Chapter 4b

The Impact of Catholicism Icon

April 19, 2022

The lack of originality among the half-castes appears to arise from their equivocal position. It is also found among the natives.

Distinctly marked national customs, which one would naturally expect to find in such an isolated part of the world, are sought for in vain.

Spanish Catholicism forcibly expelled the civilisation of the Moors, the Incas, and the Philippines. This was done by appropriating in an incredible manner all existing forms and abuses.*

The uncivilised inhabitants of the Philippines quickly adopted the rites, forms, and ceremonies of this strange religion, and, at the same time, copied the personal externalities of their new masters, learning to despise their own manners and customs as heathenish and barbarian.

Nowadays, forsooth, they sing Andalusian songs, and dance Spanish dances; but in what sort of way?

They imitate everything that passes before their eyes without possessing the intelligence to appreciate it. It is this which makes both themselves and their artistic productions wearisome, devoid of character, and, I may add, unnatural, in spite of the skill and patience they devote to them.

These two peculiarities, moreover, are invariably to be found amongst nations whose civilisation is

  • Depons, speaking of the means employed in America to obtuin the same end, says, “I am convinced that it is impossible to engraft the Christian religion on the Indian mind without mixing up their own inclinations and customs with those of Christianity; this has been even carried so far, that at one time theologians raised the question, whether it was lawful to eat human flesh? But the most singular part of the proceeding is, that the question was decided in favour of the anthropophagi.”

but little developed ; the patience so much admired is often nothing but waste of time and breath, quite out of proportion to the end in view, and the skill is the mere consequence of the backward state of the division of labour.

If I entered the house of a well-to-do native, who spoke Spanish, I was received with the same phrases his model, a Spaniard, would employ. But I always had the feeling that it was out of place.

In countries where the native population remains true to its ancient customs this is not the case; and whenever I have not been received with proper respect, I have remarked that the apparent fact proceeded from a difference in social forms, not more to be wondered at than a difference in weights and measures.

In Java, and particularly in Borneo and the Malaccas, the utensils in daily use are ornamented with so refined a feeling for form and colour, that they are praised by our artists as patterns of ornamentation, and afford a proof that the labour is one of love, and that it is presided over by an acute intelligence.

Such a sense of beauty is seldom to be met with in the Philippines. Everything there is imitation or careless makeshift.

Even the Pina embroideries, which are fabricated with such wonderful patience and skill, and are so celebrated for the fineness of the work, are, as a rule, spiritless imitations of Spanish patterns.

Proof is in the comparison of the art products of the Spanish-American communities with those of more barbarous races.

The Berlin Ethnographical Museum contains many proofs of the facts I have just mentioned.

The oars used in the Philippines are usually made of bamboo poles, with a board tied to their extremities with strips of rattan. If they happen to break, so much the better. This will suspend the rowing until they are mended again.

In Java, the buffalo cars are completely covered against the rain and are ornamented with many tasteful patterns. The roofless waggons in the Philippines are roughly put together at the last moment.

To protect their contents from the rain, the natives throw an old pair of mats over them, more for appeasing the prejudices of the “Castilians” than to keep off the rain.

The English and the Dutch are always looked upon as strangers in the tropics. Their influence never touches the ancient native customs which culminate in the religion of the country.

But the populations whom the Spaniards have conyerted to Catholicism have lost all originality, all sense of nationality.

Yet the alien religion has never really penetrated into their inmost being. They never feel it as a source of moral support. They are stamped with a lack of dignity, with a frailty, and even with a looseness of life.

With the exception of this want of national idiosyncrasy, and the loss of the distinguishing manners and customs which constitute the chief charm of most eastern peoples, the native of the Philippines is an interesting study of a type of mankind existing in the easiest natural conditions.

The arbitrary rule of their chiefs, and the iron shackles of slavery, were abolished by the Spaniards shortly after their arrival.

Peace and security reigned in the place of war and rapine.

The Spanish rule in these islands was always a mild one. This is because the causes that led to scandalous cruelties in Spanish America and in the colonies of other nations does not exist here.