Chapter 3a

Manila: Life In Town And Suburb

by Jagor Icon

Manila is inhabited by Spaniards, Creoles, the natives directly connected with them, and Chinese.

It is surrounded by walls and wide ditches on the left or southern bank of the Pasig looking towards the sea.*

It is a hot dried-up place, full of monasteries, convents, barracks, and Government buildings.

Safety, not appearance, was the object of its builders. It reminds the beholder of a Spanish provincial town, and is, next to Goa, the oldest city in the Indies.

Foreigners reside on:

  • the northern bank of the river in Binondo, the headquarters of wholesale and retail commerce, or
  • in the pleasant suburban villages

The total population of city and suburbs has been estimated, perhaps with some exaggeration, at 200,000.

  • In 1855, its population consisted of 586 European Spaniards, 1,378 Creoles, 6,323 Indians and half-castes, 332 Chinamen, 2 Hamburghers, 1 Portuguese, and 1 Negro.

A handsome old stone bridge of 10 arches serves as the communication between the 2 banks of the Pasig, which, more recently, has been spanned by an iron suspension bridge.*

Very little intercourse exists between the inhabitants of Manila and Binondo. Life in the city proper cannot be very pleasant because pride, envy, place-hunting, and caste hatred, are the order of the day.

The Spaniards consider themselves superior to the Creoles, who, in their turn, reproach the former with the taunt that they have only come to fill their pockets.

A similar hatred and envy exists between the whites and the half-castes. This is the state of things in all Spanish colonies. It is chiefly caused by Madrid’s colonial policy which always does its best to sow discord between the different races and classes of its foreign possessions, because their union would imperil the sway of Spain.

In Manila, moreover, this state of things was rendered worse by the fact that the planter class, whose large landed possessions always give it a strong interest in the country of its inhabitance, was entirely wanting.

At the present day, however, the increasing demand for the produce of the colony seems to be bringing about a pleasant change in this respect.

The manner in which the Spanish population of the islands was affected by the gambling ventures of the galleons, at one time the only source of commercial wealth, is thus described by Murillo Velarde (page 272):

"The Spaniards who settle here look at these islands as a tavern rather than a permanent home. If they marry, it is by the mere chance. where can a family be found that has been settled here for several generations? The father amasses wealth, the son spends it, the grandson is a beggar. The largest capitals are not more stable than the waves of the ocean, across the crests of which they were gathered.”

There is nothing like the same amount of sociability amongst the foreigners in Binondo as that which prevails in English and Dutch colonies; and scarcely any intercourse at all with the Spaniards, who envy the strangers and almost seem to look upon the gains the latter make in the country as so many robberies committed upon themselves, its owners.

Besides all this, living is very expensive, much more so than in Singapore and Batavia. To many, the mere cost of existence seems greatly out of proportion to their official salaries.

The houses, which are generally spacious, are gloomy and ugly, and badly ventilated for such climates.

Instead of light jalousies, they are fitted with heavy sash windows, which admit the light through thin oyster shells, forming small panes scarcely two square inches in area, and held together by laths an inch thick.

The ground floors of the houses are generally uninhabited because of the great damp and are used as cellars, stables, and servants’ offices.

The beams which support it are generally made of the stems of the nibong palm (caryota). These are interlaced with poles of bamboo. The whole framework of the house is composed of these bamboos fastened together with canework.

The flooring is made of bamboo-laths, the walls of pandanus leaves, and the window-shutters of the leaves of the fan palm-tree (corypha), held together with thin strips of bamboo.

The flooring of the azotón is formed of entire, and its sides of split, bamboos. The roof is thatched with the nipa palm, and at its summit its ridges are fastened together with laths of bamboo.

These unassuming, but for their purpose very practical houses, of planks, bamboos, and palm leaves, are supported on account of the damp on isolated beams or props.

The space beneath, which is generally fenced in with a railing, is used as a stable or a warehouse; such was the case as early as the days of Magellan.

These dwellings are very lightly put together.

Lapérouse estimates the weight of some of them, furniture and all, at something less than 200 pounds.

Nearly all these houses, as well as the huts of the natives, are furnished with an azotea ; that is, an uncovered space, on the same level as the dwelling, which takes the place of yard and balcony. The Spaniards appear to have copied these useful contrivances from the Moors, but the natives were acquainted with them before the arrival of the Europeans, for Morga mentions (page · 140) similar batalanes.

In the suburbs nearly every hut stands in its own garden.

The drinking water, with the exception of that collected in cisterns, is extremely bad. It is taken from the river above the city and brought down for the use of the inhabitants in flat boats. The stream is often quite covered with green scum; and dead cats and dogs surrounded with weeds, like eggs in a dish of spinach, frequently adorn its waters. In the dry season, the numerous canals of the suburbs are so many stagnant drains, and at each ebb of the tide the ditches around the town exhibit a similar spectacle.

Manila offers few opportunities for amusement.

