Chapter 10c

Philippine Theater Icon

April 26, 2022

When my ankle began to get better, my first excursion was to Legaspi, where some natives were giving a theatrical performance.

A Spanish political refugee directed the entertainment.

On each side of the stage, roofed in with palm leaves, ran covered galleries for the dignitaries of the place. The uncovered space between which was set apart for the common people. The performers had chosen a play taken from Persian history.

The language was Spanish, and the dresses were, to say the least, eccentric.

The stage was erected hard by a public street, which itself formed part of the auditorium, and the noise was so great that I could only catch a word here and there. The actors stalked on, chattering their parts, which not one of them understood, and moving their arms up and down; and, when they reached the edge of the stage, they tacked and went back again like ships sailing against the wind.

Their countenances were entirely devoid of expression, and they spoke like automatons. If I had understood the words, the contrast between their meaning and the machinelike movements of the actors would probably have been droll enough; but, as it was, the noise, the heat, and the smoke were so great that we soon left the place.

Both the theatrical performance and the whole festival bore the impress of laziness, indifference, and mindless mimicry.

When I compared the frank cheerfulness I had seen radiating from every countenance at the religious holidays of Europe with the expressionless and immobile faces of the Indians, I found it difficult to understand how the latter were persuaded to waste so much time and money upon a matter they seemed so thoroughly indifferent to.

Travellers have remarked the same want of gaiety amongst the Indians of America ; and some of them ascribe it to the small development of the nervous system prevalent among these peoples, to which cause also they attribute their wonderful courage in bearing pain. But Tylor observes that the Indian’s countenance is so different from ours that it takes us several years to rightly interpret its expression.

There probably is something in both these explanations. And, although I observed no lively expression of amusement among my native friends at Legaspi, I noticed that they took the greatest possible pleasure in decorating their village, and that the procession which formed part of the festival had extraordinary charms for them.

Every individual was dressed in his very best; and the honour of carrying a fighting cock inspired those who attained it with the greatest pride, and raised an amazing amount of envy in the breasts of the remainder. Visitors poured in from all the surrounding hamlets, and erected triumphal arches which they had brought with them ready-made, and which bore some complimentary inscription. I am obliged to confess that some of the holiday-makers were very drunk.

The natives of the Philippines have a great love for strong drink. Even the young girls occasionally get intoxicated.

When night came on, the strangers were hospitably lodged in the dwellings of the village. On such occasions native hospitality shows itself in a very favourable light. The door of every house stands open, and even balls take place in some of the larger hamlets.

The Spanish and half-caste cavaliers, however, condescend to dance only with half-caste partners, and very seldom invite a pretty native girl to join them.

The natives very rarely dance together. But in Sámar I was present on one occasion when a by no means ungraceful native dance was improvised on the spot.

The men sang verses, and one of the dancers presented his partner with a rose, “begging her to be careful how she handled it, as no rose was without a thorn.” This would have been thought a charming compliment in the mouth of an Andalusian.

My idle existence in Darága was so agreeable to my servants and their many friends that they wanted me to stay there as long as possible.

They adopted some very ingenious means to persuade me to do so.

Twice, when everything was prepared for a start the next morning, my shoes were stolen in the night; and on another occasion they kidnapped my horse.

When an Indian has a particularly heavy load to carry, or a long journey to make, he thinks nothing of coolly appropriating the well-fed beast of some Spaniard ; which, when he has done with it, he turns loose without attempting to feed it, and it wanders about till somebody catches it and stalls it in the nearest “Tribunal.”

There it is kept tied up and hungry until its master claims it and pays its expenses. I had a dollar to pay when I recovered mine, although it was nearly starved to death, on the pretence that it had swallowed rice to that value since it had been caught.

Small robberies occur very frequently, but they are committed—as an acquaintance, a man who had spent some time in the country, informed me one evening when I was telling him my troubles—only upon the property of new arrivals. Old residents, he said, enjoyed a prescriptive freedom from such little inconveniences. I fancy some waggish native must have overheard our conversation, for early the next morning my friend, the old resident, sent to borrow chocolate, biscuits, and eggs of me, as his larder and his hen-house had been rifled during the night.

Monday and Friday evenings were the Darága market nights. in fine weather always afforded a pretty sight. The women, neatly and cleanly clad, sat in long rows and offered their provisions for sale by the light of hundreds of torches; and, when the business was over, the slopes of the mountains were studded all over with flickering little points of brightness proceeding from the torches carried by the homeward-bound market women. Besides eatables, many had silks and stuffs woven from the fibres of the pine-apple and the banana for sale. These goods they carried on their heads; and I noticed that all the younger women were accompanied by their sweethearts, who relieved them of their burdens.

A Naturalist in rainy weather. The hat made of palm leaves and the stalks of the nito; the coat of bark.