Author: Florence Kimball Russel
*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK ***
Thanks are due Messrs. Harper and Brothers and the editors of “The Criterion” and of “Everybody’s Magazine” for permission to republish parts of the chapters on Sulu, Zamboanga, and Bongao, respectively.
By L. C. Page & Company (Incorporated)
Entered at Stationers’ Hall, London
All rights reserved
First Impression, June, 1907
Electrotyped and Printed by C. H. Simonds & Co. Boston, U. S. A.
WITHOUT WHOSE INSPIRATION AND ENCOURAGEMENT
THIS BOOK WOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN WRITTEN
I. Introductory Statements
X. Tampakan and the Home Stretch
Zamboanga! The very name brings back our first daylight glimpse of Mindanao’s principal town—an adorable water-colour sketch, what with the soft, deep blue of sky and sea, the tropical freshness of green foliage, amidst which nestled picturesque white houses with overhanging balconies, the red and blue sails on the sunlit water, and to the right of the picture an old Spanish fort, gray and stern and forbidding.
This old fort, aside from its undoubted pictorial charm, is historically interesting, in that it is a relic of the seventeenth century and of those first Spanish governors, martially ambitious, who stirred up wars with the Moros for their own personal aggrandizement, wars which have been protracted through two bloody centuries.
Indeed, the history of Spain’s occupation of the islands is but a repetition of wars with the Mohammedans, religious wars, perhaps, at the very first, for the sixteenth century Spaniard was no less fanatical in his religion than is the Moro of to-day; and later, wars for the presumable abolishment of slavery, though we are told by Foreman that “Whilst Spaniards in Philippine waters were straining every nerve to extirpate slavery, their countrymen were diligently pursuing a profitable trade in it between the west coast of Africa and Cuba.”
Zamboanga seems so peaceful at present that it is hard to believe it was ever otherwise. All around the town stretch fine lands, much better cultivated than any we had seen on the trip, with here and there beautiful groves, now of cocoanut-palms, now of mangoes, interspersed by well ploughed paddy fields and acres of corn or sugar-cane. The town natives were extremely friendly and when passing always saluted us deferentially, while in the country the children, and sometimes the grown people as well, yelled cheerily after our carriage, “Hellojohn, hellojohn,” evidently under the impression that Hello, John, was one word, and a salutation of great respect as well as a sociable greeting.
No one wore arms around Zamboanga, in fact it was forbidden so to do; and the smiling, well-disposed natives testified highly to the efficiency of the American officer in command, the sight of whose jolly face brought ecstatic yells of recognition from the very babies, bare and dirty, tumbling around in the streets, greetings which the colonel always answered in kind, his eyes twinkling with amusement the while.
Most of our success with these southern Moros may be traced to religious tolerance, and the fact that we interfere with them only in their disturbance of non-Mohammedan neighbours. Slave raids are a thing of the past, and leading dattos have been notified that any piratical or fanatical incursions into American territory will be punished swiftly and surely.
Quarters of the Commanding Officer
It has also behooved us to respect their race prejudice, to be considerate of their religious idiosyncrasies, and to dispense justice untempered with mercy, the latter virtue being considered a weakness in the eyes of our Mohammedan brothers, and as such to be taken advantage of. The border troubles in India, the mutiny of ’57, the Turkish atrocities in ’95, the Pathan rising under Mad Mullah in ’97, the French-Algerian difficulties, and the ever present reminder of Spain’s three hundred years of struggle for supremacy in the Philippines, all serve as mile-posts on the road to good government.
Although thus far we have made no little progress in the right direction, the path has not been strewn with roses, for Mohammedan customs, prohibitions, and theories of living are so strange to a North American intellect that mistakes are liable to occur at any moment. For example, it is a deadly insult for a man to even touch a Mohammedan woman not belonging to his harem, or to pay her the most conventional or trivial compliment. Then, too, as everyone knows, their dietetic observances are of the greatest import, and a good Mohammedan will not only refrain from eating pork, but will not hunt the wild boar or help carry it home for fear the contact might defile him. Wine is of course forbidden, though I have heard that in the Philippines food over which the shadow of an unbeliever has passed need not be thrown away, the Moros there being more thrifty and perhaps less fanatically devout than their brothers in India.
For some strange reason these people have taken most kindly to the Americans, though I am pained to confess that much of their liking is due to the fact that they think we are not Christians, our brand of religion being unlike that of Catholic Spain. This, coupled with the fact that in several instances we have been forced, by a lack of quarters, to shelter our soldiers in church or cathedral, has so strengthened them in their belief that Juramentados, or Mohammedans sworn to kill Christians, are without employment, it being obviously unwise to run amuck and kill, when the Holy Writ promises reward only to those dying while destroying followers of Christianity.
Many American customs that do not entrench on the Holy Law have been adopted with no little avidity by the Moros, and the Stars and Stripes float over the home of every native fortunate enough to possess a flag. This is particularly noticeable in and around Zamboanga, but an officer belonging to the regiment stationed there told us a tale illustrating the Moro’s love for things American, that reads like a romance.
It seems that the post assigned to this officer’s battalion was at Davao, in the southeastern part of the island, a wild and seldom visited country, whose inhabitants consist of a curious mixture of Christians, Mohammedans, and Pagans. In the mountains surrounding the town live numerous Pagan tribes, all speaking different dialects, and wild as the country itself. Having occasion to make a reconnoissance trip in this territory, the officer and his escort stopped overnight in a little village of Bogobos, whose chief did the honours with a savage dignity.
The town was dirty beyond belief, the natives were lazy even in their curiosity, and everything pertaining to the place was in a shocking state of disrepair. Among other items of interest, proudly pointed out to the American officer by his host, was a gruesome collection of human skulls, which decorated the dwelling both indoors and out. “Trophies of war,” he explained nonchalantly to his astonished guest, merely the skulls of his enemies. The American, with involuntary loathing, simulated a polite interest in these ghastly evidences of raids on the lower villages, and that night slept none too soundly in consequence. The following morning, on leaving, he thanked the chief for his hospitality, and asked him to some day return the visit.
Nothing loath, the savage accepted the invitation, and a short time later arrived in Davao, accompanied not by a paltry half-dozen as escort, but by the major part of his tribe. He was evidently not going to be outdone in ceremonial observances, and he and his followers remained long enough in Davao to cause the official larder sadly to need replenishment. During this visit the Bogobos were one and all delighted with the military life of the post; with the drills and parades where the soldiers marched as one man; the evolutions wherein they were deployed, moved in echelon, or wheeled into position; and their sureness and quickness in the manual of arms. Then, too, the cleanliness of the barracks impressed them, and the personal neatness of the khaki-clad men, not to mention the very desirable things to eat evolved by the company cook.
But perhaps nothing so filled them with awe and admiration as the ceremonial raising and lowering of the garrison flag. They never missed the opportunity of seeing it, especially at evening, when the improvised band played the “Star Spangled Banner” and the flag fluttered slowly down the staff, while the troops stood at attention with bared heads. It was so solemn an occasion that the very heavens darkened before it, and night was upon them always ere they half suspected it.
So impressed was the chief with this ceremony that on leaving Davao he asked the officer commanding the battalion if he would give him an American flag, that he might take the beautiful custom into his own village. This request was granted, and the presentation of the Stars and Stripes was made the occasion for a little sermon, in which the head of the Bogobos was informed that he and his people were under the protection of that flag, which represented the great American government, and that he, as chief of the tribe, stood for American authority in his village, so that it would become him to set an example to his people of humanity, liberality, and all civilized observances.
Then, with great tact and diplomacy, he was further informed that in the United States the custom of decorating houses with human skulls no longer prevailed; it had fallen into disfavour with the more enlightened “Natives” of the country and, in fact, they seriously objected to such practices. Consequently, as a representative of the American government, he must keep abreast of the times in this regard. The chief listened very gravely and with never a word to the little disquisition, while it was hard to tell from his expression if his silence meant only savage taciturnity, or if he were really deeply moved.
On a subsequent visit to the Bogobos, however, the officer was greatly surprised to see what weight his words had carried and to note the effect of the Star Spangled Banner upon a savage mountain people. Soldiers were drilling under the green trees; modern sanitation had been adopted; sweeping, heretofore unknown, was a custom of the village; the highly objectionable skulls had been removed from the executive mansion; while every evening the chief and his standing army failed not to face the splendid Stars and Stripes as they were reverently lowered from a bamboo flagstaff, where during the day they floated over a village redeemed by them from seemingly hopeless savagery.
On our first visit to Zamboanga we remained a day only, for by evening our shore end was laid and the office established, so that at daybreak the next morning we sailed for Tukuran, Mindanao, thus deferring our intercourse with Zamboanga, though not terminating it. After laying a hundred-knot stretch of cable between there and Point Flecha, we began to take soundings, and for four days sailed back and forth between Tukuran and the Point, seeking water not too deep for cable laying, though in places the sea swallowed up our sounding wire for twelve hundred fathoms. Think of it—a mile and a quarter! And once the iron marker came up on a sun-baked deck icy-cold from its abysmal plunge.
But at last a suitable course was chosen, and on the afternoon of February 16th we anchored off Tukuran. A prettier bit of country it would be hard to find. Hills on every side—forest hills—as far as the eye could reach, while a road, looking from the ship like a narrow white ribbon, trailed from the shore straight up the green hills to a stone wall, behind which was stationed a company of American soldiers.
The next morning early most of us went ashore, despite the winding ribbon of a road which from the ship looked even more formidable than it really was. As we neared the land in the ship’s launch two Moro boats anchored near the beach attracted our attention, the most absurdly picturesque crafts one could well imagine, with curving prows of rudely carved wood, outriggers of bamboo, and a thatched roof or awning at one end. A gaily coloured hat hung from one of the boats, and over each floated a red flag shaped like an isosceles triangle. These flags were finished by a white border ruffled on all around, such ruffles as we put on window-curtains in America, and over one of the crafts floated the striped red and white flag of the Mindanao Moro.
On reaching the post we found that the boats belonged to two prominent dattos visiting there. One of these dignitaries was an old, toothless man, with a mighty following, two or three of his army even carrying rifles and the others gigantic spears. The second datto was much younger, and repaired to the officers’ quarters to wait until the old chap had departed, evidently recognizing his own social inferiority, for he boasted half a dozen warriors only, and not a gun or spear among them, though they carried barongs of great beauty, with damascened blades and handles of handsomely carved wood, some of them being inlaid with pearl or ivory.
Each of the chiefs and all their followers were dressed in the picturesque Moro costume, which we had seen first in Misamis and Iligan, and all of them were frankly curious over the American women. They discussed us freely to our very faces, and kept changing their positions to get a better view of us, staring with amazement when the old datto was brought up and introduced. How curious of the Americans not to know that a woman should be taken to a datto, not a datto to a woman. And then, too, how odd that they should shake hands just like men, and not cover their faces at all, and what remarkable hair the child had, just the colour of hemp, and how very, very tall she was, though the interpreter insisted she was but nine years old.
Nor was this curiosity confined to the natives by any manner of means, for officers and soldiers alike crowded around us, and one non-commissioned officer took a snapshot of the group, explaining later to his captain, who took him to task for his boldness, that he had meant no harm, but just wanted the picture as a reminder of what American women really looked like, not having seen one before in two years. Needless to say he was forgiven, his interest being subjective rather than objective.
Officers quarters Zamboanga
We were told in Tukuran that when the troops first went there deer were so plentiful that the pretty, shy animals could be seen at any time of day around the garrison, while at night they would come so close to the barracks as to annoy the men, barking not unlike dogs, and stumbling over kettles and pots by the door of the company kitchen. I do not know that they ever became so annoying that the men had to resort to the cat-discouraging bootjack or soda bottle, but I do know that those Tukuran soldiers had so much venison that they would eat canned corned beef or bacon in preference. Good hunting stories were of course numerous, and some of these so fired the Nimrod of the trip—our major-quartermaster—that he set off at daybreak one morning, gun in hand, accompanied by the crack shot among the soldiers of Tukuran, each prepared to slay his tens of thousands. But although the two men tramped the hills from sunrise until dark they saw no deer, and all because the search-light from the ship on the previous night had frightened them away from their accustomed haunts. At least so said the officers on shore, an explanation at which we Burnside people sniffed, though feasting on venison at the time. But before we reached Zamboanga, a Signal Corps man, whom we left behind at Tukuran to complete the establishment of the lines there, sent a message to the major over the cable we were then laying, to the effect that he had seen a herd of deer from the window of his telegraph office that very morning, and, being a cable-ship man, and so not in league with the Ananiases of Tukuran, the major must fain believe him, whereupon he made some remarks not worthy of record.
Before leaving Tukuran one of the officers belonging to the Signal Corps well-nigh lost his reputation for veracity, or sobriety, by coming back to the ship one day with a most amazing tale as to some fish he had seen promenading—promenading, forsooth!—on the beach. Everyone was hilariously skeptical. Some shook their heads with mock commiseration and hinted darkly that much learning had made him mad, while still others wondered audibly how any man, no matter how vinaceous his tendencies, could have seen fish walk so early in the day. Only one among us all believed him, and she was obliged to—legally.
