Bicol, Philippines Icon

April 30, 2022

The frame and body of bamboo; the collar and noseband of the buffalo, of chair-cane ; and the

roof of pandanus-leaves.


On my second journey in Camarines, which I undertook in February, I went by water from Polangui, past Bátu, as far as Nága.

The Quináli, which runs into the south-eastern corner of the lake of Bátu, runs out again on the north side as the Bícol River, and flows in a north-westerly direction as far as the Bay of San Miguél. It forms the medium of a not inconsiderable trade between Albay and Camarines, particularly in rice; of which the supply grown in the former province does not suffice for the population, which consumes the superfluity of Camarines.

The rice is conveyed in large boats up the river as far as Quináli, and thence trans. ported further on in buffalo carts; and the boats return empty. During the dry season of the year, the breadth of the very tortuous Bícol, at its mouth, is a little over sixty feet, and increases but very gradually.

There is considerable variety of vegetation upon its banks, and in animal life it is highly attractive. I was particularly struck with its numerous monkeys and water-fowl. Of the latter the Plotus variety was most abundant, but difficult to shoot. They sit motionless on the trees on the bank, only their thin heads and necks, like those of tree-snakes, overtopping the leaves. On the approach of the boat they precipitate themselves hastily into the water; and it is not until after many minutes that the thin neck is seen rising up again at some distance from the spot where the bird disappeared. The Plotus appears to be as rapid on the wing as it is in swimming and diving.

In Nága, the chief city of South Camarines, I alighted at the tribunal, from which, however, I was immediately invited by the principal official of the district—who is famed for his hospitality far beyond the limits of his province—to his house, where I was loaded with civilities and favours. This universally beloved gentleman put everybody under contribution in order to enrich my collections, and did all in his power to render my stay agreeable and to further my designs.

Nága is the seat of a bishopric and of the provincial Government. In official documents it is called Nueva-Cáceres, in honour of the Captain-General, D. Fr. de Sande, a native of Cáceres, who about 1578 founded Nága (the Spanish town) close to the Indian village. At the beginning of the seventeenth century it numbered nearly one hundred Spanish inhabitants; at the present time it hardly boasts a dozen. Murillo Velarde remarks (xiii. 272), in contrast to the state of things in America, that of all the towns founded in the Philippines, with the exception of Manila, only the skeletons, the names without the substance, have been preserved. The reason is, as has been frequently shown, that up to the present time plantations, and consequently proper settlers, have been wanting. Formerly Nága was the principal town of the whole of that district of Luzon lying to the east of Tayabas, which, on account of the increased population, was divided into the three provinces of North and South Camarines and Albáy. The boundaries of these governmental districts, those between Albáy and South Camarines more especially, have been drawn very arbitrarily; although, the whole of the territory, as is shown by the map, geographically is very well defined. The country is named Camarínes ;

but it might more suitably be called the country of the Bicols, for the whole of it is inhabited by one race, the Bicol Indians, who are distinguished by their speech and many other peculiarities from their neighbours, the Tagals on the west, and the Bisayans on the islands to the south and east. The. Bicols are found only in this district and in a few islands lying immediately in front of it. Of their coming hither no information is to be obtained from the comprehensive but confused histories of the Spanish monks. Morga considers them to be natives of the island; on the other hand, it is asserted by tradition that the inhabitants of Manila and its vicinity are descended from Malays who have migrated thither, and from the inhabitants of other islands and more distant provinces.* Their speech is midway between that of the Tagals and the Bisayans, and they themselves appear, in both their manners and customs, to be a half.. breed between these two races. Physically and mentally they are inferior to the Tagals, and superior to the inhabitants of the eastern Bisayan islands. Bicol is spoken only in the two Camarínes, Albáy, Luzon, the islands of Masbáte, Burias, Ticáo, and Catanduanes, and in the smaller adjoining islands. The inhabitants of the volcanic mountain Ysaróg and its immediatè neighbourhood speak it in the greatest purity. Thence towards the west the Bicol dialect becomes more and more like the Tagal, and towards the east like the Bisay, until by degrees, even before reaching the boundaries of their ethnographical districts, it merges into these two kindred languages.

