Philippines – Through The Mountains Of Luzon

LEAVING Aparri, we mount horses and make our way back over the mountains to Manila, now going for miles through tall pines, and now cutting our way through forests of hard woods so bound together by vines that we can go but few miles a day. The hills are so steep in places that our horses almost fall backward, and when they descend, they keep their forefeet together and slide. The foothills and valleys are often covered with a wiry grass so high that we drop the reins and hold up our hands to prevent the grass cutting our faces as we ride through.

A part of the trail is through the beds of mountain streams walled and roofed with bamboos and vines, making a green arbor miles in length, but so low in places that we have to hug the necks of the ponies to keep our heads on our shoulders, and so thick at both sides and on top that the hot sun can not get through. There are immense trees on both sides of us, and looking up we can often follow their trunks with our eyes for one hundred feet or more to where the first limbs begin.

Now we go through a grove of fern trees with branches fifteen feet long and leaves of feathery lace; and now into hills covered with cedars and pines. There are orchids everywhere and strange flowering plants. We try to make notes of the trees, but soon give up in despair. More than half of our Philippine territory is covered with timber, and the forests form much of its wealth.’ Six hundred and sixty-four varieties of native trees are already known; and among these are fifty species from which rubber, gutta percha, and other gums are extracted. There are also banyan trees with great roots extending down from their branches. There are forests of the most beautiful hard woods, including ebony and the Filipino mahogany. Along the coasts are cocoanut and other. palm trees and bamboos everywhere on the plains, along the streams and in the mountains as well.

The bamboo grows in clumps of from a half dozen to two score or more stalks, which shoot up at a slight angle to a height of forty or fifty feet. The stalks are green with knots like a fishing pole, and little branches with leaves not unlike grass leaves at each knot. The stalks are of all sizes, some as small as a baby’s finger and others as big as the leg of a man.

The Filipino uses the bamboo for almost everything. The cane forms his milk can and water bucket. He splits it to pieces and weaves it into baskets and hats. He fastens it to a block of wood and makes a candle-stick, or with a shorter section an inkwell or a spittoon. The farmer uses rakes and harrows of bamboo, which he hauls to the field on a bamboo sled hitched to a carabao by a bamboo yoke, which he drives perhaps with bamboo reins. The fisherman has nets of bamboo and fishing traps of the same. Water is carried over the fields in bamboo pipes, and many bridges are made of bamboo poles. Some of the houses have a bamboo framework with walls of woven bamboo splints looking like basket work and floors of bamboo poles. The native climbs into such a house up a ladder of bamboo, sits on the bamboo floor upon a bamboo stool, before a table which may have bamboo legs, and eats the shoots of the young bamboo, which are as delicious as any of our green vegetables at home.

As we travel onward, now crossing a range of mountains and now a cultivated valley, we come upon many different people and tribes. We are in a new country at every few miles ; the people have a different language, so that the natives of one province often can not make themselves understood in other provinces near by.

We shall have to get new interpreters every few days if we would study the people, although we can make our way through the settled portions of the country with Spanish, for this language has long been taught in the schools. Nevertheless, only one Filipino in ten speaks Spanish, and outside the civilized regions but few natives understand it.

In our short tour we can not see much of the wild men of the Philippines. The most of the islands are still only partially explored, and some are almost unknown. The Philippines have eighty different tribes which are more or less savage. Some are very degraded and others semi-civilized, although they are pagans.

In our trip over the mountains we see the Igorrotes (eg-gor-ro’tas), who have their own towns and villages.

They are a fine – looking race, tall, strong, and well formed, with brown skins, high cheek bones, and aquiline noses. They are warriors, and we are a little careful how we address those who have spears in their hands. The Igorrotes on ordinary occasions wear but little clothing, except a breech cloth and perhaps some tattooing. We see many thus clad at work in the fields. They have little farms on the foothills of northwestern Luzon, which they plow with carabaos and sometimes irrigate with rude aqueducts. They raise coffee, rice, and tobacco, as well as sweet potatoes and corn. They mine iron and copper and are skilled blacksmiths, making excellent lances and swords.

We catch glimpses of other wild tribes in the different mountain regions, but the languages are strange and the natives sometimes unfriendly. We have heard that there are still head hunters and cannibals among them, and although we can hardly believe this, we decide to let them alone as long as they do not molest us.

Most of the natives we meet seem more afraid of us than we are of them. This is especially so of the Negritos (na-gre’tos), who are said to be the aborigines of the islands. They flee at our approach, and, we sometimes catch glimpses of them as they hide behind rocks, peeping out at us as we pass.

What curious people they are ! The word ” Negrito ” means little negro, and this word describes them. They are a race of black pygmies with woolly hair, thick lips, and flat noses. Most of them are naked save that the men wear a cloth about the loins, and the women a strip of cotton or bark forming a sort of skirt that reaches from the waist to the knees. Some women have also strings of beads about their necks.

How ugly they look ! Their legs are spindling, their stomachs swell out, and their foreheads sink in. They are mentally and physically weak and are as degraded as any savages we have yet seen. They offer sacrifices to spirits which they believe to exist in the woods and mountains.

The Negritos have no fixed habitations, but wander from place to place, sleeping in caves and in little shelters of bamboo poles bound with grass. Some grow patches of rice or Indian corn, but most of them live upon roots, wild fruits, and such game as they can find in the woods. They hunt deer and wild hogs with bows and arrows, and sometimes trap them with loops of rattan, spearing the animals when they are so tangled up in the loops that they can not escape.

In the past many of the Negritos were enslaved by the other Filipino tribes, and we may meet some of these little negroes acting as servants as we go on with our travels ; for these people are to be found throughout the archipelago.

Later, we make a trip up the Pasig River and in and along the coast of Laguna de Bay. We should like to visit the Mayon volcano at the southeastern end of the island, and the Taal at the southwest. The Taal volcano rises in a lake partially surrounded by mountains it is a thousand feet high, and its steaming crater is more than a mile wide. The Mayon volcano is one of the most beautiful mountains of the Philippines, and it equals almost any other mountain of the world in beauty. It is almost a half mile higher than Mount Washington, and is a perfect cone from the top of which rise plumes of feathery vapor which can be seen for miles out at sea.