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 XX. Bontoc and Sagada (1913)

NEXT day, Thursday, we made a short day, leaving the rest-house about 8 A.M. and reaching the village of Mankayan towards 1.30 P.M., the distance being about seventeen miles. We descended some three thousand feet and passed several small hamlets and bits of cultivation as we neared Mankayan. Here the presidente or head-man gave us a decent house for our accommodation, but our ponies had to pass the night tied up to convenient fences. They have to be well separated as they fight furiously. We carried trigo or barley for them, and could usually get palay or rice in the ear and comotes in addition. Our cargadores left us here and we had a new lot next day. They are paid a peso (2s.) a day without food, which only costs them about 3d. a day; so they do well.

Next day we left at 6 A.M., and shortly lost our good trail, having to lead the horses down a place like the side of a house for about a thousand feet. The hills here were bare of trees, and the scenery equally beautiful but quite different from anything we had seen before. We passed small huts and small bits of cultivation, and, wherever it was possible, coming down on to the river we had a wonderful view of the rice-paddies below; the rice was about six inches above the water, and the brown earth shining through the water, between the parallel rows of rice, had the most beautiful translucent effect like watered silk of every shade, from brightest green to red, brown, and sometimes bright blue where it reflected the sky. Our way lay down the narrow river valley for many miles and the heat was tremendous after the coolness of the mountains. We were all very glad to reach Cervantes about midday. Cervantes is a considerable village and boasts a gubernador and a post office. There is no rest-house or inn, however, and we were driven to invade an empty house whose owner was away, and make ourselves at home as best we could. Cervantes, though in the Bontoc country, is a Christian village, with a large church and good school. I made a sketch of it in the afternoon and was surrounded by all the children of the village, with whom I conversed in a mixture of Igorot Spanish and school English. We went to bed early in hopes of making a very long day next day.

We got up at 3.30 A.M.,but had to have breakfast and load up a new lot of cargadores, so that we did not get off till 5.30 A.M. At Cervantes we found the main trail from the coast to Bontoc. It is well graded and wide enough to be practicable for the small native bull-carts. We rose gradually, following the course of a river, and getting some beautiful views of the gorge below. The extraordinary thing of travelling in this part of the world is that every day's scenery is entirely different from the preceding. In six days' journey we never had two days in the least alike. After some fifteen miles we left the main trail, and by a somewhat rough track reached, in five miles or so, the village of Bauco, where we rested for about four hours. We started once more, about 3 P.M., and striking the main trail again followed it till after dark, when our cargadores struck and said they could go no farther. We determined to leave them behind and go on, and had a long weary journey in the dark. Running into some bull-carts in the blackest and narrowest part of the trail, we had to go back some distance before we could pass. It was nearly 11 P.M. when we reached Bontoc, where every one had given us up. The ladies were very tired, but stuck to the trail gallantly. Bishop Brent walked the whole thirty-seven miles of the day's journey; I walked a good deal, but got a good rest on my pony now and then.

Bontoc consists of a native town of about four thousand people and some thirty American residents, and is the capital of the mountain province. It is about three hundred years old and was garrisoned by the Spaniards, who, however, were several times wiped out by the turbulent population.

Bishop Brent has a strong Mission here and we stayed at the Mission House. The people were all head-hunters till lately, and feuds are still only restrained by the strong hand of the United States Government. Only the previous week some men from Bontoc killed others from a neighbouring town, and a force of several hundreds of armed men invaded Bontoc with the announced intention of clearing it out, but they were interrupted by the constabulary, and about sixty of the ringleaders lodged in gaol. We had a celebration in the little church at 8 A.M. on Sunday morning. The service was beautifully sung and very reverent. The ceremonia is somewhat advanced, and seems to appeal to a people who are taught much by the eye. All the men carry spears about five feet long with a broad steel blade, and it is curious to see them peacefully carrying lime for building with these weapons in their hands. It is certain that were the American forces withdrawn local feuds would immediately break out with much bloodshed.

In the afternoon, through an excellent interpreter, I gave the children some account of the Missions to the Australian aborigines, and they seemed deeply interested. Evensong was very heartily and well sung in English, which the elder children understand fairly well. The girls wear a short shirt or blouse and a sulu such as our Mission boys wear, with a sash designed and woven by themselves in beautiful colours; the sulu is often also woven by themselves, and the whole effect is excellent. The boys wear the national costume of loin-cloth and jacket. At church the girls wear a white handkerchief thrown over the head. It is very simple and looks very well.

