Javier knows perfectly well that his piña fiber is uniquely delicate, transparent, well-ventilated, yet strong. This combination is why piña is the traditional choice for a man’s barong tagalog or a woman’s wedding dress or fancy blouse.
But fine piña is not cheap, with good reason. Every part of its production is time-consuming, starting with the 18 months it takes a pineapple plant to reach maturity. Starting at about a year of growth, the plant’s leaves can start to be cut and processed for their fibers. According to the Philippine Folklife Museum:
The green epidermal layer is scraped off the leaf with tools made from coconut shells, coconut husks or pottery shards. Extraction from the long, stiff leaves is time-consuming and labor-intensive. These fibers are then spun into soft, shimmering fabrics by hand. Because the fiber is fine and breaks easily, working with it is slow and tedious. Workers are constantly knotting broken threads.
That is not the end of the process, either. It takes weeks more to prepare the yarn and then weave it together into patterns like flowers, fruits, coconut trees, and nipa huts—whatever the artist wants. According to the Folklife Museum, it can take eight hours to finish one meter of plain cloth or just half a meter of patterned cloth.
All to make ladies look gorgeous and men look handsome? Yeah, it’s worth it.
[Featured public domain image of an early 19th-century piña scarf was a gift of Miss Mary Cheney Platt to the Met.]
At long last, an alphabetical listing of the Sugar Sun glossary terms! Simply click on the graphic of your choice to open the annotated post in a new window. This list will be updated to include new terms as their posts are written.
I hope the posts are helpful in rounding out the historical context of the Sugar Sun series. They are certainly fun to write! Enjoy.
Javier was not thrilled to be out on the water at such a late hour, even if the moon was bright and the rowers competent. Had this been a pleasure tour, the hacendero would have had no complaint, but tonight he wanted to get on with it or go home. As if they could read Javier’s mind, the rowers abruptly beached the banca, hopped out onto shore, and dragged the vessels away from the water line.
As you can probably guess from the context, banca or bangka means boat—specifically a double-outrigger canoe. If you have visited anywhere outside Manila, you have probably taken a bangka. When I first drafted Sugar Moon, Ben and Allie did a fair amount of bangka travel in Samar.
But here’s the problem: bangka may mean outrigger canoe in Tagalog and Cebuano, but I found out that it means cockroach in the Waray language of Samar, Biliran, and parts of Leyte. While strange stuff happens in Sugar Moon, riding a cockroach through the surf is a whole new level. So I took the word out and used boring old English.
This brings up an important point about the Philippines: it the tenth most linguistically diverse country in the world. There are eight language groups, 19 local languages that can be taught in early childhood education (from kindergarten to 3rd grade), and now 200 total languages identified. Such linguistic abundance makes geographic sense. The Philippines is an archipelago nation of 7,641 islands, and it is so spread out that it stretches almost from Seattle to Los Angeles. No wonder one language could not dominate. But this doesn’t make things easy.
As you may remember from previous posts, the Americans turned this rich multilingual heritage into a justification for a monolingual (English) education system. English is still one of the two official languages of the country, along with Filipino. (Filipino is the “most prestigious variety” of the Tagalog language of Metro Manila, according to the chair of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, or the Commission on the Filipino Language.)
For the purposes of my series, Filipino (or Tagalog) had not yet been designated official (1937), which means that regional languages, such as those in the Visayas (like Cebuano and Waray) would have been even stronger at the beginning of the twentieth century. I have to thank Liana Smith Bautista (and her mom) for being my newest go-to research sources on Cebuano, though all errors in my books are my own. I also am deeply indebted to the creator of the amazing Binisaya online dictionary and reference guide.
American readers, have I utterly confused you? The number of indigenous languages is daunting—and I have not even mentioned the foreign tongues spoken in some families, like Hokkien (from China). Is it any surprise that most Filipinos grow up bilingual, at the very least? As Javier said to Georgina when they first argued about her English textbooks: “I grew up bilingual, learned three more languages in school, and another while traveling. It’s only Americans who can’t seem to manage more than one.” (And with the direction of funding for foreign language education in US public schools, we will not be getting much better.)
