Philippines – A Trip Through The Country

WE leave Manila this morning to see something of the Filipinos on their farms, and in their towns and villages. Our journey will last several weeks, for Luzon is the largest island of the Philippines, and includes more than a third of all the land in the group. It has about half of their entire population, and is the best developed and the wealthiest of all. It has many resources, and we shall see some of the chief industries of the archipelago during the journey.

Our first trip is through the rich valley which runs from Manila northward to the Gulf of Lingayen (len-ga-yan’). This valley is more than one hundred miles long, and in places fifty miles wide. The oldest railroad of the Philip-pines runs through it, and we go on the cars. How delightful it is ! We have shot out of the city and are speeding along over a plain bordered on each side by magnificent mountains as blue as the Alleghanies in mid-summer. The car windows are open, and the fresh air blows through. On each side of the track are vast fields of rice, dotted here and there with groves of bananas, patches of Indian corn, or the pale green of little sugar plantations. Now we pass a clump of tall, feathery bamboos, and now a road or stream lined with these beautiful trees.

We can see but few houses from the car windows, al-though some of the towns are made up of a single street several miles long. The houses are hid by the bamboos and other trees which shade them. There are no buildings in the fields. Most of the people live in villages scattered along the roads, as in many countries of Europe. Some of them walk several miles to their work every day.

There is but little stock. We see neither cows nor sheep. The ponies of Luzon are raised in other sections, and the only animals visible are the carabaos, and now and then an ugly black pig. The carabaos are everywhere. They drag farm carts with solid wooden wheels a yard in diameter, and haul sleds where the ground is so soft that carts can not be used. We see them in the mud of the rice fields, going along, with their heads down, drawing rude one-handled plows. In many places they are ridden by men or children ; and still stranger they are often ridden by birds. Every other buffalo we see in the fields has a bird on his back. There is one now quietly feeding with a great white crane roosting on him. Farther on is another, upon which stands a crow. Each bird is picking at its buffalo, but the buffalo understands it. He knows that the birds are good flycatchers, and that they live on the insects that feed upon him.

Look again at the fields. Those devoted to rice are surrounded by low, mud walls upon which green grass and wild flowers are growing. The walls are to keep in the water with which the rice is flooded, and they also form paths through the fields. You can see people walking upon them, and carabaos ridden by children going to or coming from pasture.

In some places the rice is still green, but more often it is of a rich golden color with well-headed stalks. That rice is ready for harvest. The seeds from which it came were planted in beds months ago, and the little sprouts were set out one at a time in the mud, so that the field, when finished, looked like one of our wheat fields in the spring. Then the rainy season came on and gave the land a good soaking. It covered the sprouts with water, and they grew. The fields now look much like our oats or wheat when ready for harvest; they are fit for cutting; after that the rice must be thrashed and hulled. Rice is the chief food crop of the Philippines, and we shall see the people working in it almost everywhere during our travels.

There is a field where they are harvesting now. See those big-hatted women whose red skirts show out above the yellow grain ! Each has a little knife in her hand; she is cutting the rice stalk by stalk, and binding it up in fat sheaves not bigger than a good-sized bouquet. Farther on is a field in which the sheaves are shocked up, and next to it one where men are thrashing. A blind-folded carabao is walking over the straw to tread the rice out. Sometimes men and women jump up and down upon the rice to thrash it, and sometimes the grains are pulled from the stalk through sawlike machines. After this the hulls must be pounded off with hard wooden pestles in a mortar made of a block of tough wood. Nearly every farmer has such a mortar, and one of the daily chores of the boys and girls of the family is to pound the rice out. After being hulled, the grain is winnowed by throwing it up in the air so that the chaff blows away.

Farther up the valley we come into a region where the soil is better fitted for sugar. The country seems flooded with a sea of pale green which rises and falls in waves under the wind. We are now in the sugar lands, and for miles see nothing but cane. Here and there men are plowing with water buffaloes. How rich the soil is ! The newly turned ground forms islands of black in the ocean of green. We see barefooted girls planting the crop, laying the bits of cane end to end in the furrows just as they did in Hawaii. How rude everything is! In the Hawaiian Islands there were steam plows, and all sorts of labor-saving machinery. Here the work is all done by hand. The girls are even using their bare feet to cover the cane, and fresh planting supplies are brought to the droppers on carabao sleds.

In other fields they are cutting the ripe cane, and carting or sledding it to rude mills where the juice is squeezed out and reduced to coarse sugar. This is one of the chief products of the Philippines, and we shall see many thriving sugar plantations in the Visayan Islands farther south.

We cross several rivers during our journey. The Philippines are well watered. There are brooks and creeks every few miles. The banks are lined with trees, and we frequently see boys fishing in the shade. The larger streams have boats and cascoes floating upon them, and we often pass a raft of timber or bamboo poles floating down to the market.

Leaving the train we spend a night in one of the towns. They are much the same everywhere. Each has a plaza or open space in the center upon which face the church, the town offices, a store or so, and some of the best houses. The streets run out from the plaza; they are often mere roads lined with houses or huts.

