by Virginia McCullough

An introduction.

In 1898 the United States government established its military presence in the beautiful islands of the Philippines.  Our men in uniform occupied huge amounts of land on the island of Luzon.  When Clark Air Field was built it was only slightly smaller then the island nation of Singapore and the huge Subic Bay Naval Base is larger then the entire San Francisco bay area.  During World War II the Filipino people fought side by side with the Americans proving their loyalty and friendship.  But after the victory over the enemy, the United States government showed its gratitude by industrializing the huge tracts of land it had claimed as its own.  Once virgin land was transformed by building air fields, petroleum storage farms and ship repair facilities.  Additional land was polluted by using it as

 firing fields in mock war games ordered by the Pentagon.  The destruction of the beautiful Philippine islands was justified by the excuse that the site was essential to the defense of the United States.  There was no emphasis placed on the Philippine islands or the Filipino people.  Friendship and loyalty was apparently one-sided.

Following the rejection by the Philippines' Senate of the US bases treaty in 1991, less then one century after the United States had first established its bully-on-the-block presence on Philippine soil, the United States closed its military bases and left behind polluted land and water that threatened the lives of the living and the future of the unborn Filipinos whom it had called friends and compatriots.  If this is how the United States treats its loyal friends, is it any wonder that fewer and fewer nations honor alliances with this government?

It was not by accident that the United States General Accounting Office did not release it's report showing that the Philippines was among the most contaminated of all bases maintained by the United States overseas until 1992.  The military industrial complex showed the same disdain for the Philippines that it had shown for all the sites it had contaminated world-wide and departed without bothering to clean up the mess it left behind.  Now a once pristine island nation could not even capitalize on the attraction of its paradise reputation.  This so-called "third world nation", raped by the United States sponsored Marcos regime, was left with only Imelda Marcos's shoe collection and abandoned polluted bases the United States had desecrated, to attract tourists and their money.  There were few interested tourists and even fewer supporters among the "friends" that the Philippine people had so supported during World War II.

In 1990 an environmental study issued by Dr. Jorge Emmanuel of the Alliance for Philippine Concerns in Berkeley, California showed American military facilities world wide generate 400,000 tons of pollutants.  A study cited by the United States Department of Defense detailed 14,401 "toxic hot spots" at 1,579 U.S. military bases.  According to Dr. Emmanuel, former president Ronald Reagan authorized the US military bases and Subic and Clark bases in the Philippines to store 227 nuclear bombs.  In 1985 Reagan signed a document that authorized the storage of these nuclear weapons  entitled the "Nuclear Weapons Deployment Authorization".  The reports issued by the United States Defense Department did not address the pollution caused by the storage of nuclear weapons authorized by President Reagan because the subject of pollution was the responsibility of the US Environmental Protection Agency.  By splitting up accountability in such a manner, the United States avoids financial responsibility for the contamination and human destruction caused by  its mighty military industrial complex.

This was the status of the United States interaction with the Philippine government and people prior to September 11, 2001.   Then the towers fell and American vulnerability was exposed for the all the world to see.  The new President George W. Bush, and his administration, turned to all the governments that the United States had damaged by its conduct around the world for help. Faced with growing opposition to its bases in Okinawa and South Korea,  the United States began exploratory talks with several Asian nations that centered on re-establishing United States military bases on their land, ostensibly to fight terrorism.  Not surprisingly, given the United States' exhibition of friendship to the Philippine government, the Philippines were not receptive to the return of the turn-coat United States military.  Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Amadeo Valdez  told the American officials that the Philippine officials were not keen on allowing another military base 12 years after the US bases pulled out.  Specifically he said, "We have a love-hate relationship.  We support the US and all its activities world-wide, but when it comes to returning the bases here, it will be difficult."

This is the current status of US-Philippine relationship, but it was not always so, and the current tension was not caused by the individuals who served in the US military from 1898 until 1991.  Individual interaction between friends of differing cultures is not dictated by the masters they serve.   The writings and diaries created at the time of individual encounters are crucial to future generations understanding the times.  Although governments want to rewrite history to serve their own means, the writings of individuals give a true accounting of the times as seen through the eyes of common man.  When one comes across such writings, it becomes a personal responsibility to preserve and post the thoughts of those people who  lived at the time so that future generations can understand that governments are not our history - our individual feelings, thoughts, and experiences truly impact and alter the times in which we lived.