On Monday I visited the native town, which consists of perhaps five hundred, more or less, conical grass houses. It is divided up into five wards, each of which is ruled by a council of old men, who meet on a curious platform of stones. The roofs of the houses come down to within three feet of the ground, and there are no walls. The people live and sleep on the ground under the roof, the house itself being used chiefly as a store-house for rice and camotes. The old women, girls, small boys, and unmarried men, all have separate ward dormitories. The girls are under no sort of moral control, and there is said to be much licence, but once the women are married they are said to be faithful to their husbands. Alongside of each house, and sometimes under the house, is a stone pit containing a pig, and the sty is rarely if ever made clean. I doubt if our aboriginals would live in the filth and smell of an Igorot town. I sat it out for about half an hour while I made a sketch, but had to flee before it was done. It must be understood that the Igorots are not, and never have been, Christians like the majority of Philippines, and their traditions are all purely heathen. The Mission staff at Bontoc consists of three ladies, one layman, and one priest. I was immensely struck here and elsewhere by the high quality of the American women engaged in Mission work in the Philippines. It was not only that they were capable and earnest, but they were in most instances also women of high culture and education and well able to hold their own in any society. Many of them had come, and continue to work, at their own expense.

Next day the Vice-Governor-General arrived on a visitation of the North, and there was a wonderful canao (pronounced "canyow") or, as we should call it, corroboree held in his honour. Representatives came in from the neighbouring villages and towns until some two thousand were assembled, and each had its own particular dance. The men had bronze gongs which had been handed down for generations and which they will not sell at any price. The handle is always made of a human jaw-bone, and frequently the stick of a leg-bone. Many of the men are beautifully tattooed, and wear different head-dresses according to their tribe, while in their belt is stuck the formidable head-hunter's axe which they make at little primitive forges with bamboo bellows, and which up to a few years ago was in constant use for its real purpose. This axe is nearly square, and on the top back edge has a sharp iron beak some five or six inches long. One tribe, the Kalingas, wear a headdress of feathers eighteen inches high. Some of the presidents or head-men interested me greatly by the keenness and intelligence of their faces. They were evidently accustomed to lead their men in more serious evolutions than the dance. One man named Otpod especially struck me. He was nearly six feet, which is very tall for an Igorot, and rules all the North country. He defied the Spanish power, and was imprisoned by them for seven years. The men dance round in a circle on their toes, beating gongs, and three or four women dance in the centre with much posturing and waving of the arms. In others the place of the women was taken by a man with shield and spear or head-axe. I never saw more graceful dancing, and the cries of the spectators and the noise of the gongs and the brilliant colour of the women's clothing and the men's head-dresses, and the excitement of the children, made a bewildering scene as we looked down on it from above. There must have been several thousand people crowded into the plaza below, and at least a dozen canaos going on at the same time.

We left Bontoc about 9 A.M. on Thursday, and after retracing our old trail for three miles or so, struck up a steep track to the right, which rose 2500 feet in a few miles. The scenery again changed utterly, and we rode for some miles over bracken-covered uplands, full of caves and holes in the earth, and sharp-pointed limestone crags. About two miles from Sagada we were met by a number of boys from the Mission, who welcomed us with much blowing of horns and beating of gongs. I was astonished at the size and permanent character of the Mission buildings, as the Mission was only twelve years old. The buildings occupy a hill in an open valley five thousand feet above the sea and are about a quarter of a mile from the native village. They cover some eighty acres of ground and are substantially built of local stone and timber from the Mission mill. A large stone hospital and stone church to take the place of the present wooden buildings were in the course of erection. There are large workshops, dormitories, schools, stores, and other buildings, besides two fine houses for the Mission clergy, who are married men. The Mission extends its influence for a day's journey in all directions and has 1200 baptized members.

