detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Wednesday, July 05, 2006

: . Costumes of Manilla, 1841 by Justiniano Asuncion

Found (I believe) in an English estate sale and now in the collection of the New York Public Library, this album of mid-19th century Philippine "tipos del país" was known only to few scholars and Filipiniana enthusiasts until it was briefly repatriated to the Philippines as part of the Multiple Originals, Original Multiples exhibit held at the Ayala Museum. Unsigned but stylistically similar to works by Justiniano Asuncion (see this post), the watercolors were once mistakenly attributed to Damian Domingo. Indeed 4 images in the album, described as the work of "an inferior artist", do bear a striking resemblance to Damian Domingo (atelier) watercolors in the possession of the Newberry Library, the Ayala Museum, and two private collectors in Manila (Paulino Que and Eleuterio Pascual). The Ayala Museum reproduced portions of the album in an expensive and hard-to-find exhibition catalog but the results were disappointing. Fortunately, the New York Public Library digitized the entire album along with three miscellaneous images, and most importantly, the descriptive notes, in the distinctive scrawl of the album's original owner, tucked between the album's pages. The high quality scans can be viewed online along with similar albums from Peru, Egypt, India, Afghanistan, Ethiopia and other parts of the world with picturesque populations. In order for researchers to locate it easily via any of the major online search engines, the album is reproduced below in its entirety along with a transcript of the original owner's handwritten notes. In producing the transcript, I decided to mark as "illegible" words I couldn't fully decipher. Readers with better eyesight or who have recently viewed the original album are encouraged to leave comments to help complete the transcript.

Costumes of Manilla

These figures were painted for the sake of the costumes by a native artist of Manilla for M. [illegible] Esq. of Bath in the year 1841 [illegible]. The other four by an inferior artist the former being ill.

M M S.

No I

An exact representation of a rich mestizo. The complexion is admirably painted and likewise the dress. He is a great dandy and fond of imitating the Europeans, as you may see from his hat and umbrella. Nothing can be better than this costume in a hot country for it's cooling. [illegible] things are reversed from what some are accustomed to: for instance; the shirt being worn outside the trousers. The shirt is made of a species of grass cloth, the front, collar, and cuffs are beautifully embroidered, which is very well shown in the painting; the cost depending entirely upon the quantity of work upon it. This man would not [illegible] of wearing a shirt of less value than from 10 to 12 dollars. The trousers are made of strong silk of their own manufacture; stockings they are never troubled with; the shoes are in imitation of ours, and made by the Chinese, of whom there are a great many in Manilla. The hat, umbrella and handkerchief are of European manufacture. The umbrella is to preserve his complexion from the sun: most people use them when walking in the heat of the day; to Europeans they are absolutely essential. This man leads a most idle dissipated life; he spends his day in gambling and cockfighting; his evenings in playing and singing to his guitar; the songs are limited to very few in number, and one very common one which is a great favorite, and which everyone sings, even all the boys in your own house, is: "Chuquitito muerte es muy dulce a probar." At the end of the gold chain around his neck is suspended a scapular: the Spaniards having made them all strict Catholics.


Is a Mestiza, This gives a very good idea of the female costume. The blue stripe is a little jacket made of the same material as the man's shirt; it has not so much work upon it, the cuffs only being embroidered. It reaches to the waist and is made very loose: under it is tied a red and d yellow plaid petticoat; over which is the "cabaya"; a long piece made either of silk or cotton as the wearer can afford; which is wrapped tightly around the body and the end tucked in which is properly done never to come loose; this is so tight over the hips as to appear to impede the free motion of the limbs. These ladies never deform themselves by wearing "bustles"; nothing being more beautiful than their natural shape. Their slippers, which are very small, only just sufficient to cover the toes, are very prettily embroidered in gold generally done by themselves. They are so small that the little toe is always outside, which helps to keep them on. They are never worn out of doors in dirty weather, but are carried in the hand, and when the señorita arrives at her destination, she finds at the door a pan of water into which she immerses her feet before putting on the slippers. The handkerchiefs over her shoulders is made of Piña cloth, or cloth made of Pineapple fiber; this is peculiar to Manila; in no other part of the world has it ever been made. This is fine or finer than the finest cambric, and beautifully embroidered, all the señoritas excelling in that kind of work, and in doing which they spend a great portion of their time. The fairest, (you need not laugh, for some of the mestizas are as fair as if they had been bred and born in England,) pride themselves much in their hair, with which their [illegible] are most luxuriously covered; if they were seen in this country it would excite much envy, though it is not so fine as what European ladies can boast of; but in colour and length it excels them much. The colour is jet black and glossy, which must be attributed to the cocoanut oil of which they are not sparing and which accounts also for its great length; for it invariably extends to the knees and very frequently to the heels; as will be seen in another painting. This all combed to the back of the head where it is dressed; plaited or otherwise according to fancy: but it is always particularly neat.

