I remember the mahjong tiles
clickety-clack, clack, clack, clack
Never ending, all through the night
Always going even after first light

I remember the money chips
going click click click!
I remember that argument
over the missing money clip

I remember the buttered toast
your friend told me to make
with sprinkled sugar on top
Don’t you make a mistake.

I remember your friends
though they were no friends of yours
only there to play a game
just a bunch of well-dressed boors

I remember the tiles
clickety-clack, clack, clack clack
I heard it every day,
even on a Sunday.

Weekly Writing Challenge

Health Care For People

If you could clone one element from another city you’ve visited — a building, a cultural institution, a common street food, etc. — and bring it back to your own hometown, what would it be?


A man peddles potions at a weekly gathering of farmers and fishermen. With medicines often too expensive to buy, many Filipinos resort to homemade remedies which promise to cure common ailments and ward off evil spirits. CREDIT:  Alma Alcoran for LA Times
CREDIT: Alma Alcoran for LA Times

I come from a country where healthcare is a privilege for the wealthy, and while the hospitals cannot deny you a bed, you cannot have any medical tests or procedures performed, or even the basic medicine without first paying for it, as they bring you the daily receta which you then turn in to the pharmacy – with payment, of course.  Everything has to be paid up front – a portion with a promise to pay the balance later on, or in full – otherwise, no medical interventions, no matter how dire your situation, will be performed for the patient in need.

In New Mexico, there is a place called Casa de Salud, where doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, acupuncturists and energy healers see patients without insurance.  With a nominal fee for their services, you get seen if you wait long enough, for such service is in high demand when healthcare is at a premium.  They’ve evolved since I first heard about them over eight years ago, but I believe their tenets have remained the same.  Healthcare for people, not for profit.

So if I could clone something for my hometown, it would be this – that everyone is afforded dignity-based medical services, whoever you may be – especially those left out of the healthcare system that often is more focused on profit more than human dignity.

Daily Prompt

Snapshot Series: Chocolate Hills

Open the first photo album you can find — real or virtual, your call — and stop at the first picture of yourself you see there . Tell us the story of that photo.

Chocolate Hills in Bohol, Philippines
Chocolate Hills in Bohol, Philippines

I’m totally blowing this prompt by NOT featuring a picture of me*. Because there aren’t that many pictures of me these days if it’s me behind the camera most of the time. So I’m going with the first picture I see when I opened my pictures  folder.

And this is it.

This was taken a few years ago, when I went to the Philippines for the last time.  It’s of the Chocolate Hills in Bohol, which is south of Manila.  There’s nothing ‘chocolate-y’ about these hills when you look at them but when the shrubs turn brown, I guess they resemble these Hershey’s chocolate kisses – hence their name.

At the tip of the foreground hill, you see these three tiny dots representing hikers that made their way up there – with a paid guide, of course – and that’s what I was trying to capture with my simple camera here.  I failed miserably but I also wanted to take a picture of the hills against the blue sky and the clouds.

The 1,100 plus conical hills were created by ancient limestone pushing up from the ocean floor, and the elements then formed them the way they look now.  It’s not unusual to find fossils of ancient marine life within their structures.  The latest natural element to form them was the earthquake late last year which crumbled many of these hills, so I don’t know if they still look the same.

Daily Prompt

*Maybe later I’ll find one with me in it, but for now, this will have to do.

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

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



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.

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










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

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