Next day I rode over with the ladies to the sawmill about six miles distant. The trail runs along the hills for about four miles, and then drops suddenly down 1500 feet into a green valley, where the sawmill is built in the river gorge. All the timber used in Bontoc and the surrounding district is cut in this mill and has to be carried ten miles on men's shoulders, and it provides a living for hundreds of men, women, and children. The women carry the heavier loads, then the men, while the children carry the smaller pieces. The mill has proved very profitable to the Mission. The scenery was exquisitely beautiful, and I stayed to sketch while the ladies returned. On my way back in the afternoon I had wonderful views of Sagada backed by high mountains black with mist and rain-clouds.

At 5 P.M. the service of the Stations of the Cross was held in the church. Thirty or forty adults, mostly men, besides the school children were present. The service lasted over an hour, and many of the men had just knocked off work, but there was no flagging of attention. The singing was beautiful and entirely congregational, and the people seemed to feel that it was their service and a solemn act of devotion. It certainly was a democratic service, for Igorots and Ilocanos, English and Americans, Spaniards and Mestizos, men and women, bishops and little children were thoroughly mixed up in the congregation which walked and prayed round the church. At night it rained heavily.

On Saturday morning we all rode over to Besao, a village about five miles off, where the Mission had just put a teacher and school. The trail was very narrow and the rain had made it slippery and dangerous. In some places there was less than a foot of it, which is not pleasant with a fall of two hundred feet below. The site of the new Mission commands a wonderful view. We raced a shower back and rain fell in the afternoon. The work shops of the Mission are extraordinarily complete, and all kinds of carpentering and ironwork are done, besides plumbing and tin-smithing. The electric light plant is managed entirely by Igorot boys, and a young Igorot is head of the printing department, which turns out most excellent work.

On Sunday morning the Bishop held a confirmation at which fifty-five candidates were confirmed. In the afternoon he left for Bagnan, where he was to hold service at night and confirm early on Monday morning. In the afternoon Senor M., a Spanish gentleman, who is one of the right hands of the Mission, undertook to guide us to a neighbouring cave. I had much interesting conversation with him--or, rather, received much interesting information from him, for although I easily understood what he said I did not feel my Spanish equal to giving him much information in return.

The whole of this mountain country is liable to landslips, and he pointed out a large portion of a valley which, with the houses and rice-fields on it, had dropped thirty feet in three days. Indeed, we noted a flourishing camote-field on our way to the cave, and on our return we found that a portion of the centre of the field had in the meanwhile sunk five feet into the ground. The cave is a very large one, extending about a third of a mile underground, and is fifty feet wide and a hundred feet high. Through it runs a subterranean river which reappears four or five miles lower down. Senor M. was formerly a Spanish officer, and was hidden in this cave many years ago during an insurrection.

Next morning we left the Mission at 6.45. I was deeply impressed by the Missions both here and at Bontoc. They are exercising a wide influence, and evidently fill a very real place in the lives of the people. Should the Philippines be given independence, it is very doubtful whether the Missions would be adequately protected from the ladrones, who are only held in check by the American Government. It is more than doubtful whether a Philippine Government could maintain safety of life and property in these wild regions. We picked up the Bishop at the village of Bagnan soon after 8 A.M., and continued our way up the mountain, which was shrouded in mist. We rose steadily to a height of 6000 feet and came on to the region of oaks and other high-altitude trees. About 9 A.M. the mist rolled away and we had a most magnificent view on both sides, the trail, which was in parts very rough, following the ridges of the mountains. About 10 A.M. we reached the summit, 6500 feet, and thence plunged down 5000 feet to the valley of the Abra, stopping to rest for an hour at the picturesque village of Cayam on the way. We found the river-bed very rough, being filled with boulders and swollen with the recent rain; and, just missing a thunder-storm, reached about 3 P.M. our old trail where we had left it ten days before at the town of Cervantes, where we put up at the house of the gubernador, whose active wife made us extremely comfortable. The Bishop, soon after our arrival, set off in the rain on a long ride to baptize two children somewhere in the mountains and did not return till dark.