Nos. III, IV, V, and VI

These are painted by an inferior Native Artist. The figures are all out of proportion, and it only the dresses that are worthy of observation, showing the variety [illegible]


This is by the same artist as the two first -- a Spanish mestiza of Manila.
The most striking part of this figure is the manner of wearing the hair, which gives a most fascinating appearance to the "tout-ensemble" but unfortunately this is not correctly painted; the hair when worn in this fashion is parted in the centre of the head and allowed to fall gracefully and naturally from each side of the forehead over the shoulder and down the back: the comb has no business here, it being quite unnecessary. The hair is abundant as nearly to obscure the whole figure if not thrown off the face. When bathing it has the strangest effect to see such a quantity of hair floating on the surface of the water and extending such a distance. In this country the Ladies and Gentlemen bathe together, of course all wearing proper costumes. When a party is formed, they go in a boat for about a mile up the river to a friend's bathing house, there being one to every country house which is situated near the river. If the Ladies [illegible] (and there are very few [illegible] what can,) they do not confine themselves to the bath, but dive out into the middle of the river; if there are several Ladies and only one Gentleman, he may expect a good ducking before they leave the water. Observe the neck kerchief and the left sleeve, which are very prettily painted.


Is a Señorita walking to church in the daytime. The handkerchief thrown over her head is made of the Piña cloth. She is more coolly clad than the others; having taken off her cabaya and nothing over her petticoat she carries her prayerbook in her had. The complexion is fairer than the generality, but it is not exaggerated; for there are many as fair.


This is one of the best. The colour, the dress, and the character altogether is exactly that of a Manila man. The fighting cock under his arm is very characteristic, for the two are inseparable quite. They are constantly training their cocks to fight, and as they [illegible] in the streets they always let their cocks have a little sparring. The peg attached to their leg is stuck in the ground when their owner is tired of carrying them, and they are allowed the range of the string. The natives like gambling better than work and the Spanish government instead of discouraging do all they cam to encourage them to gamble. In every Town or Village is a theatre built by government for the sole purpose of cockfighting; and every bird that enters they impose a tax which yields to government annually 10,000 or 12,000 sterling. Cockfighting with spurs is allowed nowhere but in one of these theaters: the days are feast days and Sundays; Where natives with their birds may be seen flocking to the theatres in every direction. The fighting takes place upon a kind of stage raised a little above the floor, in the centre of the building. As soon as a fight is arranged, the stakes are placed down under the care of two rich natives, one of whom is willing to take all the bets against one of the Birds and the other against the other. To such is the extent of gambling carried that at the conclusion of a fight many hundreds of dollars change hands. When all the bets are made and the money staken, then commences the engagement each owner having first securely tied the spur to his Bird's leg; the spur is about 2 inches long, sharp pointed, narrow, and sharp on both edges. An engagement is seldom lasts long; sometimes the death blow is given at the first stroke, and sometimes they are both wounded so desperately as to be in a dying state; of course the one that keeps on his legs the longest is the victor. All throughout the battle there is a deathlike silence; the effect that the excitement has upon the countenances if the natives is most amusing to watch. Immediately after the conquest, then the feelings of the people burst forth, according to their being winners or losers.

No. X

A country girl. The dress is made of cotton. She is carrying a Chinese umbrella made of a species of oiled paper; painted. They are very useful for protection from the sun.

No. XI

A "Guardia de Vino" -- an officer to look after the government monopolies, such as Arrack and Tobacco; from both of which the government derives considerable revenue. His hat, (if such it may be called) is most remarkable: it is similar to No IX, only much better: it quite firm and made of split cane; the inside being beautifully worked with different colored grasses; on the outside in this instance is a covering of horsehair, which can be taken off at pleasure. These hats sometimes cost 40 or 50 dollars.


Is a Damsel going to early Mass. On Sundays and Saints; Days all the Churches are opened at 4 a.m. -- when the Bells begin to toll, and at that early hour before daybreak, the women are seen going to Church: the men are not so devout.


Is a capital drawing of an old Woman. The hair is as exact as can be. She has lost her teeth, and is obliged to crush the Betel nut which they are constantly chewing with a particular kind of leaf covered with lime. The pounding machine you see in her hand. The Cigar she is smoking is called the family Cigar, which is so large at times that they can barely insert it into their mouths. This Cigar they will pass from one to another; when each is satisfied, it is put out and lighted again when required.
Making cigars is exclusively done by the Government, for which purpose they have a large establishment, where they have employed, when they are at full work, 7000 girls. In the general way there are 5000.

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nice blog! ayos pinoy!
The images are so good. Actually I've seen them at the Ayala Museum last time I was in Manila (I think in 2004?). Together with antique Filipino costumes from the Netherlands. Nice blog...

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