God is in the details


God is in the details

Why is it that when we talk of Manila as an important, cosmopolitan, capital city, we do so in the past tense? Is it because Manila is lost in the group of cities that now form the National Capital Region?

Spanish Manila was contained within (Intra) the walls (Muros), while districts outside (Extra-muros) were suburbs or arrabales: Binondo, Ermita, Malate, Paco, Pandacan, Quiapo, Sampaloc, San Miguel, and Tondo. Old Manila disappeared not because of “New Manila” in Quezon City, it was diluted when joined by suburbs and other areas into “Greater Manila” in the last century. Today’s Metropolitan Manila includes Caloocan, Las Piñas, Makati, Malabon, Mandaluyong, Marikina, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Parañaque, Pasay, Pasig, Pateros, Quezon City, San Juan, Taguig, and Valenzuela.

Manila in the 18th century was not a hick, backwater town but a bustling port city in the heyday of the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade, which has been rightly identified as marking the first globalization. The vignettes on the 1734 Murillo Velarde map of the Philippines depict different types of people and different ethnicities in Manila. Aside from Christianized and indigenous Filipinos, Spaniards, and Chinese (from heathen to Hispanicized and Christianized), there were Indians, Japanese, Armenians, Mughals; people from Ternate, Tidore, the Malabar Coast, and even Cafres or East Africans from Portuguese slave markets.

Long after the end of the Galleon Trade in 1815, Manila remained a busy port city as evidenced by advertisements in the revolutionary newspaper La Independencia, which came in three languages: Spanish, Tagalog, and English. La Independencia ran from September 1898 to November 1899, the turbulent period that saw not just the Philippine Revolution, but the passing of the islands from Spanish to American colonization. These two empires, Spain in decline and the United States on the rise, refused to recognize Emilio Aguinaldo and the still-born Malolos Republic when they drafted the terms for the end of the Spanish-American War. On Dec. 10, 1898, the Treaty of Paris was signed. Spain sold the Philippines to the US for $20 million.

Initially, I looked at the few English ads in La Independencia for the shift in language, then the content. One announced the sale of 2,000 Philippine butterflies, preserved and individually filed in envelopes. Contact was Mateo Gutierrez of Bacolor, Pampanga. Blank notebooks and stationery were also available in Bacolor from Ceferino Joven, a correspondent of the newspaper. Another item that caught my eye was violins that would cost a fortune today: “Notice. Excellent ‘Stradivarius’ fiddles have been recently received, as well as superior cords for violins, guitars, and bandores [bandurrias?], mane (cordas), fiddle bows, fiddlesticks of different prices, and further requisites for string and wind instruments. Isla del Romero Street Number 2, Santa Cruz. Benitez and Co.”

An influx of American soldiers, merchants, preachers, teachers, and colonial administrators required housing. The best ones were located outside Intramuros. “To Let. A newly painted house at the seashore with good rooms and shower bath. 36 Carina St., Ermita.” Longer ads were in English and betray thought in Spanish or Tagalog: “Important por sale or to let a pretty Country’s house of two footings wish galeries and a large ground wish a fine garden. Handsome baths, potables water, excellent inhodoro, and all other kind of accomodations. Distance from the Walled City, sparingly 10 minutes. Apply to Palmera Street, no. 0 Sampaloc.”

The ads are examples of early Philippine English: “The undersigned undertakes to construct all sorts of buildings boxes, but make a specialty in cigar boxes, carpenter and seller of all kinds of Philippines Wood. T. Sampedro y Fernandez y Cia. No. 1 Globo de Oro, Quiapo, Manila.”

Previous historians ignored La Independencia ads as trivial, even if they help reconstruct daily life in the early American period. Curious historians can use even ephemera like discarded cigarette wrappers and lotto tickets as keys to the past. Seemingly insignificant data may become relevant after a second, closer, look for God is indeed in the details.

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