Sulphur SmeltingFebruary 2, 2022
The island of Leyté is over 25 miles long and almost 12 miles wide. It is 170 square miles.
It is divided from Sámar only by the small strait of San Juanico.
The chief town, Taclóban, or Taclobang, lies at the eastern entrance of this strait. It has a very good harbour and uninterrupted communication with Manila. It is the chief emporium of trade to Leyté, Biliran, and South and East Sámar.
On Pigafetta’s map, Leyté is divided into 2 parts:
- the north is called Baibay
- the south is called Ceylon.
When Magellan in Massawa (Limasawa) inquired after the most considerable places of business, Ceylon (i.e. Leyté), Calagan (Caraga), and Zubu (Cebu) were named to him.
In the afternoon when I arrived at Tacloban, a large cloud of locusts suddenly swept over the place.*
The swarm was more than 500 feet wide and 50 feet deep. Its extremity being lost in the forest, was not thought a very considerable one.
It caused vigilance, but not consternation.
Old and young eagerly endeavoured to catch as many of the delicate creatures as they could, with cloths, nets, and flags, in order, as Dampier relates “to roast them in an earthen pan over fire until their legs and wings drop off, and their heads and backs assume the colour of boiled crabs ;” after which process he says they had a pleasant taste.
In Burma presently, they are considered as delicacies. The locusts are one of the greatest plagues of the Philippines. They sometimes destroy the harvest of entire provinces.
The “Legislacion Ultramarina” (iv. 604) contains a special edict destroying these devastating pests. As soon as they appear, the people are to be drawn out in the greatest possible numbers to destroy them.
locusts are placed midway between sea-pirates and conflagrations. Of the various means which have been contrived against the destructive creatures, that sometimes appear in incredible numbers, but which have been as frequently ineffectual as otherwise, only one shall be now mentioned.
On April 27, 1824, the Sociedad Economica determined to import the bird, the martin (Gracula sp.) which feeds on locusts. The first consignment arrived from China in the autumn of 1825, the second in 1829, and another one in 1852 at 1,311 dollars.
On the following day I proceeded with the pastor of Dagámi (there are roads in Leyte) from Tacloban southwards to Pálos and Tanauan, two flourishing places on the east coast. Hardly half a league from the latter place, and close to the sea, a cliff of crystalline rock rises up out of the sandy plain, which was level up to this point. It is of a greyish-green quartzose chlorite schist, from which the enterprising Father had endeavoured, with a perseverance worthy of better success, to procure lime by burning. After an ample breakfast in the convent, we proceeded in the afternoon to Dagámi, and, on the next day, to Buráuen.*
- The names of these two localities, on Coello’s map, are confounded. Burauen lies south of Dagámi.
The country was still flat. Cocoa-groves and rice-fields here and there interrupted the thick forest ; but the country is thinly inhabited, and the people appear more cheerful, handsomer, and cleaner than those of Sámar.
South of Buráuen rises the mountain ridge of Manacagan, on the further slope of which is a large solfatara, which yields sulphur for the powder manufactory in Manila, and for commerce. A Spanish seaman accompanied me. Where the road passed through swamp we rode on buffaloes. The pace of the animals is not unpleasant, but the stretching of the thighs across the broad backs of the gigantic buffaloes of the Philippines is very fatiguing.
A quarter of an hour beyond Burauen we crossed the Dagúitan, which flows south-west to north-east, and is 100 feet wide. Its bed being full of large volcanic blocks; and, soon after, a small river in a broad bed; and, some hundred paces farther, one of a hundred and fifty feet in breadth ; the two latter being arms of the Buráuen.
They flow from west to east, and enter the sea at Dulag. The second arm was originated only the preceding year, during a flood.
We passed the night in a hut on the northern slope of the Manacágan, which the owner, on seeing us approach, had voluntarily quitted, and with his wife and child sought other lodgings.
The custom of the country requires this when the accommodation does not suffice for both parties; and payment for the same is neither demanded nor, except very rarely, tendered.
We started about 6am the next day and climbed to the Manacágan, which consists of trachytic hornblende. About seven o’clock we crossed two small rivers flowing north-west, and then, by a curve, reached the coast at Dulag.
From the ridge we caught sight, towards the south, of the great white heaps of débris of the mountain Danan glimmering through the trees.
About nine o’clock we came through the thickly-wooded crater of the Kasiboi, and, further south, to some sheds in which the sulphur is smelted.
The raw material obtained from the solfatara is paid for in three kinds
- Sulphur already melted to crusts
- Sublimated, which contains much condensed water in its interstices
- In the clay, which is divided into the more or less rich, from which the greatest quantity is obtained.
Coconut oil, which is thrown into flat iron pans holding six arrobas, and is added to the sulphurous clay, in the proportion of six quarts to four arrobas, aud it is melted and continually stirred. The clay which floats on the surface, now freed from the sulphur, being skimmed off, fresh sulphurous clay is thrown into the cauldron, and so on.