Many of the houses in the villages are thatched with palm leaves; their huts have walls of woven bamboo splints tied to a framework of bamboo poles. The roofs are of nipa palm leaves sewed together, and tied to the roof poles with strings of rattan. The leaves overlap one another like shingles, forming a water-tight covering. The roofs are often built on the ground, and carried through the streets to be placed on the walls.

The houses are built upon posts so that the floors are six or eight feet above the ground, and so high up that the carabaos, chickens, and hogs can be kept under them. The people must go up steps and ladders to get into their houses.

Some of the better class country houses have two stories, like the houses we saw in Manila. They have a framework of timber, board walls, and large sliding windows of lattice work or glass. They are seldom plastered or papered. The living rooms are on the second floor, as the people do not like to sleep near the ground.

We leave the cars at Dagupan (da-goo-pan), near the Gulf of Lingayen, and there take a coasting steamer for Aparri, a thriving port of northeastern Luzon at the mouth of the Cagayan (ka-ga-yan’) River. This river is one of the largest in the archipelago, and it forms the outlet of a great valley containing some of the best tobacco lands of the world. It has annual floods which carry down the rich earth from the mountains and spread it over the fields, fertilizing them as Egypt is fertilized by the Nile.

Our ship has come from Manila to Aparri for a cargo of tobacco. We see vessels loading tobacco as we drop anchor, and learn that hundreds of thousands of bales are annually shipped from Aparri. The captain introduces us to some of the planters, and we go with them on a little river steamer up the Cagayan Valley.

This valley is, if anything, more beautiful than the region we have just left. The mountains are covered with trees, and on their lower slopes are thousands of patches of the rich dark green leaves of the tobacco plant. Here and there we see a great shed, thatched with palm leaves, used for curing the tobacco, and now and then pass a village in which the planters and workmen live.

Tobacco plants are grown in seed beds or nurseries. The seed is sown, and the plants, when they have well sprouted, are set out so close together that there are sometimes ten thousand plants on one acre. This is done in October or November, and by March or April the leaves are ready for harvest. In the meantime the crop is carefully cultivated. It is weeded usually by women and girls who also go carefully over each plant every morning to pick off the worms. The leaves are cut off and then cured and sorted. They are packed in bundles of one hundred, and these bundles into bales so tightly pressed that each contains four thousand leaves. The bales are sent down to Aparri and thence shipped to the factories of Manila.

The Philippine Islands are famous for their tobacco. The tobacco plant grows well in almost every part of the archipelago, and vast quantities of it are raised and exported. Much of it is sent away in the cigars and cigarettes made at Manila. Some of the factories of that city employ thousands of hands, many of whom are women and girls noted for their skill in rolling cigars. In such factories one may see hundreds of girls sitting on the floor or on stools half a foot high, with low tables before them containing piles of the dark brown leaves. They work rapidly and some make hundreds of cigars in a day. Men and boys are also employed.

A large amount of the tobacco is consumed in the Philippines, for not only men but also women, and some-times even boys and girls, smoke cigars and cigarettes. In the house and out they may be seen puffing away, and we are often politely invited to join in a smoke.

At Aparri we are near the northern end of the Philip-pine archipelago. There are some little islands belonging to the United States north of Luzon, but our time is so limited that we shall not be able to visit them or to explore Formosa, which is still farther north. There are people at Aparri, however, who know the latter island quite well, and from them we learn much about it.

Formosa belongs to Japan, having been ceded to that country by China at the close of the Chinese-Japanese War in 1895. It is a volcanic island and is in most respects like the Philippines. It is about one third the size of Luzon and has more than three million people. It is so close to China that many of its inhabitants are Chinese, although there are savages in the mountains quite as wild as any of our Philippine tribes.

Formosa is a very rich island. It has tea gardens and sugar plantations which are chiefly owned by Chinese and foreigners. Its mountains contain coal, iron, and gold, and they are covered with forests of valuable hard woods. The island has curious trees, including some yielding soap, tallow, and camphor. The soap-tree fruit has seeds which can be used in the place of soap for washing ; the tallow trees, which are somewhat like our poplars, bear a white berry about as big as a pea, from which tallow is made; and the camphor tree produces the camphor of commerce. Camphor trees grow to a great size in Formosa, a single tree sometimes being twenty-five feet in circumference. The camphor comes from the sap obtained by cutting the tree into chips and boiling them. The mixture of water and chips is distilled and the result is pure camphor, which is run off into molds and cooled. It is exported to all parts of the world.

Beginning at Formosa the empire of Japan extends in a long chain of islands, large and small, almost to Kamchatka in Siberia, a distance of thousands of miles. The archipelago includes the Riu Kiu Islands, the four great islands which comprise the chief part of the empire, and the unimportant Kuriles (koo’rils) still farther north. We have fully described Japan during our travels in Asia, and we shall not further explore it, and for the same reason we shall not go to Hongkong off the east coast of China.

We have hardly begun our explorations of the Philippine Islands, and, like good Americans, we want to give as much time as we can to our own possessions in this far-away part of the world.