Allegra is a polyglot, too, by the way:
“To be honest,” Ben said, “it’s a little eerie how American you sound, Allie. From what the folks here tell me, you also speak Spanish like an Iberian. And Cebuano, and Tagalog, and Latin…”
“I was raised speaking Spanish in the house and Cebuano everywhere else, and I had to learn Tagalog in Manila. No one but a priest speaks Latin, but I learned how to read it in school—”
“You’re missing my point. You’re a linguist, a natural.”
She blushed even more furiously than when he had first taken her hand. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet. I’m telling you why you scare those American phonies at the club. Do you really think they’ll award you a scholarship for being smarter than they are?”
— Sugar Moon (upcoming)
Ben’s respect for Allegra’s intelligence has been one of the most fun things about writing this couple. He is not a scholar and doesn’t pretend to be, but he is not intimidated by her skills, either. In fact, as we’ll see, he needs them.
So we’ve gotten a little bit away from the bangka in this glossary “definition”—sorry—but you probably just needed a picture for that. (If you want more nautical know-how, read about this group trying to help local fishermen design bangkas out of fiberglass—a light, durable, super-typhoon-proof alternative to wood.) Otherwise, I hope that you, like me, have learned a larger lesson about language through the study of this one little word.
EDITED TO ADD: Bangka is also a verb! This is from Liana: “Also it’s to be noted that in Bisaya, bangka with a hard stress on the final syllable refers to a type of boat, but keep the pronunciation soft and it is a verb meaning to treat someone out (usually to a meal, but can be used in other contexts where you pay for another person’s fare, lodging, etc.). It’s not uncommon for my cousins to say ‘bangkahi ko, beh?’ (Won’t you treat me?) when we talk of going to lunch or seeing a movie, for example.”
I spend a lot of time writing about the good stuff, like sex on traditional Philippine furniture. (For example, here and here.) But my blog is not all fun and games. I have set my novels in the Philippine-American War, and that was a horrible war. I have posted before on how the war began, how it was conducted, and a little bit about battles and operations—but I have avoided this particular post for a long time. This is the post on the water cure.
If you’re not feeling like anything disturbing, heavy, or possibly enraging, do go check out those other posts about sexy times on antique furniture. Come back to this another time.
Warning: If you do choose to stay, please note that this post discusses a practice at least partly motivated by racism. A few of the historic sources include racist language or judgments.
The water cure is a little different than modern-day waterboarding. In waterboarding, water is poured over a cloth covering the face to simulate the sensation of drowning. That may seem like it’s some sort of fake out, but it does cause real injuries. The water cure, though, is even more physical. In this practice, they laid a prisoner on his back, stood another man on each hand and foot, and forced a hollow tube into the victim’s throat. Through the tube they poured an entire pail of saltwater, dished up with a little sand to inflict a more severe punishment. When the prisoner did not give up, they poured in another pailful. Once the unlucky victim’s belly was “distended to the point of bursting,” a soldier would “tap” it with the butt of his gun. If the water did not spout high enough, they would jump up and down on his stomach. In the words of A. F. Miller of the 32nd Volunteer Infantry Regiment: “They swell[ed] up like toads. I’ll tell you it [was] a terrible torture.”
According to historian Darius Rejali, “Even a small amount of water in the glottis causes violent coughing, initiating a fight-or-flight response…triggering desperate efforts to break free. The supply of oxygen…is exhausted within seconds. While this is sometimes called ‘an illusion of drowning,’ the reality is that death will follow if the procedure is not stopped in time.” And it did.
This cruel technique was first introduced in the Spanish Inquisition and then spread throughout medieval Europe. The Spanish brought it to the Philippines, trained local scouts in the practice, and then those scouts taught the American soldiers. Some soldiers were more eager than others to use it. Major Edwin Glenn and “Glenn’s Brigade” were infamous for water curing thirteen priests of Samar—half of the clergy on the island—and they even killed one of the priests in the process. This was a part of the “howling wilderness” period.