In 1929, the former city manager of Farmville, Virginia, H. A. Stecker, found himself  and his young family stationed in the Philippines.  This is his story.
by Captain H. A. Stecker, U.S.A.
(Formerly  City  Manager  of  Farmville, Va.)

Editor Farmville Herald:

In response to your request for an article for your paper I thought perhaps the reader of The Herald might be interested in hearing something about the Philippine Islands where I have spent the past three years.  It is difficult, however, to present even a general picture in the space allotted to a newspaper article.  I shall, therefore, not attempt to cover the whole field but merely endeavor to give you a few pen pictures of Philippine life and conditions without much regard to time, place or logical sequence.

Soon after my arrival in the Islands I had the good fortune to be assigned to the General's Staff at Headquarters with special duty as supervisor of all utilities and construction work of the various Army posts in the Philippines.  This afforded me an unusual opportunity to see a great deal of our far eastern possession.


First, let me give you a bird's-eye view of the Islands as a whole and a few glimpses of the city of Manila.  The Archipelago embraces more than 7,000 islands scattered over an area larger than that of the thirteen original colonies, with a coast line longer by  8,000 miles than that of the United States.  Luzon, in the north, the largest and most highly developed Island is about the size of Virginia.  Mindanao in the south is a little smaller.  This island is the land of the Moro (Mohammedan Filipino) where the Sultan of Sulo still "kids" himself and his subjects into the belief that he possesses some regal power, and the Government allows him a retainer of $3,000 per annum to keep him happy in this harmless belief.  Scattered between these two larger islands are five other islands which together cover an area the size of the state of Maine.  Surrounding and interspersed between these seven large islands are thousands of small islands many of them uninhabited.  The total land area of the Archipelago is a little greater than that of the British Isles and the total population about equal to that of the state of New York.

The interior of all the islands is mountainous but vast stretches of low lands are found along the coast regions.  Much of the rugged interior is covered with virgin forests and several areas of considerable size have never been explored by white men.  The most notable of these is the Island of Mindoro, located about 100 miles south of Manila, and comprising an area about equal to that of the State of Delaware.  Outside of a large sugar cane plantation in the south and a few scattered settlements along the coast little is known about this Island.  The interior is a mass of rugged mountains clothed with a fine growth of valuable timber.  About two thirds of the interior has never been explored by a white man.  So far as known only two white men have ever penetrated the interior to any considerable distance.  The combination of rugged terrain, turbulent streams, almost impenetrable jungle and the prevalence of malaria fever, have dampened the ardor of the explorer and as a consequence most of the interior of this island is shrouded in mystery.


The most exciting experience I have had in the Philippines I had on this island -- or rather over this island.  Clouds descended on us while traveling over the rugged interior in an airplane.  The trip resulted in the wreck of our sister plane on the beach and the wreck of a second plane which came to the rescue, and in our being marooned on the island for a period of ten days.  During the entire time the typhoon signal was never hauled down and during the last seven of the ten days the weather bureau recorded a rainfall of 20 inches.  Needless to say we didn't do any exploring.

Plant life in the Islands is abundant and luxuriant.  Everything grows in the wildest profusion.  There is such a variety of forest products that it is bewildering.  Some of the woods are very beautiful and several kinds are now being exported to the States.  I have been in places where  trees are so thick and so overgrown with vines and other parasitic plants that, on the brightest day, barely enough light penetrates to enable one to read a paper.  But even in these dense jungles, contrary to expectation, animal life is not abundant.  There is quite a variety of birds, but you can see more birds in a day's travel in the open country in Virginia than you see here in a week's travel in the wilderness.  Wild hogs and deer are found in all wooded sections.  Monkeys are not as plentiful as one would expect.  The only large game animal is the tamarau -- a specie of wild buffalo resembling the domesticated caraboa.  This animal is found in the interior of the Island of Mindoro and nowhere else in the world.  Lizards are quite plentiful and make themselves very much at home in our houses.  It is not unusual for one to drop off the ceiling onto the table and join you for lunch.  There is quite a variety of snakes and some of them grow to considerable size -- 20 feet being not uncommon, -- but judging from my own experience I should say they are not very abundant.  I haven't seen over a half a dozen snakes in all my travels through the jungles.  I shot one fine specimen while he was in the act of swallowing a mongoose, a species of wild cat, about the size of a good sized house cat.  Mosquitoes we have with us the year round and they are very sociable at all seasons of the year.  The mosquito net is a permanent fixture on our beds.  A fly is seldom seen.  The most prolific creature is the ant.  I think every specie in existence is represented here and they are well represented.  I have seen fields larger than the average-sized farm at home covered with hundreds of anthills from two to five feet high, some even eight or ten feet high.  Of the many varieties the white ant is the worst pest.  It destroys everything in its path except stone, concrete or iron.  We live in constant dread of having our trunks or dressers invaded by an army of these marauders and finding contents destroyed.  We had a large rug ruined while it was on the floor in the living room.  The ants came up through the floor underneath the rug and before we discovered their presence the under side of the rug had been cut to shreds.


