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Information concerning primitive Malay life in prehistoric times is difficult yo find, but such as is available is of striking interest, and the traits of life and character that make the Filipino what he is to-day are nearly all found in crude form in the tales and traditions that come down from the sixteenth century. Before the days of trolley cars and government wagons, the Spanish Manila was a city of dreams. When the sun drove back the morning shadows, the church bells called the the drowsy populace to morning mass, and for a few hours the hum of the day rose from the narrow and unclean streets. But when the shadows stood straight at noon, all windows and doors were closed and barred, and for three hours the place might have been cast in plaster, or exhumed from the lava-covered plains of Pompeii. Priest and people alike slept the untroubled sleep of a race that never did to-day what could be put off till to-morrow.
But life revived with the dying day and at sunset the big bells again rang out their clanging summons, and in the cool evening hours the people poured out through the gates to the Malecon and the sandy beach.
Manila three hundred and fifty years ago was different enough from the balmy days of the Spanish dominion, and the records of the church are so mixed with superstition and miracles, that it takes close discimination to tell fact from fiction. The account of Fr. Juan de la Conception is among the best, and he says that, at the middle of the sixteenth century, the rajah ruled the natives south of the Pasig river.
There was no wall or city boundery of any sort. Where the Intendencia and the Dominican church now stand was an impenetrable morass. A cluster of huts stood just back of the fort by the river, and across the Pasig were several native villages.
Social conditions of those antemurial days are discribed by Fr. Juan in picturesque language. There were two classes of people inhabiting the islands, just as there are to-day. The savage tribes were more like wild beast than human beings. They were clothed in sunshine or in showers according to the season and lived to the mountains and forests and were very barbarous. These people, we are assured, were treated by the Spanish government with great kindness, but for many years they led a life of brigandage and were a terror to civilized inhabitants, thus serving as the forerunners of the modern ladrones.
The other class of natives, when first found by the explorers, were grouped in clans under the leadership of petty kings who were the caciques of their day, and so oppressive was their rule that the padres claimed they were doing good in reducing them by force to obedience to the crown.
Mohammedism was rapidly making headway, headway, the rajah of Manila being the natural chief of the country along the bay. His followers, who lived in groups, are described as being less vicious than the American Indians, and having a rude religion of their own. They held to an idea of one God whom they called "Bathala Maycapal" or "maker of all things" and they had a number of religious songs which were used on special occasions. They worshiped the moon, animals, birds, and big trees and made offerings to the rocks and mountains and did homage to their ancestors.
The ingrained propensity of the Tagalog was found in the frequent feasts which were accompanied with elaborate ceremonials, and the promoters, who were women, always made a profit from the sale of fruits and roast meats. The fat hog provided for the feast was roasted and eaten with relish and intoxication was not unknown.
In cases of sickness the afflicted person was removed to a new house built in a few hours, the medicine man performed various incantations, killed a hog, and after viewing the vital organs of the beast, pronounced the fate of the sufferer. The sentence, like all oracles, was given in an ambiguous form and could be interpreted to fit the final result.
A howling dog was a sign of ill omen, and there was strong belief in enchantresses who worked evil spells which could be broken only by propitiating the witch. Slavery and tyranny were universal, and the vices of the people were many.
The language was the Malay dialect with many variations, and the life of the little fort was simple enough for all purposes.
The story of the conquest and settlement of the place reads like a romance. When the first ship of Magellan sailed into the harbor of Cebu, the rajah sent a man out to the vessel to inspect the strangers and report. He returned with the story that the visitors wore long stiff tails, that they eat rocks and drank fire and could lift anything that they seized hold of. This grotesque story paved the way for a peaceful settlement of Cebu.
It is significant that the Tagalog word commonly used for work is majira, which means "grief" or "trouble."When his rice is gone, trouble has come and he must work to get more, and work and trouble are synonyms.
The Filipino farmer, who owns his little rice paddy, is a toiler early and late if need be, but he toils without fretting and there is none of the wearing sense of compulsionthat is so destructive of peace and long life. Long hours, deliberate movement and complete relaxation when the day is over explain why nervous prostration is unknown among the natives.