“Were they exercising for their health?” queried a scoffer, with what he was pleased to consider fine irony. “Undoubtedly,” responded the hitherto veracious one, with unabated good humour, “though perhaps one might more truthfully say they were walking less to gain an appetite than to find the means wherewith to satisfy it.” He then described these piscatorial pedestrians as small, dark fish with little bead-like eyes in the top of their heads, and a blunt nose—he called it a nose, I am not guilty. Moreover, their ventral fins were largely developed, and by this means the fish hopped, or rather, hitched along the sand, after the manner of seals.
It was a preposterous tale, and nothing would do but that the cable-ship Munchausen should take a party ashore where all might witness the fish of Tukuran taking a constitutional on the beach, after the manner of the oysters in “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” Nothing daunted, the officer agreed to the proposition, and so confident was he that even Mrs. Munchausen became less apologetically sure of his infallibility. But on our arrival at the beach, not a fish was to be seen, and loud was the laughter at both Munchausens, and numerous the jokes at their expense.
However, the tide going out a little later discovered on the wet sand a multitude of small walking-fish, and thus spared a reputation, and at the same time saved to science a story that else might have been laughed out of existence. Text-books tell of India’s walking-fish, but I have been able to find nothing as to the walking-fish of the Philippines. In Luzon, during the rainy season, it is no uncommon sight to see natives casting their nets in the overflowed rice-fields, though perhaps but a few days before the ground there had been caked hard and dry from the sun. In this latter instance, it is more than probable that the fish do not walk back and forth, but bury themselves in the ground at the beginning of the hot season, remaining there until the first rains call them out in great numbers.
The Signal Corps found the trench at Tukuran a difficult problem in that it had to be dug down a very steep hill leading from the stone-enclosed fort to the beach, but by evening of the first day this was accomplished, and the shore end laid and buoyed. The next morning we left Tukuran, seeking better soundings than we had at first obtained, but finding the water nearly as deep in one place as another, it was decided to leave at sunrise on the following day and lay the cable as best we could.
All went well until late in the afternoon, when communication with Tukuran was suddenly interrupted, whereupon we hauled in several miles of cable, and coming upon the fault, cut it out and “spoke” Tukuran. By this time it was so late that the Signal Corps realized it would be impossible to sight the buoy at Flecha Point that night, though it was then but fifteen knots away, and so we lay to until morning.
As it was out of the question for the heavy cable to hang pendent from the stern of the ship all night at the mercy of the propeller; and as the three buoys were in use, there was one thing only to be done, and that was to fasten the cable to a small boat, with enough men to keep the craft bailed of water. It was a more hazardous proceeding than it sounds, for had a heavy squall come up, the boat, with nearly a ton of cable fastened to it, would surely have sunk. But notwithstanding this, one of the civilian cable experts, the able cable seaman, and three natives spent a most uncomfortable night afloat.
Before leaving the ship, the Americans joked about their possible fate, as Americans will, while the natives, on going down the gangway, crossed themselves and commended their souls to the Virgin, each race brave and stout-hearted in its own fashion. To be sure, they carried with them life-preservers and signals in case of accident, while the ship stayed as near the little twinkling lights on the small boat as possible, like some big mother hen hovering over her only chick.
The next morning the buoy at Flecha Point was picked up, the splice made, and the journey to Zamboanga continued. On the afternoon of February 21st, after making the final splice twelve miles out, we sailed into the harbour, to learn that the cable was working successfully in every detail, and that the natives of the town were overjoyed to be in communication with the world. The great event was celebrated on board by a jolly dinner, to which many officers from shore were bidden, after which we sat up on the quarter-deck until very late, exchanging home news and gossip some six or seven weeks old, while a round and red tropic moon hung in the heavens like a Japanese lantern, and the torchlights of innumerable fishing smacks bobbed up and down, as the natives speared for fish in the dark waters of the bay.
The next morning was Washington’s Birthday, in honour of which the ship was dressed, and, more wonderful still, a holiday declared for all hands aboard, the first one since leaving Manila, This was principally due to the fact that at this particular juncture a day more or less made no appreciable difference in the outcome, while at Christmas and New Year’s every moment was of import.
Even before sunrise the natives were astir in preparation for the great event. All of them discarded their tarred clothing, appearing in natty white “Americanos” and dinky straw hats, while some even sported swagger sticks. In the Philippines any white suit which consists of well fitting trousers and a coat buttoning up to the throat, as contradistinguished from baggy pantaloons with a camisa worn on the outside, is called by the natives an “Americano,” and is by them greatly admired from a sartorial standpoint.
Nearly all the Signal Corps employees, being men of social standing because of their really princely salaries, fifteen gold dollars a month, sported such suits, which with the addition of stockings and neat tan shoes, instead of bare feet thrust carelessly into chinelas, gave them the appearance of belonging to the native four hundred, any one of them looking eligible for the high office of presidente or secretario. There must have been many a flutter under modest panuelas when the sixty young swells struck Zamboanga that day, with money sufficient to buy unlimited sorbetas and the little rice potas so dear to the heart of Philippine maidens.
The jackies having shore leave were most picturesque, and, alas, hot as well, in their blue flannel suits, with the round sailor cap set at a jaunty angle on their heads; while the Signal Corps soldiers and hospital men in fresh khaki, the officers in crisp duck, and the women freshly starched and ironed, gave a holiday aspect even beyond that of the fluttering flags aloft, as the ship had been dressed both on Chrismas Day and New Year’s, although the work had gone on with unabated energy.
Indeed, some of the Irish sailors in the forecastle were overheard talking together that morning, one of them saying, as he rammed his tobacco down hard in his pipe with anticipatory joy in the smoke to come:
“Sure, not that I am complainin’ at the same, but will anny of yez tell me why the ship’s a-flutter with flags, and the lads all given a holiday, and that old coffee-mill of a cable machine stopped grinding for the once?”
“Because,” answered a comrade with an expressive wink, “it’s Garge’s birthday, Garge Washington, you know, the daddy of his counthry!”
“Oh, to be sure!” responded the other, meditatively, taking a whiff or two at his pipe to see that it was really lighted before he threw the match overboard. “To be sure! And it’s a great mon that same Garge must have bin, a great mon, Dinnis. Sure, St. Pathrick himself couldn’t touch him with a shillaly.”
And for why?” demanded several Irishmen, truculently, their ire aroused at the invidiousness of the allusion.
“Because St. Pathrick, God love him, aint never been counted as ranking alongside of Christ, and this here Garge Washington seems to be of more importance than ayther of thim. Why, on Christmas we didn’t have no holiday—divil a bit of it—just a bite more to ate for dinner, with no shore leave, and the haythens working us and working thimsilves all day as if it had been an ordinary Chuesday ’stead of Christmas, which is Christ’s birthday, while on Garge’s birthday the whole ship cilibrates. Ah, he certainly must have bin a great mon, that same Garge.”
But notwithstanding our philosopher’s grumble, he enjoyed his shore leave to the utmost, and he and Dennis came back on the evening boat hilarious as could be and reciprocally dependent upon one another for support.
That morning Datto Mandi, the Rajah Muda or heir to the Sultanate of Mindanao, came on board to pay his respects to the Powers-that-Be. The datto was accompanied by his wife, for notwithstanding he is a Mohammedan, he has but one, and the wife of his Philippine foster-brother, besides a large retinue of followers and slaves. He also brought with him a band, and as a rival orchestra had come out earlier, we stationed the first one in the bow of the ship, and the datto’s musicians in the stern.
All would have been well had not a spirit of emulation caused the bands to play different selections at one and the same time, resulting in a discordant war of notes and the death of harmony. Peace was restored by some native rushing valiantly to the front and forcibly stopping the band on the forward deck, after which each set of musicians waited, with no little impatience, its turn to play, and after once getting the floor, or in this case the deck, held it longer than was quite parliamentary.
The datto proved himself a most delightful man, with an earnest, sensitive face and a manner indicative of such innate refinement that we found ourselves most favourably contrasting him with some of the Tagalog and Visayan dignitaries already met.
It is said that after Spain’s evacuation, and before the arrival of American troops in the southern islands, several insurgent leaders proposed to resist the landing of Americans in Zamboanga. Datto Mandi and the Philippine presidente of the town, knowing that the American government was unlike that of Spain, and realizing what an overwhelming defeat such a project would ultimately receive, although the first enterprise might meet with success, did all in their power to quell these martial aspirations.
Failing in this, war was declared, and the presidente, surrounded by a loyal few, and Datto Mandi with his numerous Moro followers, drove the insurgents from town. Meanwhile the wives and children of these belligerents would have starved had it not been for the datto, who, notwithstanding the difference in their faith, looked after them all, until the discomfited warriors returned to more peaceful pursuits.
On the first anniversary of the Americans’ arrival in Zamboanga, a great fiesta was held. It began, as all feast-days should begin, with high mass in the cathedral, after which the Mohammedans joined their Christian friends in games and cock-fights. Verily, Datto Mandi and the presidente had been right, Americans were unlike the Spaniards, and Zamboanga had never experienced so peaceful a year in all her history. Small wonder the fiesta was a success, and that the “Viva America’s” were uttered from full hearts. But it is primarily to Datto Mandi and the presidente that the people of Zamboanga should be grateful. Citizens of the world these men are, and statesmen, too, although their sphere is comparatively circumscribed.
The presidente was ill while we were in Zamboanga, his condition being so critical that none of us saw him, but one day while we were driving around the outskirts of the town, our coachman drew up his horses with a great flourish before a pretty vine-embowered house.
“Why are you stopping here?” I demanded, a trifle sharply, for heads had appeared at various windows and the situation was becoming embarrassing. The coachman turned with a dignified gesture, if one can look dignified in a shirt thin as mosquito-netting.
“It is the house of the presidente,” he said, in an injured tone. “Every American who comes to Zamboanga wishes to be driven here. He is a very great man, the presidente.”
I agreed with him heartily, if somewhat hastily, and then prevailed upon him to drive on, which he did with melancholy resignation, disapproval expressed in every line of his body, which, from his box, was outlined strongly against the sky through the thin white camisa, embroidered as daintily as a girl’s ball gown.
But to return to the datto. On the morning of his visit to the Burnside he wore a white “Americano” suit and white shoes, as, indeed, did most of his followers, one of the men topping off this very conventional attire with a magnificent red, green, and purple turban which he did not once remove while aboard ship. The headgear of the Moros consists entirely of turbans, fezes, or soft tam-o’-shanters, the latter a compromise, I fancy, between the hats of civilization and the head-covering demanded by the Moslem religion.
The datto’s wife was a shy little woman, with an unusually sweet voice and big, startled brown eyes, which gave her an indescribably pathetic look. She wore her hair straight back from a high, round forehead, and coiled it neatly at the top of her head. Her features were smaller and more regular than those of the average native, and her pearl earrings seemed an integral part of herself. Her frock, made after a European model—and very far after, I am obliged to admit—fitted badly, and she eyed our summer gowns with polite interest, evidently taking notes for a readjustment of her own wardrobe at home.
Unlike other Moro women, her teeth were white, the Zamboanga officers telling us she had the black enamelling removed after American occupation of the town; and the only thing about her that would have attracted attention at an American gathering was the fact that several finger-nails on her very small hands were long, almost as long again as from the first knuckle of the finger to the finger-tip, indicating that she was a Moro of high caste and did no manual labour of any kind. Her clumsy Spanish slippers covered feet small as a child’s, and her manner, while shy, was quite calm and dignified.
Of course the party was taken around the ship, and all expressed a polite interest and appreciation of what was shown them, although there was far less enthusiasm than when the more volatile Tagalog or Visayan had seen the wonders of electricity for the first time. To be sure, the datto himself had been to Spain, but we were told his wife had never been away from Mindanao, nor had many of his followers travelled more extensively than to Manila and back again; notwithstanding which they refused to be impressed or render indiscriminate approbation, however astounding, admirable, or strange the marvels might appear.
Only the Philippine sister-in-law lacked self-control and talked volubly, grabbing the datto’s wife by the hand, and expressing herself excitedly in unintelligible Spanish or Zamboanganese, which is a mixture of Castilian, Visayan, and Malay, Once, in an excess of emotion, she almost hugged me. I think it was on first seeing the wonders of a bathroom, and several times she came near enthusing the passive little “dattoess.”
A view of Zamboanga
But this princess of the blood always controlled herself just in time, and managed to look as indifferent as possible. Her dispassionate attitude launched me into wild tales of Farthest America, wherein thirty-storied buildings, elevated and underground railways, beautiful theatres and parks, cars which ran without horses or steam, and millions of inhabitants produced no impression whatsoever, my most improbable tale being received with a diffident condescension, equalled only by the metrical repose that stamps the caste of Vere de Vere. Given a few months in New York or Paris, and Mindanao’s future Sultana would bloom like a rose in manners and millinery, for, despite her reserve, she is adaptable and what the Spaniards call simpática.
