again.

When stories depict her as making a choice between one man or another, she always chooses the simple and humble Filipino.  Even when given the choice of a Spaniard or a mestizo to rival the affections of a simple indio, Maria Makiling would always choose the indio, foregoing even riches offered by the colonizers and their mixed  race children.

Descriptions of Maria Makiling are fairly consistent. She is a breathtakingly beautiful young woman who never ages… having “light olive skin, long shining black hair, and twinkling eyes.”

….She is also closely associated with the white mist that often surrounds the mountain. While in just a few stories either her skin or hair is white, in most tales, it is her radiant clothing which makes people who have seen her think that perhaps they just saw a wisp of cloud through the trees and mistook it for Maria.

via Maria Makiling – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Photo by Paolo Dala on Flickr
Mud springs at Mount Makiling Photo by Paolo Dala on Flickr

The second Maria is Maria Clara, and one that is probably more well known because of the traditional dress her character inspired – an ensemble composed of four pieces:  the camisa (blouse), the saya (wide skirt often constructed from panels), the panuelo (stiff covering adorning the neck) and the tapis (knee length overskirt that hugs the hips).  The modern version of this dress is called the “terno.”


Maria Clara was a character in Jose Rizal’s novel, Noli Me Tangere.  A mestiza of Spanish and Filipino descent (though her parents were both indios), she was engaged to marry the protagonist, Crisostomo Ibarra.

“She was white, perhaps too white.  Her eyes, which were almost always cast down, when she raised them testified to the purest of souls, and when she smiled, revealing her small, white teeth, one might be tempted to say that a rose is merely a plant, and ivory just an elephant’s tusk.  Among the transparent lace around her white and sculpted neck fluttered, as the Tagalogs say, the sparkling eyes of a necklace made up of precious stones….

….Maria Clara was spared her father’s tiny eyes.  Hers were large, like her mother’s, black, shaded by long lashes, lively and sparkling when she was at play, sad, deep and thoughtful when she was not smiling.  As a child, her curly hair was almost blond, her nose very straight in profile, and neither thin nor flat. She had her mother’s small, graceful mouth and lively, dimpled cheeks, her skin was as fine as onion skin and as white as cotton, according to her overexcited relations, who found the single trace of Captain Tiago’s  paternity in Maria Clara’s small and well-formed ears. 

Aunt Isabel attributed these semi-European features to Doña Pia’s prenatal moods.”

– Via Noli Me Tangere, Jose Rizal [translated by Harold Augenraum]

The “ideal” image, promoted by no less than Jose Rizal, is that of Maria Clara, a demure, self-effacing beauty whose place was on the pedestal of male honor. Rizal describes this “ideal” of the Philippine woman with words such as these: “an Oriental decoration,” “her eyes. . . always downcast,” “a pure soul.” (chapter 5, Noli Me Tangere).

via Philippine Heroines of the Revolution.

Such description of this idealized version of the Filipino woman has galled many people, and was the one of the two things that stood out to me when I first read this book (translated by someone other than Augenraum) in high school.   As much as wishing to be among the most beautiful woman in the town, there was no way I was going to allow myself to become an “Oriental decoration” to achieve it, so if I had to be the un-idealized version of a Filipino woman, then so be it.

…feminists have judged Rizal’s image of a woman, even regarding his novels and their influence as the “greatest misfortune that has befallen the Filipina in the last one hundred years.”

via Firefly, an anthology of Filipino women’s literature in Finnish.

Many historians have since mused over the impact of Rizal’s Maria Clara, the idealized beauty and submission of her character, and the ever changing roles of women in Filipino society which placed them, ironically enough, during in pre-hispanic times, as equals in society.

“Though remarkably beautiful, idolized by all, and sacrificially loyal to Ibarra, Maria Clara, with her lack of compassion, naivéte, and empty rehearsal of Spanish religiosity is the precursor to the Filipinas whose blind submission Rizal will dismiss….She is vacuous, selfish, and uninterested in helping the many impoverished indios who suffer countless abuses at the hands of the friars and the ruling upper classes.”

