Project Canterbury

Thirty Years in Tropical Australia

By the Right Reverend Gilbert White, D.D.
Bishop of Willochra

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1918.

Chapter XIX. The Philippines (1913)

I HAD long been interested in the Philippine Islands, and early in 1913 I was able to visit the islands in response to an invitation from Bishop Brent, the well-known American Bishop of the Philippines, to accompany him on a visit to the Igorots of the Northern Luzon Mountains, among whom he had established a Mission.

I left Thursday Island in the Kumano Maru on Thursday, January 30. From the start we had beautiful weather, cool and somewhat cloudy; and as there were only about twenty passengers we had plenty of room. On Sunday we had a well-attended service in the music saloon and managed the hymns very well. We passed a number of islands, some of them active volcanoes, but none nearer than fifteen miles except Ceram, which we passed after dusk. We were only a short distance from the land and saw the lighthouse and lights very clearly. On Wednesday morning we sighted the first of the long series of Philippine Islands extending for 800 miles in length and about 150 in breadth. This was Basilan, an island about the size of Prince of Wales Island, and somewhat resembling it in appearance. Passing close to its point, we crossed the Strait to Zamboanga, a small town with red-roofed houses at the foot of a range about two thousand feet high, and the southern point of the island of Mindanao. We steamed to within a few hundred yards of the jetty before turning at right angles along the coast. The position of the town reminded me strongly of Cairns, but every yard of the beach for miles was covered with coco-nut trees. There were a number of small fishing vessels with curious striped square sails and small outriggers. The steamer passes for six or seven miles close to the shore, giving one a beautiful view of the plantations and the hills that rise behind. A few miles farther on we left the island and struck once more for the open sea. All next day we ran along the coast of the islands, getting some beautiful views. One especially dwells with me, off the coast of Mindoro: a sea smooth as polished steel, a couple of green islets, and, behind, a crumpled mass of tangled, reddish hills, every fold and shadow standing out clear and sharp in the light of the setting sun. Behind, higher hills, half hidden and melting into masses of fleecy cloud, on which a rainbow played like the colours of mother-of-pearl; on the right a great mountain over seven thousand feet high, and on the left yet another as high and wrapped in clouds. In the west, the sun, a glowing heart of ruby fire, sank behind a level plain of old red-gold, which covered the face of the water from within a few yards of the ship into an apparently infinite distance; as the sun disappeared the old gold changed to crimson and wrinkled under a breath of air into ten thousand eddies and pools of light. When the breeze sank again the sea became one half purple and the other pale chrome-yellow; while from where the sun had disappeared shot up great streamers of rosy light far up into the over-sky. At daylight next morning we arrived at Manila.

Manila Harbour reminded me a great deal of Colombo, and was full of shipping. I landed about 9 A.M., and was met by Bishop Brent and also by Bishop McKim of Tokyo, whom I met at the time of the Lambeth Conference. It was strange that we two were the first episcopal visitors Bishop Brent had ever had, and we both arrived from different directions on successive days. The Bishop took us round the town, which is very interesting, and the most crowded with carriages and light-cart traffic, I should think, of any city in the world. Every one, down to the poorest, seems to drive something. We visited a hospital with over fifty beds, supported by the American Church, with a Deaconesses' Home and other Mission buildings, all in beautiful order. The Bishop has a delightful concrete house, built for the tropics, and I was shown my room when I should return to occupy it. I was delighted to note the bed on the veranda. On one side is the Cathedral, a very fine concrete building built in the style of the old Spanish cathedrals, and on the other a Church Club and other buildings. In front, a fine open space where the University is to be built.

At lunch we had a most interesting talk about the future of the Philippines. A Bill was already before the United States Congress practically to give them their independence. The future is full of risk, not only to the Philippines, but to Australia as well. Unfortunately Congress (which is like our Commonwealth Government when dealing with the North) knows little about the Philippines, and may commit acts of real absurdity in consequence. In the afternoon we went to a baseball match, and watched two great struggles--the first between the Army and the Navy, and the second between the Philippines and a Japanese team from Tokyo, in which, to the general surprise, the former won amid a scene of wild excitement among the spectators, who were all agog for nationality, independence, etc. Finding that the Bishop would not be ready to start for a week, I determined to pay a flying visit to Hong-Kong and Canton, but I will not weary the reader with my experiences in these well-known places.

I arrived at Manila from Hong-Kong on Friday, February 14, about five in the afternoon, and after tiresome formalities at the Customs, drove to Bishop Brent's house in the Calle Isaak Peral. Next morning we had a celebration of Holy Communion in Japanese for the benefit of two Japanese Churchmen. The celebrant was Bishop McKim of Tokyo, who (as I have already stated) was also visiting Manila. After breakfast I went to see the old Cathedral in the walled city, a fine but very plain building, and the Augustinian Church, which has a beautiful cloister enclosing a garden. In the afternoon we heard of the arrest of two Philippines, Government draughtsmen, who were caught with almost completed plans of the strong American forts at Corregidor Island, which they were supposed to have been making for a foreign Power.

