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. If you have any suggestions or comments, please contact me through one of the methods to the left of this page.
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, it’s a little eerie how fluent you are. From what the folks here tell me, you also speak Spanish like an Iberian. And Cebuano, and Tagalog, and Latin . . .”
She used her free hand to wave away the compliment. “I grew up speaking Spanish in the house and Cebuano in town—and then Tagalog in Manila. No one but a priest speaks Latin, but I learned to read it in school—”
“You’re missing my point. You’re a linguist, a natural. If you study for the rest of this test with Allegra-like persistence—and maybe a little un-Allegra-like humility—I have no doubt you’ll pass next time.”
She blushed even more furiously than when he had first taken her hand. “Thank you.”
— 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.”
Bundok is the Tagalog word for mountain. When American soldiers arrived in the Philippines in 1898, they adopted the word and, of course, changed its meaning. Because ‘Merica. U.S. Marines, in particular, made “boondocks” a buzzword for everything from jungle to backwoods to, in fact, mountains. In their minds, whatever looked “wild.”
For the first half of the century, it remained specialized military slang. One source claims that boondocks appeared in the 1909 Webster’s New International Dictionary, but if so this was the first print usage by at least 30 years. The Online Etymology Dictionary also recognizes the word’s vernacular use as early as the 1910s, but it was otherwise not published until 1944 in the Marine Corps Reader—interestingly, describing Parris Island, South Carolina, a Marine Corps training station that looks pretty flat to me.
In World War II, the word was revived, not only among American fighting forces in the Pacific, but also among those soldiers’ and sailors’ families Stateside, too. The Vietnam War reinforced this usage, and now the word is ubiquitous: being out in the boondocks means being in an isolated or wild region. And, yes, my town in New Hampshire probably counts. I’m proud to live in the boondocks—but I just wish it were closer to the real mgabundok (Philippine mountains).
Featured photo by Jojo Nicdao in the Creative Commons, found here.
Quartermaster is a military word, and therefore it may be as unfamiliar to you (or more so) than the other phrases in this glossary. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term comes from the Middle Dutch word quartiermeester, the naval officer responsible for organizing the watches. This duty was expanded to include all provisioning—from rations to ammunition, from rifles to haversacks, and from ships to horses.
Today, military logistics is more important than ever. The US Armed Forces recruits men and women with engineering and business degrees to keep the soldiers, sailors, aviators, and marines “marching on their stomachs.” But during the Philippine-American War, it seems that anybody could get a job in the quartermaster depot. Why were they so desperate?
After the Civil War, the United States Army had shrunk to a size smaller than today’s New York City Police Department. Think about that for a minute. Yes, there were small military interventions in Mexico, Korea, and Samoa, in addition to a series of conflicts known as the Indian Wars, designed to consolidate Federal control over the rest of North America. But at the time Americans feared they would lose their liberty to a large standing army, so the military remained small despite it all.
When the Spanish-American War began, Congress found itself in a bind. At first they relied upon volunteer units from each of the states, but those enlistments were only a year long. When the Cuban conflict turned into a protracted war in the Philippines, Congress doubled the size of the regular Army once, then twice. For the first time, the US sent a large force to Asia—up to 69,000 at a time—to fight its first overseaswar of occupation.
This huge force needed to be fed and armed. If you could read and write, you might be able to swing a job “in the rear with the gear,” rather than wading through rivers and rice paddies under fire. And, if you had an entrepreneurial spirit, a golden opportunity beckoned: crates and crates of goods came in, and who was to say if a few hundred pounds here or there was “lost”?*
One of these “entrepreneurs” was Captain Frederick J. Barrows, who was found to have been embezzling $100,000 a month—the equivalent of $2.9 million in today’s terms—in flour, bacon, and other staples. He then sold the goods to local hotels, bakeries, and restaurants.