What about the climate?  Although in the torrid zone it is not unbearably hot, the range of temperature the year around is usually 80 and 90 degrees.  It seldom reaches the 100 degree mark and in the lowlands rarely falls below 70 degrees.  The weather bureau at Manila for the past ten years gives 60 degrees as the minimum.   A year ago our daily paper came out one morning with a big headline on the front page which read: "Cold wave hits Manila -- mercury dropped to 62 degrees last night."  But like everything else in the Islands -- to limit description to one section, is misleading -- so with the climate.   We go swimming on New Years day in one section and in another we sleep under three or four heavy blankets in the month of June or July.  Last May, my daughter, son and myself, spent most of an afternoon in the mountains of northern Luzon huddled around a large heater with a roaring fire in it.  And, strange but true, in this very locality we found the natives attired in gee strings.  This however, is not a matter of choice with the natives, but a case of necessity.  The hill people are too poor to buy clothes.

The products of the Philippines are as varied as everything else.  Rice, sugar cane, coconuts, hemp and bananas are grown most extensively, but a whole newspaper column could be filled with the other products.  The large markets of Manila display such a variety of fruits and vegetables that even after nearly three years stay in the islands, we haven't learned the names of half of them.  The large coconut plantations are a wonderful sight.  I made one trip in the south where we drove for a distance of 15 miles through a veritable forest of coconut palms.  As far as the eye could reach on both side of the road nothing but the stately palms were visible.  In the northern section of the Islands the culture of rice predominates.  The rice fields in the vicinity of Manila resemble the boundless wheat lands of the Dakotas.


Now let us stop to visit Manila for a few minutes.  Here is centered all big business, political, commercial enterprise, educational facility, financial backing, architectural development, and social prestige of the entire islands.  As you enter the harbor you will step off the gang plank onto the finest pier in the Orient, -- some say in the world --, and you behold a panoramic view of the Luneta (park and parade grounds), with its 18 hole golf course, its boulevards, lined with royal palms, its zoo and botanical garden.  Bordering on this playground are the Elks, Army and Navy, and University clubs, the Legislative Hall, (a structure which is conspicuous for it's architectural style and beauty), and the 300-year-old Spanish wall.  This wall, about 2 1/2 miles long and averaging about 25 feet in width and height, surrounds the historic Spanish city known as Intramuros (the walled city).  Let us pass through one of the gates.  Parts of the portcullis still hangs overhead, but the drawbridge is gone.  You now find yourself in a new world -- or rather, I should say, in an old world.  There is nothing American about it.  Everything in it is Spanish, except of course, the inhabitants.  Narrow streets, single file flag side-walks, flanked by massive stone structures with walls four feet thick -- old army barracks, government buildings, hospitals, convents, monasteries, churches, schools, colleges, tailor, butcher and candlestick maker shops, etc., all gray, dusty and musty, and yet fascinating to the student of history and art.  But we must not linger as there is much more of Manila to see, so let us exit through another gate, travel a few blocks and enter the best residential section of the city.  Here you may find American, Spaniard, German, Englishman, Frenchman, Portuguese, Chinamen, Hindoo, Filipino, Mestizo (half breed) all living in the same section, but even here the native outnumbers the white man perhaps ten to one.  Many of the finest dwellings have the lower story and the beautiful yard surrounding same hidden from view by a high stone or concrete wall.  At the least, there must be an iron fence around each yard.  In this section you can also see a fine group of University buildings, European and native Y.M.C.A. buildings, Knights of Columbus, Spanish, German, and Japanese club house, etc.  Here also is the old Paco cemetery surrounded by a high circular wall enclosing several acres.  As you enter you will see another concentric wall within.  The inner face of both walls is lined with several tiers of niches each large enough and deep enough to hold a casket.  Some open, others sealed up with a tablet bearing the usual inscription found on tombstones.  Here, in Spanish times, the living paid rent for the abode of the dead.  When the kinfolks became dilatory about payment out came the tenant, and his next resting place was a large circular pit in the rear where, he joined the community pile of bleached bones.