There was no Spanish theatre open during my stay there, but Tagalish plays (translations) were sometimes represented.

The town had no club, and contained no readable books.

Never once did the least excitement enliven its feeble newspapers, for the items of intelligence, forwarded fortnightly from Hongkong, were sifted by priestly censors, who left little but the chronicles of the Spanish and French courts to feed the barren columns of the local sheets.*

The pompously celebrated religious festivals were the only events that sometimes chequered the wearisome monotony.

The chief amusement of the natives is cock-fighting, which is carried on with a passionate eagerness that must strike every stranger. Nearly every Indian keeps a fighting cock.

Many are never seen out of doors without their favourite in their arms; they pay as much as 50 dollars and upwards for these pets, and heap the tenderest caresses on them. The passion for cock-fighting can well be termed a national vice; but the practice may have been introduced by the Spaniards, or the Mexicans who accompanied them, as, in a like manner, the habit of smoking opium among the Chinese, which has become a national curse, was first introduced by the English.

It is, however, more probable that the Malays brought the custom into the country. In the eastern portion of the Philippines, cock-fighting was unknown in the days of Pigafetta.

The first cock-fight he met with he saw at Paluan. “They keep large cocks, which from a species of superstition, they never eat, but keep for fighting purposes. Heavy bets are

The following figures will give an idea of the contents of the newspapers. I do not allude to the Boletin Official, which is reserved for official announcements, and contains little else of any importance. The number lying before me of the Comercio (Nov. 29, 1858), a paper that appears six times a week, consists of four pages, the printed portion in each of which is 11 inches by 17; the whole, therefore, contains 748 square inches of printed matter. They are distributed as follows:

Title, 27 sq. in.; an essay on the population of Spain, taken from a book, 102 sq. in.

under the heading, “News from Europe," an article, quoted from the Annals of La Caridad, upon the increase of charity and Catholic instruction in France, 404 sq. in.

Part I. of a treatise on Art and its Origin (a series of truisms), 70 sq. in.; extracts from the official sheet, 20 sq. in.; a few ancient anecdotes, 59 sq. in. Religious portion (this is divided into two parts-official and unofficial.

The first contains the saints for the different days of the year, etc., and the announcements of religious festivals ; the second advertises a forthcoming splendid procession, and contains the first half of a sermon preached three years before, on the anniversary of the same festival, “ a sermon so beautiful that it deserved being reissued to our readers at full length,”), 99 sq. in.; an instalment of an old novel, 154, and advertisements, 175 sq. in. ; total, 748 sq. in.

In former years the newspapers sometimes contained lony serious essays, but of late these appear extremely seldom.

made on the upshot of the contest, which are paid to the owner of the winning animal.”* The sight is one extremely repulsive to Europeans. Then ring around the cockpit is crowded with natives, perspiring at every pore, while their countenances bear the imprint of the ugliest passions. Each bird is armed with a sharp curved spur, three inches long, capable of making deep wounds, and which always causes the death of one or both birds by the serious injuries it inflicts.

If a cock shows symptoms of fear and declines the encounter, it is plucked alive. Incredibly large sums, in proportion to the means of the gamblers, are betted on the result.

These cock-fights greatly demoralized a people so addicted to idleness and dissipation, and so accustomed to give way to the impulse of the moment. Their effect is to make them little able to resist the temptation of procuring money without working for it.

The passion for the game leads many to borrow at usury, to embezzlement, to theft, and even to highway robbery. The land and sea pirates are principally composed of ruined gamesters.*

In the comeliness of the women who lend animation to its streets Manila surpasses all other towns in the Philippine Archipelago. Mallat describes them in glowing colours. A charming picture of Manila street life, full of local colour, is given in the very amusing “ Aventures d’un gentilhomme Breton.” *

Cock-fighting is not alluded to in the ordinances of Buen Gobierno, collected by Hurtado Corcuero in the middle of the 17th century.

  • In 1779, cockfights were taxed for the first time.
  • In 1781, the Government farmed the right of entrance to the galleras (cock-pits) for the yearly sum of 14,798 dollars.
  • In 1863, the receipts from the galleras figured in the budget for 106,000 dollars.

A special decree of 100 clauses was issued in Madrid on March 21, 1861 to regulate cock-fights.

  • Clause 1 declares that since cock-fights are a source of revenue to the State, they shall only take place in arenas licensed by the Government.
  • Clause 6 restricts them to Sundays and holidays
  • Clause 7 restricts them from the end of high mass to sunset
  • Clause 12 forbids more than 50 dollars to be staked on one contest.
  • Clause 38 decrees that each cock shall carry but 1 weapon, and that on its left spur
  • Clause 52 says the fight is over when one or both cocks are dead, or when one shows the white feather.

In the Daily News of the June 30, 1869, 5 men were sentenced at Leeds to 2 months’ hard labour for setting 6 cocks to fight one another with iron spurs. From this it appears that this once favourite spectacle is no longer permitted in England.


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