Manila and the Philipines

I FOUND Manila quite as interesting to visit as a great many European cities which no tourist would think of missing, and I was at no loss to spend my time profitably during my stay there. The streets of our colonial capital are teeming with life and movement, and the Pasig River, which divides the city into two sections, is a very lively stream. It reminded me somewhat of the River Thames in London, but that was the only possible comparison with the British metropolis. In all other particulars Manila is like no other city on earth. It is simply Manila, with winding thoroughfares, decaying buildings, and a population which harmonizes with the surroundings.

I had frequently heard of the ” new ” and ” old ” cities of Manila, and I soon ascertained that most Americans consider the ” old ” city unfit to live in. It is surrounded by a high wall and a stinking ditch of water, and includes within its area the finest churches and public buildings of the Islands. Its pavements are bad and the sewerage is not what it ought to be, and the air is not so good as in the suburban districts, yet I found the Walled City the most interesting part of Manila to visit. I thought it fine to drive through the great gates over the draw-bridge and through the narrow streets ; I loved to think of the thousands of strange people who had passed through the gates in centuries past.

For a few days after my arrival I always sallied forth with one of the Eddy boys, to see something of the antiquities in this picturesque city which was to be my home for a time. It seemed to me that there were so many churches that I could visit a different one each morning, and still not see them all. In the afternoon I went with my friends to drive on the famous Luneta. Every person who knows anything about Manila knows of this driveway along the bay, where the aristocracy of the city take the air in the cool of the evening. It is surely one of the finest driveways in the world, and there is always an interesting crowd in evidence there. There were Spaniards, Filipinos, Mestizos, Chinese, Japanese, Germans, English and Americans in large numbers, and there was always as great a variety of vehicles as of people. The people were always so interesting that I sometimes failed to admire the gorgeous sunsets as they deserved. They are not to be surpassed in any part of the world, and from the Luneta one had an excellent view of the western sky. I have witnessed some magnificent sunsets in different parts of the world, but never any more impressive than these across Manila Bay.

Impressions of the Filipinos

But what interested me more than any buildings or natural beauties were the Filipino people. For various reasons, I found them of greater interest than the Egyptians or Arabs or any other new peoples which I had seen on my journey, and though I observed them as carefully as possible, I couldn’t say, when I left Manila, that I knew very much about the Filipino character. Governor Taft told me that he had been in contact with them for fifteen months, and that he certainly didn’t know what to think of them, and of course I couldn’t learn much in a few weeks. My first impressions were decidedly favorable. The women appeared modest and ladylike, and though their dress is peculiar, it is picturesque, and they invariably looked clean. But when I observed so many of the women smoking cigars and cigarettes in the public streets, my feelings underwent a change. I later discovered that their appearance of cleanliness is often brought about through a liberal use of powder, which covers up the dirt and gives an impression of a careful toilet.

My chief impression of the Filipino men was that they are dreadfully lazy, and devoid of ambition. The average Filipino works no more than is absolutely necessary to keep himself supplied with rice, and a little money to bet on cock-fights. He is shiftless and irresponsible, and unless he can be taught in some way to work, the industrial development of the Philippines is bound to be slow, unless the Chinese are permitted to enter the country.

All the Filipinos have a conceit which is ridiculous, when one considers their history and present attainments. They firmly believe themselves to be as worthy and intelligent as any other people on the globe, and that their group of islands is the richest in the world. Their unbounded faith in their ability would be amusing, if it were not the cause of a great deal of trouble for the American authorities. When an officer wishes to appoint a village Presidente, and asks a Filipino if he is capable of filling the position, the man is sure to answer in the affirmative. And if he is asked if he knows Spanish, he says ” Si, si, mucho,” when, in reality, he knows only a dozen words. They have an idea that there is no limit to Filipino capabilities, just as there is no limit to their self-conceit.

