Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/August 1899/Race Questions in the Philippine Islands


WHEN I published my article on the History of Separatism in the Spanish colonies, in the Deutsche Rundschau for July, 1898, I said that the colored peoples of a colony would always be inclined to struggle for the independence of their native country, because the rule of the mother country of the colony makes their access to the highest positions in the state impossible. I declared, further, that in the Philippine Islands the contempt manifested toward the colored tribes by the Spanish press had contributed very much toward making the gulf between rulers and ruled progressively deeper and harder to bridge. The natural conceit and sensitiveness of the colored races in America could never weigh as heavy in the scale as those of the colored Filipinos do, because in America the creoles and their numerously represented crosses were the real upholders of separatist ideas, so that when the idea ripened into an act they held the leading of the movement in their hands. Indians and negroes have there never been more than the plebs contribuens, or the tributary class, and "food for cannon." Only in single exceptional cases have leading spirits ever risen from out of these lower castes; and where the separatist movement has been confined to these colored primitive races, as in Haiti, it has led not only to cutting loose from the mother country, but also to a more or less complete renunciation of European civilization. In saying this I cast no condemnation upon the negroes, for, whenever in our civilized states the proletariat and the populace have struck down or cast out all the cultivated and half-cultivated classes, the same sort of "nigger management," with only differences corresponding with the environments, has gained place among us as in the great islands of the Antilles.

Very different are the conditions in the Philippine Islands; and, in view of the importance which the "skin question" plays in the conflict raged by the Americans, I think it proper to deal further with this fundamental question of Philippine politics, especially since the journals and the politicians, at least those of America, have given very little attention to the matter.

The small number of creoles, of whom, besides, the principal part live in the city of Manila, which the Americans have in their power, would not alone explain why the war of independence and the formation of the Philippine republic must be spoken of as pre-eminently the work of Christian, civilized Malays and mestizos. For there are in America countries, like Paraguay, where the number of whites is even smaller than in the Philippine Islands, and yet the separatist movement and the foundation of the state were the exclusive work of the creoles.

Why has it been thus? Because the Indians and the negroes do not possess that inclination toward civilization and that capacity for assimilation that are evident in the colored populations of the Philippine Islands. It is supposed that the Philippine Malays have Japanese blood in their veins; but, all the same, whether the supposition is founded or unfounded, it is certain that not only do they resemble the Japanese more or less in features, but that also many mental traits are common to them with these wide-awake Orientals, and they even excel them in a moral respect. The school statistics show them superior to their Spanish lords. The Filipinos have no larger percentage of illiterates than Spain of those who can not read and write. And, as a bishop exclaimed with astonishment, there are in those islands villages where it would be hard to find a person unable to read. The pressure of the colored people to the higher studies and the special schools far exceeds the percentage which one would anticipate from their proportion to the whole population. And if we add to these those who seek their education in Spain and other foreign countries we shall find Malays and mestizos in the first line, and the creoles in the last. It should be remarked on this point that many more natives would have gone to Europe for education if the Spaniards, and especially the monks, had not perceived conspirators in all Filipinos who studied away from home. The fear of persecution deterred many fathers from sending their sons over the sea.

More than ten years ago a prominent monkish writer showed how the professions of medicine and the law were crowded with Malays and mestizos. But besides these two professions and that of the secular clergy the colored Filipinos turned also to engineering and art. With respect to art, I am not thinking of the skillful goldsmiths and silversmiths of Manila, although these artificers are among the best, but I refer to artists of divine gifts, among whom the mestizo F. Resureccion Hidalgo, resident in Paris, and Don Juan Luna, of the tribe of Ilokans of northwestern Luzon, brother of the Philippine minister Antonio Luna, are most conspicuous. Luna is not unknown to us Germans, for the Leipsic Illusirirte Zeitung some time ago published a wood engraving of his great prize-crowned picture Spoliarum. The best testimony to his eminence is the fact that the Spanish Senate honored this artist, who was then living in Paris, with the commission to paint for its chamber a pendant to Padilla's famous picture Boabdil Surrendering the Keys of Granada to the Catholic Queen, and he painted The Battle of Lepanto. And among the Filipino poets the name of the great Tagal, Dr. Rizal, has become known to the whole world through his skill in tragedy.

