First Filipino Cellphone Revealed in 16th Century MS

Researchers studying a rare 16th century manuscript at the University of Indiana have discovered that the ancient kingdom of Maharlika in what is now known as the Philippines was not only the richest country in the world but also the most technologically advanced advanced, commanding technology that would not reach the west for the least 500 years.

Professor Lirf Loopa and Doctor Avril Poisson were alerted to the astonishing discovery while cleaning the Boxer Codex, an illuminated manuscript from the 1500s.

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Down and Dirty

‘Dirty ice-cream’ refers to the product sold by street vendors rather than that bought in a shop and eaten at home or consumed in a cafe or restaurant.

‘Dirty’ in this context, it is widely believed, does not mean unsanitary. A ‘dirty kitchen’ in the Philippines is an area where raw food is prepared for cooking from which it is taken to the ‘clean kitchen’ for cooking and dishing.

In fact the term may have emerged in the first two decades of the 20th century frozen products from vendors were dangerous treats.

We may have Julius Witte to thank for it.

Milk vendor goes to work

Maybe it is significant that the earliest reference I have found to what today is referred to as ‘dirty ice cream, or at least sorbet flavoured water ice sold by street vendors,, comes in a book written in French by Alfred Marche and published in 1887, when Julius Witte was running his ice plant, the only one so-far known at the time.

Marche describes a typical Manila street morning with milk vendors carrying vases on their heads, sellers of fresh grass and hay for horses, Chinese barbers who also cleaned customer’s ears and trimmed their nose hairs, and sellers crying out “Sorbete! Sorbete!” ”

Jose Rizal also mentions a sorbet vendor in Binondo in Chapter Four of Noli Me Tangere, published in 1887 with the same cry.

The sorbeteros repeated the same shrill cry, Sorbeteee!while the smoky lamps still lighted the identical Chinese stands and those of the old women who sold candy and fruit.

Together, these suggest that ambulant vendors were a common sight by the end of the 1880s.

At the moment we don’t know the fate of Julius Witte’s ice business. His perfumery and ironworks continued but nothing is heard of the ice plant after the final years of 1880.

Did he sell it on? If so, it may have been acquired by one of two companies – San Miguel or Fabrica de Hielo.  Whatever was the case, the De Witte plant vanishes as the Philippines enters a new era.


Part Six: End Run

Part Four: Here Comes The Ice Man

Here Comes The Iceman

Julius ‘Julio’ De Witte, opened the first know ice plant in Manila,

In the 1850s commercial ice-making became viable. There were several technologies developed at the time but the most common used the evaporation of ammonia to produce the freezing effect. You experience a similar effect if you put rubbing alcohol on your skin.

These early ice plants reportedly produced an inferior product to New England ice, according to Mark Twain. Over time the technology improved and made its way to Manila.

It was no longer necessary to import ice all the way from the US although customs duties for imported ice remained at zero into the American period in the Philippines..

Julius Witte, who hispanised his name to Julio for business purposes had set up an ice plant at 21 Calle Barraca by 1873. Witte had an ironworks and dealt in perfume essences such as ylang-ylang.

While it is widely believed that any reference to sorbete automatically indicates ice-cream an 1875 guide references sorbet and what may have been ice-cream as separate products, sorbete and helado, but has no reference to a helado maker, indicating that there was no commercial ice-cream being manufactured in the Philippines at the time. If it did exist it was limited to restaurants and possibly private homes.

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Mugford, The Manila Chilla

A familiar sight for nearly two centuries, and current in the Philippines.

Charles D Mugford was a master mariner from Salem, Massachusetts, in New England, home of a global ice export industry. A member of a wealthy family, he went into business in Hong Kong and seems to have commuted between there and Manila

In May 1846, three years after Frederic Tudor’s exports to Hong Kong had begun, Mugford asked the Spanish authorities to allow ice to be imported into Manila tax-free and for customs duties to be suspended on the importation of materials to build an ice house.

At some stage, Mugford invested $9,000 in the American trading firm of Russell & Sturgis which was doing well by exporting Manila hemp cordage and sugar from the Philippines.

He was rich enough that when he accidentally burned down a hemp warehouse when discarding a lit cigar he airly boasted he’d invest another $10,000, around $300,000 in today’s money.