In two or three hours six arrobas of sulphur, on an average, may be obtained in this manner from 24 arrobas of sulphurous clay, and poured into wooden chests it is moulded into blocks of about four arrobas. Half the oil employed is recovered by throwing the clay which has been saturated with it into a frame formed by two narrow bamboo hurdles, placed at a sharp angle.
The oil drops into a sloping gutter of bamboo which is placed underneath, and from that flows into a pot. The price of the sulphur at Manila varies between 13 and 45 dollars per pico. I 8.jw the frames, full of clay, from which the oil exuded ; but the operation itself I did not, unfortunately, then witness, and I cannot explain in what manner the oil is added. From some experiments made on a small scale, therefore under essentially different conditions, and never with the same material, it appeared that the oil accelerates the separation of the sulphur, and retards the access of the air to the sulphur.
In these experiments, the sulphur contained in the bottom of the crucible was always coloured black by the separation of charcoal from the oil, and it was necessary to purify it by distillation beforehand. Of this, however, the smelters at Leyté made no mention, and they even had no apparatus for the purpose, while their sulphur was of a pure yellow colour.
Some hundreds of paces further south, a hot spring (50° R.), twelve feet broad, flows from the east, depositing silicious sinter at its edges.
As we followed a ravine stretching from North to South, with sides one hundred to two hundred feet in height, the vegetation gradually ceased, the rock being of a dazzling white, or coloured by sublimated sulphur.
In numerous places thick clouds of vapour burst from the ground, with a strong smell of sulphurated water. At some thousand paces further, the ravine bends round to the left (east), and expands itself to the bay ; and here numerous silicious springs break through the loose clay-earth, which is permeated with sulphur.
This solfatara must formerly have been much more active than it is now. The ravine, which has been formed by its destruction of the rock, and is full of lofty heaps of débris, may be one thousand feet in breadth, and quite five times as long.
At the east end there is a number of small, boiling quagmires, which, on forcing a stick into the matted ground, send forth water and steam. In some deep spots further west, grey, white, red, and yellow clays have been deposited in small beds over each other, giving them the appearance of variegated marls.
To the south, right opposite to the ridge which leads to Burauen, may be seen a basin twenty-five feet broad, in a cavern in the white decomposed rock, from which a petrifying water containing silicious acid flows abundantly. The roof of the cavern is hung with stalactites, covered with solid sulphur.
On the upper slope of the Danan mountain, near to the summit, so much sulphur is deposited by the vapours from the sulphurated water that it may be collected with cocoa-nut shells. In some crevices, which are protected against the cooling effects of the atmospheric air, it melts together in thick, brown crusts. The solfatara of Danan is situated exactly south of that below, at the end of the ravine of the Kasiboi.
The clay earth, from which the silicic acid has been washed out by the rains, is carried into the valley, where it forms a plain, the greater part of which is occupied by a small lake, Malaksan (sour), slightly impregnated with sulphuric acid. Its surface, which, by reason of the very flat banks, is protected against the weather, I found to be about five hundred paces long and one hundred broad.
From the elevation of the solfatara, a rather large fresh-water lake, surrounded by wooded mountains, is seen through a gap, exactly south, which is named Jaruanan. The night was passed in a ruined shed at the south-east of the lake Malaksan; and on the following morning we climbed the south side of the mountain ridge and, skirting the solfatara of the Danan, arrived in an hour and a half at lake Jaruanan.
This lake, as well as the Malaksan, inspires the natives with superstitious fear on account of the suspicious neighbourhood of the solfatara, and therefore has not been profaned by either mariner, fisher, or swimmer, and was very full of fish. For the purpose of measuring its depth, I had a raft of bamboos constructed.
When my companions saw me floating safely on the lake, they all, without exception, sprang into it, and tumbled about in the water with infinite delight and loud outcries, as if they wished to indemnify themselves for their long abstinence; so that the raft was not ready before three o’clock. The soundings at the centre of the basin, which was, at the southern edge, steeper than on the north, gave 13 brazas = 21.7 of depth; the greatest length of the lake amounted to nearly 800 varas (668 metres), and the breadth to about half as much. As we returned in the evening, by torchlight, over the crest of the mountain to our night-quarters at the sour lake, we passed by the very modest dwelling-place of a married pair. Three branches, projecting outwards from the principal trunk of a tree, and lopped at equal points, sustained a hut of bamboos and palm-leaves of eight feet square.
A hole in the floor formed the entrance, and it was divided into a chamber and ante-chamber, and four bamboo poles supported, above and below, two layers of bamboos, one of which furnished a balcony, and the other a shop on which betel was sold.
The day after my return to Burauen an obliging Spanish merchant drove me through the fertile plain of volcanic sand, on which rice, maize, and sugar-cane were cultivated, to Dulag, which lies directly to the west, on the shore of the tranquil sea. The distance (according to Coello three leagues) hardly amounts to two leagues.
From this place, Point Guíuan, the south point of Sámar, appears like an island separated from the mainland, and further south (N. 102° 4 to 103° 65’ S.) Jomonjol is seen, the first island of the Archipelago sighted by Magellan on 16th April, 1521.