There is no need of mentioning any other names, for those we have given are enough to show that these Malays and mestizos are susceptible of cultivation, and, as Bismarck used to say, "carry a rocket-charge in their bodies."[1]

As the Spaniards who came to the archipelago were for the most part only monks or officers, trade, so far as it was not in the hands of foreigners, was dependent on the participation of the colored population, particularly of the mestizos. And what of large land ownership the monkish orders had not absorbed likewise belonged for the most part to the colored races. None but foreigners and colored took part in all the great enterprises of the country. The Spaniards only ruled.

This position of the colored population in the country was the more perilous to the Spaniards, because the Spanish press, particularly the monkish journals, systematically treated them with scorn, called them anthropoids, and denied their capacity to attain European civilization. The educated Filipinos foamed with rage when spoken to about these attacks upon their race. "Besides," they said, "it makes the color of our skin a stigma with the Spanish lords, and with all Europe too; why thus insult us and in so cowardly a way, when the censorship at Manila makes it impossible for us to defend ourselves?"

But all these noisy revilings of their race could only outwardly, not inwardly, disturb the self-esteem of the Malays, because their leading spirits had by critical psychological studies of the white race confirmed the opinion of the simple Tagal peasants that the whites are made out of the same earth as the colored, and that the latter could, under equal conditions, have done as well as they. Only the whites have adopted that lordly code of morals which, like the flag with contraband goods, covers the grossest breaches of right and other outrages, which a white gentleman would not venture, indeed, to commit upon his peers, but which, in the treatment of colored men, belong, so to speak, to good tone, to "European smartness."

The educated brown man generally feels in his intercourse with the European that uneasiness, that poorly concealed embarrassment, which the parvenue with us feels in the presence of one of the blue-blooded aristocracy. He feels every instant that the white man's critical eye is upon him, and knows that the criticism will be pitiless and harsh to injustice. He knows, further, that this criticism in every case does not apply only to him, the individual, but that conclusions are drawn at once from his errors, even though they may be only presumed, that are applied to his whole race or caste—conclusions which are never flattering, but always culminate, in agreement with the scorn of the superior, in a severe condemnation.

This consciousness of running the gantlet before the eyes of Europeans often causes the brown man to commit mistakes in European society, which refuses to pass him among people whose favor he would be sure to enjoy.

The opinion which Europeans living in the tropics form of the brown men is generally unfavorable and unjust to them. We Europeans, or rather our nations and states, already judge one another harshly and in a more than partisan manner, because we see first only the weaknesses, often even only the fancied weaknesses, of our neighbors. How, then, could we expect anything better when a European has to pass an opinion on a brown man? We should not forget that only those Europeans go to the tropics who display special energy and force of will—a kind of chosen lot among our race—while the natives there include all the levels of the people. If we add to this that all the Europeans believe in their own superiority and in the inferiority of the brown men, it will seem quite natural that when the Europeans begin to make comparisons between themselves and the natives the comparisons will always be flattering to those who make them.

In the Philippine Islands, on the other hand, the reaction of the natives against this extreme self-conceit of the whites has been making itself felt for more than twenty years. This has come to pass since the philosophical heads among them have carefully studied the whites in the various countries of Europe, and have in consequence lost faith in the divine likeness of the Caucasians.

Single examples of the studies of these men have been published, such as that of the war minister of the Philippine republic, Don Antonio Luna, a pure-blooded Malay like his brother the painter. Luna studied in Spain and in Paris (under Pasteur), and lived a little while in England, so that he had opportunities to become acquainted with three civilized nations at their home. His literary works are represented to us in the garb of novels and feuilletons, the sarcasm of which, while it certainly escapes the uninitiated European, will be all the more effective and precious upon those who are acquainted with the purpose of the brilliant author, which is to satirize the depreciatory accounts by European travelers of the land and people of the Philippine Islands. This he does by telling of his rummaging through the critics' home and finding all the weaknesses and faults which are accredited to the brown men as signs of their incapacity no less prevalent in Europe than in the Philippine archipelago; and arguing that therefore the whites and the browns differ only in the color of their skin, in build, and in language, but not in mind.

