Popular Science Monthly/Volume 58/February 1901/The Philippines Two Hundred Years Ago


By Professor E. E. SLOSSON,


"I NOW and then, as occasion offers, undertake to plead the cause of the Indians in the Philippine Islands, as many more have for those of America: This is tolerable because grounded on compassion, mercy and the inclination of our kings and their supreme council of the Indies, who love them as their children, and give repeated orders every day for their good, advantage, quiet, satisfaction and ease. There is no other fault to be found with those poor creatures but that which S. Peter Chrisologus found in the holy innocents, whose only crime was that they were born. There is no reason for all their sufferings but their being in the world; and it is worth observing that tho' so many pious, gracious, and merciful orders have passed in favor of them, yet they have taken so little effect.... So that these Wretches have been several times redeemed, yet they remain in perpetual servitude. Salvianus, lib. 6, de Provid. says thus, All captives when once redeemed enjoy their liberty, we are always redeemed and never free. This sutes well with what we speak of. To which we may add that of St. Paul, 2 Cor. 8. 13. It is a subject deserves to be considered, and much authority and a high hand must make the remedy work a due effect."

These words, written by R. F. F. Dominick Fernandez Navarette, Divinity Professor in the College and University of St. Thomas, at Manila, are as applicable to-day as in 1656. The natives have been delivered several times since then, but are still in bondage, and much authority and a high hand are still needed to carry into effect the good intentions of their distant rulers. The good father does not let his piety blind him to the sins of his own brethren, but declares plainly that the 'Christians of Manila are worse than the infidels of Japan.' On the other hand, he never omits an opportunity to praise the docility and innocence of the Filipinos. "All those Indians are like our plain countrymen, sincere and void of malice. They come to church very devoutly; not a word was spoke to them but produced fruit; would to God the seed were sown among them every day; but they have mass there but once in two or three years. When they die, there's an end of them; but great care is taken to make them pay their taxes, and the curate's dues." "It were endless to descend to particulars. I know that in my time a governor of Ilocos in two years made fourteen thousand pieces of eight of his government; what a condition did he leave the Indians and their country in? It were well that those who write from thence would speak plain, and point at persons and things, and not do in general terms, leaving room to blame those that are innocent, and clear the guilty. This must be either a design or malice." Our newspaper correspondents at the present time would do well to follow this advice.

The Filipinos at that time were not only oppressed by taxation and corvées, but they were transported as slaves in such numbers as to threaten to depopulate the islands. "There is not a ship sails from Manila, whether it belong to Siam, Camboxa, or the Portugueses, &c., but carries away Indians out of the islands."

A missionary who was in earnest had no easy time of it in those days in the Philippines. Perils from wild beasts, earthquakes, storms, disease and shipwrecks were frequent enough to abash the stoutest heart, and, according to Navarette's naive account, it appears that his fortitude was due more to the presence of courage than to the absence of fear. He was badly frightened by thunder and the upsetting of his canoe, but he managed to absolve his companions who were floating in the water, although he was in great distress that there was no one to absolve himself. Although all his personal possessions were lost in this accident, he rejoices that the bottle of mass wine, being nearly empty, floated and was washed ashore. His first experience with an important earthquake is quaintly told. "Upon St. Philip and Jacob's day I was in great trouble; I was hearing confessions in the chapel, and observed that the cane chair on which I sat moved. I imagined a dog got under it, and bid the Indian to turn him out. He answered, Father, it is no dog, but an earthquake. It increased to such a degree, that leaving the penitent, I kneeled down, to beg mercy of God. I thought that the end of the world had been at hand."

One of his fellow priests was devoured by an alligator, a fate that distressed Father Navarette exceedingly, since such a burial-place could hardly be consecrated, but he consoled himself with the saying of St. Augustine that "a good death is that which follows a good life, be it of what sort it will. . . . The good F. Lewis Gutierrez having lived so virtuously, said two masses that day, and being about to say the third, who is there that can doubt of his good disposition?"

As if the natural dangers of the Philippines were not enough, he was molested by enemies from the lower world. At Batam (Batan?) he was much disturbed by witches or fairies, who made a great noise, threw stones and hurled about chairs in a terrible manner. Evidently the predilection of spirits for furniture moving is not purely American, as has been supposed.