The Filipino does best what he can do by a set of movemnts that fall easily into rhythmical progression. Once the set of motion is learned he has but to set himself going and then dream along through the day. Rice is planted to music, a whole field full of planters keeping time with the banjo on the levee.
The common man is always poor, but some are poorer. If there is comparative plenty, there are two or three meals a day, but if food is scarce there but one. There are so many barrios where the people are so poor that there is nothing to eat except some rice and very poor fish. In a barrio in one of the provinces less than a hundred miles from Manila, when the padre came to visit, there was nothing fit for him to eat, and an old man walked seven miles to get three eggs and a chicken.
The treasurer of this same province told me that the average riches of the common people in many of his pueblos was from seven to fifteen pesos per family. This figure include the total wealth, clothing, house furniture and every sort of property for the entire family. Many tiendas are run on a capital of less than fifteen pesos.
Under such conditions, the simple life prevails to an extent that would give brother Wagner and his fad followers some pointers. The little nipa houses are nestled together, or where the owner is more prosperous and perhaps own a little piece of ground, are located in a clump of bamboo at the edge of the hill. The floors are a few feet above the ground; the beds, the common bamboo slat, which serve as a convinient of all work in the day time, and the stove is the common earthen pot. In all the house, there is no single article of bedding except the petate or grass mat; the people sleep in the clothes in which they work, not even loosening the ever present tight draw string about the waist. There is no dish other than a pot or two, and house-keeping is reduced to its lowest terms.
The day begins with the dawn, especially in harvest or planting time. The fire is built, the pot of rice put on, and fish if there be any; and soon the family squats on the floor about the rice pot taken from the fire during the meal, and each for himself puts his fingers into the common dish. There are no "table tools" of any sort; why should there be? A supervising teacher told me of a pueblo in which he spent some time that had not in its whole distance a single knife, spoon or fork. "Are not these good forks?" said his host,holding up his fingers.
Breakfast over, there are no dishes to wash, no beds to make, no floors to sweep, no dinner to plan. The whole family takes to the field, if it is seed time or harvest, and women and men together talk, and talk and talk. According to what I saw, that was about the whole program. They were gathering rice, one straw at a time, each straw selected with care and put in a bunch laid straight and smooth, and after that another straw was added.
Noon brings siesta time with subsequent comparison of the qualities of pet chanticleers, if the family is wealthy enough to afford such luxuries, and then more talk over the rice till dark.
Filipino life is not all a dead level though. The "pastor" or the padre comes, and there is a christening, or a wedding or a funiral or some other event which becomes the occasion of a fiesta, and then, away dull care! What matters it that there is no rice for the pot, and no fish on the fire. It is all one in the long end anyway.
There is no phase of Filipino life less appreciated and more worthy than the status and conditions of womanhood. The Filipina woman is the equal of the Filipino man, provided of course, that such is the case. Her Chinese sister limps in small-footed helplessness; her Hindoo cousin creeps about behind a veil; her Mohammedan relative is a harem slave, and even her Japanese neighbor is a doll to look at, but the Filipina stands up straight and with her bare shoulder and sturdy carriage looks you squarely in the eye and is abundantly able to take care of herself. She is unbound in arm and waist and, not having the responsibilities of the social swim, is free to go to market and to carry her end of the industrial load. If the Filipina woman is better off to-day than her oriental sisters, the credit may be given to the teaching and standards of the Catholic church which in theory has always exalted the noblest qualities of the mothers of men.
This country ought to be a children's paradise. If the children were better cared for, and cleaner, and more decoratively dressed, we would have a reputation among travelers that would eclipse our northern neighbors. There is less abuse of children in Manila than in most civilized countries, but there is a woeful neglect. The headlines of the daily papers tell a ghastly tale in the numbers of children's deaths every twenty-four hours. This slaughter of the innocents is appalling to a foreigner, but is accepted by the native with true oriental fatalism: "It had to be, and the baby is better off, and there are plenty more." A brutal philosophy, but one very generally accepted.
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