If space allowed I should be glad to follow my inclination to repeat some of Luna's descriptions, which are given in a style that reminds one of Maupassant's. I shall only say that Luna has drawn within the circle of his observations the movements of all classes in the aristocratic saloon and in the workman's beerhouse, and remarks that everything that has been charged against the brown man appears likewise in the European. The first sketch is excellent. European travelers speak in their works of the "stupid staring" at their white-skinned, thoughtful faces by the "brown savages." Luna, whose pen-name is Taga-ilog,[2] parodies these stories by simply relating that on his arrival in Europe and during his earlier residence there the people on the streets stared at him, and some of the boys threw stones or stuck out their tongues at him. He did not, however, care for that, while he expected that the better circles would convince him of the superiority and the innate tact of the lordly race by their more refined behavior. But it did not turn out so. He saw the ladies in the saloons tittering behind their fans and making merry over "the queer man." And then at the table! How plain was the expression of astonishment among the gentlemen of the saloons that the brown man behaved in his eating just as the whites did! They had apparently anticipated that the "black" would act as if he were tearing live pigeons to pieces and swallowing them. The indolence of the Europeans is shown up no less amusingly. Luna finds it apparent in all conditions, prevailing in the highest and the lowest social strata. He asks what would become of the industry and activity of the European peoples if they were suddenly given the climate and the fruitfulness of his native land. These two examples are all we can give. Likewise interesting are the studies of my Tagalog friends Don Marcelo H. del Pilar and Don Mariano Ponce. The former, an advocate from the province of Bulakan, in the island of Luzon, and a descendant of King Lakandola, of Manila, was the leader of the Reformist party and the chief editor of the journal La Solidaridad, published in Madrid, which he directed with a remarkable skill that was recognized by his opponents. He died in Barcelona in the summer of 1896. His compeer, Ponce, is now living in Japan and is no less distinguished than Pilar for his keen wit and his zeal in research.

These two Malay jurists carefully examined the criminal records of Europe. Why? Because, whenever an extraordinary or especially heinous crime was committed in the Philippine Islands, the Spaniards were accustomed to use it to confirm their conclusions as to the innate inferiority of the Malay race. "That could occur only among a people of inferior intelligence," was their standing phrase. Del Pilar and Ponce gathered the accounts of trials from the European journals, and were able to reply to the Spaniards quietly: "No, that is not so. All these crimes occur among you Europeans, and relatively more frequently than with us. Your conclusion is therefore false, or else you too have a defective intelligence such as you ascribe to us." Del Pilar, from his studies of the colonial enterprises of all peoples, came to the conclusion that "the Europeans founded most of their colonies at a time when the holding in vassalage of men of their own race by whites and the slavery of negroes and Indians were not regarded as offenses. If, now, we look at colonies in which, as in the Philippine Islands, agricultural populations are living with a civilization of their own, the development of the native races will depend on their religion. In a colony where Islam or a dogmatized heathen religion prevails no assimilation between Europeans and natives can take place. It is otherwise in countries like the Philippines, where the natives accepted Christianity at a time when religion had more importance among Europeans than now; a common basis was formed for the co-operation of both parts, the whites and the colored. But the circumstance that rulers and ruled had the same religion and the same official language may have led directly to another evil—that the colors became marks of condition, the whites being the Spartans, the mestizos the perioikoi, and the colored men the helots or servile people. So long as no pressure toward higher ambitions occurred from among those of the perioikoi and the helot grades, and so long as the whites were able to keep their prestige freely recognized by their dependents, the view of the whites, that the colored were both socially and intellectually a lower caste, seemed to be justified. The case has been different in the present century, especially in the second half of it. People of our (Philippine) race attended the high schools, appropriated to themselves the civilization and the knowledge of the whites, and still the brand of inferiority stuck to them. And this happened, too, when the quality of the whites had deteriorated. They were no longer exclusively señors, but there came bankrupted Spaniards or those of the lowest classes into the country, among them persons who could not read and write, who should be rated as beneath our school-trained people. And yet these illiterates claimed, by virtue of their color, to be respected as lords of the land, an absurdity which left the idea of 'European prestige' without justification, for how could beggars, spongers, bummers, rowdies, and illiterates impress anybody? The decent Spaniards committed the mistake of avowing their solidarity with the sorry fellows of their caste, instead of rejecting them and holding aloof from them and sending them back to Spain. So the Spaniards have brought it to pass, through a mistaken policy, that the Filipinos on their side, too, throw the good elements of the Spanish population into the same pot with the foul. Another reason why a Spanish prestige can not be thought of among us is that, with the exception of the tobacco companies, all the great enterprises in our country are carried on by foreigners and Filipinos. We owe all that is called progress not to the Spaniards, but to our own force or to foreigners."