Datto Mandi was frankly pleased with what he saw, though unenthusiastic, and he compared Spanish methods of government with American administration much to our advantage, saying tersely and epigrammatically that the Spaniards promised much and accomplished little, while the Americans promised little and accomplished much. In speaking of the cable, one of the Signal Corps officers told the Rajah Muda that it was a gift of half a million pesos from the United States to the Philippine Islands, at which the datto was obviously impressed. He translated this bit of information into Malay for the benefit of his followers, the monetary item seeming to have a profound effect upon them all, even the little wife showing a decided interest at the thought of that slimy rubber garden hose costing such a lot of silver dollars.
Just at noon we stood on the bridge while a national salute was fired from the forward gun. Twenty-one times the hills around Zamboanga reverberated to the warlike sound, and twenty-one times the excitable little sister-in-law squealed with a pleasurable terror. “Madame Mandi” lost none of her serenity, but she did not like the cannonading, and covered both ears to shut out the sound. Moreover, she turned her back upon the guns, explaining that she feared their flash might make her blind. Meanwhile the datto and his followers stood calmly and unflinchingly erect with uncovered heads, to show their respect for that great American, George Washington, who little thought that in the first year of the twentieth century his birthday would be celebrated on American territory ten thousand miles away from the United States.
That night we dined on shore with the commanding officer, and though the mess china, silver, and napery were not of the best, the dinner was one to remember in one’s prayers. Moreover, it was extremely well served by swift and noiseless Chinese servants, who poured the wine at the psychologic moment, and needed no premonitory lift of the eyebrows to remind them when a course should be taken out or brought in. Throughout the repast the regimental band played patriotic airs, and only the consciousness of being at a formal dinner in our best clothes restrained us from humming the music or beating time to it with fork or spoon.
The table was decorated with an ornate floral design in the centre, from which trailed wreaths of green to every plate. It was extremely effective, and I spoke of it to one of the hosts, who told me in a whisper that he had been rather astonished earlier in the evening by the gorgeousness of these decorations, especially as there were no florists in Zamboanga, and on asking one of the Chinamen where he had obtained the flowers, was not a little startled to hear that they had been stolen from a neighbouring cemetery. I looked with admiration upon this resourceful Celestial, and then felt mildly irritated at the completeness of the whole ménage. Dinners by men always exasperate me. They show so clearly how unnecessary women really are in the scheme of domestic existence.
After our black coffee and liqueur, we sat out on the broad cahida, or covered veranda running around three sides of the house, and watched the rockets from the shore and ship replying to each other in the clear, starlit night, while a theatrical-looking moon came up slowly out of the bay, leaving a trail of red light on the rippling water.
The next morning we planned to call on Datto Mandi and his wife, having promised ourselves that pleasure the afternoon before, but the day dawned so fiercely hot that I, for one, rather wilted in my resolutions, until business called my especial Signal Corps officer to town, whereupon I yielded to his persuasion and accompanied him, the other members of the party having left the ship some hours before.
On disembarking, we turned directly into the Mohammedan quarter. This is just beyond the bay to the south, and the several streets teemed with Moro inhabitants, the men and women in their gaily coloured clothes making the place more like a water-colour sketch than ever. On the banks of one of the many streams that intersect the town, bathers clad in a single garment held stone jars of water above their heads and let the contents slowly trickle down over the entire body. On the steps beside them coloured stuffs were spread to dry in the sun, giving an added splash of green and red to the already variegated landscape.
Reaching the datto’s house, we found it decorated gaily in the Moro colours for our reception, while at the top of the stairs stood the future Sultana, petite and self-possessed, but with more animation than on the previous day. She was genuinely glad to see us, and from the sala we could hear the voices of our friends who had preceded us.
“So sorry we are late,” I said with sudden compunction, for the decorations told their tale, and then, as airily as I could in Spanish, “Did you think we were not coming?” The future Sultana smiled her sweet, grave smile. “No, indeed,” she said; “you promised you would come, and Americans never break their word.” The Rajah Muda came out just then and spared my guilty blushes.
Street scene Zamboanga
He, too, was delighted to see us, and the little sister-in-law bobbed about like a distracted butterfly, while the prospective Sultana grew almost effusive in her gracious hospitality, and as we sat down in the sala, reached over and gave my hand a little shy caress. She was so very pleased that we had come.
This sala, or drawing-room, was a spacious apartment, and had evidently been arranged by the Philippine sister-in-law, as it was an exact counterpart of those in all native houses. There was little in the room save chairs and tables, and these were all of black bamboo arranged in two long sociable rows from every window. Between the chairs stood an occasional table, suggestive of something eatable or drinkable to come, and on every table and nearly every chair were sepulchral looking antimacassars of macreme cord.
Swarms of servants and slaves hung around in every available door, all of them in Moro costume, with the exception of the small children, and they were legion, who revelled in the luxury of bare brown skins, and, strange to say, did not look at all undressed, as would Caucasian children under similar conditions, the dark skins rather suggesting a spontaneous covering.
These retainers of Datto Mandi seemed eminently happy, and from all we could learn, slavery among the Moros is a sort of feudal state, the slaves having many privileges and considering themselves always as members of the family to which they belong. They live their own lives to a great degree, marry, and bring up their children, seeming to be considered more as followers than servants. This probably is less true of slaves by conquest, but the hereditary bondsman likes his fetters and would doubtless feel ill-used were he forced to work for his sustenance rather than receive it at the hands of a liberal master.
Two or three of the long, skirt-like sarongs the little woman tried on then and there, that we might get the effect of them when worn; and with her creamy skin and big, dark eyes, she looked so attractive in the barbaric colours that we could not resist telling her the Moro dress was even more becoming than the European.
She shook her head deprecatingly at this, that she might not appear critical of our wearing-apparel, but she stroked each native garment wistfully as if she loved it, and smiled at our approval of the picture she made standing there in the big, sunlit room, the gaily coloured jabuls scattered about her on the polished floor, and one more gorgeous than the rest wrapped loosely around her, yet not quite hiding the European cut of her sleeve and collar. On every side stood women slaves watching their mistress and her guests with amused wonder, while the little sister-in-law became more voluble than ever and told us there were no jabuls in all Mindanao so handsome as these.
About this time the young daughter of the house was brought in and introduced to the American visitors. She was an attractive girl of eleven, the oldest of four children, and her dark eyes shone with suppressed excitement as she shook everybody’s hand with a gracious little manner, and answered our many questions in her pretty, hesitating Spanish. She was a dear little thing, and comely even from an American standpoint, with her dark eyes, thick, dark hair hanging in a braid far below her slender waist, and a faint rose tint in her dusky cheeks. She and Half-a-Woman were of a size, although the little Moro was full two years the older, and a very pretty picture the children made, struggling through the medium of their imperfect Spanish to arrive at a starting-point of mutual interest—dusky daughter of the East and fair little maid of the West.
Despite the datto’s wine-forbidden code of ethics, whiskey and soda were passed to the men, as well as fine cigars and cigarettes; and when we finally left it was to be followed to the launch in real Arabian Nights style by two picturesque slaves carrying gifts for us all from the future Sultan and Sultana of Mindanao—jabuls magnificently embroidered, hand-woven turbans, and knives with silver handles—truly right royal gifts and charming mementos of a very charming visit.
The next day, February 24th, we left Zamboanga for Sulu, laying cable as we went, instead of having to take soundings first, the charts in this one instance being reliable. As it was the dark of the moon, however, we made the journey very slowly, having to anchor each night and cut and buoy the cable to prevent its fouling. By eight o’clock every morning the buoy was picked up, the splice made, and we were under way for another uninterrupted run of ten hours, which brought us into the harbour of Sulu on the afternoon of Tuesday, February 26th.
That popular opera “The Sultan of Sulu” has made the island of Sulu one of the most-talked-of places on the map of our new possessions, but in the Philippines it is rarely called Sulu, being better known by its Moro name of Jolo, this being pronounced with the accent on the last syllable, so that it sounds not unlike that vulgar salutation of our Western World, “Hello!”
As first seen from our quarter-deck the village of Sulu was a thing of beauty, with its vivid tints of green and gold and amethyst, its red-sailed boats on the sunlit bay, and over all the strongly blue sky. Nor was this enchantment due entirely to distance, for on going ashore in the late afternoon, we found the town even more attractive than we had thought it from the sea.
On drawing up to the pier in the ship’s launch, all were surprised to find it built solidly of brick and stone, a rare departure in these waters, while at one side rose a round watch-tower, the architectural evidence of Spain’s ultimate victory, after numerous and heart-breaking failures, in establishing a fort at Sulu. Above this watch-tower, which might have been taken bodily from the stage-setting for a melodrama, floated Old Glory against the sunset sky; Moro fishing-boats, the breeze in their crimson sails, dotted the flushed bay; and to the north and east small, detached islands, tinged with a translucent purple like the skin of a grape, faded into the horizon.
Within the town’s mediæval loopholed walls everything adds to this picturesque effect, for the streets are laid out in broad boulevards, with here and there a park or plaza, riotous with bloom; the houses are large and well built, there being no nipa shacks within the four walls, and the only church of the place is refreshingly simple in design.
During our first morning ashore we visited the market, and found it a most interesting sight. The Moros, in their parti-coloured raiment, were squatted on the ground in a great circle, buying or selling fruits and vegetables, while under a covered shed at one end of the plaza stood those dealing in fish and crustaceans of all kinds.
These marketmen were eminently good to look upon from an artistic standpoint, and as they lounged around in groups or singly, one longed to imprison them on canvas in all the gorgeousness of their tropical colouring. One fishmonger, whom I especially remember, sported a ravishing costume, consisting of bright green trousers, skin-tight of course, a purple coat, and a high peaked hat of silver, gilt, and crimson. He might better have been in comic opera than in the humble occupation of selling crabs and lobsters.
The Pier at Sulu
The Moro women were particularly interested in the Burnside feminine contingent, but not to the extent of dogging our footsteps as did the natives elsewhere, several American women in town having helped satiate their curiosity. But they stared at us, nevertheless, with a deep and absorbing interest, the quartermaster’s wife, as usual, being the cynosure of all eyes, because of her exceptional height and slenderness, not to mention that astounding walking-skirt, which had apparently grown upon her, there being no visible means by which it could be put on and off.
It was that morning most of us saw for the first time the durian, of malodorous fame, whose taste is said to be as delicious as its smell is overpowering. The fruit was for sale in the market at a few pennies apiece, and had banishment from Sulu not been threatened as a punishment, I should certainly have tasted one, that I might more accurately describe it.
“If you’re bound to eat one of those nasty durians,” said a friend living in the town, “please take it on the ship and have the captain anchor out farther at sea. If you attempt to open one here, you’ll have the Sanitation Committee after you hotfoot!”
So I desisted, but looked at the durians so wistfully that the Moros put them down in price to a penny apiece, evidently thinking that monetary considerations prohibited the purchase.
In appearance the durian is green and prickly, about the size of a small melon, and even through the tough outside rind one can notice a faint nauseating odour. It is said that when one is opened in the market it takes but a few moments to clear the vicinity of Americans, while if a man be courageous enough to brave the strong smell and take a bite of the fruit, his presence will be unwelcome in polite society for some time thereafter; yet the durian is delightful to the palate, and would doubtless be oftener eaten did not one become so steeped in its anything but Sabean odour.
That first morning in Sulu, after a jolly breakfast with some of our army friends, a post officer took me into the Moro village of Tuli, just south of the walled town. There we visited many native house, climbing up steps made of circular logs, which were hard to navigate in shoes, and in every instance the natives greeted us with the utmost cordiality.
In one of the tumble-down shacks near the sea we found the Sultana, Inchy Jamela, mother of the present Sultan, who had preceded her son to Sulu on a little visit. She was a most repulsive old hag, blear-eyed and skinny with blackened teeth, from which the thin lips curled away in a chronic snarl, but she rose on her elbow from the couch where she was reclining, and shook hands in good American fashion. Then she threw us each a pillow, indicating that we, too, should lie down and take it easy, but we preferred our perpendicularity, and sat upright on the edge of her couch, this being the only article of furniture in the room.
As the old lady could not speak Spanish, she leered at us pleasantly from where she lay, occasionally muttering something in her native tongue, that might have been a tribute to our charms of mind or person, but which sounded more like an incantation. I felt she was a veritable witch, and at any moment expected to find myself changed into some animal or other under the baleful light of her eyes. If she had said, “Rumpelstilzchen, rumpelstilzchen,” or any other cabalistic thing the witches in our fairy tales used to say, I should not have been surprised; and I tried to smile as pleasantly as I knew how, for fear she would think me bad tempered, and so change my every word into frogs and toads, instead of diamonds and rubies.
After a particularly scintillating burst of silence the Sultana offered me some buyo, or betel-nut, to chew, and on my refusing it, placidly put a large hunk into her own mouth, and chewed it until the red juice stained her lips as if she were suffering from a hemorrhage.
