detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Monday, November 08, 2004

: . Book of the Month

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Cuentos Filipinos
by José Montero y Vidal
translated from the original Spanish by Renán S. Prado, Evelyn C. Soriano, Heide V. Aquino, and Shirley R. Torres
edited by Renán S. Prado and Lourdes C. Brillantes
Quezon City: Department of Modern Languages, School of Humanities, Ateneo de Manila University, 2004
Paperback, xvii, 277 pages
ISBN 9719229659


Related article:

Kitchen Spanish by Michael L. Tan

About the book:
Cuentos Filipinos is a collection of nine short stories, originally written in Spanish, portraying the life and times in nineteenth-century Philippines. The colorful and graphic vignettes describing the customs and traditions of our people come alive, as characters weave in and out of a historically and culturally documented milieu. The religious, political, and economic aspects of our society are objectively depicted, empirical data narrated, statistical figures enumerated, and places of interest unveiled in detail. In this journey through time, the natural richness of our country surfaces, and the interior wealth of our mountains reveals an astounding diversity of ethnic groups. More facts unfold regarding our indulgence in games of chance and our penchant for the leisurely life. In the end, we have but to say that indeed we are a blessed people with a proud heritage.
The author, José Montero y Vidal, was a distinguished historian of the Spanish era with the honor of being miembro correspondiente of the Real Academia de la Historia.
This translation makes creative works in Spanish about the Philippines more accessible to everyone especially historians, researchers, postcolonial critics, literary aficionados, and students. Furthermore, knowledge and awareness of our past make understanding and appreciation of our present more profound.

Renán S. Prado
About the Author:
José Montero y Vidal, born in Cádiz, Spain, was a writer -- belonging to the last third quarter of the nineteenth century -- who specialized in affairs pertinent to the Philippine Islands, according to the Enciclopedia Universal Ilustrada europea-americana (vol. 36). He was a contributor to the Real Academia de la Historia. He wrote three volumes of Historia general de Filipinas desde el descubrimento de dichas islas hasta nuestros días, published successively in 1887, 1894, and 1895. In 1888, he published two volumes of Historia de la piratería malayo-mohametana en Mindanao, Joló y Borneo. His book, El Archipiélago Filipino y las Islas Marianas, Carolinas y Palaos, an illustrated work with two invaluable maps (Madrid, 1880), was translated into Dutch by the Institute of Ethnography of the Netherlands. It was also translated into German by Ferdinand Blumentritt. He put together a collection of his writings in a work entitled Novelas cortas, monografías, artículos literarios, poesías (Madrid, 1889, 1890). Furthermore, he came out with the articles "La Bolsa, el Comercio y las Sociedades mercantiles" and "El cólera en 1885."
From the back cover:
Reading Montero y Vidal's Cuentos Filipinos, in the wonderful English translation undertaken by the Ateneo Department of Modern Languages, was a pleasant surprise. Our professional reading covered Montero y Vidal's nonfiction works particularly the Historia general de Filipinas. Thus it was intriguing to know that he also tried his hand at fiction. In this respect we envy the author for we often imagine crossing the thin line that separates fact from fiction. The plots of these tales are simple, the main characters mostly Spaniards and yet the setting is in the Philippines, the details a shameless display of erudition. When read alongside Pedro Paterno's Ninay as well as Jose Rizal's Noli me tangere Montero y Vidal's work may seem to be an inadequate work of fiction, but by providing a vivid glimpse into nineteenth-century Philippine life it is well worth reading.

Ambeth Ocampo
National Historical Institute
Table of Contents:
Foreword -- vii
Message -- xi
Acknowledgements -- xiii
Author's Note -- xv
Prologue to the First Edition -- xvi
Enriqueta -- 1
The Sultana of Jolo -- 45
The Newcomer and the Oldtimer -- 69
Rosa Yacson: The Mestiza Ilocana -- 111
The Pirate Li-Ma-Hong -- 141
The Student from La Laguna -- 155
Chang-Chuy's Umbrella -- 191
The Vengeful "Calao" -- 225
The Adventures of a Crackpot -- 245
Glossary -- 273
List of Photos -- 277
The Newcomer and the Oldtimer


Choris, Louis, 1795-1828. Vue de la ville de Manille, Iles Philippines. Pl. no. 22 of: Vues et paysages des regions equinoxiales [Paris : s.n., 1827].

