Chapter 13

Native Priests Icon

March 16, 2022

In an hour and a half after leaving Polángui we reached Bátu, a village on the north-western shore of the lake of the same name.

The inhabitants, particularly the women, struck me by their ugliness and want of cleanliness. Although they lived close to the lake, and drew their daily drinking water from it, they never appeared to use it for washing.

The streets of the village also were dirty and neglected. This is probably because the priest was a native.

Towards the end of the rainy season in November, the lake extends far more widely than it does in the dry, and overflows its shallow banks, especially to the south-west. Many water-plants grow on its borders; amongst which I particularly noticed a delicate seaweed, as fine as horsehair, but intertwined in such close and endless ramifications that it forms a flooring strong enough to support the largest waterfowl.

I saw hundreds of them hopping about and eating the shell fish and prawns, which swarmed amidst the meshes of the net-like seaweed and fell an easy prey to their feathered enemies.

The natives, too, were in the habit of catching immense quantities of the prawns with nets made for the purpose.

Some they ate fresh ; and some they kept till they were putrid, like old cheese, and then used them as a relish to swallow with their rice.

These small shell-fish are not limited to the Lake of Bátu. They are caught in shoals in both the salt and the fresh waters of the Philippine and Indian archipelagos, and, when salted and dried ly the natives, form an important article of food, eaten either in soup or as a kind of potted paste. They are found in every market, and are largely exported to China. I was unable to shoot any of the waterfowl, for the tangles of the seaweed prevented my boat from getting near them.

When I revisited the same lake in February, I found its waters so greatly fallen that they had left a circular belt of shore extending all round the lake, in most places nearly 100 feet wide.

The withdrawal of the waters had compressed the tangled seaweed into a kind of matting, which, bleached by the sun, and nearly an inch thick, covered the whole of the shore, and hung suspended over the stunted bushes which, on my first visit, had been under water. I have never either seen elsewhere, or heard any one mention, a similar phenomenon.

The native priest of Bátu was full of complaints about his parishioners, who gave him no opportunities of gaining an honest penny.

“I am never asked for a mass, sir ; in fact, this is such a miserable hole that it is shunned by Death itself. In D., where I was for a long time coadjutor, we had our couple of burials regularly every day at 3 dollars a head, and as many masses at a dollar apiece as we had time to say, besides christenings and weddings, which always brought a little more grist to the mill. But here nothing takes place, and I scarcely make anything."

This stagnant state of things led him into commerce. Native priests, as a rule, do little credit to their profession. They are:

  • extraordinarily ignorant
  • extremely dissipated
  • only superficially acquainted with their duties

They pass most of their time in gambling, drinking, and other sinful amusements. They take little care to preserve a properly decorous behaviour, except when officiating in the church, when they read with an absurd assumption of dignity, without understanding a single word.

The conventos are often full of girls and children, all of whom help themselves with their fingers out of a common dish.

The worthy padre of Bátu introduced a couple of pretty girls to me as his 2 poor sisters, whom, in spite of his poverty, he supported. But the servants about the place openly spoke of these young ladies’ babies as being the priest’s children.

The guiding principle of Spanish colonial policy is to:

  • set one class against another
  • prevent either from becoming too powerful

This seems to be the motive for placing so many native incumbents in the parsonages of the Archipelago.

The prudence of this proceeding, however, seems doubtful.

A Spanish priest has a great deal of influence in his own immediate circle, and forms, perhaps, the only enduring link between the colony and the mother-country. The native priest is far from affording any compensation for the lack of either of these advantages.

He generally is but little respected by his flock, and certainly does nothing to attach them to Spain ; for he hates and envies his Spanish brethren, who leave him only the very worst appointments, and treat him with contempt.