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

C is for the Chinese Settlers in Manila

So here we are – going on strong with Blogging from A to Z April challenge.  I’m organizing my research into 1890’s Philippines (when they were still under Spanish rule) and though I’ve been doing it now for the last ten years or so, it’s all just random notes on notepads and computer folders here and there – and never in one place.

So if you’ve stumbled upon this blog and wondering to yourself, what the heck…?  Well, it’s back in time for my challenge and for the letter C, I’m writing about the Chinese settlers who made their home in the Philippines, and their impact, or at least a glimpse of it because much of this stuff is too much to write in a blog post, to Manila.

CLong before the Spaniards arrived in the Philippines in 1521, the Chinese had already established trade between both China and Philippines.  Augustin Craig, who wrote  A Thousand Years of the Philippine History Before the coming of the Spaniards (Manila, 1914) states that according to Tome Pires, writing in 1512 – 1515, gold mining was a principal industry of the Filipinos long before the coming of Ferdinand Magellan (Magallanes to the rest of the world), and that Filipinos “exported gold to China.”

When the Spaniards colonized the archipelago and established Manila – and its walled city called Intramuros – as its capital, they segregated the ethnic Chinese population outside the walls of the city, called Parian.   It also happened to be within shooting range of the city’s canons, should an uprising occur – to which there were four such uprisings by ethnic unconverted Chinese residents.

Impressed by the craftsmanship and work of a group of Chinese merchants and artisans, Spanish Governor Luis Pérez Dasmariñas gave them the area of Binondo in 1594.  He also gave them tax-free and self-governing privileges for perpetuity.  When the Dominicans established their parish in Binondo in 1596, they converted many of the residents to Catholicism, and soon, it became a place where converted Chinese immigrants, their Filipino wives and their mixed-race children, could live in peace.

“Economic life … during the Spanish times depended largely on Chinese labor and industry.  The Chinese were merchants, agriculturists, masons, bankers, painters, shoemakers, metalworkers, and laborers….The country could not exist without Chinese services.”

– via The Philippines: A Unique Nation by Sonia M. Zaide with Gregorio F. Zaide’s History of the Republic of the Philippines

Binondo soon became the main center for business and finance in Manila for ethnic Chinese, Chinese mestizos (mixed-race) and Spanish Filipinos.  They also built esteros (canals) around Binondo which entered the Pasig River, serving as routes for cascos and boats to travel from one part of the area to another and was essential for trade and commerce.

One of the well-known streets in Binondo is called Escolta, known as “Broadway of Manila” during the American Occupation.  Running parallel to the Pasig River, during the Spanish period, it was known as calle del la Escolta and is considered one of the oldest streets in Manila.  Interestingly, the origin of its name came from the brief British occupation of Manila.

The name “Escolta,” which means escort, convoy, guard, was given during the British occupation of Manila (1762-1764), because the British Commander-in-chief would ride down the street daily with his escort.

– Via The Rise of Modern Manila, ArtInSite Magazine





Blogging A to Z Challenge