Via Transpacific Femininities: The Making of the Modern Filipina, by Denise Cruz

The second thing that stood out to me in Rizal’s narrative and depiction of his idealized creature is this:

The epilogue focuses on Maria Clara as the iconic suffering figure of the dangerous process of erasure:  “De Maria Clara no se volvió a saber nada más” (354: We do not know about Maria Clara), for in the convent of Santa Clara, “nadie nos ha querido decir una sola palabra”

Excerpt from Transpacific Feminities: The Making of the Modern Filipina, by Denise Cruz

– Via Transpacific Femininities: The Making of the Modern Filipina, by Denise Cruz

 So there you have it, the two Marias that have haunted me since I first learned of them – the diwata of the mountain, Maria Makiling, and the haunting and tragic figure of Maria Clara, the idealized vision of the Filipino woman.

Which one of them resonates more to you, I wonder?

Blogging A to Z Challenge


L is for Lambanog, the Poor Man’s Drink, and the Legends of the Islands


Lambanog is the Philippine equivalent of moonshine.  At 80 to 95 proof, it is made from the sap of the unopened heart of the coconut and when fermented, turns into a local toddy called tuba.

After fermentation, the “tuba” toddy is skimmed of its upper layer of floating impurities and emptied into a stainless steel drum for distillation….The cooking fire is provided by the burning of coconut husks and leaf ribs, old bamboo and discards of wood scraps, closely monitored and controlled, lest the toddy burns and produces a dark and unpleasant tasting distillate….The distillate drips out and passes through a crude and third-worldly system and into a collecting receptacle.  The first ten ounces or so is highly concnetrated methanol-toxic distillate referred to as “bating” …..Some distillers set it aside for sundry uses by local healers, especially for therapeutic massage…”

via Lambanog / A Philippine Arrack /Philippines for the Intrepid Traveler.

LambanogProductionDrinking lambanog was usually a communal thing, with men sitting around a circle and taking turns drinking shots from a cup placed in the middle of the group.  There would usually be singing and playing the guitar, with the music – and stories – getting more interesting as the drinking went on.

Who knows? One of the stories they would have told one another could have included the many legends of the islands…

Legend tells us that a long time ago, there were only the Sky, the Sea, and a kite (a bird similar to an eagle) that flew between them.  One day, the Bird grew tired of flying, and decided to make some trouble between the Sky and the Sea.

So he told the Sky that the Sea wanted to drown him with her mighty waves.  He told the Sea that the Sky wanted to hit her with rain, thunder and lightning.  And so both the Sky and the Sea grew angry with one another and sure enough, the Sea started throwing great waves of water at the Sky.

The Sky retreated higher upwards, but not before throwing rain, thunder and lightning at the sea.  It also threw boulders  down at the Sea, which created the 7,000 islands of the Philippines – preventing the Sea from throwing its great waves at the sky and instead creating the tides that flow between them.

Guess the kite got himself a place to land after all that flying about…


Now at this same time the Land Breeze and the Sea Breeze were married, and they had a child which they named Bamboo. One day, when Bamboo was floating against the sea, it struck the feet of the Kite. Shocked, hurt, and angered that anything should strike it, the bird furiously pecked at the bamboo until it split in half. Out of one section came a golden-bronze colored man, named Malakas (Strong One) and from the other half came a similarly hued woman, named Maganda (Beautiful One).

The earthquake then called on all the birds of the sky and the fish of the sea to see what should be done with these two, and the animals decided that they should marry each other. Together, Malakas and Maganda had many children, and from them eventually came all the different races of people.

via Ancient Philippine Creation Myth: Malakas and Maganda | BakitWhy.

And because I’m originally from the Visayan region of the Philippines (south of Manila), we also have our own legend of the first man and the first woman, Sikalak and Sikabay, which you can read here.