Aguinaldo himself has been a striking illustration of this characteristic. He is convinced of his fitness for any position the people might offer him, though he cannot speak or write Spanish with any approach to accuracy, and knows practically no English at all. Soon after my arrival in Manila I sought an interview with the fallen chief, and through the courtesy of General Chaffee it wasn’t difficult to arrange. I found him living in a fine house, with a guard of American soldiers, and numerous servants to make him comfortable. When I entered his presence, I found that Aguinaldo is very much like the average Filipino in appearance, save that he is taller than most. He has pompadour hair, high cheek bones and a prominent mouth. His face is badly pockmarked, which doesn’t add to the beauty of his appearance. They say that he is extremely sensitive about these evidences of smallpox, and when he sits for a photograph he insists that the artist must obliterate them in the finished pictures.

Visit to Aguinaldo

Our conversation was not lengthy, and was carried on through an interpreter. Aguinaldo expressed some impatience at being kept in ignorance concerning his ultimate destiny, but he didn’t appear worried at the prospect before him. I think he knew very well that he would be released by the American authorities before many months had passed. I told him that he ought to appreciate being able to live in comfort with his family after he had been separated from them so long, but he replied that he couldn’t be content while he was a prisoner, and while conditions in the Islands were so unsettled. The ex-dictator carried himself with great dignity of manner, and required a deal of ceremony in the conduct of his household. His innate love for show was well illustrated when he carried a band of music with him during his retreat before the United States troops. He was determined to keep the band, whatever else he left behind.

Before I took my departure, Aguinaldo assured me that he had only the kindest feelings toward my countrymen, a bit of information which I thought ought to be cabled to this country on account of its importance (?). Why shouldn’t he feel kindly toward the people who had treated him so well, and who had done everything to make him happy and comfortable in his retirement?

The city of Manila is more truly the centre of all Filipino wealth and activity than is Paris the capital of France, and London the incarnation of all that is great in England; but I thought it would be a great mistake if I continued my homeward journey without seeing something of the people and the scenery and the people up the country. So when Howard Eddy told me that he had arranged for us to make a trip up the Pasig River and the beautiful Laguna de Bay, I was delighted. He and Kenneth never tired of arranging pleasant things for me to do, and I was glad indeed that I had been able to make such friends.

We were to travel in a steam launch which was bound for Santa Cruz, and our experiences began as soon as we started up the Pasig. The river-bank was bordered with dense tropical vegetation, and among the trees and vines were many native huts constructed of the nipa-palm, and standing on stilts. Men and women were gathered along the bank to wash their clothing, beating out the dirt with stones, and ruining the fabric in the operation. By noon there were no natives at all to be seen, and I concluded that they were probably taking a siesta during the heated spell.

It was a great panorama of tropical beauty I saw before me, when the launch entered the Laguna de Bay. I was reminded of the lovely lakes of Switzerland. The purple mountains stretched away as far as eye could see, and in the little valleys along the shore were tiny Filipino villages, each with its church spire, and each flying the flag of American liberty.

Bunking with the Soldiers

We boys did not care to go as far as Santa Cruz on the first day, and about five o’clock in the afternoon the launch reached a village where we decided to disembark and spend the night. It proved to be a mere hamlet in size, and there was no hotel where we could obtain a bed for the night. We discovered, how-ever, that a troop of the Fifth United States Cavalry was quartered in the town, and of course the soldiers said they would be glad to take care of us, if we could put up with soldier’s fare. I told them that what they had would probably be delicious, compared to what we had grown accustomed to on the transport. The soldiers were sleeping in some buildings connected with the church, and when I remarked about this, they explained that the church and all its accessories were in reality the property of the United States Government. It seemed that the insurgents had been in possession of the building, and that when Uncle Sam’s troops captured it, it became American property.