Barrows got away with this scheme for almost a year. In sum, he and his accomplices probably made (and spent) about $24 million in 2015 dollars. Even now, that goes a looooong way. As the article says, Barrows used his ill-gotten gains to lead “a scandalously immoral life…entertaining officers,” which means he was throwing big parties with lots of prostitutes. It’s good to be the quartermaster.
But, be careful: if you steal while you’re in the Army, and steal from the Army, you get punished according to Army regulations—in this case, five years imprisonment in Bilibid Prison in Manila, which might have been worse than Leavenworth. The Spanish built Bilibid but never imprisoned their own citizens inside, which is never a good combination. Don’t let the quaint postcard below fool you.
So you see, the scandal I used in Hotel Oriente was a real one. But my hero, Moss North, managed to avoid the dragnet. How? Read the book and find out. It’s available free on Kindle Unlimited or for purchase at only $0.99.
* In the “history repeats itself” column, the US sent plastic-wrapped crates of cash—$12 billion dollars worth—to Baghdad in 2004, and about half of that seemed to disappear. It was called “the largest theft of funds in national history.” But don’t worry—the Department of Defense finally accounted for the funds in 2011, which to some was 7 years too late.
Pressed against Javier’s arm as they waited for the band to begin, Georgie studied his barong tagalog. It was simple ivory with a plain collar—elegant and traditional—not dyed or striped or ruffled. He had also chosen geometric embroidery over floral. Still, it was not a modest garment. Though the piña felt sturdy and substantial where it brushed her skin, it was so sheer that it displayed his snug undershirt with remarkable definition.
“Why wear a shirt so thin that you need a second layer?” she asked, eyes fixed where his short sleeve revealed some bicep. “Isn’t that hot?”
One eyebrow shot up. “It depends with whom I am dancing.”
But he’s not entirely wrong. There is a rare intersection of sexy and convenient going on here. The barong tagalog (the “Tagalog shirt”), or just barong, is the formal garment for men in the Philippines. No tie. No tucking the darn thing in. What’s not to like? At least, that’s my husband’s attitude. He actually went to fancy dress parties and weddings in Manila, as a result. He’s even worn his here in the States.
He doesn’t look this good in his—shhh, don’t tell him—but he looks pretty good:
If you do a little research on the barong, you’ll run into an urban myth—at least, from what I could find, it is an urban myth. I’ll let Javier tell it:
He flicked the loose tail of his shirt. “I’ve always been told that the Spanish required the indios to wear these so we couldn’t hide our daggers underneath.”
Georgie wondered if these islands had ever known peace. “Is that true?”
“It’s certainly the kind of thing the Crown would have done, but there’s no specific law anyone can point to.” Javier paused, his brown eyes studying her. “It makes a good story—and at Spanish expense, too, which makes it even better—but in truth the barong is probably all Filipino. Do you like it?”
Georgie looked up the shirt line and across his chest. “I do.”
He leaned down and whispered in her ear. “I would wear anything to catch your attention, Ina. Or nothing.”
You can find some historic examples of barongs at my Pinterest site on traditional Philippine dress. And if you keep digging, you’ll find there’s lots of variety: ruffles, fabrics, cuffs, length, and more. Some have floral designs, and others geometric. Some are dyed, others are natural piña. All look pretty terrific on a handsome man, though, and isn’t that all we want in the end?
EPILOGUE: My husband thought that I left out the most famous non-Filipino to wear a barong, Quentin Tarantino. But there is a problem with Tarantino’s high-profile debut of the garment at the 65th Annual Golden Globes Nomination ceremony in December 2007: he forgot the undershirt. And he left it unbuttoned at the collar, which made the lack of undershirt even worse. His general look of dishevelment did not help matters. As a result, many Filipinos felt he did not present the Tesorobarong at its best. (It was a gift by the Film Development Council of the Philippines, by the way, and Tesoro’s made it in a day. The source is quick to add that Tarantino was, in fact, given an XXL undershirt.) At least the filmmaker wore it with genuine affection, and isn’t that the most important thing?