detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Sunday, December 05, 2004

: . The Newcomer and the Oldtimer by José Montero y Vidal (continued)

Read Parts I, II, III, IV, V and VI.

Women tying up tobacco bundles, Tuguegarao, Cagayan Province, 1926. Photo by O. M. Butler. Alfred W. McCoy Philippine Image Collection/U.S. National Archives.

Cagayan and Isabela, provinces situated in the north of Luzon, have the most important tobacco plantations in the Philippines. The tobacco they produce when well-cultivated could compete with that from the Vuelta Abajo of Cuba. All the inhabitants of the two provinces are dedicated to tobacco plantations.
The Ministry of Finance oversees the harvesters through the inspectors and appraisers who make sure that the established guidelines in producing the best harvest are observed for the benefit of the tobacco industry.1
This plant reaches the maximum height of 2 yards. Its leaves, generally green in color, measure about half a meter long and 5 to 7 inches wide. To grow them, seedlings are first produced. During the first days they are covered with cogon awnings to protect them from the sun and the strong rains. After forty to sixty days, the shrubs are transplanted to the appointed land, which has been plowed and cleaned beforehand. Weeds that grow with the tobacco are pulled out every day and the earthworms that damage them are exterminated. After a month, they are trimmed and the shoots are removed. When the leaves are mature, marked by a yellowish color, and the veins rustle when separated, they are cut, hooked on sticks and are hung for airing in chambers made of bamboo with a nipa or cogon roof. As soon as they are dry and have turned dark in color, they are placed in big pyres and covered with alupasi, the bark of the banana plant, on top of which a weight is placed. They have to be turned around every twenty days to avoid fermentation or the parching of the leaves. When they are cured, they are arranged in bundles of a hundred leaves of the same size and are taken to the bodegas of the state for appraisal.

Selecting tobacco leaves, Manila, 1920-1930. Alfred W. McCoy Philippine Image Collection/Bureau of Insular Affairs/U.S. National Archives.

The people, with the approval of the chief collector of the province, and under the inspection and supervision of the intervening appraiser, appoint six sorters who separate the leaves into four classes according to the size and quality of the tobacco. After an estimate of the merchandise is made, a card justifying the delivery of one's tobacco is issued to the harvester, who can collect its value on payday. There are collections where no receipts are issued. In this case, the harvester is paid according to the Manual of Appraisal where his name is listed, together with the tobacco he brought in. The harvester himself bundles or wraps up the tobacco with alupasi, putting forty clusters in each bale.2

Tobacco press, Cagayan Valley, 1920-1930. Alfred W. McCoy Philippine Image Collection/Bureau of Insular Affairs/U.S. National Archives.

In the towns of Ilagan and Maquila in Isabela, there are tobacco presses that divide the harvest into three parts of 400 pounds each. These substitute for the usual bundles. The tobacco is thus prepared for shipment to Manila.
Unbundled tobacco leaves, as well as those bound in the two systems of collections, are then auctioned or sold at reduced prices for export abroad. Tobacco from the Mountain Province and from the Visayas is sent mostly to Spain, while that from Nueva Ecija is mixed with the inferior classes from Cagayan and sold in the country. There are three factories in Manila, one in Malabon and another in Cavite.

Tobacco factory and its largely female work force, Manila, early 1900s. U.S. Library of Congress.

There are 26 thousand female machine operators and about 1,500 males. These five factories can manually process 360 million pure cigars annually.3 The revenue from tobacco is the biggest remittance to the Philippine Treasury.4
Whenever conditions in the Treasury allow, payment for the collections of tobacco is organized by the cabecería. On the very same day, the harvesters spend almost everything they receive, settling debts, buying necessities, paying taxes, and making other contributions. Around the Tribunal, the Chinese set-up numerous stores selling all kinds of articles.

Fishing for mussels in the Cagayan River, Isabela Province. University of Michigan, Special Collections Library.

There are fifty-five rivers crossing the province of Cagayan. There is a small lake called Carue, measuring 11,800 meters in circumference, where crocodiles abound. It is a province rich in cattle. Isabela produces excellent tobacco. If gathered on time, tobacco becomes a gold mine for it.
In the interior part of these provinces, there are settlements of wild people who plant tobacco. Famous for its good quality is the tobacco from Calauas.
After giving this brief report on the tobacco trade, we resume our narrative of what happened to Fonseca.

On the beach, Aparri, Cagayan. University of Michigan Special Collections Library.

