Chapter 6b

The Houses of the People Icon

April 12, 2022

I visited several families and received a friendly reception from all of them.

The houses were built of planks, and were placed upon piles elevated 5 feet above the ground. They consisted of a spacious dwelling apartment which opened on one side into the kitchen, and on the other on to an open space, the azotea ;

A lofty roof of palm-trees spread itself above the dwelling, the entrance to which was through the azotea. The latter was half covered by the roof I have just mentioned.

The floor was composed of laths an inch in width, laid down at intervals of half that distance. Chairs, tables, benches, a cupboard, a few small ornaments, a mirror, and some lithographs in frames, composed the furniture of the interior. The cleanliness of the house and the arrangement of its contents testified to the existence of order and prosperity.

The women in almost all the houses were occupied in weaving tapis, which have a great reputation in the Manila market.

They are narrow, thickly-woven silk scarves, 6 varas in length, with oblique white stripes on a dark-brown ground. They are worn above the sarong (see p. 30).

Baliwag is also famous for its Petaca* cigar-cases, which surpass all others in delicacy of workmanship. They are made of fine strips of Spanish cane which grow only in the province of New Ecija.

A bundle of a hundred selected stalks, a couple of feet long, costs about six reals. When these stalks have been split lengthways into four or five pieces, the inner wood is removed, so that nothing but the outer part remains.

The thin strips thus obtained are drawn by the hand between a convex porcelain block and a knife fixed in a sloping position, and again between a couple of steel blades which nearly meet.

  • Tylor says that this word is derived from the Mexican petlati, a mat. The inhabitants of the Philippines call this petate, and from the Mexican petla-calli, a mat case, derive petaca, a cigar case.

It is a manufacture requiring much patience and practice. In the first operation, as a rule, quite one half of the stems are broken, and in the second more than half, so that scarcely twenty per cent. of the stalks survive the final process.

In very fine matting the proportionate loss is still greater. The plaiting is done on wooden cylinders. A case of average workmanship, which costs a couple of dollars on the spot, can be manufactured in six days’ uninterrupted labour. Cigar-cases of exceptionally intricate workmanship, made to order for a connoisseur, frequently cost upwards of $50.

Following the Quingoa river from Baliwag upstream, we passed several quarries, where we saw the thickly-packed strata of volcanic stone which is used as a building material. The banks of the river are thickly studded with prickly bamboos from ten to twelve feet high.

The water overflows in the rainy season, and floods the plain for a great distance. Hence the many shells of large freshwater mussels which are to be seen lying on the earth which covers the volcanic deposit. The country begins to get hilly in the neighbourhood of Tobóg, a small place with no church of its own, and dependent for its religion upon the priest of the nearest parsonage.

The gentle slopes of the hills are, as in Java, cut into terraces and used for the cultivation of rice. Except at Lucban I have never observed similar sawas anywhere else in the Philippines.

Several small sugar-fields, which, however, the natives do not as yet understand how to manage properly, show that the rudiments of agricultural prosperity are already in existence. The roads are partly covered with awnings, beneath which benches are placed affording repose to the weary traveller. I never saw these out of this province. One might fancy oneself in one of the most fertile and thickly-populated districts of Java.

I passed the night in a convento which is the dwelling of the priests. It was extremely dirty. The priest was an Augustine and was full of proselytish ardour.

I had to undergo a long geographical exam on the difference between Prussia (grand-duchy) and Russia (empire). I was asked whether the great city of Nuremberg was the capital Prussia or Russia. I learnt that the English were returning to the bosom of the Catholic Church, and that the “others” would soon follow.

Some little time afterwards I fell into the hands of two young Capuchins, who tried to convert me, but who, with the exception of this little impertinence, treated me capitally. They gave me pâtés de foies gras boiled in water, which I quickly recognised by the truffles swimming about in the grease.

To punish them for their importunity I refrained from telling my hosts the right way to cook the patés, which I had the pleasure of afterwards eating in the forest, as I easily persuaded them to sell me the tins they had left.

These are the only two occasions on which I was subjected to this kind of annoyance during my 18 months’ residence in the Philippines.

means obliged to rely upon priestly hospitality, as he needs must do in many isolated parts of Europe. Every village, every hamlet, has its common-house, called casa real or tribunal, in which he can take up his quarters and be supplied with provisions at the market price, a circumstance that I was not acquainted with on the occasion of my first trip.

The traveller is therefore in this respect perfectly independent, at least in theory, though in practice he will often scarcely be able to avoid putting up at the conventos in the more isolated parts of the country.

The priest in a convento is perhaps the only white man for miles around. He will not miss the opportunity of housing such a rare guest. He will give up his best bedroom and offer everything that his kitchen and cellar can afford.

Everything is placed before the guest in such a spirit of sincere and undisguised friendliness, that he feels no obligation. But on the contrary easily persuades himself that he is doing his host a favour by prolonging his stay.

In one occasion, I had refused a padré’s invitation and instead booked a casa real. Just as I was beginning to settle in, the priest appeared with the municipality and a band of music which was preparing for a religious festival. He made them lift me up, chair and all, and with music and general rejoicing carried me off to his own house.


On the following day, I visited Kupang, an iron-foundry lying to the N.N.E. of Angat. I was pressed by a couple of armed men to be escorted as the district had a bad reputation for robberies.

After travelling 3-4 miles in a northerly direction, we crossed the Banavon, at that time a mere brook meandering through shingle, but in the rainy season an impetuous stream more than 100 feet wide, broad; and in a couple of hours we reached the iron-works, an immense shed lying in the middle of the forest, with a couple of wings at each end, in which the manager, an Englishman, who had been wrecked a twelvemonth previously in Samar, lived with his wife, a pretty half-caste.

If I laid down my purse, my pencil, or any other object, the wife immediately locked them up to protect them from the kleptomania of her servants. These honest people, whose enterprise was not a very successful one, must have passed a wretched life.

Two years before my visit, a band of 27 robbers burst into the place, sacked the house, and threw its mistress, who was alone with her maid at the time, out of the window.

She fortunately alighted without receiving any serious hurt, but the maid, whom terror caused to jump out of the window also, died of the injuries she received.

The robbers were miners and residents in Angat. They were easily caught. When I was there, they had already spent 2 years in prison waiting their trial.

I met a negro family here who had friendly relations with the people in the iron-works, and were in the habit of exchanging the produce of the forest with them for provisions.

The father of this family accompanied me on a hunting expedition. He was armed with a bow and a couple of arrows. The arrows had spearshaped iron points a couple of inches long; one of them had been dipped into arrow-poison, a mixture that looked like black tar.

The women had guitars (tabaŭa) similar to those used by the Mintras in the Malay peninsula. They were made of pieces of bamboo a foot long, to which strings of split chair-cane were fastened. The following sketch is not a likeness of one of these negroes, of whom I only possess some imperfect drawings, but is taken from a capital photograph of one of a family living farther to the north.

Upon my return, to avoid spending the night at the wretched convento where I had left my servant with my luggage, I took the advice of my friends at the iron-works and started late, in order to arrive at the priest’s after 10pm. I knew that the padré closed his house at 10pm. I could then sleep, without offending him, in the house of a wealthy half-caste acquaintance of mine.

About 10:30, I reached the latter’s house, and sat down to table with the merry women of the family, who were just having their supper. Suddenly my friend the parson made his appearance from an inner room, where, with a couple of Augustine monks, he had been playing cards with the master of the house.

He immediately began to compliment me upon my good fortune, “ for had you been but one minute later,” said he, “you certainly wouldn’t have got into the convento.”