On Sunday morning I preached in the Cathedral at the ordination of the first Chinese deacon for the Chinese congregation of the Episcopal Church in Manila, Mr. T. Pay. The Cathedral is a very large fine building in Spanish style of architecture, a gift from a former member of Bishop Brent's congregation. The Choral Eucharist was beautifully sung, and there was a large and reverent congregation, with a good proportion of communicants. The Cathedral has only been built a few years, but looks a hundred years old. The windows, like those of all the houses in Manila, are of transparent oyster-shells set in wooden frames. They give a soft light, and look like the old-fashioned leaded diamond-pane windows.

On Monday morning the Bishop furnished me with an introduction to the Acting Director of the Bureau of Science, and I spent a most instructive hour going over the fine buildings of the department with the director. The laboratories are large and well equipped, and all kinds of bacteriological experiments are carried on for the Health and Agricultural Departments. Another thing that interested me much was the fish section, where I saw specimens of the hundreds of coloured parrot- and butterfly-fish that haunt the reefs. Everything seems to be done on the most thorough and complete scale.

After saying good-bye to the director, a most courteous American, I went on to the Observatory at the Jesuit College, and presented an introduction to Father Algue, the well-known director, whose labours in the study of typhoons have been of such inestimable value. His system of typhoon detection has been introduced in the United States Navy, and has lately been adapted to the prediction of storms in the North Altantic. Father Algue, a kindly old grey-haired priest, told me that he had received requests for data to assist in the prediction of storms in Australia, but the whole system of storms on the other side of the Equator was different, and warnings from Manila would be of little service. He then handed me over to a young English father, who took me all over the Observatory and explained everything to me in detail. I was specially interested in the earthquake recorders and anemometers. The maximum force of the wind recorded at Manila was one hundred and thirty miles an hour, the monsoon average maximum being only thirty. The clock in the Observatory has been going without a stop for over ten years. It is in vacua and is wound up every ten seconds by electricity.

We left Manila on Wednesday, February 19, at 8 A.M., by train from the Tondo station. The line runs north over a great level plain between the mountains and the sea, covered with an endless succession of rice-fields, now dry and showing only the stubble on which hundreds of carabao were feeding. This is a kind of buffalo which is almost exclusively used for ploughing and for the rough native carts. To the west is the mountain of Merivales, at the entrance to Manila Bay. In the morning paper was an interesting letter from a young Philippine, pointing out the uselessness of the much desired independence to the Philippinos at the present time, partly because they had no money to maintain an army and navy, and without both they could not protect themselves from foreign aggression; secondly, on account of their lack of education and political experience; and, thirdly, because the various tribes were so bitterly at feud with each other that the withdrawal of the strong hand of the American Government would simply mean internecine domestic strife. These are wise words, but I fear they will not be much heeded. After about forty miles rice was displaced by sugar. The cane was not as large as the Queensland cane, and the method of extraction in the small mills scattered all over the country very primitive. The sugar is made in earthenware jars in a solid lump. The jar is then broken and the sugar sent to Hong-Kong or Japan to be refined. On Mindanao and other islands, however, large central mills are being erected with modern machinery. On the right of the line is a conspicuous extinct volcano, Mount Arayat, rising directly out of the plain to a height of 3300 feet, and many legends centre round it. On the left is a more lofty range of barren hills. The local trains are crowded and the stations filled with gaily dressed crowds, the women all wearing bright dresses, with huge starched muslin sleeves, and the men striped gauze jackets of varied hues. After about another forty miles sugar gives place to the coco-nut trees, which increase in numbers as the line approaches the coast at the mouth of the Bayambang River. One notices all through this country, as well as in Manila, children of three or four smoking cigarettes with inimitable gravity.

At San Fabian the present line towards Baguio branches off to the right towards the huge mountains which tower up to a height of over nine thousand feet. After leaving the coast the coco-nuts are replaced by tobacco, cultivated with great care and in beautiful condition.

