The carabao is the national animal of the Philippines. It’s a good choice because this beast of burden can do everything. It can haul a house’s worth of goods (up to 3500 kilos or 7700 pounds), turn a mill stone, or carry several passengers for hours. It is your pick-up truck, tractor, and engine all in one. A contemporary observer wrote that the carabao was “patient and tractable so long as he can enjoy a daily swim. If cut off from water the beast becomes irritable [and] will attack men or animals and gore them with its sharp horns.” Americans were a bit dramatic, of course. They resented the carabao for clogging carriage traffic as it lumbered through Manila at two miles per hour.
The true test of the carabao’s usefulness is that there are still 3.2 million in the Philippines. According to a 2005 United Nations report, “99 percent belong to small farmers that have limited resources, low income, and little access to other economic opportunities.” At the dawn of the 20th century, though, every farmer and hacendero relied upon the carabao, which is why the rinderpest epidemic of 1901 hurt the islands so badly. This was one of Javier Altarejos’s biggest problems at the beginning of the book: finding the money to replace his herd.
Though the conflict began over events in Cuba, America fought its first battle of the Spanish-American War in Manila. Historians debate what President McKinley’s intentions were—did he want to take the Philippines in its entirety, just keep Manila, or defeat Spain and leave? But, as they say, “appetite comes with eating.” Once the Americans had Manila, they wanted all the islands. Only problem? The Philippine revolutionaries who helped defeat the Spanish did not want the Americans to stay—and they controlled most of the rest of the country.
Instead of calling what followed a war—assuming two equal adversaries—the Americans called it the Philippine Insurrection—with only one legitimate authority. (The Spanish sold the islands to the Americans for $20 million in December 1898, which was the basis of their legal claim. On what authority the Spanish sold the Philippines, that is another question.) So instead of calling the Filipinos revolutionaries, patriots, or nationalists, they called them insurgents, bandits, and ladrones. (The last two are the same thing, the latter in Spanish.) The favorite American term, though, was insurrecto (insurrectionist).
Now the conflict is called the Philippine-American War, and it officially lasted from 1899 to 1902, though hostilities did not fully end until 1913. Despite the name change, Filipinos after 1899 are rarely called revolutionaries, even in the more balanced American textbooks. In my books, I use the term insurrecto whenever Americans are speaking because that term is true to the period. It is not a political statement (as you could probably tell by the tone of my posts).
When I first chose to write a Fil-Am romance, I had to make my hero a sugar baron to best fit the model of popular Regency historical romance. There are some superficial similarities between my fictional hacienda owner, Javier Altarejos, and a fictional English gentleman, like Jane Austen’s Fitzwilliam Darcy. Both came from wealth. Javier grew up in the 1880s and 1890s, when Negros ruled the Philippine (and European) sugar markets. His parents traveled to Europe in the off-season, and they brought back champagne and horses. He grew up in a beautiful local-style mansion, attended by maids, cooks, and nannies. Darcy’s income of ten thousand pounds a year was 300 times the average income of the day—some of which could have come from West Indies plantations. And no matter what production of Pride and Prejudice you see, Pemberley is singularly impressive.
However, the true model for Javier (other than Enrique Iglesias, see in Instinct Magazine photo above) was less Darcy and more John Thornton of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. (See the 4-part BBC series. You won’t be disappointed.) By the time Javier inherits Hacienda Altarejos, the boom times are gone. He has to deal with war (several of them), closed ports, labor shortages, rinderpest and cholera epidemics, drought, and American trade restrictions. Moreover, without a sugar central, his product is no longer the best available. Javier is a good man doing the best he can to keep a major economic enterprise going in tough times. Hacenderos had a reputation of getting rich off the work of their wage laborers, much like the bourgeoisie of industrial Britain—or the fictional factory owners like Thornton. But the reality is that the workers’ jobs depended on Javier and Thornton keeping their doors open, which was not a simple task.
This is not a blanket defense of hacenderos. My story has some “sugar coating.” It is romance, after all!
(Note: Hacendero is the older Spanish spelling, though you will often see haciendero in the Philippines and elsewhere. However, in my research, the version without the added “i” was more popular in contemporary sources.)
Here’s the thing about imperialism: every major colonial power sowed the seeds of its own destruction. How? Unwilling to do all the work of running a colony themselves, they sent the best and brightest of every generation off to be educated, sometimes in the home capital itself. Thus, Mohandas Gandhi studied law in London, and even scrappy Ho Chi Minh learned about communism while doing odd jobs in Paris. José Rizal and Antonio Luna, among others, were educated in Spain. Though we may consider these men elites, they often were of middle-class backgrounds. Like the liberal bourgeoisie of Europe, what made the ilustrados different was their education.
I don’t know you, but I do know that Rizal was smarter than either you or me. He was conversant in at least 11 languages and could translate another 7. He was an ophthalmologist by training and a patriotic novelist by necessity. And then there’s Luna. In addition to arguably being the greatest Filipino general of the Philippine-American War, Luna was also a widely respected epidemiologist and had a PhD in chemistry.
In Europe, these “enlightened ones” were taught the principals of liberal constitutions—rights that we take for granted, such as the freedoms to assemble, speak freely, practice a chosen religion, and have due process of law. All they asked was that these rights apply to the people of the colonies, too. Gandhi, Ho, and Rizal all wanted equality before they wanted independence. When the Europeans would not give it, their hypocrisy was obvious. Though Asian nations did not fully break away until after World War II, the seeds of revolution were planted at the turn of the 20th century with the ilustrados. (Featured image of ilustrados in 1890 Madrid.)
Being colonized by Spanish priests put more emphasis on otherworldly bliss rather than good old-fashioned worldly bliss, like cooking. However, the Spanish did chocolate well, and, in the end, isn’t that all that matters? One might think that hot chocolate would not be desirable in a tropical country, but it was not always served steaming hot. And for several months, the weather in the islands can be downright cool—okay, “coolish” to New Englanders. And, okay, only in the mornings, but this is when tsokolate is served. Chocolate in the mornings? Sign me up!
Making it in the early 1900s went like this. First, you had to be sure your lechera (milkmaid) had come and filled the earthen jar in your kitchen. She probably did that in the wee hours of the morning, so you’re good. Grab your chocolatera—the brew pot, maybe made of blue enameled metal—and add milk, a chocolate tablea or two (sold in tiny cacao hockey pucks or even handmade balls with ground cashew nut), sugar, and sometimes egg white. The trick is that you cannot just let it burn on the range. You must constantly mix and beat it with your batidor, the wooden implement in the picture above. You swirl the batidor between your palms and it smooths and froths as you cook. The result is thicker and less sweet than American hot chocolate, but it is more true to the Mesoamerican drink the Spanish adopted. Check out this site for great action photos!