The dais on which she lounged was as large as a small room, and was raised about three feet from the ground, it being covered with pillows and hand-woven mats of straw and bamboo. Around this thronelike couch were grouped her slaves and attendants, all armed with barongs and krises stuck into their wide sash belts, and attired in many-coloured garments that gave one the impression, both from fit and odour, of being on terms of long and close acquaintance with their wearers. The inevitable naked, brown babies staggered around the room, their little stomachs, in many instances, being swelled frightfully from a diet of too much rice and fish.
When the Sultana wanted privacy a drapery of red and white stuff, hung from the ceiling, could be let down, but otherwise she was constantly in the presence of her slaves and retainers, having the alternative of being smothered to death in privacy or bored to death in plenty of fresh air. We were told the Sultana was a power in the State and a diplomatist of no mean order, but it was hard to believe this in the royal presence, unwashed and unlovely as it was. Still, I remember seeing in a Philadelphia paper that some American living in Sulu had described the Sultana as being “an agreeable, refined, and charming Oriental diplomat.” Her personality was quoted as most attractive, “uniting a rare combination of Oriental elegance and modern grace.” She would be, it was said, in bearing and appearance, a credit to an American drawing-room.
Heaven forbid! Unless the writer possibly meant that after due training she would grace the drawing-room in cap and apron, wielding a duster in lieu of her inherited rod of empire.
On the day of our visit, Her Majesty was attired in garments of decided dinginess, soiled and faded, with here and there an ill-made patch, or perhaps a fresh hole, like a gaping wound, in the cloth. But it is said that on the grand occasions when she honours the post with her presence, she is attired in a splendour before which the lilies of the field wilt with envy. Rainbow effects predominate, and much gilt and silver embroidery, the ravishing impression being further enhanced by a pair of white cotton mitts drawn over her bird-claw hands. On these occasions of state the Sultana rides into town on the back of a slave, with another slave holding a parasol over her august head, and accompanied by several outriders, or rather outwalkers, attired in few clothes of many colours.
The Sultan, too, rides pickaback when he comes to town, and as it is considered a great privilege for a Moslem to have kissed the Sultan’s hand or foot, he is often gracious enough to sit astride a slave’s shoulders in some public place, the palms of his hands and the soles of his bare feet obligingly outstretched, so that the thronging people can come by fours and do homage to his state as expeditiously as possible.
One of the officers stationed in Sulu told us of a hunting trip which he and several other men had taken with the Sultan and a high-ranking datto, a royal hunt through royal preserves. To the intense amusement of the Americans, the Moros insisted on taking their respective harems with them on the chase, and at night all slept in one large room, the three factions being separated only by curtains around raised platforms.
For some time the harems and their respective lords called back and forth to each other quite audibly, until the officers, worn out with their day’s shooting, fell asleep. About midnight the Americans were awakened by such frightful shrieks and blood-curdling yells that each instinctively felt for his revolver or rifle, fearing an attack from the fanatical Moslems. It transpired, however, that it was only a slave girl singing the Sultan to sleep! The officer described this musical effort as a most hideous uproar, saying that a note would be held almost to the bursting point, the breath being regained by an agonized, strangled sob, or else a bar would be yelled explosively between hissing, indrawn breaths, the effect not conforming to the laws of harmony as understood by Europeans.
On other hunting trips, when the Americans had been accompanied by Moro guides, great difficulty was found in procuring food suited to Mohammedan restrictions, the Moros even refusing bread because there might be lard in it, or because they had seen the soldier cooks grease the pans with that abomination; sardines were also prohibited for fear they had been soaked in animal fat; and bacon was of course accursed.
The officers were in despair until one old Moro came across some cans of baked beans among the rations. Beans! Assuredly a clean vegetable, and as such to be partaken of freely. So there they sat, good Moslems all, regaling themselves out of cans marked plainly on their gaudy labels, “Pork and Beans.” Moreover, they averred that the American article had an exceptionally fine Bavour, not in the least like the Philippine variety!
So strong is the Moros’ aversion to even touching pork, that while they will guide Americans where boar may be found, they themselves will take no part in the sport nor help carry the game home, and even when offered American prices a pound for the meat, that representing fabulous wealth to a Moro, he will not defile himself by so much as selling it.
Mr. Dean C. Worcester, in his delightful book, “The Philippine Islands,” gives a most interesting legend in explanation of the Moros’ aversion to pork. He says he made numerous attempts in Mindanao, Basilan, and Sulu to find out the origin of this curious distaste, but without avail, until one day the minister of justice, under “his Excellency Paduca Majasari Malauna Amiril Mauinin Sultan Harun Narrasid,” committed a bibulous indiscretion, and when the vivifying spirits were well amalgamated with his own he contributed the following narrative:
“Jesus Christ, called by the Moros Isa, was a man like ourselves, but great, and good, and very powerful. He was not a son of God. The Moros hate and kill the Christians because they teach that men could punish and kill a son of God.
“Mohamoud had a grandson and a grand-daughter, of whom he was very fond. As he was king of the world, Christ came to his house to visit him. Mohamoud, jealous of him, told him to prove his power by ‘divining’ what he had in a certain room, where, in fact, were his grandchildren. Christ replied that he had no wish to prove his power, and would not ‘divine’ (divinar). Mohamoud then vowed that if he did not answer correctly, he should pay for it with his life. Christ responded, ‘You have two animals in there, different from anything else in the world.’ Mohamoud replied, ‘No, you are wrong, and I will now kill you.’ Christ said, ‘Look first, and see for yourself.’ Mohamoud opened the door, and out rushed two hogs, into which Christ had changed his grandchildren.
“Moros are forbidden to tell this story to infidels, because it shows that Christ outwitted the great prophet. When my informant sobered up and realized what he had done, he hung around day after day, beseeching me not to let any one know what he had done, from which fact I inferred that he thought he had told me the truth, and not a fable invented for the occasion.
That first morning in Sulu, after having paid our respects to the Sultana, we called upon the next greatest personage in town, a Hadji but lately returned from his pilgrimage to Mecca. He was a most intelligent man, with regular features, fine eyes, and a flowing beard, impressively patriarchal. He was a priest as well as a Hadji, and, we were told, had a mighty following among the faithful. Both he and his wife were most hospitable in their manner and courteous in their speech, she beaming toothlessly upon us throughout the call, and as we left they pressed upon me a handful of rather rare shells as a memento of the visit.
The small boy of the family, a youngster of seven or eight, stared at us continually from the moment of our entrance into the house until our exit, seeming especially taken with the young officer; so much so, in fact, that on our leaving, he followed us to the door, and there climbed upon a high seat, from which point of vantage he seized the young man’s hand, kissed it very reverently, and then laid it against his forehead. This was all done so solemnly and with such a calm dignity that even the youngster’s entire lack of raiment could not detract from its impressiveness or the significance of the action. It was evident that he imagined the big, blond lieutenant was a Serif, a direct descendant of Mohammed, or perhaps even a Habi, which means a Serif who has been to Mecca, or a Hadji and Serif in one, than whom none but the Sultan is so great, so good, so omnipotent. I dared not laugh at the child’s earnestness, though I had some trouble in controlling my risibles, the aforesaid young officer not having a reputation for excessive holiness.
The Moro school for boys, Sulu.
Long before reaching the Moro school for boys, which we next visited, we could hear the voices of the pupils in a treble uproar, for they all and individually studied aloud, rocking back and forth in their seats, so that at first the sound was an unintelligible jumble, which finally resolved itself into bits of the multiplication table, detached letters of the alphabet, and pages from geography or history.
As we entered the door, the scholars looked up expectantly from their work, glad of an interruption, and at a sign from one of the Mohammedan teachers, they sprang to their feet with the uniformity of a machine, fairly yelling their “Good morning” at us. Fine little lads they were, all being of Moro, Chinese, or Filipino stock, with here and there a fascinating combination of the three nationalities in one.
Of course the children were put through their paces for us, and, as each recited in turn, he would preface his remarks by a profound bow and a little speech, the words of these formal introductions being exactly alike, as if ground out by a phonograph, and beginning “Ladies and Gentlemen,” till I wondered if perhaps the children saw us double. They were not in the least abashed, these little savages, and in their quaint English recited selections from Eugene Field and James Whitcomb Riley, some of these efforts being in dialect, which must have been a trifle puzzling to one not acquainted with the vagaries of the language.
Finally an arithmetical problem on the board caught my eye, and was surreptitiously transferred to my note-book for future reference. It ran something like this: “A poor old lady owns one thousand cents. She loses 189 of the cents. How many left has she?” The master, observing my interest in the financial difficulties of the aged and destitute lady, had the little slates brought up that I might see there were still 811 pennies to her credit. I inquired of some of the boys how much 811 pennies put into dollars and cents would amount to, but all were so visibly embarrassed that I, remembering my own mathematically tortured childhood, desisted before the schoolmaster could hear. On leaving, the boys again jumped up as one, and shouted their unanimous “Good-bye,” and long after we were out of sight, we could hear their high young voices studying aloud, each for himself, and apparently undisturbed by the scholastic outburst of his neighbour.
Half a mile outside the walled garrison of Sulu, to the west, is a strong outpost built of stone, and still farther out yet another. These outposts are always occupied by American soldiers, not originally because of any expected trouble with the Moros, but because if our men did not occupy them the Moros would, thus giving them an almost invincible stronghold against us in case of some sudden fanatical uprising. Among the Moros, as in Granada, “Love laughs with a grip on the knife,” and preparedness is as essential as good government.
Near these outposts may be seen some very fine kitchen gardens, kept by the frugal Celestial, the Chinaman of Sulu being much more energetic commercially than the Moro. It is from the “Chino” the American housewife buys her fresh fruits and vegetables, while the Moros bring in fish and the Filipinos chicken and game, thus ensuring a well-stocked larder independent of the supply-ships from Manila. In fact, so delightful a place is Sulu, that if fever were not prevalent there at some seasons of the year, it would be a veritable Paradise; but even the sanitary measures taken by the great Spanish General Arolas have not quite stamped out that scourge to white men, which long made Sulu the most undesirable military station in the islands.
Everybody in the Philippines knows the story of General Arolas, and of how, at the close of a brief republican administration in Spain, he was practically banished to Sulu, there to die by fever or be killed by the Moros. But Arolas, instead of settling down into an inactive life awaiting what seemed the inevitable, occupied himself in building up the town, fortifying it strongly, and at the same time making it more beautiful by laying it out in broad streets and avenues, interspersed at regular intervals with flowering squares and plazas. By draining these streets well, building water-works, and establishing a fine new market, he changed its reputation as a fever hole and made Sulu one of the most desirable stations in the south. By his relentless attitude he gained the respect and fear of the Moros, and only once during his administration did a fanatical Juramentado gain access to the town.
But Arolas was probably less popular with the Mohammedans than was the American officer in command at the time of our visit. Indeed, he had been legally adopted by the royal family, the fierce old Sultana calling him “Brother,” and the Sultan referring to him as “Papa,” while a greater proof of their affection may be found in this extract of a letter written to General MacArthur on the Moros being told that they were soon to lose their first American governor.
“ ... I hereby bring to your notice that I have heard that our father, Major Sweet, Governor of Jolo, will be taken away from us. This is the reason of my writing to you, because you are the parent of the Moro people, and it is known to us that you will always do your best for us, as you have done hitherto. Therefore, I beg to you anyhow for the present not to remove Major Sweet from here, as he has been very good to us, and he is very well known to everybody. He is like a parent to us Moro people. It will be just like a child who is left by his parents; he will fret and be longing for the one he loves; the Moro people are the same way. Even if somebody else would come, it would not be the same, as he would be unknown; he will be another man for that reason. To tell the truth, our father, Major Sweet, has opened our eyes; he has been the man to show us the right way to come up to the white man’s ideas, and there are many cases where he has shown us his good-will. Therefore, I, the Sultan of the Jolo Archipelago, am seeking that whatever is good for my people. It is my sincerest wish that my country should go ahead.
“Since Major Sweet, our father, has been in command of Jolo Archipelago, no disturbance of any description has occurred; the reason is, that he has taken great interest in our country and its people. He was the man who saw our poverty, our incapability of paying customs duties, as more than one calamity has befallen our islands; therefore, we thank him and we trust him, although not knowing what he will do in the future, if it will change or not. Therefore, I and my people ask you to consider the removal of Major Sweet, we ask you to leave him here; we would like him to teach us the customs of the white people.”
This, signed by the Sultan himself, is surely documentary evidence of successful American adnistration with the Mohammedans, who were counted by the Spaniards as quite ungovernable.
Socially, we found Sulu delightful, and in our few days there had many pleasant dinners both on and off the ship, a little dance at the club-house, and a tennis tea. The women all wore pretty frocks, their houses were charming, and their servants as well trained as if they were living anywhere but on a dot of an island in the Sulu Sea. All of which goes to show what American women can do in all circumstances, especially army women. It was often hard to realize, while in Sulu, that just outside the house which encompassed our little civilization, barbarism lurked, but through the open windows one could see the Moros in their picturesque colours, the more soberly dressed Filipinos, and the thrifty Chinamen, with their long queues twisted up under their flat straw hats, while bits of conversation in all three tongues drifted in and mingled with our talk, as foreign to the American ear as was the tropical foliage to the American eye.