Baguio is the Simla of the Philippines, and in February all the Government departments migrate to it for the summer. At Camp 1 the train was met by eight large motor-cars, each holding fourteen passengers, and with commendable forethought their luggage was sent on ahead in a big baggage-motor. The road, which rises 4500 feet in twenty-two miles, follows the narrow gorge of the Bued, and has been built with wonderful skill and at immense cost. The river has been known to rise in places a hundred feet, and many of the countless bridges have been destroyed more than once. The road runs without parapet along dizzy heights, and winds round curves so sharp that one wonders how the car can ever get round them. There is, however, an excellent system of regulation of traffic, which has to run to schedule time to avoid meeting; every few miles is a bar which is only raised when the section ahead is signalled clear. One or two baggage-cars have had serious accidents, but only one passenger-car. In this case it was the fault of the driver, who was bringing up a number of Chinese and wanted to show how near he could drive to the edge. Fortunately he was himself the only one seriously hurt. The whole twenty-two miles is intensely interesting; the cliffs rise up on either hand to a height of, in some places, 1500 feet, and the hills are covered with trees and extraordinarily varied in form. I do not know any place quite like it. At Camp 6, about ten miles from Camp 1, the road leaves the gorge of the Bued and rises up 1500 feet by a bold zigzag on to the Baguio Plateau, which is 5000 feet above the sea and surrounded by lofty hills. The trees here are all pines, and the air is fresh and nipping. The Governor-General had arrived in the morning, and we passed under arches inscribed "Welcome to our Gov." At the station we were met by the boys of the Bishop's School, who welcomed us in our turn with hearty cheers. We walked with them to the school, situated amid the pine-trees about half a mile away. This school, which is proving a great success, is for the sons of the white residents in the Philippines, chiefly army men and officials. The school, which has thirty-two boarders, was crowded out, and additional buildings were being erected to accommodate about twenty-five more. A similar school for girls was to be shortly established.

On the following day I called with the Bishop on the Governor-General, Mr. Forbes, in his official residence, a somewhat mean house on a magnificent site, with a view extending over hill and valley for forty miles up to the huge mass of Mount Pulag, which is nearly ten thousand feet high. The conversation turned on the Jones Bill then before the Congress, and it was agreed that premature independence would be most disastrous to the best interests of the natives. The Governor, in common with the other Americans that I have met, expressed much interest in Australia and its problems. The roads are very carefully kept and there are many Igorots working on them. Their national costume is simply a loin-cloth which, as in India, seems clothing enough by itself, but to improve their appearance they add to it a, hat and coat, which gives them an extraordinary half-dressed appearance far from beautiful. In the afternoon I drove with the Bishop to the Easter School, a Church school for Igorot children. Over fifty boys and girls live at the school and earn quite a lot of money by weaving. The looms are somewhat primitive, and are made by the boys, but the work is very beautiful.

Next morning I walked to Mirador Observatory, a branch of the Jesuit Observatory at Manila. It is situated on a conical hill a mile or two out of Baguio and commands a most wonderful view. On the west the mountains drop down to the coastal plain and the waters of the Lingayen Gulf, only twenty miles away as the crow flies, but forty by road, and beyond the Pangasinan Peninsula and the China Sea, sixty miles away, shining beyond it. From Mirador one sees that Baguio consists of a table-land, roughly circular, and some six or seven miles in diameter. It is cup-shaped at the top, and in this circular valley the town lies. To the east, over the Baguio hills that rim the town, one sees the long, bare mountain range that culminates in the peak of Mount Pulag (9400 feet), about thirty miles away. I met a number of natives coming in to market, some of the women having very bright dresses; one young woman was gorgeously attired, smoked a huge cigar, and had balanced on the top of her head what I took to be an ornament, but which turned out to be a square piece of yellow soap.

In the afternoon the boys met the soldiers at baseball, and, playing splendidly, won a complete victory. I have become quite a convert to baseball. It is a game for busy people, more interest and excitement are crowded into an hour even than in football. After the game the Bishop and I walked up to Camp John Hay to call on the General. The officers' quarters, and especially the General's house, have one of the most beautiful views in the world, I think, and the whole place is kept in splendid order. I learnt, somewhat to my surprise, that except for the army of occupation the Philippines cost the U.S.A. nothing, all expenses being paid out of local revenue, and there is a considerable surplus. In the evening the boys celebrated their victory with a bonfire and impromptu entertainment, followed by choir practice. The favourites were "My country, 'tis of thee," for which I was given special permission to substitute "God Save the King," and a beautiful school hymn written by the Bishop.

On the following day (Sunday) we drove out for the 8 A.M. celebration at Easter School. I gave some account of Mission work among the aborigines, and this was followed by a Choral Eucharist beautifully sung. We met a great number of country people coming in to market and returning from it. Several led a dog by a cord or piece of bamboo, and it was a shock to learn that this was their dinner, dog taking among these people the place of goat or sheep, so that your dog is praised, not for his beauty, but for his size and fatness. About six hundred dogs change hands every market-day. We had a hurried meal of sandwiches in the carromato, a light two-wheeled cart, and got back just in time for the 10 A.M. service at the school. The service is held on a large veranda, and there was a good attendance of townspeople.

