Chapter 14a

Manners And Customs Of The Bícol Natives Icon

March 6, 2022

On my second journey in Camarines, which I undertook in February, I went by water from Polangui, past Bátu, as far as Nága.

The Quináli, which runs into the south-eastern corner of the lake of Bátu, runs out again on the north side as the Bícol River, and flows in a north-westerly direction as far as the Bay of San Miguél.

It forms the medium of a not inconsiderable trade between Albay and Camarines, particularly in rice; of which the supply grown in the former province does not suffice for the population, which consumes the superfluity of Camarines.

The rice is conveyed in large boats up the river as far as Quináli, and thence trans. ported further on in buffalo carts; and the boats return empty. During the dry season of the year, the breadth of the very tortuous Bícol, at its mouth, is a little over sixty feet, and increases but very gradually.

There is considerable variety of vegetation upon its banks, and in animal life it is highly attractive. I was particularly struck with its numerous monkeys and water-fowl.

Of the latter the Plotus variety was most abundant, but difficult to shoot. They sit motionless on the trees on the bank, only their thin heads and necks, like those of tree-snakes, overtopping the leaves. On the approach of the boat they precipitate themselves hastily into the water; and it is not until after many minutes that the thin neck is seen rising up again at some distance from the spot where the bird disappeared.

The Plotus appears to be as rapid on the wing as it is in swimming and diving.

In Nága, the chief city of South Camarines, I alighted at the tribunal, from which, however, I was immediately invited by the principal official of the district—who is famed for his hospitality far beyond the limits of his province—to his house, where I was loaded with civilities and favours. This universally beloved gentleman put everybody under contribution in order to enrich my collections, and did all in his power to render my stay agreeable and to further my designs.

Nága is the seat of a bishopric and of the provincial Government. In official documents it is called Nueva-Cáceres, in honour of the Captain-General, D. Fr. de Sande, a native of Cáceres, who about 1578 founded Nága (the Spanish town) close to the Indian village.

At the beginning of the seventeenth century it numbered nearly one hundred Spanish inhabitants; at the present time it hardly boasts a dozen. Murillo Velarde remarks (xiii. 272), in contrast to the state of things in America, that of all the towns founded in the Philippines, with the exception of Manila, only the skeletons, the names without the substance, have been preserved.

The reason is, as has been frequently shown, that up to the present time plantations, and consequently proper settlers, have been wanting. Formerly Nága was the principal town of the whole of that district of Luzon lying to the east of Tayabas, which, on account of the increased population, was divided into the three provinces of North and South Camarines and Albáy. The boundaries of these governmental districts, those between Albáy and South Camarines more especially, have been drawn very arbitrarily; although, the whole of the territory, as is shown by the map, geographically is very well defined.

The country is named Camarínes. But it might more suitably be called the country of the Bicols, for the whole of it is inhabited by one race, the Bicol natives who are distinguished by their speech and many other peculiarities from their neighbours, the Tagals on the west, and the Bisayans on the islands to the south and east.

The Bicols are found only in this district and in a few islands lying immediately in front of it.

Of their coming hither no information is to be obtained from the comprehensive but confused histories of the Spanish monks.

Morga considers them to be natives.

Manilans and nearby areas traditionally assert that the Bicols descended from:

  • Malays who have migrated to Bicol
  • the inhabitants of other islands and more distant provinces.*

Their speech is midway between that of the Tagals and the Bisayans.

They themselves appear, in both their manners and customs, to be a half-breed between these two races.

Physically and mentally they are inferior to the Tagalogs, but are superior to the eastern Bisayans.

Bicol is spoken only in the two Camarínes, Albáy, Luzon, the islands of Masbáte, Burias, Ticáo, and Catanduanes, and in the smaller adjoining islands.

The inhabitants of the volcanic mountain Ysaróg and its immediatè neighbourhood speak it in the greatest purity. Thence towards the west the Bicol dialect becomes more and more like the Tagal, and towards the east like the Bisay, until by degrees, even before reaching the boundaries of their ethnographical districts, it merges into these two kindred languages.

In South Camarines the sowing of the rice in beds begins in June or July, always at the commencement of the rainy season ; but, in fields artificially watered, earlier, because thus the fruit ripens

  • Arenas thinks that the ancient annals of the Chinese probably contain information relative to the settlement of the present inhabi:ants of Manila, is that people had early intercourse with the Archipelago.

at a time when, the store in the country being small, its price is high. Although the rice fields could very well give two crops

Fig. 2


Arado, the Plough, Differs very little from that still used in Spain. With the exception of d and e, all is of wood, even the nails : a, tokod, Om. 71 ; b, timon, Om. 21 ; c, caballo, im. 67; d, lipia, in length Orn. 21, in breadth, above, Om. 16, below, Om. 11 ; e, sodsod, Om. 21 in length, and Om. 16 in breadth; 9, pakanap, Om. 71;-cane connecting d with a, and g with a and c.

yearly, they are tilled only once. It is planted out in August, with intervals of a hand’s-breadth between each row and each individual plant; and within four months the rice is ripe. The fields are

Fig.4 Agricultural implements of the Bicol Indians. Figs. 1 and 2, Soród (harrow) : @, tampong, of bamboo, Om. 52; b, badas, of Caryota, Om. 68 ; C, papan, of the very hard wood of Camagon, Om, 73 long, and Om. 12 thick ; d, tagiak, of knotted branches for pulling in the buffalo; e, nipon (tooth, of Caryota, Om. 31 ; f, bands of cane. Figs. 3 and 4, Azadón (hatchet). Figs. 5 and 6, Kag-kag (rake); entirely of bamboo; length of teeth, Om. 16.

never manured, and but seldom ploughed; the weeds and the stubble being generally trodden into the already soaked ground by a dozen buffaloes, and the soil afterwards simply rolled with a cylinder furnished with sharp points, or loosened with the harrow (soród). Besides the agricultural implements named above, there are the Spanish hatchet (azadón) and a rake of bamboo (kag-kag) in use.