At Dulag, my former companion joined us in order to accompany us on the journey to the Bito Lake. The arrangement of the means of advance and of provisions, and, still more, the due consideration of all the propositions of three individuals, each of whose claims were entitled to equal respect, occupied much time and required some address.
We at length sailed in a large casco (barge) southwards along the coast to the mouth of the river Mayo, which, according to the map and the information there given, is said to come from the Bito Lake. We proceeded upwards in a boat, but were informed at the first hut that the lake could be reached only by making a long circuit through swampy forest; when most of our party proposed to return. Various reasons besides the want of unanimity in the conduct of our adventure, which had proceeded thus far, delayed our arrival at Abúyog until eleven o’clock at night. In the first place, on our way, we had to cross a small branch of the Mayo, and after that the Bito River. The distance of the latter from Abúyog (extravagantly set down on Coello’s map) amounts to fourteen hundred brazas, according to a measurement of the gobernadorcillo, which is probably correct. *
The following day, as it rained heavily, was employed in making inquiries respecting the road to the Bito Lake. We received very varied statements as to the distance, but all agreed in painting the road thither in a discouraging light. A troublesome journey of at least ten hours appeared to us to be what most probably awaited us.
On the morrow, through a pleasant forest road, we reached in an hour the Bito River, and proceeded in boats, which we met there, up the river between flat sandy banks covered with tall cane and reeds. In about ten minutes, some trees thrown right across the stream compelled us to make a circuit on land, which in half an hour brought us again to the river, above the obstacles.
Here we constructed rafts of bamboo, upon which, immersed to the depth of half a foot, the material being very loosely adjusted, we reached the lake in ten minutes. We found it covered with green confervæ; a double border of pistia and broad-leaved recd grasses, six to seven feet high, enclosing it all round. On the south and west some low hillocks rose up, while from the middle it appeared to be almost circular, with a girdle of forest.
Coello makes the lake much too large (4 instead of 1 square mile). Its distance from Abuyog can be only a little over a league.
With the assistance of a cord of lianas tied together, and rods placed in a line, we found its breadth 585 brazas = 977 metres (in the broadest part it might be a little over 1,000 metres).
The length, as computed from some imperfect observations, 1,007 brazas (1,680 metres), consequently less than one square mile. Soundings showed a gently inclined basin, 8 brazas (13.3) deep in the middle. I would gladly have determined the proportions with more accuracy; but want of time, the inaccessibility of the edge of the bank, and the miserable condition of our raft, allowed of only a few rough measurements. • Not a trace of human habitations was observable on the shore; but at a quarter of an hour’s distance from the northern edge we found a comfortable hut, surrounded by deep mud and prickly calamus, the tenants of which, however, were living in plenty, and with greater conveniences than many dwellers in the villages. We were very well received and had fish in abundance, as well as tomatoes, and capsicum to season them with, and dishes of English earthenware out of which to eat them.
The abundance of wild swine had led the settlers to invent a way to warn of their approach even when asleep, and guided to their trail in the darkness. A rope made of strips of banana tied together, and upwards of a thousand feet in length, is extended along the ground, one end of which is attached to a cocoa-nut shell, full of water, which is suspended immediately over the sleeping-place of the hunter. When a pig comes in contact with the rope, the water is overturned by the jerk upon the sleeper, who, seizing the rope in his hand, is thereby conducted to his prey. The principal employment of our hosts appeared to be fishing, which is so productive that the roughest apparatus is sufficient.
There was not a single boat, but only loosely-bound rafts of bamboo, on which the fishers, sinking, as we ourselves did on our raft, half a foot deep, moved about amongst the crocodiles, which I never beheld in such numbers and of so large a size as in this lake.
Some swam about on the surface with their backs projecting out of the water.
Two little girls waded in the water in the face of such crocodiles. Fortunately the latter appeared to be satisfied with their ample rations of fish.
The lake has 4 kinds of fish, amongst them an eel, but we got only one.*
Early on the following morning, our native attendants were already drunk.
This led to the discovery of another occupation of the settlers, which I do not hesitate to disclose now that the Government monopoly has been abolished.
The natives secretly distilled palm-brandy and trade it.
We returned on our rafts to the place where we had found them, a distance of about 1,500 feet. and onwards, through wild cane with large clusters of flowers (Saccharum sp.), sixteen feet high, east by north, we got to our boats, and then to
- The lake at that time had but one outlet, but in the wet season it may be in connection with the Mayo, which, at its north-east side, is quite flat.
the bar, whence, after a march of an hour and a half, we reached Abúyog. From Abúyog we returned by water to Dúlag, and by land to Burauen, where we arrived at night, sooner than our hostlers had expected, for we caught them sleeping in our beds.
At no distant date much tobacco was cultivated in this country, and was allowed to be sold to the peasantry under certain conditions.
But recently it was forbidden to be sold, except by the Government which prices it so low that the culture of tobacco has almost entirely ceased.
As the tobacco company, however, had already erected stores and appointed collectors, the initiated rightly perceived beforehand that these steps would be followed by compulsory labour, even as it occurred in other places.
The east coast of Leyté is rising, while the west is being destroyed by the sea. At Ormoc, the sea has advanced about 50 ells in 6 years.