The reception given by the people of Manila to the Japanese Christians, who were driven out of their native land by the great 'cross-trampling' persecutions, elicits the highest praise from one author;

"Many were sick and with the leprosy, yet charity was such, that they carried them home to their houses to be cured; and they that had one of them fall to his share, thought themselves happy, they looked upon them as saints, and valued them as relics of inestimable value. The governor, counsellors, townsmen, religious persons and soldiers, went, as it were to snatch a Japanese, either sound or sick. I don't question but it much edified the Chinese infidels that looked on; for tho' they observe and take notice of our faults, yet at that time they were sensible of the wonderful efficacy of our holy law. The presence of so many witnesses, and such as they are, ought to make our carriage and deportment such, as may make them by it know and glorify our God; a point S. Thomas proposes and treats of in his opusc. to the churches of Brabant. I heard afterwards some Europeans behaved themselves not so well towards the banished people of Ireland."

The date line gave trouble in those days, as it has since. On reaching the Portuguese possessions in Macasar, he found that his Thursday was their Friday, a circumstance that caused some affliction to his conscience, for he had eaten flesh that day for dinner. With true professional ingenuity he overcame the difficulty by eating fish for supper and 'as to the divine office, tho' I was not obliged to all that of Friday, yet having time to spare, perform'd for both days.'

Volume IV. of this same collection of 'Voyages and Travels', which generally goes by the name of its publisher, Churchill, contains the 'Voyage Around the World' by Dr. John Francis Gemilli Careri. This author gives a longer and more detailed account of the Philippine Islands, and it is especially valuable for its description of all the various islands, their natural resources and the customs of the natives. He mentions seven localities where gold is found, and states on the authority of the governor of Manila that the annual production of gold gathered without the help of fire or quicksilver amounted to 200,000 pieces of eight. "As for Manila, the author of nature placed it so equally between the wealthy kingdoms of the east and west, that it may be accounted one of the greatest places of trade in the world. I am of the opinion that there are no such plentiful islands in the world." The author fully justifies his opinion by the statistics he gives of the cotton, tobacco, hemp, amber, civet, wax, pearls, quicksilver, sulphur and rare woods and medicinal herbs too numerous to mention here. The whole book is worth publishing, as there are nearly one hundred pages of the productions, history, geography, ethnology and natural history of our new possessions as they were in 1697. Most of it appears reliable, for Gemilli is careful to distinguish what he sees from what he hears, and, although he includes many incredible stories, it is not uu critically. For example, he has an account of a leaf which when it ripens becomes an insect and flies off. A diagram is given of this, showing how the stem becomes the head, the mid-vein the body and the side fibers the legs of the insect, and the statement is sworn to by the provincial of St. Gregory's, an eye-witness of the metamorphosis, and attested by a bishop. Still the author ventures a rationalistic interpretation, that the leaf conceals a worm which hatches into a butterfly. A more probable explanation, judging from the cut, is that it is a case of leaf mimicry by a moth.

On the Island of Panay, the Spaniards told him that when it thunders there fall crosses of a greenish-black stone which have great virtue. Here, too, the author is skeptical and suggests that 'it is possible they might make 'em of the stones that fell.' It is, however, not uncommon for fulgurites, formed by the fusion of the sand by lightning, to have a branching form like a rude cross.

It appears that a great many of those curious creatures of the class described by Herodotus, Ptolemy, Pliny and Mandeville have taken refuge from advancing civilization in the Philippines. Here were to be found mermaids, not only of the common species, but its converse form. Besides were-wolves, there were even Vere-crocodiles,' if such a word can be used. The missing link was also a native of the Island of Mindoro, with tails half a span long. The account of the same tribe of Negrillos, four pages beyond, seems to have been written later, for the tails had grown. "Some fathers of the society of great credit told me, that these Mangihani have a tail a span long. In other respects they are brave, and pay tribute, but have not as yet embraced the Christian faith." The clause connecting the two sentences is more logical than it sounds. Mention should also be made of the Amazons which inhabited islands near the coast of Palapa; of the serpents which magnetized their victims, and of the monkeys which caught oysters weighing several pounds by fishing with their tails.

From a political point of view, it is important to note that not a tenth of the inhabitants of the Philippines owned allegiance to the King of Spain, and also that the Moluccas were formerly included as a part of the Philippines.

From Manila Dr. Gemilli set sail for California, which he gives evidence to prove was not an island, as had been commonly supposed, but was a part of New Spain. The paragraph in which he gives his opinion of the ocean, misnamed Pacific, is as stately and antiquated in its architecture as a seventeenth century galleon and forms a suitable close to these extracts from the ancient history we have annexed;

"The voyage from the Philippine islands to America may be call'd the longest, and most dreadful of any in the world; as well because of the vast ocean to be cross'd, being almost the one-half of the terraquous globe, with the wind always a-head; as for the terrible tempests that happen there, one upon the back of the other, and for the desperate diseases that seize people, in seven or eight months living at sea, sometimes near the line, sometimes cold, sometimes temperate, sometimes hot, which is enough to destroy a man of steel, much more flesh and blood, which at sea had but indifferent food."