American Colonial Missionaries in the Philippines

Once upon a time, Catholic-Protestant strife scorched Europe. In the seventeenth century, for example, about eight million people died in the Thirty Years War, almost a tenth of the estimated total population. Germany’s male population was cut by nearly half. There were also civil wars in France, England, Scotland, and Ireland, killing millions more. The Troubles in Northern Ireland in the late twentieth century were less deadly, but still deadly.

So intra-Christian conflict is not that unusual. Yet, far away in the Pacific, Spanish rule kept the competition away from Philippine shores. From northern Mindanao on up, there was no choice but Catholicism. When a hundred or so Yankee missionaries arrived on Philippine shores around 1900, though, things changed. There was no armed conflict, but the competition was still fierce. At least, the Protestants thought it was fierce. But over a hundred years later, only a small proportion of the Philippine population identify as Protestant—between two and ten percent, depending on whether you include independent nationalist movements with the American imports. Yet, despite this relatively small number, early American missionaries still had a significant impact on the face of Filipino society.

American Presbyterian missionaries at Silliman University in Dumaguete Philippines
Presbyterian missionaries at Silliman University in Dumaguete, as pictured in The Assembly Herald.

American Protestants did not want to see the return of the Spanish friars who had fled the country in the 1896 Philippine Revolution, and so they spread themselves out as widely as possible throughout the islands, taking up positions in vacated towns. They divided the large islands among themselves: the Presbyterians got Negros and Samar; Panay went to the Baptists; Mindanao went mostly to the Congregationalists; and Luzon was split between the Presbyterians, Methodists, and United Brethren. Only the Seventh Day Adventists and Episcopalians did not ratify this agreement.

A picture of Silliman University in Dumaguete Philippines founded by American Presbyterian missionaries
A picture of Silliman University dating from 1909 at the earliest.

Silliman University in Dumaguete was begun by the Presbyterian missionary couple David and Laura Hibbard. In my Sugar Sun series, I’ve renamed the school Brinsmade and taken a lot of liberties with the characters, but it’s not all fiction. A lot of the general priggishness that comes out of the mouth of my character Daniel Stinnett, president of Brinsmade, is stuff American missionaries really said or wrote down. In my new novella, Tempting Hymn, you get a very intimate look at what these communities might have been like. My hero, Jonas, is a good man whose ecumenical faith will be challenged by some of the more small-minded missionaries with whom he works. It was important to me that Rosa and Jonas find common ground in a world complicated by church politics and colonial attitudes. I sometimes get to write what I wished had happened in history.

Character board for Tempting Hymn by Jennifer Hallock steamy Sugar Sun historical romance series
Character board for Tempting Hymn.

And, it is true, the missionaries did do some good work. First, they could be more inclusive than normal colonial officials. They offered opportunities for Filipinos to join their ranks as members, ministers, and missionaries. At Silliman, a Filipino had to pass an examination and earn the members’ vote, but if he or she (most likely he) did so, he could be tasked to spread the word throughout the rest of Negros and Cebu islands. By 1907, only six years after the founding of Silliman, there were five ordained Filipino ministers. They could preach in their vernacular languages—in fact, it was encouraged in order to reach a wider audience.

An assembly of students at Silliman Hall in Dumaguete Philippines founded by American Presbyterian missionaries
An assembly of students at Silliman Hall, reprinted from the Sillimanian.

The other key advantage of the missionaries’ presence were the services they provided, particularly in education and health. Silliman was a school, after all. The American missionaries understood that the Thomasites, the American public school teachers, were doing good work, but they still thought that a secular curriculum was incomplete. David Hibbard integrated religion into the regular coursework and included several prayer sessions a week, including three commitments on Sunday. But Silliman’s reading, writing, and arithmetic education did not suffer because of it. In fact, his students had good success in finding employment in the new colonial government:

One boy, Andres Pada, who came to us a raw unlikely specimen three years ago has been appointed an Inspector of the Secondary Public School building and is giving good satisfaction. Another boy named Apolonario Bagay has been appointed as overseer of the roads for a portion of the province and is doing good work there. Four or five of the boys have gone out this year as teachers in the public schools of the province, and though they have not had enough training to do very good work yet, I have heard no complaints.

Okay, that seems like being damned with faint praise, but it was quite complimentary by American missionary standards. And Silliman was so popular in the region that they had more applicants than they could handle. They had to turn away boarders and take only “externos,” or day students. The local elites embraced the Hibbards and Silliman in general. In 1907, Demetrio Larena, the former governor of Negros Oriental province (and brother to the mayor of Dumaguete), converted to Presbyterianism. Silliman is now one of the best private universities in the Philippines, and it might have grown strong partly because of the very favorable town-gown relations, right from the start.

Reverend Ricardo Alonzo first Presbyterian minister and Governor Demetrio Larena Presbyterian convert in Dumaguete Philippines
Reverend Ricardo Alonzo, the first Presbyterian minister, and ex-Governor Demetrio Larena, Presbyterian convert, from The Assembly Herald.

