A. Paulita Roa
WHEN the Spaniards first came to the Philippines, they had chroniclers who were mostly their missionaries who recorded all the important events and wrote about the people, the local customs and traditions, languages, the flora and the fauna and many more. The most notable of the chroniclers was Antonio Pigafetta, a Venetian scholar who joined the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan as his assistant. He kept an accurate journal that later was a big help when he did a translation in Cebuano, making it the first recorded document in that language. He was among the surviving crew that went back to Spain when the ill-fated expedition suffered many tragic reverses after Magellan was slain in Mactan. However, they earned the honor of being the first group under the captainship of Juan Sebastian Elcano to circumnavigate the world. What we know now from Magellan and Elcano’s historic voyages came from the journals of Pigafetta.
Fast forward to another historic era, the 1900-1901 Philippine-American War in Misamis Province. Though we have the Bautista Manuscript on that war by historian Filomeno Bautista, I am glad that we also have two travel journals written by two American women, Ethel Maud Colquhoun and Florence Kimball Russel, who both came separately to Cagayan de Misamis on that period. Their books have given us rare and rich glimpses of the town and the people. They are the Pigafettas of the 1900s.
I have decided to quote directly from Russel’s book titled “A Woman’s Journey through the Philippines” (Boston, 1907) about her impressions on her first visit to Cagayan. However, keep in mind that at the time of her series of visits on board the cableship Burnside, the Kagay-anons and Misamisnons were fighting to regain back their freedom from the Americans and thousands of these armed freedom fighters were up on hills near Cagayan.
“… the town (Cagayan) itself looked prosperous;the little shops were flourishing; and the natives, with ill-concealed interest, peered our furtively from under their jalousie blinds as the great swinging Dougherty wagon , with its four strapping mules, tore the broad streets, taking us to and from the ship.
“This Dougherty wagon was at our disposal all the time we were there. Thanks to the courtesy of the colonel commanding, though sometimes there was an unusually large party from the ship, we women were put into a two-seated barouche of great antiquity, as dingy and faded as its own cerulean lining, but it’s the only carriage in town. The officers called this delightful equippage ‘the extreme unction,’ as this was owned by the padres before the government bought it, and it was used in last visits to the dying. The natives crossed themselves before passing this conveyance, and would no more have ridden in it than in a hearse, but we found ‘the extreme unction’ very comfortable and heard no groans or death-bed confessions in its rusty creak, neither saw aught in its moth eaten tapestry but that it had once been very handsome.
“There was this old cathedral, which in its way was decidedly unique. This cathedral was far more pretentious than any we have seen outside of Manila, and its altars, for it boasted several, were unspeakable combinations of cheap gaudiness and some little beauty. Common tinsel was cheek by jowl with handsome silver, and while a few of the many mural decorations and paintings were good, most of them were atrocious – glorified chromos of simpering saints with preternaturally large eyes, more nearly resembling advertisements for a hair dye or complexion bleach than ecclesiastical subjects. Around the main altar stood armored soldiers of biblical antiquity, squat, inelegant figures that had been painted on canvas and were cut out like gigantic paper dolls, being put into wooden grooves to ensure their perpendicularity.
“At one side of the church was a glass case containing a coffin of regulation size, the wax figure within being covered with a black shroud so that a bare arm only was visible. Across the soft white flesh, for it was a woman’s arm, ran a hideously realistic burn, suggesting that the figure might have been that of some Christian martyr, the probable patron saint of Cagayan. Before the principal altar stood quaint prayer stools of ebony carved to resemble kneeling human figures and in the loft was a very good organ, though somewhat high-pitched and reedy in tone.
“The native women in Cagayan were rather more progressive than those in the towns we had just visited. Some of them even wore hats, and straightway copied or rather, tried to copy, those worn by the cable-ship contingent. They also rode bicycles, looking most incongruous awheel, the long spade shaped train to their skirts tucked out the way, their wide camisa sleeves standing out like stiff sails on either side, their demure and modest little kerchiefs swelling with the quick throbbing of their adventurous hearts. We were told that one of these women, after seeing the quartermaster’s wife riding a bicycle in her very short and modish skirt, straightway took two deep tucks in her own long saya, train and all.
“Socially, we enjoyed Cagayan to the utmost, and it fault could be found with our numerous visits there. It was that we had too good a time, so good that the undoubted local interest of the place quite faded into insignificance beside its purely social side. There were luncheons and dinners given to us on shore; and dinners and luncheons given by us on the ship;there was a delightful tea on the gunboat, and a concert by the infantry band in our honor; there were horseback rides for those who cared for them, though all went well armed, as the roads around Cagayan were then in hostile territory; while the shooting of the men was exceptionally good, though this was not discovered until our last visit to Cagayan, when the quartermaster, after a half day’s outing returned with a prodigious string of ducks.”
So there you are – excursions,dinners, luncheons,hunting ducks, a tea, a concert and horseback rides in time of war! Did the Americans take our fight for freedom seriously? Or did they engage the enemy in battle in between their socials?