Five minutes walk from the imposing and exclusive looking residences will take you into a section where you can roam around for several hours without seeing a white face, where the building materials consist mostly of bamboo nipa, and the metal from 5 gallon gasoline tins, where the kitchen wastes run in the streets, and where the hogs roam like dogs, busily engaged in scavenger service.

Space and time is not available to take you across the dirty Pasig river, filled with craft of every description, and let you roam down the main business street.  Here, if it were not for the brown faces all around you, you might easily imagine that you were walking down one of the business streets of Lynchburg or Richmond.  But if you turned off the main street and walked up one of the narrow side streets this feeling would soon be dispelled and you would feel that you must been suddenly transported from Lynchburg to Peking, for here the narrow streets are lined with nothing but Chinese shops of every description.

Before passing on to another pictures subject, I want to caution the reader again not to try and formulate a picture of Manila as a whole from the foregoing sketchy description.  If you do, it will not be a true picture.  There is much more that is interesting and unique that belongs in the picture.  Furthermore, while Manila represents the Philippine Islands, one cannot form a true conception of the Philippines by studying its capitol only.  Manila is the home of the white inhabitant, the Chinese merchant, the poor and ignorant native as well as the elite and sophisticated native and class and style are conspicuous by their absence outside of Manila and three or four large towns.

Religion, politics, education and culture I must pass over without comment.  An understanding of the native' mental process of thought, his past training and real character, is his conception of, and attitude essential to a clear comprehension of words about these subjects, and this can only be gained by living and working with him for an extended period.  To attempt to convey this to another in a short newspaper write-up is futile.  Suffice it to say that nearly all forms of religious belief and worship, including the Christian faith, has more or less image worship and superstition mixed with it, and generally speaking, the fear of the evil spirit, especially among the non-Christian tribes, affects the native much more than the trust and confidence in the good spirit.  Only a few months ago it was whispered in the narrow streets of the walled city that three black-robed women, harbingers of a plague, were roaming through the streets of Manila and making nocturnal visits at certain houses, where, if anyone responded to their gentle knock on the door, he was sure to be stricken with the plague.  The news of the presence of these harbingers of evil soon spread all over the city and almost overnight three white crosses marked with chalk,  paint, or cut out of paper, appeared on the doors of native homes and shops throughout the city.  Many of the better class of homes being no exception.  It was said that the black-robed creatures would not molest any place that displayed three white crosses.


The greatest obstacle in the way of economical development and enlightenment of the masses is lack of transportation facilities.  One main line of railroad extending north and south of Manila for a distance of about 500 miles is practically the extent of the railroad system in the Islands.  The total mileage in the Islands is less than 800.  On the Island of Luzon several main highways suitable for automobile traffic radiate out from Manila.  The other islands have no highway systems to speak of.  A few short roads in the vicinity of the large coastal towns is the extent of the roads suitable for vehicular traffic.  Hotel service is practically limited to Manila and a few towns located on main highways or ports.  As a consequence, when making extensive trips one is dependent upon native hospitality.  But this is never lacking.  There is always room for one more on the floor.  Except in the better class of homes (and the percentage of these is very small) beds are unknown.  We provided beds for our two servants when we came here but a few days later we found the beds in the storeroom.  They had gone back to the grass mat.

The Philippine government has recently established a few lodging places, known as rest houses, in some of the remote sections, which fill a much needed want.  Owing to the limited highways and lack of hotel facilities, tourist travel in the Islands does not exist.  For reasons which I have never been able to ascertain no one ever camps.  It just isn't done, that's all.