The head master, who is evidently worshipped by the boys, has an original theory of corporal punishment. He holds that it should never be administered for a serious offence, but be freely used for trivial and not dishonourable breaches of law. For instance, last night we were sitting in his room when two small boys began to play ball in an adjoining room. "Jones," he called out to the elder, "don't you know that you must not play ball there." "I know it." "Well, come in here and let me talk to you about it." The boy came in quietly, took off his baseball glove and laid it neatly on a chair, went to a corner and fetched a flat piece of board and laid himself down across the master's knee. A smart spanking followed, which he bore without a wince, and went off quite happily with his offence purged.

In the evening there were some very interesting Bible classes, and after prayers I was requisitioned in the dormitory to tell the boys something about Australia until we were all ready for bed.

Next morning we were up at 5 A.M. and managed to get off about 6.30 A.M.

We had twelve cargadores or carriers to carry our luggage and fodder for the ponies. The three ladies and I had sturdy little mountain ponies, but Bishop Brent preferred to walk. The trail leaves the road just outside Baguio, and mounts up steeply for about twelve hundred feet, and then descending winds along the mountain ridges fairly level for about twelve miles. The trail is most skilfully engineered, and is sometimes a mere ledge cut out of the side of a precipice which falls away hundreds of feet, so that you see the tops of the pines far below under your feet. Fortunately the ponies are sure-footed, for a slip would send rider and horse hundreds of feet below. The scenery is most marvellous. I have never seen anything more beautiful and rarely anything as beautiful. About 2 P.M. we reached the rest-house of Sapangao perched among the pines on the mountain side, and waited patiently for nearly two hours for the dinner which was to be ready immediately. Owing to the trail keeping to the ridges the views are generally distant and uninterrupted. When dinner did at last arrive, consisting of the inevitable fowl, beans, rice, and camotes (a kind of sweet potato), we did it ample justice, and then, after making a sketch of the rest-house, I climbed about sunset up on to the roof of things high above the trail and saw the sun set above a sea of clouds. The cargadores are a cheery lot. They carry enormous weights up the steepest hill on a bamboo framework which fits the back and is secured by straps round the shoulders and forehead. The pace is about two and a half to three miles an hour, which is good going for the country.

Next morning we left about 6.45 A.M. and had a day's journey which was far more wonderful than the last. For hours the trail ran, ever mounting but beautifully graded, along the western side of a great mountain. After the sun had been up for hours the trail was still in deep shadow and the rocky upper side of the track was hung with a marvellous tapestry of ferns and flowers. Gorgeous pink begonias, Japanese anemones, spirsea, balsams, Michaelmas daisies, white violets, white forget-me-not, pink azaleas, and wild roses on a background of countless ferns and wonderful mosses, white, green, yellow, old gold, brown, and every intervening shade, all drenched in dew and festooned with fairy hammocks of spider web. The moisture-laden breeze comes over the top of the intervening mountains and keeps everything damp and fresh where it is shaded from the morning sun. On the left the mountain side falls a thousand feet almost perpendicularly, and in one place one can drop a pebble two thousand feet before it strikes the rock. We could see clear over the mountains to where the distant sea was hidden in cloud. We had lunch where a tiny stream crosses the track and where we could look down on the gullies filled with tree-ferns far below. After a few miles we ascended sharply for about five hundred feet and came into another world of ilex scrub above the pines. For several miles the trail ascended through the scrub, full of orchids, great masses of pink azalea, a wonderfully beautiful white hydrangea, crimson leaves, and moss-grown trees until it came out into a little clearing where there is a rest-house kept by an old soldier married to an Igorot woman. There is no distant view from the house, but the air is cold and fresh, as the house is 7300 feet above the sea, and great mists come sweeping up out of the world below and pass overhead of the little hollow in which the house lies. A track leads to a hill about half a mile distant, from which a magnificent view can be obtained. About dark we were quite ready for the host's invitation, "Sit right to, folks," and a feast of beautiful lamb, soup, rice, comotes, red cabbage, eschalots, and potatoes, all grown on the place. We did not get off until about 8.30 A.M. the following morning and the trail kept along the mountain-side all day at a height of about six thousand feet.

In the afternoon we emerged from the shady forest on to a bare hill-side along which the trail ran for a couple of miles or more; the slope below ran down uninterruptedly to the river four thousand feet below, and across the valley rose the great dividing range between east and western Luzon with its summits wreathed in cloud. We made a short camp for lunch and reached the Boyayo rest-house (six thousand feet) about 5 P.M., after travelling about twenty-three miles. I felt so well that I walked nearly all the way and led my pony. During these three days the trail had never descended to five thousand feet, and had averaged about six thousand.

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