Drawing together all the threads of history leads us on fascinating adventures and familiar names on unfamiliar trails. Those of us who travel the highways and byways of Philippine history know that US Major-General Henry Ware Lawton was killed in the Battle of Paye during the Philippine-American War by a sniper under the command of Filipino General Licerio Geronimo and that Lawton was involved in the surrender of Apache Chief, Geronimo. The links between Geronimo and the Philippines come together again at the 1904 St Louis Worlds Fair when the legendary Apache chief saw Igorottes for the first time.
At the time of the fair, Geronimo had been a prisoner of war for almost 20 years, he was in his 70s. He was allowed off the reservation at Fort Sill under guard for special events. He was such a VIP prisoner that he had the ear of President Theodore Roosevelt.
He had a deal with a photographer under which he got 10 cents for every 25 cent photograph he sold. He also sold his autograph for varying amounts and was allowed to keep all the money. He also sold Indian artifacts like War Bonnets. All 9in all he did well financially, making as much as $2 a day, about $30 today and he amassed more money than he had ever had in his life.
No matter how long one has been studying Philippine history there is always something new. It is one of the pleasures of diggingthrough dusty tomes and digital libraries. I belong to some of the better Facebook history groups, which means once in a while something comes up that gets my investigative juices going, like the report that the Philippines could have been called the McKinley Islands, after US President William McKinley who allegedly promised to Christianise and civilise the Archipelago as he pinned a paper US flag into a map in 1901 while pitching for the Methodist vote in an upcoming election.
Had McKinley run for another term he might well have won, but for two bullets fired at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York on 6 September 1901 by Leon Czolgosz, a Polish-American anarchist born in Michigan. McKinley died a week later. On 26 October, three 1,800 volt charges were sent through his body, he was declared dead and his body dissolved in sulphuric acid and what was left buried in prison grounds.
It was claimed that one of Czolgosz’s complaints against McKinley was the US actions in the Philippines.
Your order books are full, you can sell everything you can make and the forward orders might just get you into Forbes. The 500, not the park. Problem: you need warm bodies on the production line. So you call in your Human Resources Manager and he… does what? This is after all the late 1700s in Jolo and you’re the Sultan of Sulu, a Taosug aristocrat, and rule from southern Mindanao to North Borneo and the Celebes. There won’t be a classified page until, at best, 1811. You could wait until 1860 and get a free six-line slave wanted ad for free by subscribing to the Diario De Manila, but a century is an awfully long time to wait for the hired help.
You need people to produce deliverables. So, you indent for a kampilan from the company stores, get the transportation department to send 1,000 company bancas around to the front door, load up your lantakas with powder and shot and go off for some serious recruitment in Leyte, Samar, Luzon and wherever else doesn’t have kampilan, lantakas and customers screaming for product.
It was in the 18th century that the slave-raiding business-model changed from one of securing a product, slaves, to sell around the region to one of of acquiring a labour force to produce product to sell to the British for their trade with China.
Don’t think of it as slavery, think of it as hard core recruitment.
To emphasise the high quality of their chocolate products, the Spanish called the very best chocolate ‘Filipino’.
Chocolate remained a beverage and possibly a food ingredient in local delicacies like suman moron, into the 19th century. In 1828 a Dutch chemist, Van Houten, invented the chocolate press, which separated the cocoa fat from the solids and turned the latter into a powder to make chocolate drinks.
The modern chocolate bar was developed by an English confectioner, Joseph Fry in 18471. A Swiss by the name of David Peters is generally creditted with adding milk powder to the mix to create milk chocolate in 1878.
The product of the time may have had a coarser, grainier texture than todays. The process of ‘conching’, which results in a smoother texture and better aroma was only invented by Rodolphe Lindt in Berne, Switzerland, in 1879.
Eating chocolate was being advertised in Manila by the late 1870s. La Bilbaina was operating a steam-powered manufacturing plant in 1877. Chocolate is made of cacao powder, cacao fat – sometimes with the addition of peanut oil – and sugar, and melts easily in tropical climates. How the company overcame that problem has yet to be determined but some method of keeping the temperature low enough must have been used, possibly with the help of ice from the relatively newly established ice plant of Julio De Witte.
So, put all that fine history together and one can easily understand why a Spanish company called Artiach chose the name Filipinos to give their lines of white, brown and dark chocolate-enrobed biscuits an assumption of excellent quality.
Exactly who brought the first cacao plants to the Philippines is hidden in the fog of history. It is a reasonably informed guess that Spanish immigrants from Mexico unofficially brought their own plants to maintain a taste of home.
For instance, Gaspar de San Augustin says that in 1670 a navigator, Pedro Brabo de Lagunas, “brought from Acapulco a pot containing a cacao-plant which he gave to his brother, Bartolome, a priest in Camarines, from whom it was stolen by a Lipa native, Juan del Aguila, who hid it and took care of it, and from it propagated all the original Philippine stock.” 1
Chocolate is made from the ground beans of the cacao fruit, native to pre-Columban Latin America. There it was used in rituals and as cash – 100 beans could buy you a good sized turkey – also native to the region. Nervous victims of human sacrifice would be given a drink of the beverage then known as xocoatl, an unpleasant quaff, to European sensibilities. Italian traveler Giralomo Benzoni with the drink declared it fit only for pigs. Jesuit writer Jose de Acosta said that no one would like the drink if they hadn’t grown up with it, and expressed horror at the foamy top layer with “bubbles like feces.”
Legend creditted the snake-god Quetzalcoatl with giving chocolate to humans, for which the other gods punished him. He broke the rule that it was the exclusively food of the gods, hence its technical name Theobroma Cacao.
My own introduction to real chocolate, made from a traditionally pressed, theobromine-rich tablea at a restaurant on West Avenue, Quezon City, resulted in my brain gently floating towards the ceiling. It was mildly narcotic and very different to the beverage made with mere chocolate powder.
One benefit of historical knowledge and critical thinking is that it can save one from embarassment and shooting oneself in the foot while the foot is in one’s mouth. Such is the case with the Great Chocolate Biscuit Scandal of the 1990s.
You may wonder why an innocent, tasty chocolate biscuit would lead to speechs and resolutions in the Philippine Congress1, a diplomatic protest2 and an investigation by the Department of Trade and Industry.
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.
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.
It is rare that the study of history makes a difference, but it did in the case of the Balangiga Bells. The town, and its bells, have been part of my life for a quarter of a century and the work that I and Rolando Borrinaga put into establishing the real history of what happened played a role in the education program launched by US Veterans to get the bells returned.
Although my role was modest it is, nevertheless, one I am quite proud of.
The bells were returned to Balangiga on 15 December 2018. Sadly, I could not be there to greet them but I did get to see and touch them for my birthday two weeks later.
It was, for me, a moving and emotional moment as you can see below.