During Christmas vacation a year ago I equipped myself with a complete camping outfit and two weeks provisions and took my family across the bay from Manila, a distance of about 25 miles, where we camped on the ocean beach with a 25 mile strip of wilderness directly behind us.  The natives still talk about it.  They never heard of anybody doing such a crazy thing -- to leave a good house in the city and live in tents in the wild country is something thought no sane person would do.  At this place we were struck again with the effects of lack of transportation facilities.  Although we found one large barrio (town) and several small ones, the natives were as backward as though they were separated one thousand miles from a civilization center; and this was almost within sight of the city of Manila.  There were no vehicles of any kind, no horses, nor even a bull cart; the reason -- no roads.  The only means of travel was by water and on foot trails.  Here, within a mile of two of our camp, we found many Negrito shelters, but no matter how cautiously we approached, we never found the occupants in.  The old timers say that, in his native haunt, "the Negrito always sees but is seldom seen."  But more about these little wild people later.  On a recent trip that my son and I made into the mountains we saw plenty of them and we found that a few boxes of matches and cigarettes was all that was needed to dispel their shyness.

For lack of space and time, I must pass hurriedly over a very interesting subject, and that is the remnants of old Spanish architecture.  A picture of the Philippines is not complete without a description of the old Spanish churches.  Somber and massive, built of large blocks of stone, they are the landmark in every barrio.  For the most part they are in a very bad state of repair.  But what a field for the antique hunter!  Old, beautifully carved benches, tables, chairs, etc., as black as ebony, large oil paintings, quaint wooden images of every saint you ever heard of, and many you never heard of, are found in these old structures.  The most remarkable one I have visited is the St. Augustine church and monastery at Cebu, the place where the natives ended Magellan's adventurous career over 400 years ago.  This is a veritable museum for the lover of antiques.  Here, in an inner chamber in a small sanctum sanctorum reached through many small dusty passageways, the visitor may view a small dusty faced wooden doll, representing the Christ Child, which was presented to the Queen of Cebu by Magellan himself.

At present, literature and art, as far as native production is concerned is practically non-existent.  Likewise, very little scientific and technical talent has been developed.  To prepare themselves for a political position is the ambition of most of the young men whose parents have the means to continue their education beyond the high school.  Hence the university and private colleges turn out more abogados (lawyers) than anything else.  The scientific, engineering and agricultural courses are not very popular.


Big business in Manila is almost exclusively conducted by foreigners -- also includes Americans.  Small industries, shops and stores are operated by Chinese and a few Japanese; not alone in Manila, but throughout the islands.   Nearly all government positions are filled by mestizos (half breeds).  The native Filipino is the clerk, farmer, laborer and servant.  As a servant, I doubt if his equal can be found anywhere.   There are wealthy mestizo and Filipino families in Manila who live in palatial homes and keep a retinue of servants, but the percentage of these, when compared with the total population, is very small.  A few American negroes remained here when the 9th Cavalry (colored) was disbanded.   Wherever you see them now, they are holding key positions.  In the restaurants they are proprietors, in the field, they are foremen, in the office, principal clerks.  From the fact that the common native readily accepts the negro as his leader, you can draw your own conclusions as to his fitness and ability to govern himself.