The boat he took anchored in Aparri. Then he boarded a barangayan that embarked in the town of Lal-lo. From there he went to Tuguegarao, the capital of Cagayan. In these places he did good business, disposing of the merchandise he brought for tobacco receipts. He did the same thing in Tumauini, the capital of Isabela.
After having disposed of the goods, he wanted to return to Manila as soon as possible, spurred by the desire to see Chata. Since there was no boat, he traveled in a pontín towards various ports in Ilocos and continued his trip by land back to Manila. Although he could have taken the Cagayan route, he feared the difficult passage from Mount Caraballo.
He was delayed at the bay of Aparri for two days because the boat was unable to pass through the mouth of the river, which at times makes the port unnavigable. Once in the wide sea, the waves seemed to swallow the fragile vessel. At nightfall, a very strong wind blew. The arráez of the pontín gathered all the crew and sang the Ave María in a monotone. Afterwards, he entered his small cabin, telling the crew to keep close watch. Some seamen slept on the prow of the ship. Fonseca was uneasy. On seeing that the wind was getting stronger and the seamen were not doing anything, he spoke to the steersman. Ropes held the rudder and the steersman was sleeping. He woke him up right away, but the indio, without getting up, asked him:
"Do you want anything, sir?"
"You are sleeping peacefully and you left the rudder in this kind of weather?"
"There's no danger, sir, I am tied to it." He thought the indio was drunk so he looked for the arráez. "We are going to sink," he said. "The wind is blowing terribly and you have not taken any precautions at all."
"There's no need to worry, sir. This always happens."
"What will happen is we will be thrown out. They have the rudder tied."
"It is the practice, sir."
"What practice? These people are crazy!"
"Go to sleep now, sir."
Fonseca left for the deck. The indios' calm behavior before the threatening danger scared him. He thought his end had come. He wanted to surprise death by sleeping like the crew of the coastal vessel, but it was impossible to sleep. The night wore away. Nothing unusual happened. At dawn, the wind stopped. Not faraway was land.
"Where does that coast belong?" he asked.
"To Ilocos Norte. The town of Bangui is there," they answered pointing to it.
"Let's dock there. I want to get off."
"It is better in Dirique, sir," the arráez said from his cabin.
"It will be less troublesome for you, sir."
"In Dirique then, if we can dock soon."

Carabao and man carrying palay coming from fields to home, Bacarra, Ilocos Norte, 1910-1920. Alfred W. McCoy Philippine Image Collection/Bureau of Insular Affairs/U.S. National Archives.

Dirique is a dangerous port of Ilocos Norte. There is a cottage that belongs to the hacienda where tobacco is deposited before a contractor transports it to Manila. The one in charge of the cottage is a robust Catalan surnamed Martínez. He was kind enough to provide Fonseca with a guide to accompany him to the town of Pasuquin. They made the trip on horseback. The trees standing on both sides of the road were full of chongos.5 They jumped and made gestures to Fonseca whenever he looked at them. Most of them were brown in color; a few were white, black, or red.
From Pasuquin he went to Bacarra, a big town, arriving at night. He saw numerous bats called paniques on some kapok trees. He amused himself by catching them while the horses were being prepared. He arrived in Laoag, the capital of Ilocos Norte, an hour after leaving Bacarra.
After the town of Taal was divided, Laoag became the biggest town in the Philippines.
In Ilocos Norte, there is a collection of good quality tobacco harvested on the Eastern side.
From 1864 to 1871 the province was under an illustrious and dignified chief who left a lasting memory for his honesty and wonderful character. Ilocos Norte prospered from trading. The tobacco the province produced was superior to other brands, except those from Isabela and Cagayan, which are still the best in quality.
In Nagpartian, a small town near Dirique, there is a big lake called Banban where crocodiles abound. In Paoay, a town where the best blankets called Ilocos are woven, there is another lake.

Ilocano woman arranging threads before use in weaving, in Vintar, Ilocos Norte, 1926. Photo by O. M. Butler. Alfred W. McCoy Philippine Image Collection/U.S. National Archives.