Of course we bought all sorts of curios before sailing, embroidered turbans, sarongs, jabuls, handsome krises, chow-covers of beautifully coloured straw, and hats of every variety, while one day, as an experiment in shopping, I bargained for a Moro slave, a handsome, black-eyed boy, but as he could not be purchased for less than ten dollars gold, I informed his owner that he was too expensive. This transaction was carried on with great seriousness by the elderly Mohammedan, while the youngster himself showed great interest in the proceedings, and looked a little disappointed when he found he was not to belong to the Americana after all.
Slave-raiding has of course been forbidden since American occupation, but the authorities have not yet been able to entirely do away with slave-trading, polygamy, nor other like peccadilloes, religious toleration being the password to the ultimate civilization of our new citizens.
Meanwhile the Signal Corps had entrenched the cable, and connected it by a short land line with the telegraph office, which was established in short order, everything being in perfect condition for the return trip to Zamboanga by the afternoon of the 28th. At daybreak on the following morning, we sailed for Zamboanga, only to find orders awaiting us there to proceed at once on a wrecking expedition to Bongao, on Bongao Island of the Tawi Tawi group, a small launch, the Maud, being foundered there on a coral reef. Thus were we hoist by our own petard, for over the cable just laid came the order postponing our return to Manila; but as it meant yet another chapter in a delightful experience, few of us were averse to that.
So, between nine and ten o’clock that night, we sailed for Tawi Tawi, passing east of Basilan and Sulu. The ship, relieved of nearly all its cable, rolled a great deal, both on our way up from Sulu and that first night out from Zamboanga, but on the two succeeding days the weather was calm, the air cool, and the “Sultan’s Sea” a gigantic mirror reflecting every cloud in the sky on its glassy surface. All on board were idle then, and every steamer chair on the quarter-deck was occupied.
On the first day out we saw no land at all, but the second day many coral groups appeared to the east and south of Bongao. Among others were Manuk Manuk, surely a name to conjure with! Then there was also Balambing, which on our ship chart was marked PIRATES! Think of sailing piratical seas in this prosaic twentieth century! We watched eagerly along the coast of Balambing, to which we passed very close, for possible crafts bearing black flags, and were rather disappointed at not seeing even one bearded highwayman of the sea, a gleaming knife between his teeth, his red shirt open at the throat, for, if I remember rightly, it was so that pirates were always drawn in the yellow-covered interdicted literature of childhood.
These southern waters were bluer than any we had seen on the trip, excepting over coral reefs, where the blue changed suddenly to a glittering iridescent green, sparkling and treacherous. This coral is eminently American in its habit of expansion, and has spread itself well over the southwest portion of the Celebes Sea.
Finally Tawi Tawi itself appeared on the horizon, and we recalled that deep in its heart, surrounded by vast forests and jungles, the faintly discernible ruins of Dungon exist, the ruins themselves covered by tremendous growths of trees. This was the ancient capital of the Moros, and there lie the remains of the first Arab Sultan, that fierce old missionary who brought the Koran in one hand and a kris in the other to spread the light of Islam. That his converts were many and their faith was strong and sure is attested by the universality of Mohammedanism in these southern islands, and the exclusive use of the Arabic characters in the writing of the people.
On the afternoon of March 3d, we anchored off Bongao. On our port side, and well forward, lay the wrecked Maud nearly filled with water. Altogether she was in a deplorable condition, but in a few days was raised by the combined efforts of our first officer, his crew, and the soldiers of the fort. Meanwhile, we were all idlers on the Burnside, and in consequence enjoyed our visit there to the utmost.
Despite the fact of its remoteness from civilization, or perhaps because of it, we found Bongao most attractive. Situated on a dot of an island belonging to the Tawi Tawi group, it is the southernmost part of our new possessions to be garrisoned. West of it Borneo looms up on the horizon, and to the south is Sibutu, for which Spain was paid a good round sum because certain gentlemen on the Paris Commission lacked geographic accuracy; while to the east and north are coral islands belonging to the same group as Bongao. The garrison is situated on a mountainous spur of land running down steeply to the water. It is laid out like a park, the soldiers’ quarters, hospital, library, and storehouses being of bamboo and nipa, over which the men have trained vines and creeping plants, while before each door bloom beds of bright flowers.
The officers’ quarters are built higher up on a wind-swept slope overlooking the bay, where it curves around the point of the island, and while these houses are picturesque from the outside, they are roughly finished within, the “banquet-hall,” as they dignified the mess, being especially al fresco. Over the extemporized sideboard, consisting of some rude shelves, on which were piled a heterogeneous collection of tinned fruits and vegetables, hung a motto which read “God Bless our Home. If you don’t like it, get out!” On the reverse side of this somewhat suggestive placard was the pleasing gastronomic intelligence, “Chicken to-day,” chicken forming the staple of diet at Bongao, as of course fresh meat is to be had only at the rarest intervals.
For six months at a stretch the monsoon blows across the coral peninsula in one direction, and then changes and blows six months in the opposite quarter, so that, as an officer stationed there remarked, one could take his choice and be blown off to the crocodiles in the bay or to the sharks in the sea outside. This high wind moderates the climate perceptibly, however, and notwithstanding the fact that Bongao is situated within five degrees of the equator, we found it exceptionally cool, and the officers and men in splendid physical condition.
There was but one company of infantry stationed at Bongao when we were there, comprising perhaps fifty men and three officers. Because of the two hundred miles of treacherous ocean between him and higher authority, the young captain acting as military governor was, so to speak, a small Czar, and he ruled an unique kingdom, untouched by civilization, and peopled entirely by ex-pirates or the descendants of pirates.
The official letter-book of this functionary, at which he allowed us to peep, read like a story of adventure, while some of his own personal experiences, and those of the former commanding officer, seem almost incredible when away from the glamour of the place. In the post records, sandwiched between such mundane things as requisitions for water-buckets or commissary supplies, one would read of atrocious murders committed by the Moros; piratical expeditions headed off, and their instigators punished; or attempted slave-raids against some neighbouring island.
Soldiers' quarters, Bongao
Under the date of February 21, 1900, a thrilling story was told, it being the official and unvarnished account of a disastrous hunting trip taken by five of the post soldiers, the dispassionate routine language but giving it verisimilitude; while the subsequent happenings serve to show what kind of government seems most to appeal to these people.
The story, as nearly as I can remember it, reads that five of the garrison soldiers were given permission to go to a neighbouring island of the Tawi Tawi group on a hunting expedition after wild boar. Relations with the Moros on that island having been, at least, nominally friendly, there was not the slightest hesitation in granting the soldiers’ request, particularly as there had been no fresh meat in the garrison for some time.
The men left in a rowboat and spent the first few hours in Balambing, an ex-pirate community, where they were entertained in the best Moro fashion, leaving amidst mutual expressions of regret and good-will. The Moros’ love for firearms is well known, and about ten of them were so taken with the soldiers’ rifles that they accompanied the party, ostensibly to act as guides, but in reality to witness the sport. Delayed by a strong tide running to windward, they camped that night on a lonely beach, both Americans and Moros in the best possible humour.
After a supper cooked over the camp-fire, all the soldiers, with the exception of one man who was preparing for bed, indulged in a game of cards, the Moros watching the proceeding with apparent interest, but talking a great deal among themselves. Each soldier had his Krag on the ground beside him in case of danger, the rifle of the man who was undressing being in a far corner of the room.
Suddenly, at a word from their leader, the Moros seized their wicked barongs and simultaneously attacked the men playing cards, beheading one poor fellow at a single blow, and fearfully cutting the three others. One died almost immediately, and the second fell unconscious, while the third, who was cut across the side of the head and neck, feigned death and so escaped with his life.
The soldier who was partly undressed, seeing that he could not reach his rifle, felt it was only a matter of seconds before his turn should come. But the Moros, having obtained all the firearms, escaped into the forest, leaving him unharmed. As hastily as possible, he lifted the still unconscious man into the boat, which had been hidden in the bushes against just such an emergency, the wounded soldier who had feigned death helping with all his little strength, though he was so grievously hurt that he had literally to hold on his head with his hands, the cords on one side of his neck being severed. Fortunately, the jugular vein escaped the keen knife’s edge, else he would not have been alive; but it was with no little difficulty he helped the unwounded man push off from shore.
All night they rowed, the wounded man working with one hand, despite his fearful suffering, and all the next day, the blazing tropic sun shining down on their unprotected heads. Once they were beached on a coral reef, and it was all they could do to get the boat off again into deep water. Meanwhile the third soldier died, but at last the survivors of the massacre, in a pitiable condition, reached the post, carrying between them the already putrefying corpse of their comrade.
Scarce waiting to hear their gruesome story, the commanding officer and most of his company put off in bancas for Balambing, the unwounded man accompanying them for the purpose of identification. Arriving late in the afternoon, the soldiers quickly surrounded the town before any Moro could escape in his prau, and the rapidity with which the Philippine Mohammedan can drop from his house, built on poles over the water, and paddle away is little less than miraculous.
The head men of the village were then summoned by the American captain and ordered to hand over the murderers and the stolen rifles, or lead the way to the hiding-place of the criminals before eight o’clock of the following morning, the penalty for their disobedience being the burning of the town.
That night numerous lights and the sound of voices in the village testified to the earnest discussion that was proceeding, and at daybreak six of the offenders were delivered into American hands, the survivor of the outrage testifying to their identity; but the captain was not satisfied and consulted his watch so impatiently as eight o’clock approached that the head men, after much consultation among themselves, finally led the way to where the others were concealed along with the captured rifles.
Here the ten prisoners were rounded up and preparations made for the return to Bongao, when suddenly a simultaneous break for liberty was attempted, and the Moros had a lesson in the deadly aim of the American soldier, for a fearful fusilade was opened on them at short range, and not a prisoner escaped.
To one unacquainted with the Moros, this swift and sure vengeance would seem sufficient to cause the relatives of the dead men to hate Americans and plan blood feuds in retaliation; but it was not so, for they recognized perfectly the wrong that had been done, and accepted the death of their kinsmen as well merited, while any regret they may have felt was at the unlucky turn of fate which put them into the hands of justice. Being captured, it was inconceivable to a Moro that the offenders should be spared, and the break for liberty was doubtless induced by the belief that at the worst they merely advanced the day of execution. For had they not killed, and what is quite as bad in the Moro code of ethics, stolen? No punishment following this outrage, the Moros would have looked on the Americans as white-livered, cowardly, pusillanimous, and that first crime would doubtless have been succeeded by raids on the town, and massacres, and feuds, which only a bloody war could have ended.
As a result of his prompt action, this very efficient young officer had the satisfaction of knowing that the cordial relations with the citizens of Balambing rested on a new and more secure foundation than ever before. That no ill-will is harboured against the Americans may be seen by the large crowd of Balambing natives who weekly market their wares at Bongao, and the invariable respect shown by them to the uniform. Americans go freely without arms all over the island. In truth, it is asserted by different head men that the first attack would never have been made on the soldiery had it not been for the rifles they carried. Human life is cheap among the Moros, and the inconvenience of that life standing between them and what they want is soon remedied by a barong, unless fear of punishment, prompt and pitiless, stares them in the face.
From Balambing of bloody memory comes a Moro love story of some interest and no little humour. It appears that a rich woman there fell in love with a handsome young slave belonging to a man in a neighbouring town. After some difficulty she effected his purchase and married him, despite the fact of his being so far beneath her in the social scale. Not long after this the happy couple went to Bongao on a market-day. The lady, being an inveterate gambler, repaired at once to the cockpit, where she lost so heavily that her remaining funds were inadequate for the return trip to Balambing. Then a happy idea struck her. Why not pawn her husband, awaiting her next visit to Bongao, for although she was married to him, he was still a slave in the eyes of the law, and she could redeem him at her pleasure.
Acting on this happy inspiration, she sought an audience with the Governor, explaining through the interpreter her predicament, and offering her husband as a security for the loan of two hundred and fifty dollars, gold. The Governor, being a bachelor, was skeptical as to this marital transaction, especially as the couple had been wedded beyond the traditional honeymoon. He was afraid that he might have the bridegroom permanently upon his hands did he advance so great a sum. This was made plain to the bride, who protested that life would be quite unendurable without her liege lord, or more properly speaking, in this case, liege subject; but the Governor was unrelenting.
How the lady finally managed to reach Balambing is not told. Perhaps some trusting Moro accepted the risk of the marital loan. Perhaps she induced the owner of a prau to row her across. However the distance was accomplished, it is to be hoped she was less reckless in her subsequent gambling, a husband having proved so bad a hostage.