Blogging A to Z Challenge

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


J is for Jose Rizal, the National Hero of the Philippines


It would be remiss of me not to devote the letter J in the A to Z Challenge to none other than Jose Rizal. I really should have put him under R but I was afraid I’d run out of steam by then…but I also happen to call him JR so it still kinda fits.

Jose Rizal is the national hero of the Philippines, a child protege who obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree at 16, and by the time he turned 23, obtained a few more degrees including medicine and Philosophy.  A polymath, he earned his degree in Medicine at the Universidad Central de Madrid after he had to stop his medical studies in Manila because Filipino students were being discriminated upon by their Dominican tutors.

Jose Rizal belonged to the ilustrados, a group of ‘enlightened’ Filipinos during the late 19th century

Discrimination by Catholic friars would become a huge part of his writings, as well as the effects of colonialism upon the Filipino people.  Rizal traveled extensively in Europe, Asia, and America.  In America, he saw firsthand the discrimination against the Chinese when his ship was quarantined off San Francisco Bay on April 1888 on account of the 642 Chinese that we have on board coming from Hong Kong where they say smallpox prevails,” he wrote in a letter to his parents in the Philippines.

“But the real reason is that, as America is against Chinese immigration, and now they are campaigning for elections, the government, in order to get the vote of the people, must appear to be strict with the Chinese, and we suffer.  On board, there is not one sick person.”

…After this experience, Rizal warned that America was not hospitable to Filipinos: “I’ll not advise anyone to make this trip to America, for here they are crazy about quarantine, they have severe customs inspection, imposing [duties] on anything.”

….On his train ride across America, Rizal realized the enormous wealth, power and imperialistic ambitions of America. In his essay “The Philippine Century,” he predicted that American expansionism would extend across the Pacific to as far away as the Philippines.

– Via Reclaiming San Francisco: History, Politics, Culture

In 1887, Rizal published his satirical novel, Noli Me Tangere (translated, Touch Me Not or The Social Cancer) in Berlin, which depicted the despotism of the Spanish clergy in the Philippines, though the protagonist does not approve of violent means to gain equality from their colonizers.  In 1891, he published the sequel, El Filibusterismo (translated, The Filibustering or Reign of Greed) which was more revolutionary this time, and definitely more tragic.

noli manuscript

I  remember reading these two books in high school and just getting more and more irate at every depressing turn of events, and the comic book version was even more depressing because it put these unforgettable faces on the characters.  But don’t get me wrong, the books are amazing and really depicted the atrocities of the Spaniards against the Filipinos during that time, albeit cloaked in satire at times.  I have the annotated print copy of El Filibusterismo at the moment and though it’s more mature reading for me now, it still evokes a lot of anger though.

Image by Dexter Panganiban
Image by Dexter Panganiban

Rizal’s dedication in Noli Me Tangere:

To My Country

In the catalogue of human ills there is to be found a cancer so malignant that the least touch inflames it and causes agonizing pains; afflicted with such a cancer, a social cancer, has your dear image appeared to me, when, for my own  heart’s ease or to compare you with others, I have sought, in the centres of modern civilization, to call you to mind.

Now, desirous of your welfare, which is also ours, and seeking the best cure for your ills, I shall do with you what was done in ages past with the sick, who were exposed on the steps of the temple so that the worshippers, having invoked the god, should each propose a remedy.

To this end, I shall endeavor to show your condition, faithfully and ruthlessly.  I shall lift a corner of the veil which shrouds the disease, sacrificing to the truth everything, even self-love — for, as your son, your defects and weaknesses are also mine.

The Author

Because of his writings, Rizal and his family and friends were watched carefully by the Spanish authorities.  In June 1892, after authorities found anti-friar pamphlets in his sister’s luggage who had arrived with him from Hong Kong, Rizal was imprisoned in the notorious Fort Santiago in Manila.  He was soon exiled in Dapitan for four years where he lived a life engaged in agriculture, fishing and business, maintained and operated a hospital and even taught pupils English and Spanish languages.