American missionaries did more than educate, though. They also brought medical personnel to Asia. Interestingly, several of these doctors were women. In the Presbyterians’ list of new missionaries in June 1907, there were three single female doctors—two were sent to China and one to the Philippines. Another woman physician, Dr. Mary Hannah Fulton, started a medical college for women in China. One female doctor, Rebecca Parrish, will be the model for a future character of mine, Liddy Sheppard, heroine of Sugar Communion. Parrish founded the Mary Johnston Hospital and School of Nursing in an impoverished area north of Manila, and she would give 27 years of service there before retiring. In 1950 Philippine president Elpidio Quirino bestowed upon her a medal of honor for her work. I’ve taken some liberties (as I do), but her passion for providing a safe place for women to give birth will translate to my heroine, Liddy.

Pictures of Dr. Rebecca Parrish female missionary doctor in Tondo Manila during the American colonial period of Philippines history
Pictures of Dr. Rebecca Parrish, third from the left in the first photo. Images courtesy of She Has Done a Beautiful Thing for Me by Anne Kwantes.

Of course, you might wonder why Christians would want to spread their faith to other Christians—until you realize that, at the turn of the century, many American Protestants did not think Catholics were Christians. They put “papists,” as they called them, right along side infidels, idolators, and heretics. Reverend Roy H. Brown said:

Three hundred years have passed since this people first heard the Gospel from the Catholic Priests, and yet their condition morally is appalling….Saints and Mary are revered and worshiped while Christ is forgotten, and His place usurped….They know nothing about Christ or the Bible; their religion is a mixture of paganism with Christianity with the religious nomenclature.

This bias included a proscription against marriage to Catholics. In the Presbyterian version of the Westminster Confession of Faith at the end of the nineteenth century, it said that those who “profess the true reformed religion should not marry with infidels, Papists, or other idolaters, neither should such as are godly be unequally yoked by marrying with such as are notoriously wicked in their life or maintain damnable heresies.” Since they did not consider marriage a sacrament, you did not have to marry in a church—but the church was still going to tell you whom to marry. I fudged the rules a bit in Tempting Hymn when I allowed Jonas to marry Rosa, a Catholic, though his Presbyterian friends are none too happy about it. (And, you may remember that in Under the Sugar Sun, Georgina and Ben’s parents’ Catholic-Protestant marriage had been a scandal back in Boston.)

Some more pictures of Silliman University in Dumaguete Philippines inspired Brinsmade Institute chapel bell tower of Tempting Hymn
Some more pictures of Silliman University that inspired my Brinsmade Institute, including the chapel and bell tower that Jonas plans to build (left) and the houses like the one in which Jonas and Rosa lived (right). Photos courtesy of The Assembly Herald in 1907 (left) and 1906 (right).

There were some more progressive missionaries, of course. In fact, the first Presbyterian missionary to arrive in the Philippines, Rev. Dr. James D. Rodgers, said that the purpose of the mission was “to help Christians of all classes to become better Christians.”

Still, in the end, the Protestants had more in common with each other than with the Catholics. And since the enemy of my enemy is my friend, the American denominations—the Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, Evangelical United Brethren, Philippine Methodists, and the Congregational Church—would decide to merge into the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP). It was their hope that this would provide more unity to fight the Catholic front.

It was not very successful. These more traditional churches would end up losing the war to the nationalized independent churches (like Iglesia ni Cristo), along with the Seventh Day Adventists and more recent missionaries like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But, in the end, numbers may not matter. The real impact these missionaries would have would be social and academic, not spiritual.

Featured image of an old Dumaguete postcard.

Sugar Sun series glossary term #26: aswang

Sugar was such a greedy crop, drinking the lifeblood of the soil like the aswang demons that peasants feared.

Under the Sugar Sun

With the popularity of the Twilight series—or, let’s get old school with Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles—I am surprised that more writers have not widened their paranormal worlds to include the macabre supernatural folk traditions of the Philippines.

Aswangs are lady vampires…on steroids. Though legends vary, the Aswang Project website has come up with three common characteristics in them all:

  1. The aswang’s diet consists mainly of human liver and blood;
  2. It has an unholy preference for unborn children; and
  3. It is also known to prey upon children and sick people.

Um, did you notice number two? Aswangs have been blamed for miscarriages and stillborn babies all over the islands. As this website describes:

When they know of a pregnancy…they would land on the roof of the pregnant woman’s home, and, trying to remain undiscovered, dig a hole to get inside. Once close, they use their razor-sharp teeth and their tongue that can stretch out as a thin wire to drink the blood and eat the fetus through the mother’s belly button…

Even worse, there is a related creature called a manananggal, who is a beautiful woman by day, but at night she detaches the upper half of her torso, sprouts bat-like wings, and flies around with her guts hanging out, looking for victims. This is serious stuff.

manananggal_small
A manananggal as pictured at Florente Aguilar’s guitar project site, Aswang: Tagalog Song Cycle.

The aswang legends are particularly popular in the Western Visayas region, near where the Sugar Sun series is set. In fact, when Silliman University in Dumaguete opened their first dormitory in 1903, people thought it was haunted with these very creatures. That would be enough to keep me home, thank you very much.