In South Camarines the sowing of the rice in beds begins in June or July, always at the commencement of the rainy season ; but, in fields artificially watered, earlier, because thus the fruit ripens

  • Arenas thinks that the ancient annals of the Chinese probably contain information relative to the settlement of the present inhabi:ants of Manila, is that people had early intercourse with the Archipelago.

at a time when, the store in the country being small, its price is high. Although the rice fields could very well give two crops

Fig. 2


Arado, the Plough, Differs very little from that still used in Spain. With the exception of d and e, all is of wood, even the nails : a, tokod, Om. 71 ; b, timon, Om. 21 ; c, caballo, im. 67; d, lipia, in length Orn. 21, in breadth, above, Om. 16, below, Om. 11 ; e, sodsod, Om. 21 in length, and Om. 16 in breadth; 9, pakanap, Om. 71;-cane connecting d with a, and g with a and c.

yearly, they are tilled only once. It is planted out in August, with intervals of a hand’s-breadth between each row and each individual plant; and within four months the rice is ripe. The fields are

Fig.4 Agricultural implements of the Bicol Indians. Figs. 1 and 2, Soród (harrow) : @, tampong, of bamboo, Om. 52; b, badas, of Caryota, Om. 68 ; C, papan, of the very hard wood of Camagon, Om, 73 long, and Om. 12 thick ; d, tagiak, of knotted branches for pulling in the buffalo; e, nipon (tooth, of Caryota, Om. 31 ; f, bands of cane. Figs. 3 and 4, Azadón (hatchet). Figs. 5 and 6, Kag-kag (rake); entirely of bamboo; length of teeth, Om. 16.

never manured, and but seldom ploughed; the weeds and the stubble being generally trodden into the already soaked ground RICE CULTIVATION.

by a dozen buffaloes, and the soil afterwards simply rolled with a cylinder furnished with sharp points, or loosened with the harrow (soród). Besides the agricultural implements named above, there are the Spanish hatchet (azadón) and a rake of bamboo (kag-kag) in use.

The harvest is effected in a peculiar manner.

The rice which is soonest ripe is cut for ten per cent., that is, the labourer receives for his toil the tenth bundle for himself. At this time of year rice is very scarce, want is imminent, and labour reasonable.

The more fields, however, that ripen, the higher become the reapers’ wages, rising to 20-50%. The Executive sometimes considers it to be necessary to force the people to the harvest by corporal punishment and imprisonment, in order to prevent a large portion of the crop from rotting on the stalk.

Nevertheless, in very fruitful years a part of the harvest is lost. The rice is cut halm by halm (as in Rice Knife. Java) with a peculiarly formed knife, or, failing such, with the sharp-edged flap of a mussel* found in the ditches of the rice-fields, which one has only to stoop to pick up.

A quiñon of the best rice land is worth from sixty to one hundred dollars (eight to thirteen thalers per acre). Rice fields on rising grounds are dearest, as they are not exposed to devastating floods as are those in the plain, and may be treated so as to insure the ripening of the fruit at the time when the highest price is to be obtained

A ganta of rice is sufficient to plant four topones (1 topon=1 loan); from which 100 manojos (bundles) are gathered, each of which * Probably the Anodonta Purpurea, according to V. Martens.

yields half a ganta of rice. The old ganta of Nága, however, being equal to a modern ganta and a half, the produce may be calculated at 75 cabanes per quiñon, about 93 bushels per acre.* In books 250 cabanes are usually stated to be the average produce of a quiñon : but that is an exaggeration. The fertility of the fields certainly varies very much; but, when it is considered that the land in the Philippines is never manured, but depends, for the maintenance of its vitality, exclusively upon the overflowing of the mud wbich is washed down from the mountains, it may be believed that the first numbers better express the true average.

In Java the harvest, in many provinces, amounts to only 50 cabanes per quiñon ; in some, indeed, to three times this amount; and in China, with the most careful culture and abundant manure, to 180 cabanes. † Besides rice, they cultivate the camote (sweet potatoe, Convolvulus batatas). This flourishes like a weed ; indeed, it is sometimes planted for the purpose of eradicating the weeds from soil intended for coffee or-cacao. It spreads out into a thick carpet, and is an inexhaustible storehouse to its owner, who, the whole year through, can supply his wants from his field. Gabi (Caladium), Ubi (Dioscorea), maize, and other kinds of grain, are likewise cultivated.

After the rice harvest the buffaloes, horses, and bullocks, are allowed to graze on the fields. During the rice culture they remain in the gogonales—cane-fields which arise in places once cultivated for mountain-rice and afterwards abandoned. [Gogo is the name of a cane 7 to 8 feet high, Saccharum sp.). Transport then is almost impossible, because during the rainy season the roads are impassable, and the cattle find nothing to eat. The Indian does not feed his beast, but allows it to perish from hunger when it cannot support itself. In the wet season of the

  • 1 ganta = 3 litres. 1 quiñon = 100 loànes = 2.79495 hectares = 6.89 acres. 1 cabán = 25 gantas.