Of course the soldiers gave us a good supper, and after we had eaten a hearty meal of bread and beans and bacon, we started out with one of them to see the village sights. We called on several of the native families, and were able to learn something of the home life of the people. We found that they were exceedingly hospitable. In every case the mistress of the house would offer us some cigarettes, and when we refused them she was never disconcerted, but calmly lit one herself. The conversation during these calls was necessarily limited, for we boys could speak no words of the Tagala language, and our soldier friend knew only a few. After he had exchanged a few phrases with our hostess, he would get up to leave, and we couldn’t help wondering whether the natives had really been much cheered by our company. The native huts were very similar in their furnishings. The floors and walls were bare, and there was hardly ever any furniture except the straw mats and the utensils which were necessary for cooking. They sat on the floor, ate from the floor, and slept on the floor.

It was after dark when we returned to the old church from our ramble. The great building stood grim and black in the centre of an open square, and it seemed a lonesome place, indeed. We three seated ourselves in the doorway, and I was listening to the harrowing account of how some soldiers had been murdered by the natives, when all at once I noticed there was music in the air. We listened as it approached us, and I couldn’t help shuddering ; there never was a more melancholy tune. ” I guess there’s a funeral coming,” said the soldier. ” What,” I asked, ” would they be having a funeral at this hour of the night? ” The soldier laughed. ” Of course,” he replied, ” the natives hold them at night, because that is the most suitable time for a celebration.”

A Farcical Funeral

In a few minutes the procession appeared around the corner. The village friar walked first, and after him came the body of the dead, carried on the shoulders of four men. Then followed the band of musicians, playing the funeral march, and a crowd of mourners, who were howling most dismally. There was something weird and uncanny about the scene, and when the soldier suggested that we attend the service within the church, I at first refused. But afterwards I reflected that I might not have another chance to see what a Filipino funeral is like, and we went in. It was a pitiful affair, that service. The coffin was rested on the floor, near the door, for the great church was in total darkness save for a few candles carried by the funeral party. The priest murmured a few words in Latin, there was some response from the mourners, and then the procession started for the cemetery. The whole affair didn’t occupy more than five minutes, and when it was over the friar went home, having performed what he considered his whole duty.

Our friend suggested that we should accompany him to the burying ground, and I promptly told him that I wasn’t in the habit of visiting cemeteries at that hour of the night, and that I would rather not go. But Howard thought it would be a great lark, and I finally agreed to accompany them. We walked much faster than the funeral party, who were keeping step to a slow march, played by the band, and we reached the cemetery some time before they arrived. It was so very dark that we had difficulty in keeping in the road, and when we reached the wall we had trouble in finding the gate. Once inside, we saw the candles of the grave-diggers, who were at work at the far side of the cemetery, and we went over to watch their operations. On the way, I stumbled over something which rattled like bones, and I jumped in the air and shuddered. ” Do you suppose that those were bones of people? ” I asked my friend. ” Why, yes,” he said, ” but don’t let that alarm you. When the natives don’t pay their rent for their lots, the bones of their ancestors are simply dug up, and thrown aside. They don’t mind it, so why should you?” Why indeed? Probably this was one of the queer customs of the country. The knowledge that there were bones of dead people all around me, however, didn’t add to my enjoyment of the occasion, and I wished I hadn’t come.

“Coffins to Let”

When the procession arrived, the coffin was placed on the ground, and the body was taken out and wrapped in a straw mat. The soldier observed my surprise at this proceeding, and explained that the coffin would be carried back to the village to be used on another occasion. ” Very few of the natives in this village could afford to bury the coffin,” he said. ” They merely rent it for the day, and return it to the undertaker, after the body has been removed.” There was no religious service as the body was lowered into the grave. The mourners howled, and made a lot of noise, but I couldn’t see that any of them shed real tears.

If there had been any feeling of sorrow at the departure of the dead, it was soon forgotten on the way back to town. The band played a lively two-step instead of a funeral march, and when the party reached the house of mourning there was dancing and feasting until the early hours of morning. Howard and I were disgusted at such lack of a sense of propriety. I felt like getting away from the Filipinos as soon as possible, and tried to banish the memory of that awful funeral from my mind. But I am afraid the cemetery scene will remain with me always, to make me distrust and dislike my Filipino “brothers.”