Blackwood’s magazine

People and Prospects of the Philippines

August, 1818

Here is an account of conditions in Manila and the Philippines from data given by an English merchant who left the Islands in 1798 after twenty years’ residence in which he accumulated a fortune.

“Your first question, with respect to the Spanish population, must refer to native Spaniards only; as their numerous descendants, through all the variety of half-castes, would include one third at least of the whole population of Luconia (i.e., Luzon—A. C.)

  • The non-military popupation of native Spaniards settled in the Philippine Islands is 2,000.
  • The military, including all descriptions, men and officers, are about 2,500, out of which number the native regiments are officered.
  • These last, in 1796–7, were almost entirely composed of South Americans and were reckoned at 5,000 men, making a military force of about 7,500.
  • The castes bearing a mixture of the Spanish blood are in Luconia alone at least 200,000.
  • The Sangleys, or Chinese descendants, are upwards of 20,000 . The natives call themselves the original Tagalas, about 340,000
    • They make up a total population in that island of about 600,000 souls.

I do not know the population in the other Philippine Islands.

(This opinion, of a day when it was not desired to disparage the people, gives an idea of the mixed blood of the Filipinos which, in the opinion of the ethnologists, like Ratzel, is a source of strength. It classes them with the English and Americans. One danger of the present appears in over-emphasizing the Malay blood, just as in Spanish times a real loss seems to have come from the contempt toward the Chinese which led to minimizing and concealing a most creditable ancestry.

Prejudice in the past called all trouble makers mestizos, but today’s study is showing that trouble maker meant man who would stand up for his rights; one must not forget that mestizo was used as a reproach, that the leaders of the people were really typical of the people. By the old injustice those who were mediocre were called natives and whoever rose above his fellows was claimed as a Spaniard, but a fairer way would seem to be to consider Filipinos all born in the Philippines.—C.).

The Cornhill magazine in the late ’70s had a contribution by the then British Consul, Mr. Palgreave, on “Malay Life in the Philippines,” that makes more understandable the reputation of the islands, which before the opening of the Suez were a health resort for Japan, the China coast and India. It also shows a fairness to the people uncommon in the Spanish-inspired writings of his day.

“Dull is his soul, unsympathetic his nature who can see the forests and mountains of Luzon, Queen of the Eastern Isles, fade away into dim violet outlines on the fast receding horizon without some pang of longing regret.

Not the Aegean, not the West Indian, not the Samoan, not any rival in manifold beauties of earth, sea and sky the Philippine Archipelago.

Pity that for the Philippines no word limner of note exists.

The chiefest, the almost exceptional spell of the Philippines is its [multiracial] people. It is not in anly lake or volcano, forest or plain.

  • They are ‘almost exceptional’ because intra-tropical people are rarely satisfactory to eye or mind.

But the Philippine Malays, bodily formation and mental characteristics, can claim the higher names inscribed on the world’s national scale. They are not merely among the middling ones.

They have:

  • a concentrated, never-absent self-respect
  • a habitual self-restraint in word and deed
  • very rarely broken except when extreme provocation induces the transitory but fatal frenzy known as ‘amok’
  • an inbred courtesy, equally diffused through all classes, high or low
  • unfailing decorum, prudence, caution
  • quiet cheerfulness
  • ready hospitality
  • a correct, though not inventive taste

His family is a pleasing sight. It has:

  • much subordination and little constraint
  • unison in gradation
  • liberty, not license
  • orderly children
  • respected parents
  • women subject but not oppressed
  • men ruling but not despotic
  • reverence with kindness
  • obedience in affection

These form lovable pictures, not by any means rare in the villages of the eastern isles.

(Here again comes the necessity of combatting the popular impression that the Philippines is a tropical land peopled by Malays. The modification of climate from being an ocean archipelago suggests that these islands are really subtropical, while mixture of blood joined with 300 years of European civilization makes the term Malay misleading.—C.)

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