One morning, a coach stopped at the door of a respectable house in the city of Manila. As soon as the passenger got out, he asked: "Is this it?"
"Yes sir," the driver replied.
"Well, wait for me here," he said and entered the house.
In the garage was a coach locally known as sipan. Beside it was a coachman wearing a light shirt and knee-length pants, worn by the indios for domestic chores. He was busy removing mud from the wheels, throwing buckets of water at them, while the sota cleaned the chains of the nozzle.
"Is your master here?"
"Upstairs, sir," they answered.
He went up a spacious stairway made of wide slabs of narra.1 In the caída2 he found two houseboys, or servants, wearing the same outfit as the coachman. They were cleaning the floor with banana leaves, which give the wooden floor more luster than wax. The terrace was adorned with flowerpots set on pedestals made of Chinese porcelain.
"Tell them that there's a visitor," he said to them.
The youngest of the servants passed the bend formed by the caida and was heard saying, "Sir, there's a castila."3
"Let him in," a voice replied.
When the visitor saw the owner of the house dressed in strange clothes, he made an effort to suppress his laughter.
He was an old, short, and fat man, clad in Chinese clothes, with a large loose shirt as transparent as crystal. He was seated on a big rattan chair with his head laid back. His feet, resting on the arms of a big chair, were in straw slippers. In his mouth was a long black cigar, his right hand holding a bamboo scratcher and the left holding the Diario de Manila.
On a small table nearby a pebete, or joss stick, was emitting smoke from a pebetera, or metal dish. He fanned himself with a big paipai.4
When the gentleman entered, the old man sat up with much effort. After the usual introduction, the gentleman presented a letter to the old man.
He read it, and said, "Perfect, my friend. You come with a recommendation from someone I esteem very much. From this moment on, you can enjoy my full trust."
"Thank you very much."
"No, don't go yet. That's not all. This house is at your disposal. You can come here to eat and rest whenever you please. If you need money or anything, just tell me and I will give it to you. Have you been here long?"
"Thirty hours."
"Same with me," he exclaimed laughing.
"Yes, the only difference is that instead of hours, years."
"Thirty years in the country!"
"Short of a few hours more. Tomorrow it will be thirty." "
How awful!" said the interrogator in surprise.
"Do you find it surprising? Soon you will see how other things that take place in this country will make you like them. Here time passes without your noticing it. The less you think about it, the more you will realize that you have arrived in Manila shortly after Legaspi did."
"With me, I assure you that it will be the contrary."
"You say that because you are vago."
"Don't be alarmed. Here the word vago means someone who has just arrived in the country."
"But this country is infernal!"
"That's what everybody says at first, but opinions change later and many who went back to Europe return whenever they could."
"Well, I don't understand it."
"Later you will. And how was the trip?"
"Very long: We were delayed for forty days."
"And you call that long! What then do you think of my journey, which lasted for six months?"
"Didn't you come through the Suez?"
"I came on a boat through the Cape of Good Hope. That's how travel was undertaken in those days, unlike now. Imagine seeing the same faces for six months, eating salty food, biscuits instead of bread for many days, canned goods aplenty and water without ice. And the sea! There were times when it was dead calm. We didn't move an inch for fifteen days. That was unbearable. The sea was like a silver lake, not a single breeze, and in places like the Equator where it's really calm, the heat enveloped us. When we passed the Cape, the opposite happened. Tempestuous winds rumbled. Waves as high as mountains threatened to swallow us while the ship rocked and moved everything around. It was not possible to cook. The sails were torn to pieces and giant waves destroyed the deck, converting it into a river. The crew could not attend to everything. We had passengers who pumped out the water, helping in the maneuvers while shivering from the cold in the winter temperature of 38 degrees. When we passed the Cape, we feared we would freeze after spending several weeks without seeing the sun. One hundred eighty-four days on board! After several months without seeing land, we were overjoyed whenever we saw a boat from a distance or when it passed us by. The telégrafo de banderas gave information about where the vessel was heading, its sailing time, the health of the passengers, and the relation to the latitude it was located in. Whenever it disappeared from view, we felt very sad. Even the sight of fish flying, the catching of a shark or tuna, the sight of some whales, the infinite variety of petrelos, aquatic birds that abound in certain places filled us with feverish joy. These were the only interesting sights that interrupted the monotony of our existence. Add to the dangers of so long a voyage the difficulties of some passengers who had to be reassured that bickering and challenges occur in any expedition, that differences should be settled upon arrival. Perhaps as soon as the boat anchors, everything would be forgotten. And you complain about your boat trip of only forty days and with a thousand comforts, which in my time we did not have."
"You are right, but allow me to make an observation. In the past, the employees used to collect their salaries during the trip. Now we only receive a meager salary from Spain."
"That's right. That was our only advantage, and not a small one, in fact. However small the salary that an employee brought, upon liquidating the costs of navigation, there remained about P800 to P1 thousand for clothing adequate for this climate, to build a house or buy a car and possibly, take the family on a trip. It makes sense that at present, government employees who come to this distant country do not enjoy the same benefits, mainly because the voyage has been shortened."
A servant appeared carrying two wine glasses, beer, and cigars on a lacquer tray.
"Try one of these cigars from Isabela, and join me in a glass of beer," the owner of the house said.
"As you wish."
"Are you here as an employee?"
"Yes, sir, with a salary of only seven thousand pesetas."
"It is not much, but you can live on that."
"The salary, as you well know, is little. Most important, I've been told, are the benefits of the job."
"The benefits! Well, if you didn't have any other means of getting food to eat, you could ask for a slot in the hospice."
"What! If not for the benefits, I would not have come on such a low salary."
"But what are those benefits?"
"I don't know. In Madrid, I learned that here one's salary is spent on toothpicks. What is important is what the job brings."
"Well, it's a mistake. You have been deceived. Here you have nothing except what is stated in your credentials: only your salary, and with it you have to meet all your needs. In the offices, instead of benefits, there are other duties to discharge, which you will soon find out for yourself."
"But in Spain, they told me that..."
"I believe you. They told me the same things. I never had any benefits, however, other than my salary. Believe me, there is no such thing. Not long ago, a customs employee claimed that he was entitled to a share in the duties collected by the state, and he almost filed a lawsuit against the administration because instead of reimbursing him, they just laughed at him. And like you, he was relying on what he was told in Spain. Jauja, my friend, is an ideal city. He who believes that the ideal city is in the Philippines is mistaken."
"What else can I do? There is no other way now but to accept it."
"That's better."
"With your permission, I have to leave you now."
"So soon!"
"Yes, I have some things to do."
"Well, as you wish, Joaquín Alvaredo. I am at your disposal."
"Thank you, Genaro Fonseca, at your service."
"I'll wait for you tomorrow so I can introduce you to my family, since they aren't home today. Come early because we are going on an excursion, and we would be pleased if you could join us."
"I will come."
"Until tomorrow then."
"Goodbye." (to be continued)

1A species of red mahogany.
2Wide and ventilated part of the house that serves as waiting room.
3A Spaniard. This is the way the natives call the white men.
4Palm leaf called buri, which serves as a fan.

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