The province is famous for its woven articles of guingon, cotton and silk, tablecloths, abundant cattle, horses, and forests. Different Igorot tribes live in the mountains. There are also many wild boar and deer. The inhabitants are docile, honorable, and hardworking. The land is fertile and the climate healthy. When the north wind prevails, it is cold in the Ilocos region. The province has a population of 160 thousand and is 88 leagues, about 493 kms. away from Manila. Fonseca stayed for six days in Laoag because of a slight fever. A countryman treated him. A native of Medina-Sidonia, the man was named Don Manuel Ortega and he was the official vaccinator of the province.
Since there were no inns in the Ilocos, Fonseca stayed at the Tribunal, or the town hall. From there, he was brought to the home of a clerk, also a countryman, being a native of Antequera, who, according to Fonseca, was famous for his generosity and excellent character.
From Laoag, Fonseca went to Vigan, in Ilocos Sur, where he made arrangements with the driver of the mail coach for his trip to avoid the inconvenience of arguing with the authorities. He liked the province of La Union for its good roads and its fine location.
The tobacco collection in Ilocos Sur is very important.6 The Igorots who reside in the mountains harvest it on a large scale and when they bring the tobacco down for appraisal, they also bring gold in bullion or in powder form gathered from the rivers. The precious metal is sold at a low price if it is of inferior quality.
Fonseca was sorry for leaving Cagayan in a hurry without waiting for a boat. Land trips during the rainy season are very dangerous, costly, and exceedingly troublesome. The mail coach, which does not have provisions for passengers, is the only means of transportation and should be taken only in extreme emergencies. Passing through the Amburayan, a rich river that separates the provinces of Ilocos Sur and La Union, and flows between Tagudin and Bangar, the coach almost sank because of the strong current. It had to cross on bamboo rafts towed by polistas immersed in water. Travelers and carts are transported this way from one shore to the other. The rivers in the provinces do not have bridges. During the dry season, wooden planks are constructed and are removed during the rainy days so that the floods do not destroy them.
Every time the coach crossed a river, Fonseca trembled all the more. At times the rowers could not counter the current, and the rafts were either pulled very far or sunk. Encountering setbacks and obstacles in fear, they passed through a slope between Binaca and Tarlac. The route through Pangasinan was considered dangerous because of the terrible bandits who had already killed many travelers there. The mail coach had to be pulled by carabaos because of the bad state of the roads. This, together with the proverbial calm of the driver named Lladoc, caused them to arrive very late in Guagua, a place in Pampanga, where boats from the capital dock. Fonseca boarded one of these boats and after four hours reached Manila.

Manila street scene, early 1900s. Alfred W. McCoy Philippine Image Collection/U.S. National Archives.

He told Alvaredo, "We did good business because I was able to dispose of all the goods I brought. After deducting all the expenses, we made a profit of from 50 to 100 percent. But if I were to travel again on a pontín or by land, I would rather be poor. What natives, what rafts, what rivers, what downpours, what heat, what courts, what roads, what dangers, what coach, what nuisance, what driver, what hunger! I have never suffered so much. There were moments when I feared that we would never see each other again."
"Of course, you have suffered a little, but in turn you have made a fortune. Even here in the Philippines, money is not earned without working and suffering," said Alvaredo.

Young Spanish mestizo women in native dress inside a home, Manila, 1899. U.S. Library of Congress.

Chata welcomed Fonseca with a gracious smile, and instantly he forgot all his sufferings. For two hours they talked about what lovers normally tell each other after a long absence. They realized they loved each other; they believed they were born for each other, and they promised to be faithful to one another forever.
The matanda, whose consent they sought, gave his favored vago a good mark. They asked the government in Spain to send them some documents, and as soon as everything was ready, Julia Alvaredo, or Niña Chata, as she was called at home, was united in indissoluble matrimony with D. Genaro Fonseca. Happy and growing more contented each day, Fonseca decided to spend the rest of his life in the Philippines with his adorable wife.
May God grant them long life and a lot of money. For although married couples swear to be happy with only rice and salt if they are Filipinos, or with bread and onions if they are Spaniards, they get to know each other's faults after a few months. And if there is no flour, as the saying goes, everything turns sour.
For love to grow, it has to be well-nurtured. At least in this case, both the vago and the matanda are in complete agreement.

1General José Basco y Vargas established the policy on income for tobacco in 1781.
2The Ministry of Finance pays for each bale of tobacco from Cagayan and lsabela P9.50 for first class tobacco; P6 for second class; P2.75 for third class and PI for fourth class.
3In a 5-year period, the factories have processed 507,383 1/2 arrobas (1 arroba or 25 lbs.) of superior sized tobaccos, and 552,183 arrobas of inferior sized tobaccos.
4According to the 1868-69 Budget in force in the Philippines, the annual estimated income is as follows:
sale of processed tobacco for local consumption -- $ 4,550,000
sale of processed tobacco for export -- $ 1,000,000
sale of tobacco in loose leaves for export -- $ 1,162,500
scrap from damaged tobacco -- $ 2,000
Total -- $ 6,714,500
After expenses, the income is around -- $ 3,000,000
This revenue, if well managed, can be doubled.
6The price satisfactory to the Ministry of Finance of tobacco from La Union, Masbate and Ticao, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra and Nueva Ecija is at P8.00 per bale of the first class, P5.00 for the second, P2.50 for the third and P0.75 for the fourth.

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