I have left to the last the most interesting but, at the same time, the most difficult subject to describe, and that is the native himself, or rather I should say, the natives; for there are many distinct tribes.  The number claimed by various ethnologists ranges from about fifty to eighty.  The layman, of course, is unable to draw so many fine distinctions and cannot make out more than fifteen or twenty distinct types.  The most highly developed part of the islands which lies within a radius of about fifty miles of Manila is occupied by the Tagalog tribe.  These easily stand at the head of the list in mental development and social standing, but whether they outrank all others in mental capacity is questionable.  They certainly do not in strength of character and personality.  The large island of Mindanao in the extreme southern part of the Archipelago is the home of the Moro (Mohammedan Filipino).  While the potential possibilities for development of this island surpass all others, it is with the exception of a few small areas, still in its virgin state.  This is due mostly to lack of transportation facilities and the past mode of living of the inhabitants.  Up to about 70 years ago, the Moros' chief occupations was piracy.  He always has been and still is, a seafaring man.  For several centuries his well-built vintas, propelled by sail and oar, were harbingers of evil for the sail boats and coast side towns of the other tribes.  About 70 years ago, when steam supplanted the sail, the government of Spain sent over a few naval vessels for patrol duty and this put an end to the Moros' favorite pastime of pillaging, killing and making slaves out of his captives.  But on land the Moro was never subdued by the Spaniard.  General Pershing finally succeeded by recourse to both force and diplomacy in getting the Moro to lay down his arms.  From that time the tribe, as a whole, has been very friendly toward the Americans.  Sporadic outbreaks have taken place since, and even now one of the old Datos (chiefs) occasionally takes offense at some government regulation and gathers his subjects about him and defies the authorities.  One such outbreak occurred soon after our arrival in the islands, which resulted in the Dato's little following being reduced by some 30 odd men.  The Moros hate the Christian Filipinos whole-heartedly, who reciprocates with feeling in kind.  Should the Filipino every gain his independence, I predict that the Moro will stage a nice little rebellion before six months have passed.

The principal inhabitants of the group of islands lying between Luzon in the north and Mindonao in the south are Visayans.  In appearance, character, and mode of living, this tribe resembles the Tagalog, but the Visayan is less advanced in civilization than the Tagalog.  The Pampangna in Central Luzon and Illiocano in Western Luzon are mostly agriculturists and are peaceable and law abiding citizens.

The Negrito is supposed to be the original inhabitant of the Islands.  He inhabits the remote and inaccessible mountain regions in various parts of the Archipelago.  He stands at the bottom of the ladder of civilization.  In fact, he has not even stepped on the first rung.  He is a dwarf, averaging in height not much over four feet.  He resembles the African negro, but is perhaps a shade lighter in color, and his lips are not quite as thick and protruding.  But when it comes to kinky hair, the African negro has nothing on him.  The Negrito leads a nomadic life and subsists entirely "upon the natural products of the forest, both vegetable and animal".  His principal weapon and practically only personal possession is a bow and arrow.  His shelter consists of a platform about six feet square made out of round poles about the size of a broomstick, supported on four poles about three feet high.  A shed roof made of grass or nipa palm placed about three or four feet above this platform completes the structure.  A few tin cans and bottles and perhaps a small kettle comprise the sum total of his kitchen utensils.  Furniture is entirely non-existent.  Nor does he use a blanket for cover or even straw or grass to sleep on.  The only use that I have ever seen the Negrito make of the soil is to cultivate a little patch of tobacco.  But generally there is no sign of cultivation or even of habitation in the vicinity of his shack.  More often then not, when following a trail through the wilderness, you virtually stumble onto one of these shacks before you see any sign of human occupation.
A few weeks ago my son and I made a tour into one of the largest Negrito territories.  We went as far as we could by auto, then took horses and a guide and proceeded 15 miles farther into the mountain wilderness. The scenery was superb.  Our trail led us through
four extinct craters.  Down a precipitous slope into the almost level floor of the crater we went.  Then up the rim on the other side and down again into the next crater, until we had passed through four in succession.  The farther we went the steeper the ascent became, and we often had to hold on to the pummel of our saddles with our hands to keep from sliding off backward.

After we had gone about seven or eight miles, we began to see some of the little frowzy headed denizens of the forest.  They usually dodged into the bushes on the side of the trail and gave us the right of way, but at the sight of a few cigarettes and a box of matches, their shyness disappeared.  A lone hunter made for cover when we first saw him, but
a few cigarettes and a box of matches won him over completely.
After 4 p.m., we came to the end of the trail that could be negotiated on horseback, and after eight hours in the saddle we had no desire to continue the journey on foot.  In the eight hours ride we climbed from the torrid to the temperate zone.  At the bottom in the morning we crawled out from under a blanket, and at the top that night we pulled four heavy army blankets over us.