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Ice, Ice, Babae

Harvesting ice in New England, 1837, Courtesy Boston Globe.

New England entrepreneur Frederic Tudor began exporting ice from lakes and water sources in Massachusetts in 1806. His first foray was to the French island of Martinique and, more significantly, the then-Spanish island of Cuba.

After many ups and downs he exported ice all over the world to places like India and Hong Kong, more than 40 countries in all. He made himself a fortune.

Inevitably, competitors emerged.

As yet, we have no documentary evidence that Tudor exported ice to the Philippines but in 1843 he was sending it to Hong Kong in holds insulated with sawdust. The ice was quite expensive, much of it melted during the journey, but enough was landed to make the journey worthwhile.

Thanks to Tudor, Hong Kong has an Ice House Street to this day, where the ice was stored.

It would be surprising if an important city like Manila slipped under Tudor’s radar. Sadly, no-one seems to have discovered the remains of a Tudor ice house in Manila and so far ship manifests featuring Tudor’s vessels have not surfaced. Possibly because no-one has looked for them.

Ins‌tead of Tudor, it was almost certainly a competitor inspired by his efforts that brought the first ice to the Philippines – Charles D. Mugford.

Part Three.  Mugford, the Chiller in Manila

Part One: The Yelo Brick Road

The Yelo Brick Road

Courtesy Ben’s Halo-Halo

(Many thanks to Ambeth Ocampo, Felice Prudente Sta Maria and Paquito dela Cruz for filling in the gaps)

My birthday present in 2018 was to be allowed to touch the newly-returned Balangiga Bells in Samar. In the Philippines it is the duty of the birthday boy or girl to supply cake and ice-cream. And thereby hangs a tale.

Years ago Philippine historian Ambeth Ocampo, writing in the Inquirer, mentioned that sorbet or ice cream, for our purposes the same technology, was served at the Independence Day celebrations in September 1898 and wondered how they made it.

To me the answer was by using an ice cream maker, called as garapinyera in the Philippines, consisting of a wooden pail filled with ammonium chloride surrounding a metal rotatable container. Add water to the chemical, put water or cream and flavouring into the metal container and churn it and one has, after a little effort, ice cream.

I was, almost certainly, wrong. Or maybe not.

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Was Overbite the Vee’s Knees of Filipino?


To live in Pilipinas I have to have a bisa. Do I speak Bisayan in the Visayas? As is often the case, I was triggered to mull over the F and V sounds swapped for P and B sounds after being sort of sideswiped by an article in New Scientist that historian Norman Owen brought to my attention.

Those in smart houses who like to feel superior to their less ‘educated’ brethen in the shanty next door will sometimes mock them for using Ps and Bs in the ‘wrong’ place. As do some porringers, er, foreigners.

What I would like to know, though, is whether the F and V sounds existed in the ancient languages of the archipelago we now call Pilipinas or Philippines, after King Felipe of Spain? There are Spanish loan words, as well as loan words from Mexican indian languages that arrived through Mexican Spanish because most of the time the Philippines was administered from Mexico until the early 1800s.

There were certain sounds that the Spanish spelled differently. With no W sound, places like Wawa and Wiwan became Guagua and Guiuan.

I am no expert in the linguists of ancient languages but those who do study such things have discovered that F and V sounds did not exist in hunter-gatherer societies but emerged with the development of agriculture. The reason for that is diet.

Put your upper and lower teeth together so they don’t overlap, edge to edge. Now try and say ‘functional’ and ‘Vesuvius’. It isn’t comfortable, a bit hard.

To make those sounds you have to place your lower lip against the edge of your top teeth. You have to have an overbite, when the top teeth overlap the lower teeth to make that happen.

Labial sounds like P and B only need the lips. They are easier to say.

Ancient hunter-gathers did not have overbite, their teeth were edge to edge and they had strong Jaws because their diets were ‘hard’. It was difficult for them to make F and V sounds. Agriculture led to softer food and weaker Jaws, which is why most people today have an overbite and they can pronounce F and V in a way their predecessors could not.

So, when someone pronounces an F as a P or a V as a B, don’t mock it as ignorance, appreciate it as the echo of your ancient Filipino past, a part of your heritage.