When the painter Juan Luna attracted so much attention with his picture Spoliarum it was not known that the artist was a Malay, and the work was therefore regarded and criticised from a purely artistic point of view. But as soon as the race of the painter became known, European prejudice made itself manifest. It was said that the choice of a tragic subject could unquestionably be traced back to the descent of the artist from "savages." But when did artists of the white race ever shrink from such subjects? Luna has had cause enough to complain of European injustice. The natives are charged with not being independent in art. "They can only imitate," it is said. But how many European nations one would have to strike out of the list of the civilized if that title is to belong only to those which have an art of their own! It should not be forgotten that the Spaniards have, during their three hundred years' rule, impressed a Spanish mark on the native artistic tendencies. The ethnographer who is acquainted with the woven and carved designs of the heathen tribes which have remained free from the Spaniards and from Christian civilization will certainly not be able to deny that the Malays of the Philippine Islands have a great talent for ornamental art. But if the reproach is cast against the Filipinos that they have tried to Europeanize themselves in plastic art as well as in music, they have not done differently from the Europeans—that is, they denationalize themselves and come into the great international circle of civilization, a thing that can hardly be charged as a sin against them. It is very remarkable, they say, that Europeans condemn in the Filipinos, as a mark of inferiority that which they regard in themselves as a sign of progress.

Rizal also has spoken of the injustice of the judgments which Europeans pass upon Philippine conditions. I have published his views on this subject in the tenth volume of the Internationalen Archivs für Ethnographie, and will therefore on the present occasion only give a sketch of them, with a few additional observations to complement them. Dr. Rizal says that most Europeans judge the natives from their servants, which would be as false as if anybody should form his conception of the German people from the complaints which German housewives are always ready to make concerning their domestics. At one time while he was visiting me we strolled out of town. He gathered some wild flowers and asked me their names. I had to confess respecting many of them that I knew neither their common nor their botanical names. He laughed and said: "Well, you are a cit; let us ask a countryman." We met a peasant, but he could not give us any information about any of the flowers. "Why," Eizal said, "is this the first time you ever saw the flowers?" The peasant replied that he knew the flowers very well, but did not know what they were called. When the countryman had gone, Rizal said to me: "How fortunate you Europeans are as compared with us poor Tagals! If such an experience as I have just gone through should happen to a European among us he would write in his notebook that 'the stupidity of these people shows itself in the fact that they do not know or have no names for many of the flowers which they see every day and tread upon with their clumsy feet. What can not be eaten or put to some immediate use has very little value or interest to these fellows, and such dull-witted folk as these want reform and autonomy!' And he would be only a modest traveler. Another one would write a whole chapter over the incident, as illustrating the inferiority of all our people."

I might continue at greater length on this theme, but I believe that the reader will sufficiently apprehend from what I have said that the European and American whites have not made a good impression on the colored Filipinos, and that the Philippine Creoles feel as one with their colored brethren; that there is no spirit of caste in the matter like that which existed in the old colonial times, but they all call themselves simply Filipinos, and that the rule of the American Anglo-Saxons, who regard even the Creoles as a kind of "niggers," would be looked upon by educated Filipinos of all castes as a supreme loss of civic rights.—Translated for the Popular Science Monthly from the Deutsche Rundschau.

  1. Einen Raketensatz im Leibe führen.
  2. From over the water; or it may be derived from Ilokos, or Tagal.