How Drug Wars Paid For The Most Expensive Piña Dress In The World

Queen Victoria in 1844

Public demonstrations of status and wealth require investing in things that are unnecessary, expensive, beautiful, and preferably labour-intensive, whether it is a Cartier watch, a Lamborghini, or a trophy wife. As Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Imelda Marcos and Donald Trump show, these items need not be tasteful or stylish, nor need the wealth be honourably acquired.

Embroidered Piña, the Philippine textile derived for the leaves of a pineapple, ticks all the boxes. It is unnecessary in that cheap cotton covers the body just as well, it is costly, inarguably beautiful, and certainly labour-intensive. Literally fit for a queen, that queen being Victoria.

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Dewey’s Syrian Spy Who Could Have Saved Rizal

Put ‘Middle East’ and ‘Philippines’ in a sentence and the usual knee-jerk thought is ‘Aha – the introduction of Islam to the islands in 1380″ or, sadly “Oh-oh, ISIS terrorists in Marawi” and certainly “Muslim”. In fact, there was a flood of people migrating from the Middle East to the Philippines in the 19th century, especially from the Turkish-administered Ottoman Empire, Christian and Jew , bringing with them entrepreneurship and adding to the cultural life of the country. Plus at least one who played a role in efforts to seek Philippine independence from the Spanish and is regarded as the founder of American business in Manila.In his paper, Middle Eastern Migrants in the Philippines: Entrepreneurs and Cultural Brokers, (1), Professor William Gervaise Clarnce-Smith of SOAS says:

“Middle Easterners have made a significant contribution to the history of the Philippines, and yet scholars have ignored them. This contrasts with the substantial literature on Chinese and Japanese immigration into the islands, and some scattered research on South Asian, European and North American communities. Despite their small numbers, Middle Easterners have left their own particular mark on the Philippines and, thus, deserve to be rescued from obscurity.”

Najib Tannun Hashim is a particularly interesting example of a Middle Eastern immigrant given his connection with the struggle for Philippine Independence from the Spanish, possible friendship with Jose Rizal, his playing the Great Game for Dewey after the Battle of Manila Bay, his business interests like the still-remember Manila Grand Opera House, and his domestic tribulations, the latter often covered in law students textbooks.

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On Independence Day

Being British I don’t have an Independence Day – we mostly outlived and absorbed our invaders, paid them off, or their empires collapsed from with and without out our help, or they simply got bored with us and went away.

So I adopt Philippine Independence Day to make up for it.
So here is my thought, merely a whisper beneath the noise:

History isn’t there to remind us about our past, but show us where we should be. Independence Day reminds us, surely, of what the Philippines should be and encourages us to make the Philippines the worthy nation that was once dreamed of, to reflect on why it isn’t, and become determined to make it so.
May you have a great Independence Day.


Mabuhay Filipinas!

Exposed – Aguinaldo’s American Huckster

Manila Fire Department, photograph, 22 January 1909

‘Colonel’ Lewis Marcina Johnson, the American national whose name appears on the Philippine Declaration of Independence, was not a colonel, except in his imagination, and almost certainly concocted a fake military background with the Chinese Imperial Army to impress Philippine leader Emilio Aguinaldo in May 1898.

It has long been known that the ‘Colonel of Artillery’ mentioned in the Independence Declaration of 12 June, 1898, never served in the US military and only reached the rank of Sergeant Major in the volunteer army of Hawaii before the US acquired the islands. Johnson claims he was given a commission as colonel in the Philippine Republican Army but a letter written at 39 Calle Arsenal on 21 July 1898, found in the US Library of Congress by historian Ambeth Ocampo,, who sent me a scan,  calls that into question.

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The Shocking Case of the Manila Ambulance

De Dion-Bouton electric and petrol-powered vehicales werepopular in the Philippine around 1910. So much fun, apparently, they’d put your black chauffeur out of a job.

Sometimes one comes across a bit of information that makes one raise an eyebrow in surprise then, a moment later, makes one wonder why one was surprised in the first place. So it was when I discovered that the first motorised ambulances in Manila were not run on petrol or diesel but on electricity and steam.

Today, much is made of the new electric-powered jeepneys on city streets today, but the basic technology is more than 125 years old.

When I think of electric vehicles I think not of Tesla’s battery-powered sportscars but the humble British milk float. Early each morning this once-common vehicle delivered bottles of milk to nearly everybody’s doorstep from a little before dawn. Its characteristic sound was a faint thump as the drive engaged then a quiet hum and a rattle of glass bottles as it set off to its next delivery.

The loudest noise about it was often the whistling of the milkman.

Having once earned pocket money helping a milkman on his rounds, I still rescue a dropped bottle by putting my foot underneath it.

It was that silence that made electric ambulances ideal in the first two decades of 20th century Manila. But electric ambulances were not the only driving force in town, as we shall see.

It was steam-powered vehicles that gave us the word chauffeur, derived from a French term meaning someone who heats up the boiler for a steam-engined vehicle it lives on in Tagalog as tsuper.

And we may have a few more surprises.

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