"WHEN LIFE WAS SLOW AND OH, SO MELLOW" (FILIPINAS, 1734)

"[T]he natives are able-bodied and well-featured, brown-skinned, well-disposed to religion and to Spaniards, are capable and make good calligraphers, painters, sculptors, engravers, silversmiths, embroiderers, sailors, etc.," wrote Fr. Pedro Murillo Velarde, S.J. of our ancestors in his map Carta hydrographica y chorographica de las Islas Filipinas ... (1734).


MANILA, Philippines - Accompanying the description are vignettes at the map's borders giving a glimpse of our indio great-(plus seven more greats)-grandparents' time.

All-purpose carabaos are hitched to plow and sled. A farmer's wife pounds palay with mortar and pestle. They build houses with bamboo frames, travel carabao-back or are carried on hammocks. They relax at cockfights. The countryside yields jackfruit (nanca), bananas, cacao, papaya, bonga (betel nut palm). Wildlife abounds-birds, monkeys, "bat with head like a dog's." Rivers teem with crocodiles-one has jaws opened wide-and trees are festooned with saua (boa constrictor)-one is having a large pig for lunch.

Manila Bay is busy with sailboats and with the Galleon Trade, traders and artisans arrive from all over.

Spaniards are at the top of the heap. An official wearing European dress (wig, great coat with wide cuffs, breeches) and shadowed by a liveried parasol-bearing servant talks to a respectful criollo (Philippine-born Spaniard described as dark-skinned). Spanish mestizos are next down the totem pole-bejeweled woman in wide saya and narrow-sleeved baro and man in long cape over knee-length bloomers.

The Chinese community includes a wealthy Christian convert with wig, hat and knee-length cape; and a pigtailed taipan with bulging purse and fan. Two others are working class, both barefoot and in pigtails-a fisherman with salakot wearing what seems like woven palm leaves and a humbly-dressed peon with a carrying pole (cargador con pinga).

Seated with an Armenian or Persian (Murillo Velarde is unsure) drawing on a hookah, are a Moghul and a Malabar. A canarin and a lascar (Indian mariner) watch four half-naked cafres (black Africans)-dancing with bells on their ankles. There seem to have been many Indian traders-Moghul, Malabar and canarin are from Goa and India's west coast. The cafres' presence is unexplained.

Also present are a sword-bearing Japanese and a prosperous-looking mardica, native of Ternate in the Moluccas. (When Spain left the Moluccas to the Dutch, some Christianized natives migrated and founded a town in Cavite they named Ternate).

Lowest on the totem pole are barefoot indios on their way to church. The man wears short pants, loose shirt and large shoulder cloth (lambon). The woman is entirely in black, knee-length veil over a long dress. Vendors approach them-a woman with a basket of guavas and urchins (one in g-string, the other naked) offering a crab and bamboo containers of maybe milk and tuba. Nearby are a Bisaya con balarao (a bolo) and an indio couple dancing el comintan (an ancient dance) accompanied by mandolin.

Lowly they might have been, but the artist proclaims, "Fran.co Suarez, Indio Tagalo lo hizo" and the engraver, "Lo esculpió Nicolás de la Cruz Bagay, Indio Tagalo en Man. Año 1734."


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