Wednesday, January 26, 2005

A tour of 19th-century Manila

A tour of 19th-century Manila

Posted 11:34pm (Mla time) Jan 25, 2005
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A13 of the January 26, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

PEDRO Ortiz-Armengol, then ambassador of Spain to the Philippines, once invited me to take a tour of Rizal's Manila. It was awkward to be a tourist in my own country, but I spent the better part of a Saturday morning walking around Binondo armed with a copy of "Noli Me Tangere" and guided by a Spaniard holding an 1872 map of Manila. That day Rizal's text found its physical setting.

We started in front of the State Investment House on Juan Luna Street, where the house of Kapitan Tiago (or actually Telesforo Chuidian) once stood. The street was formerly known as Anloague. From there, we crossed a creek to the site of Fonda de Lala Ari where Ibarra spent the night in the beginning of the novel. We walked down Sacristia Street on the side of Binondo church, and the sights, sounds and smells of the area in the 1880s seemed to be there still.

Ortiz-Armengol said that the physical look of a city may change as we demolish old structures to give way to new ones, but the physical outline of a city-its streets, rivers, esteros and other landmarks-changes little.

Since then, I have done a number of explorations of downtown Manila and Intramuros and have gone further afield to the Pasig River using the "Noli" and all the way down to the esteros of Pandacan following the route of "Florante at Laura." So it was quite interesting to be reading Jean Mallat's 1846 work on the Philippines as translated from the original French by Pura Santillan Castrence (National Historical Institute, 1983). Like today's tourist guidebooks that tell us how to get around foreign cities, Mallat left us with a record of Manila in the middle of the 19th century that we seldom get to see in history books.

Mallat described Manila by night when the city was inadequately lit by street lamps. (Today it's still dark in places where street lamps have dead or busted bulbs.) Then, as now, a stroll by Manila Bay was obligatory to watch the famous Manila Bay sunset. Ermita or the Hermitage was said to be "inhabited by the most skillful embroideresses in piña and sinamay, by painters of different kinds and by fishermen in the bay. Malate leads to Salinas which comes after the fort and an infantry barracks. This road is also that of Pasay, a village where betel nut is cultivated, and is also feared for robbers whom it harbors; it is the Cavite route. Near the small San Antonio Abad fort, one finds a warehouse of gunpowder. To the left, one finds marshes, by means of which, during wartime, one could easily inundate all the surroundings of Manila..."

The areas outside the Walled City are quite familiar to us today, but a description of it in the 1840s leaves a lot for comparison and contrast: "Leaving Pasay aside, one goes to Santa Ana, which is three quarters of a league from Manila. It is a pleasant place on the banks of the Pasig River, where one goes to take a breath of fresh air during the beautiful season. San Pedro Makati is half a league farther than Santa Ana. The air of this village is pure and bracing. It is there that the patients convalescing from dysentery go to recover their strength. Drawing nearer to Manila, one arrives in Paco, called also San Fernando de Dilao, a big village inhabited by artist painters, house-painters, masons and tilers; its church enjoys deep veneration because it keeps, in a magnificent reliquary, a recumbent image representing Our Lord after the descent from the cross; it is known under the name of Nuestro Señor de Paco, and the inhabitants attribute numerous miracles to it. "

Then, as now, even petty government officials or non-officials weave through traffic using blinkers and sirens. In those days, only the archbishop of Manila and the governor general were heralded by the ringing of church bells along the route they passed. Paco Cemetery, now a familiar place for weddings and concerts, was then just a cemetery with a pretty chapel and a circular wall. Why some couples choose to start their married life in a mortuary chapel, I cannot comprehend.

Then follows a very fascinating walking tour that has to be read today. Getting off what is now the Sta. Cruz bridge and turning left on Escolta, you walk toward:

"Enluage or the street of the Masons (now Juan Luna), on one side, on the other, Rosario Street, which is quite commercial and dotted with small but rich shops, ranged according to products which lead to the tobacco factory, from which the noise could be heard from afar. Then to San Fernando, at the Alcaiceria, the place where the Chinese sampans unload their merchandise... The main street of Santo Cristo is occupied by Chinese grocers and by merchants of mendicaments of all kinds, by Chinese pharmacies and gambling houses. Misit [actually Meisic which is a contraction of 'may Intsik'], situated to the right, on an island, is the beautiful barracks of the dragoons of Luzon. Tondo ... a village of weavers and fishermen, is the garden of Manila; from the products of its vegetable gardens and of its orchards, it furnishes the markets with mangoes, common oranges, and Mandarin oranges, bananas and other fruits of all kinds. Gagalangin is not less famous than Tondo for its oranges; it also provides cow and carabao milk; one goes there to get milk while still hot..."

Tondo a garden? Bancusay a Chinese cemetery? Mallat wrote a tourist guide that is now, how do we say, history.


Post a Comment

<< Home