Another love story of different import comes from a village on the island of Siminor, just south of Bongao. There, it is said, lives an old Moro who so loved his wife, and strange to say, in this polygamous community, his only wife, that when she died he watched her grave long beyond the appointed time, after which he had his house built over her burial-place, and there lives to this day, still faithful to the mouldering bones beneath him. Surely a proof that great love sometimes stirs even savage breasts. Considering the environment, for this man lives in a country where polygamy is not only recognized but encouraged, and where women are bought and sold by the pound, like so much meat, his love is on a par with the idyllic attachments of history and fiction.
Speaking of buying and selling women among the Moros, reminds me of an old Maharajah in Bongao who had never seen an American woman until the arrival of the Burnside. Of course all white women are considered very beautiful by these dusky savages, an evidence of how much they admire Europeans being found in the fact that they firmly believe in the Sultan’s Seventh Heaven all the wives of his harem will have white skins. Noticing the Maharajah’s absorbed interest in our appearance, the Governor, to our intense disgust, insisted upon asking the old fellow what he thought the quartermaster’s wife should be worth in dollars and cents. The toothless Maharajah took it all quite seriously, looked at the lady in question with much discrimination, pulled at his wisp of a billy-goat beard in contemplative silence, and after some minutes of deep thought replied that she should be worth about a hundred dollars, Mexican, an abnormally large amount, as Moro women seldom average over forty dollars, Mexican, apiece.
Then the irrepressible young man turned to me, asking at what the Maharajah thought I should be valued. Without a moment’s hesitation, the old sinner, to my chagrin and the uproarious delight of the whole party, appraised me at only eighty dollars, Mexican, and this despite the fact that I had smiled my pleasantest, in the hope that he would rate me at least as high as the quartermaster’s wife.
Datto Sakilon, whom we met next day, proved more diplomatic, for when asked what he thought we women should be worth in the Mohammedan market, replied that it was impossible to tell, because if Moro women could be bought for forty dollars apiece, an American woman should be worth at least a thousand. Not bad repartee for a barbarian! In return for his consideration, I must admit that he was the best dressed Moro we saw in Bongao. On the day in question he wore a suit of gray drill, made with the conventional tight trousers and vest-like coat, broken out at regular intervals in an eruptive fever of gorgeously coloured embroidery. A fez topped off this costume and added to its picturesqueness, while clumsy tan shoes of undeniable American make well-nigh ruined the whole effect.
Balbriggan undershirts, hideously utilitarian, are much worn by these Moros of Bongao in lieu of the skin-tight gaily coloured jacket, which combines so effectively with the snug trousers buttoned up the side with gold or silver buttons, and the bright turban or scarlet fez. But fancy the shock to one’s æstheticism at seeing coarse balbriggan allied to barbaric splendour. The Moros really looked more undressed so attired than if they had appeared without any coat at all, but they thought these shirts very elegant, and would buy them of the soldiers at every opportunity.
Natives of Bongao
The women’s dress in Bongao, unlike that of northern Moros, is more typical than the men’s, and shows an even greater variety of colour, but because of their blackened teeth, which are often filed to an arch in front, these women, as a rule, are anything but pretty. Their hair is nearly always fringed over the forehead and temples, while at the back it is drawn into a knot, from which one end invariably straggles, giving a most untidy effect. The wealthier women wear their finger nails very long, in some instances almost as long as the finger itself, and often this nail is protected by an artificial shield of silver. All the women have their ears pierced, and many of them wear a round bone or stick, resembling a cigarette in shape and size, thrust through the aperture. Altogether they are as unlike European women as one could well imagine, and I do not blame the Sultan for looking forward to white wives in the hereafter, though I hope the celestial harem won’t have to blacken its teeth!
There was one beauty in Bongao, however, a slave girl of eighteen, so graceful and lithe that her every attitude suggested a bird just alighted for an instant from a flight through space. Her dark eyes were fringed by the longest of black lashes, and even her stained teeth could not detract from the curves of her pretty mouth. She had a self-satisfied consciousness of her own attractions, and was as imperious and overbearing as any American beauty, stamping her tiny foot in rage at our photographer’s lack of haste in taking her picture, and once walking away from the camera with a disdainful toss of her head. When, after much persuasion, she was finally induced to return, it was only to scowl sullenly at everybody with the most bewitching ill temper, poised so lightly that the very wind seemed to sway her slender figure back and forth like a flower on its stalk.
We called her the Belle of Bongao, and said all manner of nice things about her, which she repaid with a bold stare from under those wonderful lashes, and a contemptuous manner which said as plainly as words that American women were not much to look at, what with their ugly clothes and still uglier faces. She was glad she wasn’t so large and clumsy, and that her teeth weren’t white, nor her throat all screwed up in high bandages, and she smiled a little as she thought of her own attractions, for the Belle of Bongao had not learned she was a beauty for nought; and then, too, had she not cost eighty dollars, Mexican, the highest price ever paid in Tawi Tawi for a slave? Small wonder the little beauty rated her charms high.
It was in Bongao we first made the acquaintance of Toolawee, the chief vigilante of Sulu. It seems this personage had been sent to the Tawi Tawi Islands as pilot of the launch Maud, which, under his careful seamanship, was then lying high and dry on a coral reef within sight of the little garrison. Pirate under Spanish régime, chief of police under American administration, Toolawee is known to fame throughout the archipelago, though perhaps most of his reputation depends upon Mr. Worcester’s delightful account of him in “The Philippine Islands.” As all may remember, Toolawee acted in the capacity of guide, philosopher, and friend to Mr. Worcester and Doctor Bourns on their second visit to Sulu, many moons before our occupation of the place. Toolawee was at that time acting as “minister of war” to the nominal Sultan, having for reasons of his own become a renegade. Mr. Worcester says of him:
“A Moro by birth and training, he had thrown in his lot with the Spaniards. As a slight safeguard against possible backsliding, he was allowed a fine house within the walls, where he kept several wives and some forty slaves. Arolas reasoned that, rather than lose so extensive an establishment, he would behave himself. Later we had reason for believing that the precaution was a wise one....
“He was considered a ‘good’ Moro, and we were therefore interested in several incidents which gave us some insight into his real character. After satisfying himself that we could use our rifles with effect, he made us a rather startling business proposition as follows: ‘You gentlemen seem to shoot quite well with the rifle.’ ‘Yes, we have had some experience.’ ‘You say that you wish to get samples of the clothing and arms of my people for your collection?’ ‘Yes, we hope to do so.’ ‘Papa’ (the Moros’ name for their governor-general) ‘told you if you met armed Moros outside the town to order them to lay down their weapons and retire?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Papa does not understand my people as I do. They are all bad. When we meet them, do not ask them to lay down their arms, for they will come back and get them, and probably attack us; just shoot as many of them as you can. You can take their weapons and clothing, while I will cut off their heads, shave their eyebrows, show them to papa, and claim reward for killing Juramentados.’ Toolawee never really forgave us for refusing to enter into partnership with him on this very liberal basis.
“Just before our final departure from Sulu, he presented himself before me and remarked, ‘Señor, I want to buy your rifle.’ ‘But, Toolawee,’ I replied, ‘you do damage enough with the one you have; what do you want of mine?’ ‘My rifle is good enough to kill people with, but I want yours for another purpose,’ my good Moro made answer. Pressed for details, he confided to me that he had heard ‘papa’ was soon going back to Spain, and, after the governor left, he should be ‘afuera’ i.e. offshore, waiting for victims. He explained that he never fired at the people in a canoe, but shot holes in the boat itself, so that it would fill with water. The bamboo outriggers, with which all Philippine boats are provided, would serve to keep it from actually sinking, and the occupants, being up to their chins in water, could easily be despatched with the barong, thus economizing ammunition; and he added, ‘My rifle makes but a small hole in one side of a canoe, senor, while yours would make a much larger one, and the ball would go clear through.’ Toolawee was nothing if not practical.”
While in Bongao, a Moro dance was given in our honour at the house of the governor’s interpreter, a German, who at the time was away on a business trip. His wife, a plump and jolly matron of Moro descent, did the honours, and smiled her good-natured, indiscriminating smile on one and all, shaking each cordially by the hand and indicating where we should sit by many motions of her fat, brown wrists and many shrugs of her still fatter shoulders. Unlike other Moro women, our hostess’s hair was neatly arranged, her teeth were beautifully white, and her costume, which consisted of a nondescript skirt and loose dressing sacque, much affected by Spanish women throughout the islands, was daintily clean.
The other occupants of the big room were Moro—unadulterated Moro—fifty or sixty of them, all in gala dress, the women squatted on the floor, the men leaning against the side of the house, and all staring with unabashed interest in our direction, while we stared back at them quite as interested.
Every man there was armed with at least a barong stuck into his broad sash, and many of them boasted a kris and campilan as well, while the brilliant colours of their costumes, and the still more gaudy sarongs of the women, made them resemble a gathering of strange tropic birds, our European apparel looking singularly dull and sober beside their scarlets, greens, and purples. Over this strange scene flickered the dim light of cocoanut-oil lamps, and outside a shower beat softly against the trees, and the moon looked down at us whitely from a cloudy sky.
Presently a weird noise broke in upon our conversation. The orchestra had begun to play. Now, Moro music is strangely unrhythmical to European ears, consisting as it does of a monotonous reiteration of sound, even a supposed change of air being almost imperceptible to one unaccustomed to the barbarous lack of tone. The Moro piano is a wooden frame, shaped like the runners of a child’s sled, on which are balanced small kettle-drums by means of cords and sticks. These more nearly resemble pots for the kitchen range than musical instruments, but each is roughly tuned, forming the eight notes of the scale. Women, crouching on the ground before this instrument, beat out of it a wailing sound with shaped sticks, while on larger kettle-drums, hung by ropes from a wooden railing at one side, two men accompanied the “piano,” an old woman in the background drumming out an independent air of her own on an empty tin pan.
A Moro orchestra, Bongao
Meanwhile the dancing had begun, or rather the posturing of the body, for the feet and legs are used but little in the Moro dances, which consist principally of moving the body and arms rhythmically and to music, the wrists always leading gracefully.
Among the women this attitudinizing was very pretty, the bangles tinkling on their round arms, while the sarong half-revealed, half-concealed the curves of their figures. Most of them danced with their heads turned away, but whenever the evolutions of their measured step brought them face to face with us, they would hold up the sarong so that it concealed all but the eyes, evidently a survival of the yashmak, for Moro women do not hide their faces at all times from the gaze of men, as do the women of India.
When the men danced it was far less graceful, and at times bordered on the grotesque. They contorted and twisted themselves out of all semblance to the human body; they made their abdominal muscles rise and fall with the music; they seemed at times to put the body out of joint, and then reset it properly with jerks and jumps and sudden fierce movements; they twitched, and twisted, and twirled, hardly moving their feet from the floor.
Then came sword-dances with naked blades, when some young Moro advanced and retreated, leaped high in the air, or crouched on the ground, waving his barong or kris aloft, now retreating, now coming uncomfortably close to the little party of unarmed Americans, the flickering light gleaming redly on the glittering knife, and reminding one, with a horrid insistence, that the time and place were ideal for a wholesale slaughter.
As the necessities of the dance took the last of these lithe youths farther away, I must confess to a feeling of relief, which mounted to a nervous joy when, after apparently slaying his enemy and grinding him under heel, the dancing combatant gave place to a chubby youngster who stamped, and twirled, and gestured himself into our very hearts. This baby, for he could not have been over four years old, was also a prime favourite with the Moros, who yelled out their delight at his prowess, and even clapped their hands and jumped about in their enthusiasm. But the baby was stoically calm, and moved not a muscle of his little round face in response to their greetings.
Then came the old Maharajah, who had set his price on the American women. Wrinkled, white-haired, and toothless, he danced amidst great applause; and after him a tiny girl posed most picturesquely, throwing out her plump, dimpled wrists, on which twinkled innumerable bangles. Waving each wrist in turn, the little maid would fasten upon it a serious gaze, as if she were a snake-charmer and each arm was a serpent, her hand representing the head, which waved ever back and forth restlessly and in time to the strange music.
Before leaving, a mock marriage was performed for our benefit by the one-eyed Pandita. As is the custom at such times, all the Moro women, including the bride, who is never present at her own wedding, were hidden behind an extemporized curtain. On the ground before this curtain sat the Pandita and the prospective bridegroom, the bare soles of their feet touching and their hands closely clasped beneath an enshrouding cloth. The Pandita then chanted or intoned a service, the bridegroom occasionally joining in, and not infrequently some outsider introduced a facetious expression or joke, which was greeted with uproarious delight by the others, the Moro sense of humour being apparently well developed.
Of course, the mock marriage ended here, but we were told that at this point of the service in a real wedding the groom would go behind the curtain and seize his bride, who was supposed to struggle violently to escape. She would then be carried to the groom’s house, and for three days the feasting and merry making would continue—for everyone but the happy pair, as according to custom, the bride must quarrel violently during this time with the groom, and not allow him to come near her, though when he finally leaves her alone, she must bitterly weep and lament. At the expiration of the three days, this charming state of affairs is discontinued, and they are considered legally married, and thereafter may be as happy as they are capable of being.