We started early the next morning on our return journey from the Negrito territory described above.  On the day previous we had seen a small tobacco patch off to one side of our trail, and on the ridge beyond a group of natives.  Thinking that perhaps here we might find a semi-permanent settlement, when we came to this place in the morning we left our horses with our guide and walked or rather slid and crawled, over to this place.  Here we found the nine natives huddled around a small fire.  They were preparing their breakfast which consisted of a few camotes (a variety of sweet potato) roasting on the fire, a tomato can full of some kind of roots being cooked in water, and a few bananas.  The tomato can was the only utensil in sight.  In a little natural depression on the side of the ridge a flat roof about six feet square made of cogon grass and banana leaves, supported by four small poles, was the only shelter in sight.  There was not even the usual pole platform.  How they manage to sleep without clothes or blankets in the chilly mountain air, where we  slept inside of a closed tent under four blankets, is more than I can explain.  A little farther on we met a group of fifteen natives, men, women and children.  They were well supplied with bows and arrows, and we secured a number of good pieces from them to add to our collection of Filipino weapons.

While the Negrito is perhaps the lowest in the scale of civilization of all the tribes in the Philippines, perhaps the least is known about the Manyan who inhabits the inaccessible regions of Mindora.  There is an old legend, and it is very persistent to this day, that a section of the interior of this island is inhabited by natives with white skin.  In fact, this legend is what prompted one of the two white men who have attempted to cross this island from one side to the other, to organize his expedition.  But he found nothing but brown skins.  The dusky maidens' native is a skirt made of bark.


But of all the tribes none are more interesting than the hill people of Northern Luzon.  There are some half dozen distinct tribes, and of these the Igorrot and Ifuago occupy the center of the stage.  I just returned from a business trip to the Philippines summer resort located 5000 feet above sea level, in the pine clad mountains of the Igorrot country.  Both the United States army and the Philippine government maintain accommodations for their officials at this place.  It is a delightful place -- the equal of any mountain resort in the States, and is one where class and style are maintained.  Regulations at the hotel call for evening clothes or dress uniforms to be worn for dinner.  The waiters also are in dress uniform which consists of a two piece suit, a white coat with high collar and a gaudily colored gee string, sans pants, socks and shoes.

This summer resort is about 170 miles north of Manila, but to really see how the Igorrot and Ifuago lives, one must  penetrate about 100 miles farther into the mountains, where the civilizing influence of the white man has wrought practically no change whatsoever.  This trip I made last summer, accompanied by my son and daughter.  Operating from the summer resort just mentioned as a base, we made a twelve day trip right through the heart of the Igorrot  and Ifuago sections, traveling afoot most of the way -- not by choice, but because there are only a few short stretches of road in this entire region covering more than 2000 square miles.  The first 50 miles we made in a car.  It was one of those experiences one likes to talk about afterward, but a repetition is not very alluring.  The road is a notch hacked out of the side of the mountain, a one way road operated on the block system.  Only small cars are permitted on the road.  A car with a long wheel base cannot negotiate the turns.   Looking ahead it often appeared as though the road  came to an abrupt end with nothing but a yawning abyss beyond but when we reached the point there was always a place to slip around the edge of the mountain.


The following day we hired three cargadores (native pack carriers) and proceeded on our journey afoot.  Traveling all day through a forest primeval --  nothing but pines, without a single habitation along the trail -- we came to a rest house at 3 p.m. and there we spent the night.  Another day took us into Bontoc, the capital of the Mountain Province.  Here we found the Igorrot in his native state -- living in the same kind of a house, wearing the same kind of clothing, planting, harvesting and eating the same kind of food, abiding by the same tribal rules and regulations as he did perhaps a thousand or more years ago.  The Igorrot resembles the American Indian, both in appearance and his stoical character.  Neither the civilizing influence of orderly government nor the preaching and teaching of the missionary has made any impression upon him.  He, of course, is subject to the laws of our government, but the wise provincial governors have generally followed a course of non enforcement of American law and non-interference with native customs, domestic relations, and community regulations.  Practically the only custom that has been eradicated by enforcement of American rule is the custom of head hunting.  Up to about 25 years ago the Igorrot's favorite pastime was headhunting, and he was the dreaded foe of all the mountain tribes.  A photo herewith shows one of the old stone posts on which the ghastly trophies were mounted, and around it a celebration was staged in honor of the successful hunter.  If a man from one settlement lost his head, another head had to be taken to square the score.  But the game was without end.  They had started something which by their code of honor could not be stopped.  But they are now grateful to the government for having eradicated this barbaric practice.  However, they still treasure the old trophies which they keep hidden away in their shacks; but if you gain their confidence they seem to take pleasure in exhibiting them.  The taking of a head also entitled the victor to having a design tattooed on his chest.  We estimated that one out of every five of the old men wore this mark of distinction.  The present chief of Bontoc is said to have eight heads to his credit.