† Scherzer, “ Miscellaneous Information."

year it frequently happens that a buffalo falls down from starvation whilst drawing a cart. A buffalo costs from 7 to 10 dollars ; a horse 10 to 20; and a cow 6 to 8. Very fine horses are valued at from 30 to 50 dollars, and occasionally as much as 80 dollars’; but the native horses are not esteemed at Manila, because they have no stamina. The bad water, the bad hay, and the great heat of the place at once point out the reason ; otherwise it would be profitable to export horses in favourable seasons to Manila, where they would fetch twice their value.

According to Morga, there were neither horses nor asses on the island until the Spaniards imported them from China and New Spain.*

They were at first small and vicious. Horses were imported also from Japan, “not swift but powerful, with large heads and thick manes, looking like Friesland horses ; ” † The breed improved rapidly.

Those born in the country, mostly cross-breeds, drive well. Black cattle are generally in the hands of a few individuals; some of whom in Camarines possess as many as 3,000 head; but they are hardly saleable in the province, although they have been exported profitably for some years past to Manila.

The black cattle of the province are small but nutritious. They are never employed for labour, and the cows are not milked. The Indians, who generally feed on fish, crabs, mussels, and wild herbs instead of rice, prefer the flesh of the buffalo to that of the ox: but they eat it only on feast-days.

The old race of sheep, imported by the Spaniards previous to this century, still flourishes and is easily propagated. Those occasionally brought from Shanghai and Australia are considered to

  • More than one hundred years later, Father Taillandier writes :-“ The Spaniards have brought cows, horses, and sheep from America ; but these animals cannot live there on account of the dampness and inundations."- Letters from Father Taillandier to Father Willard.]

† At the present time the Chinese horses are plump, large-headed, hairy, and with bushy tails and manes. The Japanese horses were elegant and enduring, similar to the Arabian. Good Manila horses are of the latter type, and are much prized by the Europeans in Chinese sea-port towns.

be deficient in endurance, unfruitful, and generally short-lived.

Mutton is procurable every day in Manila, In the interior, however, at least in the eastern provinces, very rarely ; although the rearing of sheep might there be carried on without difficulty, and in many places most profitably. The people are too idle to take care of the young lambs, which they complain are torn to pieces by the dogs when they wander about free. The sheep appear to have been acclimatized with difficulty.

Morga says that they were brought several times from New Spain, but did not multiply; so that in his time this kind of domestic animal did not exist.

Pork is eaten by wealthy Europeans only when the hog has been brought up from the litter at home. In order to prevent its wandering away, it is usually enclosed in a widemeshed, cylindrical hamper of bamboo, upon filling which it is slaughtered. The native hogs are too nauseous for food, the animals maintaining themselves almost entirely on human excrement.

Crawford observes that the names of all the domestic animals in the Philippines belong to foreign languages.

Those of the dog, swine, goat, buffalo, cat, even of the fowl and the duck, are Malay or Javanese ; while those of the horse, ox, and sheep, are Spanish, Until these animals were first imported from Malay, the aborigines were less fortunate in this respect than the Americans, who at least had the alpaca, llama, and vicuña.

The names likewise of most of the cultivated plants, such as rice, yams, sugar-cane, cacao and indigo, are Malay, as well as those for silver, copper, and tin. Of the words relating to commerce, one-third is Malay ; to which belong most of the terms used in trades, as well as the denominations for weights and measures, for the calendarso far as it exists,—and for numbers, besides the words for writing, reading, speaking, and narrative. On the other hand, only a small number of terms which refer to war are borrowed from the Malay:

Referring to the degree of civilisation which the Philippines possessed previous to their intercourse with the Malays, Crawford concludes from the purely domestic words that they cultivated no corn, their vegetable food consisting of batata and banana.

They had not a single domestic animal. They were acquainted with iron and gold, but with no other metal, and were clothed in stuffs of cotton and alpaca, woven by themselves.

They had invented a phonetic alphabet. Their religion consisted in the belief in good and evil spirits and witches, in circumcision, and in somewhat of divination by the stars.

They therefore were superior to the inhabitants of the South Sea, inasmuch as they possessed gold, iron, and woven fabrics, and inferior to them in that they had neither dog, pig, nor fowl.

Assuming the truth of the above sketch of pre-Christian culture, which has been put together only with the help of defective linguistic sources, and comparing it with the present, we find, as the result, a considerable progress, for which the Philippines are indebted to the Spaniards.

The influence of social relations has been already exhibited in the text.

