Chapter 6

Fires in Bulacan Icon

April 13, 2022

The province of Bulacan is on the northern shore of Manila Bay.

A couple of hours brought the steamer to the bar of Binuánga (not Bincanga as it is called in Coello’s map), and a third to Bulacan, the capital of the province, situated on the flat banks of an influent of the Pampanga delta.

I was the only European passenger. The others were Tagalogs, half-castes, and a few Chinese. The first more particularly were represented by women, who are generally charged with the management of all business affairs, for which they are much better fitted than the men.

As a consequence:

  • there are usually more women than men seen in the streets
  • female births are more numerous than the male.


Bulacan town has 11-12,000 people. A month before my arrival, all of Bulacan town had been burnt to the ground, except for the church and a few stone houses.

Everyone was occupied in building themselves new houses, which, oddly enough, but very practically, were commenced at the roof, like houses in a drawing. Long rows of roofs composed of palm-leaves and bamboos were laid in readiness on the ground, and in the meantime were used as tents.

Similar destructive fires are very common. The houses, which with few exceptions are built of bamboo and wood, become perfectly parched in the hot season, dried into so much touchwood by the heat of the sun.

The people are extremely careless about fire. They have no means to extinguishing it.

If anything catches fire on a windy day, the entire village, as a rule, is utterly done for.

During my stay in Bulacan, the whole suburb of San Miguel, in the neighbourhood of Manila, was burnt down, except for the house of my Swiss friend. It had:

  • a private fire-engine
  • a small garden full of bananas, whose stems full of sap stopped the progress of the flames.

I travelled to Calumpit, a distance of three leagues, in the handsome carriage of an hospitable friend.

The roads were good, and were continuously shaded by fruit-trees, cocoa and areca palms. The aspect of this fruitful province reminded me of the richest districts of Java;

but the pueblos here exhibited more comfort than the desas there. The houses were more substantial; numerous roomy constructions of wood, in many cases, even, of stone, denoted in every island the residence of officials and local magnates.


The poorer Javanese always give their osier huts a smart appearance. They border the roads of their villages with blooming hedges, and display everywhere a sense of neatness and cleanliness. Bulacan had far fewer evidences of taste.

The Javanese had a pretty and carefully-tended open square called the alun-alun which was present in every village in Java. It was shaded by waringa trees.

And the quantity and variety of the fruit trees, under whose leaves the desas of Java are almost hidden, were by no means so striking in this province, although it is the garden of the Philippines, as in those of its Dutch prototype.

I reached Calumpit towards evening, just as a procession, resplendent with flags and torches, and melodious with song, was marching round the stately church, whose worthy priest, on the strength of a letter of introduction from Madrid, gave me a most hospitable reception.


Calumpit is a prosperous place of 12,250 people. It is at the junction of the Quingoa and Pampanga rivers, in an extremely fruitful plain, fertilised by the frequent overflowing of the two streams.

About 6 leagues to the north-west of Calumpit, Mount Arayat, a lofty, isolated, conical hill, lifts its head. Seen from Calumpit, its western slope (a b) meets the horizon at an angle of 20°, its eastern at one of 25° ; and the profile of its summit (6 c) has a gentle inclination of from 4° to 5o.

I saw some Chinese catching fish in their own peculiar fashion. Across the lower end of the bed of a brook which was nearly dried up, and in which there were only a few rivulets left running, they had fastened a hurdle of bamboo, and thrown up a shallow dam behind it.

The water which collected was thrown over the dam with a long-handled winnowing shovel. The shovel was tied to a bamboo framework ten feet high, the elasticity of which made the work much easier. As soon as the pool was emptied, the fisherman was easily able to pick out of the mud a quantity of small fish (Ophiocephalus vagus).

These fishes, which are provided with peculiar organisms, intended perhaps to facilitate respiration, and which, at any rate, enable them to remain for some considerable time on dry land, are in the wet season so numerous in the ditches, ponds, and rice-fields, that they can be killed with a stick.

When the water sinks they also retire, or, according to Professor Semper, bore deeply into the ooze at the bottom of the watercourses, where, protected by a hard crust of earth from the persecutions of mankind, they sleep away the winter.

This Chinese method of fishing is well adapted to the habits of the fish. The circumstances that the dam is only constructed at the lower end of the watercourse, and that it is there that the fish are to be met with in the greatest numbers, seem to indicate that they can travel in the ooze, and that as the brooks and ditches get dried up, they seek the larger water channels.

Following the Quingoa in its upward and eastward course as it meandered through a well-cultivated and luxuriantly fertile country, past stone-built churches and chapels which grouped themselves with the surrounding palm-trees and bamboo-bushes into sylvan vignettes, Father Llano’s four-horsed carriage brought me to the important town of Balivag, the industry of which is celebrated beyond the limits of the province.