Ferdinand Blumentritt (1853-1913)- Born in Leitmeritz , the present day Litomerice in the Czceh Republic, he published a number of studies on Philippine history, culture and languages.  Blumentritt was  Geography and History teacher in the local  "Gymnasium"(equivalent to High School) when Rizal befriended him trough correspondence.
Ferdinand Blumentritt (1853-1913)- Born in Leitmeritz , the present day Litomerice in the Czceh Republic, he published a number of studies on Philippine history, culture and languages. Blumentritt was Geography and History teacher in the local “Gymnasium”(equivalent to High School) when Rizal befriended him trough correspondence.

During his exile, Rizal kept in touch with friends in Europe, especially professor Ferdinand Blumentritt (there is a major thoroughfare in present-day Manila named after him) whose letters can be found here.  It was also around this time that the seeds of the Philippine Revolution, which had taken root around the time of Rizal’s satirical political novels, emerged with the rise of the revolutionary movement called the Katipunan.


When yellow fever broke out in Cuba, Rizal volunteered his services as a doctor and was given leave by the Governor-General Ramon Blanco in August 1896.  However he was arrested en route to Cuba via Spain and was sent back to stand trial in Manila as he was implicated in the revolution through his association with members of the Katipunan.  While he was imprisoned in Fort Santiago, Rizal issued a manifesto disavowing the revolution in its present state, a claim that has caused disagreement among certain groups who argue that because of this, he does not deserve to be called the national hero.  In his manifesto, Rizal believed that education was the key to liberty.

“I desire as much as the next man liberties for our country; I continue to desire them.  But I laid down as a prerequisite the education of the people in order that by means of such instruction, and by hard work, they may acquire a personality of their own and so become worthy of such liberties.”

– Via Manifesto to Certain Filipinos

Rizal was tried in a court martial and found guilty of all three charges of rebellion, sedition and conspiracy.  On the eve of his execution on December 30, 1896, Rizal, 35 years old,  wrote his final poem, Mi Ultimo Adios.

Photo believed to be the execution of Jose Rizal in Bagumbayan field (now Luneta Park) on December 30, 1896
Photo believed to be the execution of Jose Rizal in Bagumbayan field (now Luneta Park) on December 30, 1896

When the Philippines was annexed to the United States by Spain in 1899, the general consensus of lawmakers about the Filipinos was that they were “a community of barbarians.”  Representative Henry A. Cooper, who was lobbying for management of Philippine affairs, recited Rizal’s poem to his constituents to prove their misconceptions about the Filipinos wrong.  This led to the enactment of the Philippine Bill of 1902, which would lead to self-government for the Filipino people.

In 1944, Mi Ultimo Adios was translated and recited by Indonesian soldiers before going into battle in their fight for their own independence.

Blogging A to Z Challenge



I Is For the Indios, Ilustrados and Intramuros


During the Spanish colonial era, a “caste” system was established in the islands for taxation purposes.  The “indio” was a term used to describe those of Austronesian descent, people from Southeast Asia and Oceania which included the major ethnic groups of Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei and even the Polynesian peoples of New Zealand and Hawaii. (via Austronesian peoples – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

Indios paid a base tax while the other castes, such as the mestizos de Sangley (people of mixed Chinese and Indo descent) paid double the base tax and sangleys (people of pure Chinese descent) paid quadruple the base tax.  Blancos or whites paid no taxes at all.

Blancos had their own sub-classifications.  Peninsulares were those of pure Spanish descent born in Spain, while insulares or filipinos were those of pure Spanish descent born in the Philippines.  Children of mixed Autstronesian and Spanish ancestry were called mestizos de español, and tornatras were those born of Autstronesian, Chinese and Spanish ancestry.