Cervantes is situated in the river valley between two great ranges of mountains, and is consequently very hot. It used to be the capital of the province, but this has now been transferred to Bontoc. We were to have started at six o'clock next morning, but owing to the temporary indisposition of one of the party did not get off till 8 A.M. We had to cross the great ridge of mountains which runs north and south between Cervantes and the sea, and rose up by a good trail in long zigzags to nearly six thousand feet, coming again among the pines and oak-trees. The descent on the other side facing the sea was totally different, the whole mountainside being clothed in a mass of tropical jungle full of gorgeous butterflies and strange birds. In places the cliffs rose almost perpendicularly for over a thousand feet, but so covered by vegetation that no rock could be seen. After a long descent on the western side we reached the Cuscusnong rest-house, situated on the banks of a wild rocky river. We could find no one in charge, but after a time our cargadores began to arrive, and an American road foreman turned up with rolls, fresh venison, and a small boy to be baptized. After the baptism we had a sumptuous tea and went to bed, as we knew we should have a long day on the morrow. We were off before 6 A.M., and for four or five hours followed the course of the river, finally leaving the foothills behind us and emerging from the mountains on to the sea plain six or seven miles from the important town of Tagadin. Here we were hospitably entertained at lunch by the local Governor, and about 4 P.M. we left in a motor from San Fernando, which we had ordered by telegraph to be there to meet us. Shortly after leaving the town we came to a wide but shallow river, which we crossed on a most primitive raft of a single thickness of slender bamboos fastened together. How it ever bore the weight of the motor and its passengers I cannot conceive. We had no fewer than six of these rivers to cross, but the rafts on the others were stronger, though the road itself was heavy and sandy, as it ran parallel to the sea for nearly thirty miles. It was long after dark when we reached San Fernando, and next morning we continued our journey by motor to the railhead of the North Coast Railway, which we left about 9.30 A.M. on the ten hours' journey to Manila.

Looking back on my visit to the mountains, it stands out as one of the most delightful times I have ever spent. I have, of course, seen higher mountains in Switzerland and elsewhere, but nowhere have I experienced such infinite variety or a more delightful climate.

For the information of those desiring to travel I add a few hints. Bedsteads are provided at the rest-houses, but bedding should be taken, as also a certain amount of food, though many of the rest-houses provide excellent meals. Each person requires at least two cargadores, who carry about 46 lb. and cost 2s. a day. A pony may be hired at Baguio for about 30s. a week. Some feed should be carried, as palay is not always obtainable. The cargadores will travel about twenty-five miles a day. The ladies of our party thoroughly enjoyed the trip and suffered no inconveniences, but it is not a country in which ladies should travel alone. A large canteen for water should be carried, as it is not safe to drink the water unboiled.

Before leaving Manila I had the opportunity of attending a lunch at which many of the prominent Americans of Manila were present, and the question of Philippine independence was discussed. The general opinion seemed to be that it would be an immoral act on the part of the United States to give up the Philippines at the present moment, though no one wished to retain them once the Philippines were fit for independence.

I must confess to being most agreeably surprised by the American administration in the Philippines. An immense amount has been accomplished in a very short time, and the good of the people seems to be the real aim of the administration.

The higher officials seem to be men with high, and in some instances with very high, ideals, and the lower officials, governors of towns and so on, seem to be capable, efficient, and interested in their work, though one wonders what will be the result in the future of the fact that so many of them have native wives.

I saw absolutely nothing of any high-handedness or oppression on the part of Government officials. So far as I can judge, the Americans are making a real success of Luzon and other islands, are trying honestly to bear the white man's burden for the good of the people, and are trying to train them for an independence which they recognize must be in the very far and dim future.

Much harm is being done, however, by ignorant people in the United States who know nothing of what is being done, and by advocating a policy of scuttle are raising false ideas among the Philippines.

With the Mohammedan Moros in Mindanao and Jolo the Americans seem to have been less successful. They have tried only a policy of repression, with the result that in Jolo every man in the island is practically out on the warpath and the Americans are apparently in for a bad time.

The other point that struck me about the Philippines was the immense influence exercised by Bishop Brent among men of all classes and political opinions. It is an open secret that he has again been offered other work, and if he should leave the Philippines one of the strongest factors for peace and mutual understanding will be withdrawn.

It is clear that the interests of Australia are bound up with the Philippines to a considerable extent. For one thing, nearly everything that is used by the Americans--flour, butter, milk, jam, honey, meat, cattle, fodder--comes from Australia; and the total volume of trade, including the supplies for the army of occupation, must be enormous. It is sincerely to be hoped that the Americans will not withdraw until the Philippines are strong enough to stand alone, and that is not likely to be in this generation.

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