detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Sunday, October 05, 2008

: . The Fainting Spice Birds of Manila, 1680

From the archives of the journal Philippine Studies comes this description of the birds of Manila, circa 1680. It was written by the secretary of the Persian envoy to Siam, ibn Muhammad Ibrahim. Ibrahim had never set foot in Manila but had heard enough about it from others to piece together an account of the city as an island of marvels, an account that seems to have been cribbed from the pages of a Latin American magical realist novel:
The island of Manila also produces nutmeg and cloves. The wild birds spend their time in those spice trees, particularly when the trees are in bloom and the blossoms are wide open. At that time the birds over-indulge and eat so much that they faint. Then the hunters easily catch them and sell them. But these birds are very delicate and have such little strength, few of them remain alive in captivity. In all the surrounding islands as well there are birds that are very strange looking and have beautiful colors.
Read the full account here or alternatively in John O'Kane , trans. and ed., The Ship of Sulaiman (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; Persian Heritage Series, No. 11 , 1972), pp. 186-88.

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