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


“Embarrassing Use of An Instrument of Hospitality…”

When I was first writing my novel over ten years ago, I was buried in tons of research.  My novel was based in 1896, right before the Philippine-American war which is barely a footnote in history books these days.

My protagonist was a daughter of a well-to-do Spanish tobacco baron, and during that time, the Philippines produced a quite mild cigar, compared to those produced by the likes of Cuba and the Dominican Replublic.

The research that led me to the growing of tobacco opened a whole new world for me and before long, I had a collection of books on cigars, tobacco, and a small humidor with a humble assortment of Cohibas and that one Arturo Fuente that disappeared during a wild New Year’s eve party where the only trace of poor Arturo was but a fleeting kiss from a stranger (who had promptly smoked it first) to greet the new year before my designated driver promptly hauled me off home before I made a fool out of myself – but that’s for another blog post, I suspect.

Well, I digress.  Back to that novel in progress…

Smoking was huge in the Philippines.  So huge that they had the Family Cigar hanging from the ceiling in some homes, according to this 1907 article from the Toledo Blade.  Apparently, it was an “embarrassing use of an instrument of hospitality in the Islands,” according to the writer, especially when it is taken straight from the mouth of a family member and then offered to the guest.” Yuck.

Family Cigar
Family Cigar

And if you still don’t believe me, here’s proof:

Smoking the Family Cigar in Northern Philippines
Smoking the Family Cigar in Northern Philippines

It’s been ten years since I’ve picked up the pages of that novel and I suspect I probably don’t remember what it was all about, especially its details.  But it’s still the story that I want to write.

Of course it’s not about tobacco.  It’s what my protagonist’s family business is, a foundation that I need for my protagonist to be able to move around in a highly charged environment that was 1896 Philippines, when the Filipinos were restless under 300 years of oppressive Spanish rule, and the hopeful encouragement of Americans who really were itching to get into the colonialist pool.

I grew up around smokers and so I have no problem with smokers – unless you smoke within ten feet from my toddler.  But as a whole, I have no problem with smokers, nor writing about smokers and smoking. That’s why I’m writing this now.

I still remember one of our nannies who rolled her own cigars from tobacco leaves my grandmother would purchase from the market each morning.  And as my grandmother would hand them to Gertrudes, who lived till she was in her late eighties or early nineties, my grandmother would always remind her that ‘smoking is bad for you’ even as she supported the woman’s habit.  It became a ritual neither women abandoned. And something that us children would never forget.

No one actually knew Gertrudes’ age or her birthday.  She moved in with my grandmother’s family when she was only a teen-ager and never left – and when she did to return to her own family to retire, her family barely remembered her and she returned to live with us, this time as a retiree and my aunt, her youngest ward, took care of her till she died.  At her funeral, there were only us at the church.  None of Gertrudes’ family showed up.

Damn, I digressed again.

Anyway, here are a few more images I’ve found from Pinoy Kollector that proves just how huge smoking was, and still is, in the Philippines.

Germinal Cigar Factory
Germinal Cigar Factory
Child with Cigar
Child with Cigar