The Spaniards have imported the horse, the bullock, and the sheep ; maize, coffee, sugar-cane, cacao, sesame, tobacco, indigo, many fruits, and probably the batata, which they met with in Mexico under the name of camotli. *

From this circumstance the term camote, universal in the Philippines, appears to have had its origin,—Crawford, indeed, erroneously considering it a native term. (According to a communication from Dr. Witmack, the opinion has lately been - conceived that the batata is indigenous not only to America, but also to the East Indies, as it has two names in Sanscrit, sharkarakanda and ruktaloo.)

With the exception of embroidery, the natives have made but little progress in industries, in the weaving and the plaiting

  • Compare Hernandez, “ Opera Omnia”; Torquemada, “ Monarchia Indica."

of mats; and the handicrafts are entirely carried on by the Chinese.

The exports consist of rice and abaca. The province exports about twice as much rice as it consumes; a large quantity to Albáy, which, less adapted for the cultivation of rice, produces only abaca ; and a fair share to North Camarínes, wbich is very mountainous, and little fertile. The rice can hardly be shipped to Manila, as there is no high road to the south side of the province, near to the principal town, and the transport by water from the north side, and from the whole of the eastern portion of Luzon, would immoderately enhance the price of the product. The imports are confined to the little that is imported by Chinese traders.

The traders are almost all Chinese, who alone possess shops in which clothing materials and woollen stuffs, partly of native and partly of European manufacture, women’s embroidered slippers, and counterfeit jewellery, may be obtained.

The whole amount of capital invested in these shops certainly does not exceed 200,000 dollars. In the remaining pueblos of Camarines there are no Chinese merchants; and the inhabitants are consequently obliged to get their supplies from Nága.

The land belongs to the State, but is let to any one who will build upon it. The usufruct passes to the children, and ceases only when the land remains unemployed for two whole years ; after which it is competent for the Executive to dispose of it to another person.

Every family possesses its own house; and the young husband generally builds with the assistance of his friends. In many places it does not cost more than four or five dollars, as he can, if necessary, build it himself free of expense, with the simple aid of the wood knife (bolo), and of the materials to his hand, bamboo, Spanish cane, and palm-leaves. These houses, which are always built on piles on account of the humidity of the soil, often consist of a single shed, which serves for all the uses of a dwelling, and are the cause of great laxity and of foul habits, the whole family sleeping therein in common, and every passenger being a welcome guest. A fine house of boards for the family of a Cabeza perhaps costs nearly 100 dollars; and the possessions of such a family in stock, furniture, ornaments, &c. (of which they are obliged to furnish an annual inventory), would range in value between 100 and 1,000 dollars. Some reach even as much as 10,000, while the richest family of the whole province is assessed at 40,000 dollars.

In general, every pueblo supplies its own necessaries, and produces little more.

To the indolent Indian, especially to him of the eastern provinces, the village in which he was born is the world. He leaves it only under the most pressing circumstances.

Were it otherwise even, the strictness of the poll-tax would place great obstacles in the way of gratifying the desire for travel, generated by that oppressive impost.

The Indian eats three times a day—about 7 A.M., 12, and at 7 or 8 in the evening. Those engaged in severe labour consume at each meal a chupa of rice. The common people, half a chupa at breakfast, one at mid-day, and half again in the evening, altogether two chupas.

Each family reaps its own supply of rice, and preserves it in barns, or buys it winnowed at the market; in the latter case purchasing only the quantity for one day or for the individual meals. The average retail price is 3 cuartos for 2 chupas (14 chupas del Rey for 1 real). To free it from the husk, the quantity for each single meal is rubbed in a mortar by the women. This is in accordance with ancient custom ; but it is also due to the fear lest, otherwise, the store should be too quickly consumed. The rice, however, is but half cooked ; and it would seem that this occurs in all places where it constitutes an essential part of the sustenance of the people, as may be seen, indeed, in Spain and Italy. Salt and much Spanish pepper (capsicum) are eaten as condiments; the latter, originally im

ported from America, growing all round the houses. To the common cooking-salt the natives prefer a so-called rock-salt, which they obtain by evaporation from sea-water previously filtered through ashes; and of which one chinanta (12lbs. German) costs about 2 reals. The consumption of salt is extremely small.

The luxuries of the Indians are buyo * and cigars—a cigar costing 1 cuarto, and a buyo much less. Cigars are rarely smoked, but are cut up into pieces, and chewed with the buyo. The women also chew buyo and tobacco, but, as a rule, very moderately ; but they do not also stain their teeth black, like the Malays; and the young and pretty adorn themselves assiduously with veils made of the areca-nut tree, whose stiff and closely packed parallel fibres, when cut crosswise, form excellent toothbrushes. They bathe several times daily, and surpass the majority of Europeans in cleanliness. Every Indian, above all things, keeps a fighting-cock; even when he has nothing to eat, he finds money for cock-fighting.