When the American public found out about what Glenn had been up to in the islands, he was court-martialed. Actually, Glenn was brought to court three times. The first time he was found guilty of uncivilized conduct in war, despite his claims that the water cure could be a remedy for dengue fever. (Yes, he really did try that excuse. He even called witnesses to testify to this. It’s in the 1902 archives of the Manila Times.) He was given a one-month suspension and fined fifty dollars. (In comparison, the man he water cured that time, the mayor of Igbaras in Iloilo, was sentenced to ten years hard labor for what he was confessed under duress.) Glenn was court-martialed a second time for killing seven prisoners of war, though he was acquitted. Finally, he was sued in civil court for $15,000 (over $420,000 in 2016 dollars) by a former revolutionary named Calda. I have never found out how this last case ended, but I do appreciate the hutzpah that encouraged it. Since Glenn retired as a brigadier general from the Army, I can assume that nothing stuck.
Stories like the ones about Glenn’s Brigade were said to have “covered with a foul blot the flag which we all love and honor” by Senator Hoar (R) of Massachusetts. This led to an official inquiry in the Senate by the Committee on the Philippines. The discussion was fractious. Henry Cabot Lodge, another Republican senator from Massachusetts, chaired the committee—not because he wanted to uncover atrocities, but because he wanted to steer the committee away from doing any such thing. (Yes, two senators from the same state and the same party were sworn enemies on this issue.)
Lodge in particular did not want to criticize anything that soldiers did in the name of empire. He said that the water cure had:
…grown out of the conditions of warfare, of the war that was waged by the Filipinos themselves, a semicivilized people, with all the tendencies and characteristics of Asiatics, with the Asiatic indifference to life, with the Asiatic treachery and the Asiatic cruelty, all tinctured and increased by three hundred years of subjection to Spain.
Way to pass the buck, dude. (I’d like to remind readers that the water cure originated in Europe, not Asia.)
Despite Senator Lodge’s and Senator’s Beveridge’s (R-IN) staunch support of “military necessity,” soldiers did testify to atrocities they witnessed in the Philippines. Even Lt. General Nelson A. Miles told the Secretary of War that the conflict had been fought with “marked severity.” The evidence, and Miles’s remarks, were printed in the newspapers across the United States.
Novelist and prominent anti-imperialist Mark Twain wrote about the hypocrisy of Americans fighting a war to “civilize” another country and then succumbing to the very barbarism they sought to expunge. His essay “To the Person Sitting in Darkness” is one of his best and most biting pieces of satire:
The Person Sitting in Darkness is almost sure to say: “There is something curious about this — curious and unaccountable. There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive’s new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land.” …And as for a flag for the Philippine Province, it is easily managed. We can have a special one — our States do it: we can have just our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones.
In the midst of the 1902 crisis, President Theodore Roosevelt tried to limit the damage to blaming a few weak men:
The temptation to retaliate for the fearful cruelties of a savage foe is very great, and now and then it has been yielded to. There have been a few, and only a few, such instances in the Philippines, and punishment has been meted out with unflinching justice to the offenders.
But was this truly just a few bad apples? Certainly, many of the soldiers knew of the practice. They even sang songs to it.
The commanders in the field knew better than to underestimate the problem. In 1903, an expedition in Surigao declared:
…let there be no water curing or severity that is not plainly authorized without straining interpretations of [the] law of war… .Anyone who disgraces our uniform by engaging in such barbarous practices will be punished on the spot… .Success will not be marred by any well founded complaints of undue severity and flagrant misconduct.
What does this prove? That seventy years before Vietnam and one hundred years before Iraq, there was a national conversation about how America should exercise its authority abroad. Unfortunately, though, nothing was concluded. The controversy was quelled by a conveniently timed declaration of “peace” in the islands on July 4, 1902. (It was not peace, though: fighting would continue until 1913, including other, bigger atrocities, like the hundreds of civilian dead at Bud Dajo.)