Blancos lived within the walled city of Manila, called Intramuros, a fortified city within a city, while the rest lived outside its walls.  The unbaptized Chinese or Sangleys lived in Parian while Catholic Sangleys and mestizos de Sangleys lived in Binondo.  The indios made their home outside of these segregated communities.

A portrait of Manila in 1684 by Alain Mallet
A portrait of Manila in 1684 by Alain Mallet

Intramuros was the fortified city within the city of Manila, the seat of the Spanish colonial government.  Frenchman Paul de la Gironiere describes Intramuros in his book Adventures in the Philippine Islands.

The city is divided into two sections—the military and the mercantile—the latter of which is the suburb. The former, surrounded by lofty walls, is bounded by the sea on one side, and upon another by an extensive plain, where the troops are exercised, and where of an evening the indolent Creoles, lazily extended in their carriages, repair to exhibit their elegant dresses and to inhale the sea-breezes. This public promenade—where intrepid horsemen and horsewomen, and European vehicles, cross each other in every direction—may be styled the Champs-Elysées, or the Hyde Park, of the Indian Archipelago…

….In the military town are all the monasteries and convents, the archbishopric, the courts of justice, the custom-house, the hospital, the governor’s palace, and the citadel, which overlooks both towns. There are three principal entrances to Manilla—Puerta Santa Lucia, Puerto Réal, and Puerta Parian.

At one o’clock the drawbridges are raised, and the gates pitilessly closed, when the tardy resident must seek his night’s lodging in the suburb, or mercantile town, called Binondoc.

via Adventures in the Philippine Islands. Paul de la Gironiere

The 1851 map of Intramuros
The 1851 map of Intramuros

With Manila being a bustling and profitable port for the Spanish government, the Spaniards built Intramuros bordering the ocean one side and land on the other, its thick walls taking decades to be completed and with its borders and design often reflecting each succeeding governor-general.

Manila is divided by the Pasig River into the north and the south sides; on the south bank are the old Walled City and the districts of Ermita, Malate and Paco, while on the north side are the Escolta, the principal business section, and the districts of Binondo, San Nicolas, Tondo, Santa Cruz, Quiapo, and Sampaloc.  The Escolta is the main business artery of Manila, and on it are located the chief business houses of the city.  The junction of the Escolta and the Bridge of Spain is the principal center, and at this point cars may be taken for nearly any part of the city or suburbs.

via Full text of “Manila, the pearl of the Orient; guide book to the intending visitor”.

Intramuros in 1932
Intramuros in 1932

I just found this clip and I’m so excited to have found it!  A look at the past of what was the Manila of yesteryears, including the walled city, Intramuros.

Intramuros would remain one of the most beautiful cities in Southeast Asia until 1945, when it was declared an open city and bombed by the United States Air Force to drive out the Japanese occupation forces.  The foreground of the photo below shows the Manila Cathedral.

Photo by Private Glenn W. Eve. Private collection
Photo by Debra Eve
Photo by Debra Eve

Intramuros has since been restored by the Philippine government with the help of the United States and Japan.  These days, portions of the great walls still mark the boundaries of old Intramuros, as do old residences and portions of its old streets.

Present-day Intramuros
Present-day Intramuros

While segregation of the people depended on social and economic factors, another class of people arose in the 19th century.  These were the ilustrados (Spanish for learned and enlightened ones), young men and women who were educated in Spanish (Spanish was not taught to the natives during the colonial era) and exposed to Spanish liberal and European nationalistic ideals.

juan_luna_studioIt was composed of the middle class, native-born individuals who at first sought reform and “a more equitable arrangement of both political and economic power” under Spanish rule. The ilustrados would pave the way to independence for the Philippine islands, with martyred hero Jose Rizal being the most noted of all.

Three prominent Ilustrados in Spain: José Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar and Mariano Ponce (from left to right). Photo was taken in Spain in 1890.
Three prominent Ilustrados in Spain: José Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar and Mariano Ponce (from left to right). Photo was taken in Spain in 1890.