Bontoc is a strange city.  There are two parts to it.  One section includes the government offices, hospital, church, school and constabulary headquarters, and a few stores and residences occupied by lowland Filipinos.  You walk to the end of the street and you are suddenly confronted with what looks like a large field of haystacks of all sizes.  The larger are houses for humans, the smaller houses for pigs.  They are all jumbled together in the most irregular arrangement imaginable.  No streets, no regular walks, no stores or shops of any description. It is strictly a residential section, and all the inhabitants are farmers.  Their tiny rice paddies are located outside of the village, some as far as three miles away.  The village proper is divided into thirteen atos (groups).  Somewhere within each group is a large circle formed by large flat stones polished as smooth as plate glass from generations of use.  This is the council chamber where the old men meet and settle all questions of law and order pertaining to the community as a whole as well as disputes between individuals.

The house of the Igorrot resembles a pyramidal tent in size and shape, built squat on the ground.  The thatch roof is about a foot thick.  No floor.  A long box made out of hand hewn pine boards about three or four feet high and the same width extends across the back end of the house.  This is the bedroom for the old folks and the youngsters below the age of ten or twelve.  For the older children each ato or group builds two low and narrow houses resembling an elongated dog kennel.  Length, 20 to 30 feet, side walls built solid out of stone and clay about two feet high covered with a heavy thatched roof.  A small door at one end about 2 1/2 feet high and 12 inches wide is the only opening in the entire structure.  These structures the young unattached boys and girls use for sleeping quarters -- one for the boys and the other for the girls.  This relieves congestion in the sleeping box at home.

I could write a volume about what we saw and learned about this interesting tribe during our two days stop over at Bantoc, but I fear this article is already too long, so I will limit myself to a very brief description of another interesting tribe  -- the Ifuago -- and then write finis to this story.

At Bontoc we hired fresh cargadores and proceeded on our way to the land of the rice terraces which we reached the second day.  Having of 23 miles before us, that day, I hired a native pony for my daughter, in fact, I hired two, but the starter on one of them didn't work, so we had to leave it behind.  These mountain ponies are not much for speed, but they are very sure footed and a narrow and slippery ledge does not affect their nerves in the least.  I believe that with a little training they could be taught to walk a rope.


In the afternoon the wonderful Ifuago rice terraces, often spoken of as the eighth wonder of the world, stretched before us in panoramic view.  To me these terraces were more magnificent and awe-inspiring than the monumental works of the Panama canal.  Being compelled to wrest a livelihood from the rugged mountains, the native, by cutting and filling, has transformed the steep slopes of the mountains into huge steps so as to get level places for his rice paddy.  Water from the highest level is carried down and held successively at each level to water the crop.  Thus the same water is made to do duty over and over again.  I have counted as many as ninety terraces,  one above the other, and some of these have a face wall as high as 15 feet.  With the walls in general following the contours of the mountain,  the scene presented is more like a perfect piece of nature's handiwork than a conventional manmade design.  It is landscape gardening on the grandest scale imaginable.  Neither photograph nor pen picture can convey to another the beauty and extent of these terraces.  For two days we traveled over, in and alongside these transformed mountain sides.  It represents the labor of many centuries -- how many, no one knows, and to think that all this was accomplished without motor or animal power!  A few crude hand-made tools and a wicker basket with the only implements employed on this stupendous irrigation project.

In appearance and dress, the Ifuago resembles the Igorrot, but surpasses him in skilled workmanship.  Somewhere, perhaps, from an influx of Chinese, he has learned the art of wood carving and he is a real artisan in brass and copper metal work.  This, too, indicates contact with the Chinese  or another race sometime in the past.  The Ifuago builds his house on stilts and these are scattered all over the countryside in small groups of four or five in one place.

Four more days completed our journey.  During the last week of our tour we did not see a single white man and only occasionally did we meet someone who could speak or even understand English or Spanish.

by Virginia McCullough  © 10/4/04