On leaving the interpreter’s house to walk back to the ship’s boat, we were lighted by a misty moon which gave the effect of twilight, and in our half lethargic state could hardly be sure that what we had seen that evening was not, after all, a dream or a strange hypnotic memory—the dancing Maharajah, the Pandita performing the marriage ceremony, the terrible sword-dance, and the little snake-charmer fascinating her own plump hands! Was it possible such things had occurred in the twentieth century and on American soil?
Tampakan and the Home Stretch
Our last day in Bongao the Governor secured a little pearling launch, the Hilda, and took several of the Burnside people on a jaunt to the island of Siminor (Simunol), as it is written on the map, or Siminol, as it is called by the natives. Siminol is about ten miles south of Bongao, and our destination was the town of Tampakan. It was a misty, moisty afternoon, with a sharp salt smell to the air, and through the haze distant mountains loomed spectre-like, or else melted into blue clouds on the horizon.
After a two hours’ run, during which the Hilda wheezed and puffed like a fat old woman in a tight frock, we reached Tampakan, and anchored as near the shore as was practicable, blowing our whistle to attract the attention of the villagers. In a few moments several praus and bancas were poled out to the ship by a motley array of half-clad Moros, big, brown, lithe fellows, each with a turban or fez topping off his black hair, and all armed with a goodly array of sharp knives. Over the side of the launch they swarmed, talking excitedly with our interpreter, the chief vigilante of Bongao, and reminding one strongly of their piratical forebears. Many of these very men had been pirates in Spanish days, and not one of them but was a descendant of some marauder of the high seas.
Market-day in a Moro village.
The three hundred yards that we had to be poled to shore from the Hilda was through water not more than three feet deep, and over a bed of pink and white coral, which could be plainly seen through the crystal clearness. At low tide one can walk out over this submarine beach, but the Moros say that the rocks, seaweed, and coral lose much of their beauty when not seen through a lens of water. At the time of our visit it was such high tide that even with the native praus and the little rowboat from the launch, we were unable to make a good landing, so the men jumped ashore in imminent danger of a wetting, while we women were carried, one by one, through the surf.
A villainous looking gentleman, whose costume consisted of skin-tight Moro trousers and an American bath towel, was introduced by our host as the head man of the town, and he shook hands all around, quite solemnly and conscientiously, as if it had been a religious rite imported to Tawi Tawi by these strange white people.
Meanwhile the entire male population of the place gathered about us, and we found them in very truth a murderous looking lot, armed to the teeth with barongs and krises and campilans, while none of us had any visible means of self-protection. There were a few pocket revolvers, however, hidden under the officers’ blouses, and well hidden, the Governor having warned us to take no arms of any description to Tampakan, for while money would have been no temptation to these people, they would not have hesitated long to kill one for a Krag rifle or a Colt revolver.
After the head man had religiously shaken every newcomer’s hand, our officers began bargaining with him and with his people for their knives, and the crowd of men around us grew every moment greater, with not a woman in sight. There were men in complete Moro costume, handsome and picturesque; others ruining their appearance by the addition of a hideous balbriggan undershirt, sandwiched between tight trousers with innumerable buttons and a brilliantly coloured turban; while still others, in little else than a fez and breech-clout, seemed not a whit abashed. The children were either quite naked, or wrapped in sarongs, faded by the sun and weather to a dull harmony of their once too brilliant reds and greens.
Finally on the outskirts of the crowd I caught a glimpse of three Moro women, and forced my way to them, shaking hands and smiling as affably as possible. They shook hands in return, rather awkwardly, but answered smile with smile, talking excitedly in their native tongue, and seeming surprised that I could speak only a word or two of Malay, without doubt a more agreeable language than that harsh and unintelligible one in which the white officers were bargaining for barongs and krises.
Over the stone fortification a short distance away I had a glimpse of tree tops and the steep, slanting roofs of nipa houses, while at the gate stood still another group of women, most of them dressed from the waist to the knees only. Motioning my three friends to follow, I approached these women, whereupon they took fright and hid behind the nearest house. That is, all but one old crone, too feeble to run, who tremblingly awaited her fate until, reassured by the manner of those I had talked to outside the wall, she lifted up her voice in voluble Malay, evidently telling the others that the strange creature neither bit nor scratched, whereat they all came back, first slowly by ones and twos, and then more rapidly, until they stood around me in a ring at least twenty deep.
As women have a language of their own the world over, we understood each other quickly; and how friendly they were, and how delighted with my clothes and all the little accessories, the hat, the veil, the belt, the collar. Next they were amazed at my teeth, and pointed to their own blackened ones, and then to mine, pushing forward little girls under ten to show that only children should have white teeth, while I, despite my extreme age, still sported such evidences of youth. Was it possible I considered myself a child? Or was I younger than I looked? Next my skin was marvelled at, and they took my hands in theirs and shouted with good-natured laughter at the difference in colour between us, for despite two and a half years of tropic tan, my skin, compared with theirs, was very light.
Before I realized what they were doing, they had unbuttoned the cuff of my shirt-waist and pushed the sleeve a little way up my arm, evidently anxious to see if I were white all over, while at the same moment a small girl of twelve, married or of marriageable age, as one could tell from her stained teeth, knelt down on the ground at my feet and was apparently examining my shoes.
Suddenly she gave a startled cry, and before I could prevent her, lifted my skirt and petticoat to the ankle, revealing a small expanse of black lisle thread stocking. For a moment there was an intense silence, followed by a low murmur of astonishment, which soon grew into a veritable roar of displeasure, and the women no longer beamed approvingly, but gathered together on one side, regarding me with great disfavour.
I was dumfounded at this sudden change of manner, and could not account for it in any way, until I saw some of the blackest among them pointing to their own bare legs with apparent pride, and then turning scornfully and motioning in my direction. Did they object to my wearing stockings? Or was it possible they had mistaken the stockings for skin?
Acting on this very improbable suggestion, I demonstrated that the black outside covering could easily be peeled off, whereupon there was great amazement, and once again the women crowded around in deifying adulation. They had thought their American idol had worse than clay feet, that the feet were black, blacker even than their own dusky skins, and their relief was obvious at finding the dark flesh but a close fitting covering.
So it was I was again restored to favour, and the women with swift, shy gestures fingered my dress and hat, my army belt, and the red silk handkerchief at the throat of my sailor collar, saying, “Mariloa, mariloa” over and over, which in their tongue means “pretty” or “good,” depending on how it is used.
They laughed at my shoes, spreading out their flexible toes that I might see how much more comfortable feet were unshod, and then pointed to their hands, indicating that it were quite as sensible to wear shoes there as on the feet, which made me sorry some of us had not worn gloves. Also I was much amused to notice that after biting even so lightly of the fruit of knowledge, most of the women about me had drawn up the folds of the sarongs, tied so artlessly around their waists, and fastened them securely under the armpits, so that they were clothed quite decorously from shoulder to knee.
There was one beautiful little girl among the many plain ones in Tampakan. She could not have been over ten years old, and her heavy eyebrows were shaved into a narrow black line above magnificent eyes, shaded by phenomenally long lashes. Her features were regular and finely cut, her mouth being particularly pretty, and when she smiled, which was seldom, her red lips disclosed even little teeth, glistening and white. Her very hair, fringed heavily above her brow, was soft and fine and hung almost to her knees in a dusky, rippling cloud, while both tiny ears were pierced, the left one boasting an ivory stick about the size and shape of a cigarette, and the other a roll of red rags, which barbaric custom served only to enhance her wildwood tropic beauty.
The child’s ena, or mother, was evidently very proud of her daughter, and through the interpreter, told me that within a year the little maid was to marry a datto in a neighbouring town. A very great honour, to be sure, and then her pretty, gleaming teeth will be blackened and filed into an arch, her eyebrows shaved off completely, and at twenty-five the little beauty will doubtless have been transformed into a wrinkled, loathsome old hag, and perhaps a grandmother to boot!
At the windows of a house under which we stood, women, who for some reason did not mingle with the others of the village, peered down at us curiously, some holding up their sarongs to cover all but the eyes, and some frankly interested, with uncovered faces; while still other creatures, of nightmare ugliness, their skins plastered with a white flour paste, their eyebrows shaved, and their teeth newly blackened and filed into shape, incurred the displeasure of their respective lords and masters by appearing at the window even for a few moments at a time, it not being Moro etiquette that these recent brides of the neighbourhood should be seen until a later period.
About this time Half-a-Woman and her mother appeared on the scene, the American child, with her golden hair and white skin, enthusing the Moro women to the utmost, while the tall slenderness of the mother excited their voluble admiration. But neither mother nor daughter appreciated natives, except as accessories to the landscape, so they delayed not on the order of their going, and audibly marvelled that I could be interested in such filthy wretches, insinuating that a carbolic bath would be necessary on our return to the ship. But the Moro women, unconscious of any criticism as to their personal neatness, smiled at the Americanas delightedly, telling me through the interpreter that it would take two or three Moro women to make one as tall as the quartermaster’s wife, who looked very young indeed to have attained so great a height!
When the officers had completed their purchases, they started through the village on a tour of inspection, and at their approach my women friends beat a hasty retreat, scattering in every direction like so many quail; but as we proceeded along the one street of the town, accompanied by a veritable army of native boys and men, I saw at the windows of different houses many familiar faces, all grinning cheerfully in response to my nods of recognition.
The houses of Tampakan are built on one side of this broad street, and are small nipa shacks on stilts, with steps of bamboo logs, and steep thatched roofs, while back of this first row of houses stands another row, and back of that still another. At the far end of the street two or three houses are built at right angles to the rest, and it was here that beautifully woven petates, or sleeping mats, were offered for sale, some of them white with appliques of red and blue cloth in curious designs, and others of split bamboo, the patterns being woven in with different colours.
These mats were most reasonable in price, none of them costing over a dollar and a half, and some very pretty ones were valued at only fifty cents apiece, but for sanitary reasons we were obliged to forswear them, unique as they were, for they had all been in use, and we had seen more than one leper among the villagers, and numerous evidences in scars and sores of loathsome skin diseases.
Embroidered turbans, jabuls, and sarongs were also offered for sale, as were chow-covers and tall pointed hats, while one man with great pride produced for our inspection a pressed glass sugar bowl, that variety which one does not have to examine or tap with the finger to prove counterfeit. It was pressed glass with no intention to deceive, the kind one runs across in the dining-room of country hotels, or at cheap department stores. That it was appraised highly in Siminol, however, was beyond question, and on every side swarthy faces watched eagerly to see what impression it would make upon us, though the owner himself assumed a nonchalant air, as became the possessor of so rare an article of virtu. It had evidently been in Siminol a long time, and was possibly stolen from a trading-post on some piratical expedition, or looted from a Spanish planter’s home during a raid on a coast town, or more prosaically acquired in exchange for curios. However that may be, it was considered a rare bit of bric-a-brac in Siminol, and the possessor was counted a most fortunate man among his fellows.
There were many beautiful barongs bought that day, the natives willingly exchanging them for money, which the Governor of Bongao declared was a unique way to disarm an enemy. American gold was especially appreciated, and the natives passed a piece around from hand to hand with an absolutely childish delight in its yellow beauty.
One of my purchases I paid for with a new five dollar gold piece, and before turning the money over to the Moro, held it for a moment pendent from my ear to suggest an earring, pointing at the same time to one of his wives, who was standing in the doorway of their house. The man was delighted with the suggestion, as were numerous other Moros who had seen the pantomime, and the woman in question clapped her hands and laughed aloud. I have often wondered whether or not she received that earring, and if it became a universal custom in Tampakan to wear money thus.
One of the officers, while drawing out some change from his pocket to pay for a very handsome and expensive barong, came across a gold-plated spread eagle, such as officers wear on their shoulder-straps. It was worth perhaps twenty-five or fifty cents, but it glittered alluringly in the sunlight, and one of the Moros, with whom he had been bargaining, made a dive for the bit of metal, calling on his companions to look at it. After a swift examination the owner of the barong, to the officer’s intense surprise, offered him the knife in exchange for the worthless bauble. Noting the American’s hesitation, and misinterpreting it, the Moro added an embroidered turban to the knife, and waited in breathless expectation for his answer.
The officer still hesitated what to do, and then, through the interpreter, explained that the eagle was of no monetary value, and that he could not accept so expensive a knife or such a handsome turban in exchange for it. The Moro seemed astonished, but appreciated the reason, and had his first lesson in the apothegmatic saying that all is not gold which glitters. Later the eagle was given to the Bongao vigilante, who pinned it to the front of his fez, for was he not a protector of the peace under the great American government?
To one side of Tampakan stood a plot of ground used as a cemetery. This we saw from a distance only, the newly made graves presenting quite a gala appearance, decorated as they always are with bright coloured umbrellas, these being usually of yellow. When a Moro is buried his grave is protected from the sun and rain, and must be watched continually night and day for a period of three months, doubtless to keep the corpse from being defiled by man or beast.