Blogging A to Z Challenge

A Few Blogs to Visit for A to Z Challenge



I’ve been pretty on time with my Blogging A to Z challenge and in the process, I’m seeing so many holes in my novel – because apparently I never did organize my research on 19th century Philippines like I’ve had to do for this challenge. 

While my theme isn’t something that’s quite common, and is really self-serving (what isn’t?  This is why we blog after all), it’s fun to do!  And one of the requirements for participating in the Blogging A to Z challenge is to visit 5 participating blogs per day.  I’ve been doing that, too, which keeps me quite busy online – more than I’d like especially since there’s still taxes to finish – and I thought that since I have the time right now, I’d like to share the top 5 new-to-me blogs that have caught my attention so far.

Cold Shadow – Haiku Cascade by Moondustwriter
Who knew that haiku cascade was even a thing? A very cool thing at that!

Amanda’s Nose in a Book
I love the title of her blog!  For letter G, she tackles Genres in books, and she does have a point about YA not being a genre more than the book’s intended audience.

Writing, Life and an Itch to Explore
I love his theme for the A to Z challenge – On Being a Modern Gentleman!

Allons-y! Living Life in Ethiopia
This year Blogging A to Z challenge presents life in Ethiopia, and I think it’s pretty darn cool!

Nancy H. Doyle, Damned Hard Writing
Though Nancy had to bow out of the A to Z challenge, I love reading about her muse, Juan Reyes, and how her book is progressing.

So there you have it – my top 5 (for now) new-to-me blogs that I’ve discovered since starting the A to Z challenge.  And to all of you A to Z bloggers out there, it’s on to letter I tomorrow!


H is for Harana, the Filipino Serenade


During colonial times, when a Filipino man wanted to court a woman, he would get his friends together and armed with a gitara, serenade his beloved in an act called harana.  His repertoire would include love songs derived from the Spanish tango or habanera, though the tempo would be much slower.

According to Florante.org, a harana was a formal event that involved quite a few steps.

Image from Florante.org

First was be the Panawagan or the Calling or Announcement.  This announced the man’s presence outside of the house, using specific songs such as Dungawin Mo Sana (If You’d Look Out the Window) or Sa Gitna Nang Dilim (In the Midst of Darkness).

The second step was the Pagtatapat or Proposal.  In this step, if the suitor is invited into the home, he states his admiration for the woman and extolls her virtues with more songs like Ibig Kong Magtapat Sa Iyo, Paraluman (I Wish To Propose To  You, My Muse) or Lihim nang Pag-Ibig (My Secret Love).

The response in the girl’s part was the Panagutan.  She could answer with a yes, she reciprocates the man’s attentions, or a a tactful “I’m not ready…”  Her response could be in the form of a song, too.  And should the answer be the tactful no, then the man sings songs that often would reflect their disappointment or, based on the songs available, their broken hearts.

The final step was the Paalam, which served as their farewell song, regardless of the girl’s answer.  The songs chosen here would sound more like folk songs with a 4/4 tempo, such as Winawakasan Ko (I Hereby End it) or Bakit Di Kita Maiiwasan (Why Do I Find It Hard To Leave You?).

I was visiting my friend’s home town when I experienced my first, and only, harana. If I’d known then that there was some kind of rhyme and reason to the harana, I’d have paid more attention. Instead, I think I was giggling more than anything, and I had no clue what to say after it was over except thank you between sneezes (I was in the midst if a major allergy attack then). I remember the awkwardness of the following day – he was the next door neighbor – and I was really only visiting for a few days.

But it did not matter anyway.  I learned this a few  years later, but it turned out that my host paid the next-door neighbor to serenade me, the clueless city girl, to make my experience in the barrio more ‘enriching’, so to speak.  It was just a paid gig, nothing more.

But that night, as he and his friends sang three or four songs just below my window, it was my first – and only – harana.

"Harana" - Painting by Neil Campos
“Harana” – Painting by Neil Campos


Blogging A to Z Challenge