Why the Visayas? I do not think that it has anything to do with infant mortality rates, which historically were high everywhere. One theory is that Spanish Catholics spread the legends to vilify female folk healers, especially those in the interior of the southern islands. These pagan women were far away from the friars on the coasts and the Crown in Manila—and, therefore, they were not to be trusted.

You may be wondering, how are aswangs created in the first place? Getting bitten, like by a European-style vampire, is not going to do it. (You would just be dead, I think.) In the Filipino version, the dying aswang vomits up a small black chick—as illustrated below—which the aswang-to-be must swallow. Waiter, check please.

aswang-black-chick
Image from Erik Matti’s “Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles,” found at the AswangProject.

In European folktales, like those of the Brothers Grimm, the big bad wolf is eventually punished for eating children. But the victims of aswangs get no such justice. (Maybe because carrying a child to term and then actually delivering it has been the most dangerous thing a woman could do for most of history.)

This is very dark stuff. I don’t write novels this dark, but someone should. Maybe a new paranormal venture from #romanceclass? I cannot imagine an aswang hero, but maybe you can convince me. Or maybe not.

Featured image from sweet00th on DeviantArt.

Sugar Sun series location #2: Dumaguete

I could easily live in Dumaguete. Despite the advent of modernity—traffic, diesel, plastic, and concrete—this is still the same city that charmed the early Presbyterian missionaries who chose it over Cebu and Iloilo for their new industrial-institute-cum-university, Silliman. In the words of Reverend Arthur J. Brown, D.D., location scout for the Board of Missions in 1901:

The location is the most healthful and beautiful that I saw in the Philippines. The land rises gently from a pebbly beach to a noble mountain range.  The lower levels are covered with plantations of tobacco and sugar cane, higher slopes with hemp, and the summits of the mountains with heavy forests of hard woods. Across the clear water, the islands of Siquijor and Cebu are seen, and farther away, but in plain view, are the outlines of Bohol and Mindanao.

You can see on the above image, a vintage postcard from the turn of the century, there was no port or esplanade to speak of back then. Visitors had to be brought up to the beach by bancaor, for those with loftier colonial preferences, be carried by litter.

Creative Commons photo by Eugene of the malecón, or esplanade, known as Rizal Boulevard, in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental.

Once on shore a visitor would stroll through a lovely town dominated by the local Catholic church, St. Catherine’s, and its old stone belfry.

St. Catherine’s Cathedral and belfry. The bells warned of pirates who would come and snatch laborers away from their fields, hence the name of the town: dumaguet, meaning “to swoop.” Left photo by Jennifer Hallock, and right on Wikimedia Commons.

Though the iconic Silliman Hall (below) would not be built until 1909, the university has nevertheless dominated the landscape of this city for a full 115 years, ever since its founding in 1901.

Creative commons rendering of Silliman Hall (built 1909) by Samurai John. This building is an example of American Stick Style architecture, and inside there are great-looking tin ceiling tiles repurposed from a theater in New York. It is the longest standing American structure in the Philippines.

Yet I never mention Silliman once in my books. This presents an interesting question for my readers: how closely do I keep to the facts? One person recently noticed that the Americans in my version of Dumaguete do not come off well, which was the observation that inspired me to put together this post.

A picture of Silliman University dating from 1909 at the earliest.
A picture of Silliman University dating from 1909 at the earliest.

Alas, fans of Dumaguete history, do not despair! First, if I bother to rename someone or something, it is because I plan to use artistic license in service to the needs of my story. So the Silliman Institute, named after donor Horace Brinsmade Silliman, became the Brinsmade Institute instead. (Maybe not so clever, but it sounded good.) Real founders David and Laura Hibbard became the fictional couple, Daniel and Mary Stinnett. While there is some passing resemblance between the two men, Daniel Stinnett was designed as a conflation of the many American missionaries who helped colonize the Philippines. Some of the self-righteous words that come out of Daniel’s mouth can be attributed to the real David Hibbard, and others are from his contemporary brethren, but much of his personality I entirely made up—plucked it right out of my head and threw it on the page. And in an upcoming novella, Daniel will truly outdo himself with priggishness—because my story needs that conflict. It won’t be out of step with American attitudes of the time, but it is still fiction. See how my hero Jonas Vanderburg of Tempting Hymn will find his way through this prickly history with his heroine, Rosa Ramos.

So don’t get too hung up on my intentions. Mostly, I want the story to feel grounded in a real place with real people, but I take lots of liberties on dialogue, characters, and sexual mores (and how!). The real Silliman University is an outstanding institution, and I especially enjoyed its anthropology, history, and environmental sciences museums, all open to visitors.

Visayas Bisayas map for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
1899 map of Negros Oriental, published by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey. The island to the right, on the other side of the Tañon Strait, is Cebu.

If you get the chance, you should go visit, and while you’re here check out Bais, too. I’m already jealous…

An assembly of students at Silliman Hall.
An assembly of students at Silliman Hall, reprinted from the Sillimanian.
Sugar-Sun-series-Philippines-Visayas-map
Most of the Sugar Sun series takes place in the Visayan Islands in the central and southern Philippines.