At about six o’clock we left Tampakan, being followed to the boats by the entire male population of the town, even to toddling, naked boy babies, while the women hung out of their windows in imminent danger of a fall and shouted strange things at us in their own tongue, which the Bongao vigilante interpreted as “Good-bye, nice people, come again.”
It was almost dark when we reached the Hilda, and she immediately put off for the ship, though seeming literally to creep along, her engine wheezing even more painfully than earlier in the afternoon. At that rate we should certainly be late for dinner, and all were hungry from the trip across.
But a more serious contingency awaited us, for within a half-hour after starting, the native fireman came up on deck, his face blanched with fear, to say the boiler would not work, and that unless we could anchor at once we should be swept out to sea on the strong current. Soundings were immediately taken, and the water found very deep, so, dragging our anchor, and with our last remaining bit of steam, we reached a place shallow enough for anchorage. It was literally the last gasp of the engine that put us in safety, for a moment more and we should have been adrift on the trackless sea.
Of course the next thing to be done was to send up distress rockets, with which we had fortunately provided ourselves, that the Burnside, whose lights we could faintly see far, far over on the horizon, might know of our predicament; but as it was not yet dark enough for her to distinguish our signal against the sunset sky, we decided to save our ammunition until there was no danger of its not being seen from the ship, there being but three rockets aboard the Hilda.
Those few minutes of waiting seemed preternaturally long, and when the first rocket was finally sent up, everyone watched, with almost feverish impatience, for the Burnside’s return signal. One minute passed in breathless silence; another minute, during which we shivered slightly with cold and excitement; ten seconds more, and a sudden flash in the direction of the ship, which we took to be a search-light answer to our rocket of distress, was greeted with a simultaneous yell of delight. But our joy was dampened suddenly by some one suggesting that the search-light might have been merely a coincidence as to time, and that the ship was in reality using it, as often happened, for other purposes. Then, too, as this same Jeremiah pointed out, a distress rocket would always be answered by a rocket, or at least by a Coston signal.
There was a general lowering of personal temperature at this, and a few moments later, with even less confidence than we had sent up the first rocket, a second one was launched. But this proved a failure, and went down instead of up, covering the water with a shower of golden sparks, which hissed and sputtered angrily on the green waves that were rocking the little Hilda back and forth as if she had been a cockle-shell. Of course there was no answer to this signal, for the ship could not have seen it at her great distance.
In the meantime the tide was going out so rapidly that we soon found ourselves in only two fathoms of water, the Hilda drawing one and a half fathoms, while every few minutes the bottom of the launch ground ominously on the rocks below. The pilot of the little craft was stretched out on the covered hatchway, frightfully seasick from the churning motion of the boat, when the native engineer, ghastly with terror, reported to the Governor what we had for some time suspected, namely, that we were anchored on a coral reef. To stay there much longer was out of the question, but as the boiler would not work, the only other alternative was to let the boat drift out to sea on the tide.
While we were all ostentatiously cool, I think there was not one among us but mentally computed just how long it would take for a hole to be knocked in the bottom of the boat, leaving us at the mercy of those cruel, green waves that licked at the Hilda’s sides with foaming tongues, eager for their prey. Our Jeremiah added to the general cheerfulness by advancing an enlivening theory to the effect that the Siminol Moros would undoubtedly surround us ere long, attracted by our futile signals to the ship, and brought up pleasant visions of swarthy pirates, under the leadership of our interpreter, making us walk the plank, or fighting against us to the death on a deck slippery with our own blood.
Only one more rocket left! How carefully it was hoisted to the top of the awning, and how circumspect was the man who applied a lighted cigarette to the fuse, while the rest of us breathlessly awaited the result. What if it, too, should prove a failure? The very thought was terrifying. But there went the rocket—up, up, up,—a steadily mounting streak of red, which seemed to touch the dark dome of the heavens before breaking into a shower of golden sparks. Eagerly we watched the ship for some answering sign. The seconds seemed like hours, the minutes like days. But at last, way over in the distance, a rocket from the Burnside split the darkness, and we looked at one another silently, too deeply moved for cheers, knowing it was only a question then of a race between our ship’s launch and the hungry, hurrying tide.
After a bit we laughed and joked a great deal to make the moments pass more quickly, while our host told good yarns and recited some of Eugene Field’s inimitable verse in an inimitable way, to a running accompaniment of the waves dashing against the side of the launch and her occasional bumping on the rocks below. So long as most of us live I fancy that “Casey’s Table d’Hôte” will be associated in our minds with that night on the coral reef.
At last in the distance we saw the red, white, and blue Coston signal of the Burnside’s launch, its skipper doubtless asking us for a guiding light, our lantern on the masthead not being visible over a mile. For a moment we were at a loss what to do, our last rocket having been used to signal to the ship, but some one took a newspaper which had been wrapped around a package, divided it in two, soaking one half of it in machinery oil from the engine-room. This greasy paper was then put on the end of a fishing-spear, and, when lighted, it made a glorious blaze, which was immediately answered by a second signal from the ship’s launch, which changed its course, making for us more directly. A little later, in answer to another signal, we lighted the paper remaining, and in reply to still another, some waste soaked in oil did duty as a light. By this time the launch was near enough for us to distinguish its whistle, to which of course we could not reply, having no steam. Meanwhile the tide was very low. “Nine feet,” announced some one, sounding, and the coral grated harshly under our keel. A moment more and the launch might be too late.
But just then came another flash out of the gloom, so near that we were startled, a shrill whistle, and the rescuing party was at hand. Very hurriedly the passengers were transferred to the Burnside, Jr., and the Hilda was towed to a safe anchorage, where she was left for the night.
The ride back to the ship was a long one, and we struck a tide-rip half-way there, which drenched us all to the skin and tossed the staunch little craft back and forth, as if she had been a chip on the water. But at eleven o’clock we climbed aboard the Burnside, after having given the Powers-that-Be and our many friends a fright which made them threaten us with the brig if it ever happened again.
Fortunately for us, our first rocket had been seen from the ship, else the launch might have been too late to rescue us, and what we had taken for a gleam from the search-light was in fact a Coston signal, our distance from the Burnside not enabling us to distinguish its red and blue lights, the white alone carrying that far.
A good dinner, finished long after midnight, so rested us that, being young and foolish, we went ashore with our host of the afternoon, merely for a farewell glimpse of Bongao, retiring at ever so little o’clock in the morning, and not very long before the engines began to puff and pant, preparatory to our trip northward.
Then followed a month of cable repairing, which took us again to Zamboanga, Iligan, and Cagayan. A little stretch was also laid connecting Oslob, Cebu, with the Dumaguete land line, and later a cable laid nearly two years before on the southeast coast of Luzon was thoroughly overhauled and put into shape. This cable connected Pasacao and Guinayangan, or Pass-a-cow and Grin-again-then, as we always dubbed the towns.
It was on our way to Pasacao from Iligan that we had our last glimpse of old Mount Malindang, or, as the sailors called it, Mount Never Pass, because it was so seldom off our horizon. All day the sea had been oily smooth, and fish jumped out of the water continually, the sea-gulls swooping down upon them and carrying them off in their talons. The sailors had been holy-stoning the decks and painting every bit of available woodwork white, preparatory to our entrance into Manila Bay, and the cable machinery for the nonce was still, the native employees lounging about the lower decks, playing monte or strumming their guitars in idle joy.
At sunset we all went aft to see Malindang for the last time. To the southeast it stood stolidly against the flushed sky, a white cloud about it, reminding one of some old Indian chief wrapped in his blanket, passively watching the departure of the pale-faces who had invaded his mighty solitude. To the north were Negros, Cebu, and Siquijor; to the south Mindanao; and even far-distant Camaguin to the east, with a faint wisp of smoke from its volcano. Then night came upon us suddenly and blotted out Mount Never Pass—perhaps forever.
After our experiences in the far south, we found Oslob, Pasacao, and Guinayangan strangely uninteresting, although at the beginning of our cable trip I have no doubt we should have enjoyed them hugely. There were the same curious natives who dogged our every footstep; the same nipa shacks surrounded by palms and bamboos in the same dazzling sunshine, of which no words or symbols or formulas could give one an idea. There were the inevitable churches with decorations of faded artificial flowers and much tarnished tinsel, the same wooden images with large eyes and simpering little mouths, the same glaring chromos of the Virgin and her angels.
In Oslob the church was further decorated by brown velvet portières being painted at each side of the long windows, an obvious advantage in the event of house-cleaning, while the wooden pillars were also stained to resemble marble. At the time of our visit women knelt on the bare floor at their prayers, all wearing stiffly starched white linen veils, which did not entirely conceal their fleshly interest in ourselves, the while they told their rosaries with busy fingers.
Guinayangan had a wooden belfry to one side of its church, the bells therein being made of metal arms captured from the Moros many years before. We also noticed, on entering the church, a palanquin shaped affair at one side of the door. This, we were told, was used by the priest in processions, when altar boys dressed in scarlet and white robes carry him thus enthroned, two other boys walking ahead of the procession and two behind, all bearing candles in candelabra taller than themselves, and all dressed in scarlet and white like the bearers of the palanquin. It was used as well for a confessional, and to carry the priest to and from visits of extreme unction.
Guinayangan also boasts a shipyard, which is nothing more than a rough shed, the implements being most primitive in construction. Without even ways, not to mention the absence of means, it is said that large sailing ships are made there, two of them being in the harbour at the time of our visit.
For several days we hovered in the vicinity of Guinayangan and Pasacao, cutting and splicing, splicing and cutting, while we idle ones of the quarter-deck unanimously decided that this lower corner of Luzon Island comprised the prettiest landscapes we had seen on the trip, consisting for the main part of wonderful mountains covered with a luxurious tropical growth of trees and shrubbery, these perpendicular forests springing out of the water with scarcely any intervention of beach between their green sides and the sparkling sea beneath them.
In places the mountains were bare of trees, suggesting forest fires in the past, but in the distant past, as the patches of ground were covered with grass, the exact tender shade in which the young Spring clothes herself at home. In many of these rifts between the trees nipa houses were tucked away, adding to the charm of the landscape, and the multifarious shades of green to be found on these hillsides were further diversified by shrub-like trees with a faint red tinge like furze, and by still others with a silvery sheen to their leaves.
It was while paying this long-laid line into the tanks, when looking for faults, that wonderful sea growths were brought up on the cable, especially in comparatively shallow water, revealing varieties of submarine life undreamed of in our philosophy. There was white coral, and coral in shades of pink, and red, and violet; there were sea-cucumbers and jellyfish; shrimp of tiny proportions and scarlet in colouring; barnacles of every description; curious shells of fairy-like proportions; seaweeds and grasses and moss of exquisite delicacy, making the cable look in places as if it were a rope of tiny many coloured blossoms. The small girl of the Burnside was enchanted with the pretty playthings sent her by the mermaids, and gathered the gaily tinted wonders into a box for safe-keeping, but before the passing of another day they had lost their beauty, and, moreover, smelled up to very heaven, and had to be thrown overboard.
But at last the Signal Corps completed its work on the Pasacao-Guinayangan cable, the final splice was made, and the bight dropped overboard, whereupon we were off for Manila, stopping en route at Pasacao to ascertain if all were well with the line. This was on Good Friday, and the officers who went ashore said that natives, dressed to represent the Twelve Apostles, roamed the streets and at given intervals flagellated one poor chap who had been elected to represent Judas for the time being. The native padre assisted in the semi-religious function, and all seemed more interested in it as a diversion than impressed by its devotional significance.
The rest of the day we sailed over absolutely peaceful water, with scarcely a ripple on its crystal surface, swinging in and out of the myriad wooded islands, peninsulas, and capes that make the southern part of Luzon so ragged and uneven on the map, and thence into the China Sea, where we floated, sky above and sky below, for hours, anchoring off Manila on the following forenoon, just in time to spend Easter Sunday, April 7th, at the capital.
And so ended our cable trip and those pleasant days in the far South Seas. The huge tanks on the forward deck of the Burnside yawned hungrily for the five hundred knots of cable now lying in those distant waters, linking together the strange lands we had seen en route, and as we stood for the last time looking down into those empty tanks, tar-stained and reeking with moisture, I was strongly reminded of Mr. Kipling’s “Song of the Cable:”
“The wrecks dissolve above us; their dust drops down from afar— Down to the dark, to the utter dark, where blind white sea-snakes are. There is no sound, no echo of sound, in the deserts of the deep, On the great, gray, level plains of ooze, where the shell-burred cables creep. Here in the womb of the world—here on the tie-ribs of earth— Words, and the words of men, flicker and flutter and beat.”
The Project Gutenberg EBook of A Woman's Journey through the Philippines, by Florence Kimball Russel
A Woman's Journey Through the Philippines
Related stories / web links :
Images of Muslim Mindanao during the colonial era.
Mindanao - Ancestral Domains of Bangsa Moro and the Lumads.
Battle of Bud Bagsak in Sulu
The Battle of Bud Dajo - Jolo Sulu
The Mindanao Conflict and the Jabidah Massacre