The Former Philippines thru Foreign Eyes
By Fedor Jagor et al

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Public Domain Books

Part IV

Manila in 1819 [274]

By An American Naval Officer.

[Coral.] “ * * * The fine bay of Manila, thirty leagues in circumference, is situated near the middle of the west side of the island, and has good and clear anchorage in all parts of it, excepting on a coral ledge, called the Shoal of St. Nicholas, which is the only visible danger in the bay. The dangerous part of it is, however, of small extent, and with proper attention easily avoided; the least of water found on it at present is eleven feet, but its summit is constantly approaching the surface of the sea, as has been ascertained by surveys made at different periods by orders of government, which circumstance seems to indicate the presence of Zoophytes, that compound of animal and vegetable life, whose incessant and rapid labors, and, as we are told by naturalists, whose polypus-like powers of receiving perfect form and vitality into numberless dismembered portions of their bodies, have long excited much curiosity and admiration. These small, compound animals, commence their operations at the bottom of the sea, and proceed upwards, towards the surface, spreading themselves in various ramifications; the older members of the mass become concrete, petrify, and form dangerous shoals; the superior portion of these little colonists always being the last produced, in its turn generates myriads of others, and so on, ad infinitum, till they reach the surface of the ocean. These coral reefs and shoals are found in most parts of the world, within the tropics; but the waters of the eastern hemisphere seem to be peculiarly congenial to their production, and, indeed, there appear to be certain spaces or regions in these seas, which are their favorite haunts. Among many others may be mentioned the Mozambique channel, and that tract of ocean, from the eastern coast of Africa, quite across to the coast of Malabar, including the Mahé, Chagas, Maldive and Laccadive archipelagos; the southeastern part of the China sea; the Red sea; the eastern part of Java; the coasts of all the Sunda islands; and various places in the Pacific ocean. These shoals, when they begin to emerge from the sea, are frequented by aquatic fowls, whose feathers, and other deposits, combined with the fortuitous landing of drifts of wood, weeds, and various other substances from the adjacent lands, in the course of time form superaqueous banks, of considerable elevation; and the broken fragments of coral thrown up by the waves, slowly, but constantly increase their horizontal diameter. Coconuts are frequently seen floating upon the sea in these regions, some of which are no doubt thrown upon the shores of the new created lands; from which accidental circumstance this fruit is there propagated. Vagrant birds unconsciously deposit the germs of various other productions of the vegetable kingdom, which in due season spring up and clothe their surfaces with verdure; and the natural accumulation of dead and putrid vegetation serves to assist in the formation of a rich and productive soil, and to increase the altitudes of these new creations. As I have been always much amused and interested by this subject, and had frequent opportunities, during many years’ experience, to observe and examine these shoals in their various stages of subaqueous progress, and subsequent emersion I am convinced that not only many considerable islands, but extensive insular groups, owe their existence to the above origin.”

[The people.] [275]"* * * The natives of these islands are generally well made, and bear strong marks of activity and muscular vigor; they are in general somewhat larger than the Javanese, and bear some affinity in the features of their faces to the Malays; their noses are however more prominent, and their cheek bones not so high, nor are their skins so dark. Their hair is of a jet black, made glossy by the constant application of coconut oil, as is the custom in all India, and drawn together and knotted on top, in the manner of the Malays. The women display great taste in the arrangement and decorations of their hair, which they secure with silver or gold bodkins, the heads of which are frequently composed of precious stones.”

[Mixed blood.] [276]"* * * A very considerable proportion of the population of Manila is composed of the mestizos; they are the offspring of the intermarriages of the Spaniards with the native women, and these again forming connexions with the whites, or with the native Indians (the latter, however, less frequent), combine in stamping upon their descendants a great variety of features and shades of color; a general resemblance is, however, to be traced, and waiving color and manners, a mestizo could not easily be mistaken for a native. This class of the inhabitants is held in nearly the same estimation as the whites. They are very cleanly in their persons, and neat in their dress, which, among the males, consists generally of a pair of cotton trousers of various colors, as fancy dictates, and shoes in the European manner, a frock, or tunic, of striped grass manufacture, worn outside the trousers, in the manner of the Asiatic Armenians (but without the sash, or girdle), the collars of which are tastefully embroidered, and thrown back on their shoulders; a European hat completes their costume, which is light, cool and airy, and after a stranger has been a short time accustomed to see what he at first would call a perversion of dress, his prejudices subside, and he has no hesitation in pronouncing it very proper and graceful. They are remarkably fine limbed, and well built, the females especially, who are really models of the most complete symmetry; their hair and eyes, which unlike their skins, seldom vary from the original jet black of their native parents, bestow upon them the primary characteristics of the brunette. This people, unlike the generality of mixed colors in the human race, have been improved by their intermixture, they are more industrious and cleanly than the Spaniards, possess more intelligence and polish than the Indians and are less malicious and revengeful than either. The men are employed mostly as writers, brokers, agents and overseers; many of them hold lucrative offices under government, and they not unfrequently arrive at wealth and consideration. The women are also industrious, and capable of great intellectual improvement; they have a natural grace and ease in their manner, and make excellent wives and mothers. This character must not, however, be taken in an unlimited sense, for we cannot expect this rule to be without its exceptions, and it is true that some of these females do degenerate, and copy after the manners of the creoles, or white natives; but this is only the case when, by their intercourse with the whites, their Indian blood is merged and lost in the European. That part of the population in which is blended the blood of the Chinese and Tagalogs is named the Chinese mestizos.


Part II  •  (B)  •  (C)  •  Part III  •  (D)  •  Part IV  •  (E)  •  Part VI  •  Notes