When the military handed power over to a civil government under Governor William Howard Taft, Americans at home believed their problems were solved. However, because America did not finish the conversation, the public was forced to have it all over again in 1969 (when the My Lai massacre story broke) and in 2004 (when the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse scandal broke). Does the end always justify the means? What if the means makes the end goal—peace—impossible? Unfortunately, Americans may be tiring of these questions before they can come to a consensus about the answers.
The administration of President Donald J. Trump has recently declared its intention to hide a 2014 report describing the CIA’s harsh detention and interrogation programs. By returning the document to Congress, this shields the report from ever being accessible to the American public through the Freedom of Information Act. Throwing this 6700-page report down the memory hole has more of a precedent than we would like to think. We’ve forgotten before.
(Note: Featured image is a cartoon by William Carson, which was printed in the Saturday Globe (Utica, New York) on 8 April 1899. It shows Uncle Sam sinking into the quagmire of the Philippine-American War as Filipino leader Emilio Aguinaldo resists his American “rescue.” The caption says, “A bigger job than he thought for.” Uncle Sam says: “Behave, you fool! Darn me, if I ain’t most sorry I undertook to rescue you.”)
I just wrote a hot sex scene for Sugar Moon that prominently features a wooden Ah Tay bed. It definitely makes an impression:
Ben’s hips flattened against hers, pinning her shoulder against the bed post. He nudged Allie harder and harder against the wood until she felt the carved floral pattern tattoo her skin.
I bet you’re wondering what that would look like—the carved bed post, not the sex. You can use your imagination with the sex.
The elaborate four-poster Narra frame, with its intricately carved Art Nouveau posts, was the creation of Eduardo Ah Tay, an ethnic Chinese furniture maker in Binondo. The kalabasa, or squash-shaped, dome design became “a status symbol for the nineteenth century mestizo elite” in their bahay na bato houses.
Cheaper beds—versions not made by Ah Tay—had spiral posts. They were not as desirable as an Ah Tay but were still better than sleeping on the floor. However, if you were expecting a mattress on any of these platforms, think again.
“Look here, North,” the congressman said. “You gave us unmade rooms!”
Moss had checked the rooms himself. “What are you missing, sir?”
“Most of my bed!” Holt huffed. “Why, there isn’t a stitch of bedclothes on the blooming thing. Not even a mattress! I raised the mosquito-netting and found nothing but a bamboo mat.”
Holt’s confusion was based on a real story of an irate newcomer to the Hotel de Oriente. The rattan platform, mattress-less bed was known among Americans for being “springless, unyielding, and anything but comfortable,” or “an instrument of torture, a rack, an inspirer of insomnia.” Even Philippine Commissioner Dean Worcester called the Philippine bed “that serious problem.”
The real genius of the bed though was air flow. Woven rattan was both perforated and strong, which made it the go-to technique for a lot of local furniture, including the sillon chair. This ingenuous use of local materialskept you cool before the advent of air conditioning.
Eventually, Commissioner Worcester came to like the bed—he even regarded it a luxury of the tropics. Traveler Burton Holmes agreed the bed had been “unjustly ridiculed and maligned.” He said, “It is…perfectly adapted to local conditions, a bed evolved by centuries of experience in a moist, hot, insect-ridden tropic land, and from the artistic point of view is not unattractive.”
But don’t try to sleep on an original Ah Tay: not only might it be in delicate condition, but most are far too small. (Humans have gotten bigger—both taller and rounder—in the last 120 years.) There is a decent sized one at the Casa Consuelo Museum in Tiaong, Quezon, and its owners even claim that it—and everything in the house—is authentic. Or you can build yourself a modern-sized reproduction, complete with solid mattress frame, like at the Museo sa Parian in Cebu.
Either way, this is the type of bed where Allegra Potter will bring her handsome, six-foot-plus suitor, Ben Potter. This is where she will debauch him in Sugar Moon. Look for it in late 2017.
(The featured image is an architectural drawing by interior design student Marinelli Fabiona.)