Two Philippine Sketches
WHEN that meteorological phenomenon, the colla befalls, the Philippine sky becomes a cataract and Luzon looks like the wave-swept deck of a sinking ship. Large clouds, torn and black, advance toward the zenith from all points of the horizon, where they group and heap, mingle and interweave until it seems as if in the general squeeze they had burst the flood gates of an aerial sea.
A half - suffocated growl of thunder sounds in the neighboring hills. The lightning tries to reach the earth, but the clouds stand in the way. They say that far above, the sky is still azure and that the sun moves through the clear atmosphere pouring out torrents of light and heat but it looks as if we should never see sky or sun again. In the east the vault of sooty clouds opens for a moment in a small chink, and through it the spheres seem to reflect life and hope. The sun still lives.
Below here, yesterday Nature bore herself proudly; now she appears overwhelmed and tearful. The plumed bamboos which held themselves so haughtily are now spread and bent under the incessant beat of the rain, and cataracts run through their battered leaves. The fields have turned to lakes, the streams are rivers, the rivers are floods ; and these roofs of bamboo and nipa are irrigating pipes guiding numberless jets inside the houses.
Fortunately I am provided with an ample rubber coat, with a monastic cowl, a shield given me by civilization against the barbarities of the climate. It is a pity I have not another mackintosh for my chocolate and my beans which are running about the house vainly seeking a shelter.
The natives take more simple and economical measures against the colla. They strip entirely so as not to wet their clothes; the women in such cases wear only a short petticoat. They go by in groups singing and shouting. Water excites them. It seems as if their lifeless natures revive only by irrigation. They are going to bathe in the overflowing river just as the colla is reaching its apogee.
In the meantime the rain has grown heavier. At intervals cold gusts of wind are flung from the north and the horizon darkens with clouds more black than ever. The barometer, moreover, has fallen a degree. In these suspicious days of the colla, every white man looks at this sentinel of the atmosphere more often than a vain girl looks into the mirror. My barometer has a dial upon which are connotations by Father Faura, the Jesuit who conducts the Manila observatory for the glory of God and the advantage of the Filipinos. I fear, however, that the good father’s opportunities for study in this science have been limited. When the progress which is promised this country, and of which it is in great need, begins its march, we may hope for a meteorological department and a specially equipped weather bureau; but for the time being we are obliged to depend almost wholly upon the feelings “ in our bones.” Nevertheless, the barometer to me in my loneliness is a welcome companion. When it falls, I prepare myself for the worst, and when it rises I anticipate the end of the storm. But the colla usually has a tail, and that tail is the dreaded baguio or typhoon. Colla and baguio often go together in the season which follows the autumnal equinox, and at the change of the monsoons. This terrible phenomenon visits some part of the Archipelago annually. However, out of mercy, perhaps, it almost never comes to the same region two years in succession.
A native shining like a polished bronze statue arrives bearing a letter. It is from my good friend Celestino, and it says, “ Mount a good horse and come in quickly ; the baguio threatens.” At such times friendship is quickened and affection grows stronger. I would have given much for my friend’s companionship, but already the six miles of swamp road that lie between us are impassable.
The rain falls heavier and heavier; the world, seen from my window, is a muddy flood and my house an ark. The barometer is still falling. The dial hand already points to the remark “ with winds from the northeast and northwest the baguio approaches.” Soon I can hear the wind coming. With a sudden gust, to which the house heels like a ship, it is upon us. A great guava tree falls with a crash outside, and the nipa shutters go flying to leeward. The wind converts the raindrops into projectiles which pierce the house at all points with the violence of hailstones.
The architecture of the Philippines is another thing that is waiting for the advance of progress. The loss of life which accompanies each typhoon is largely due to the miserable structures in which the indifferent inhabitants live. These wooden houses, like the one I now inhabit, let in wind and water through chinks and crevices from floor to ceiling. When the wind rises they become boxes of resonance—veritable guitars. The frequent earthquakes of the region make more substantial structures impracticable, yet I cannot believe that the Philippine architect of the future will find this an insurmountable difficulty. It is surely possible to erect buildings of sufficient weight to keep them from being carried away by the wind, and, at the same time, of sufficient strength and lightness to prevent them being shaken down by the quakings of this nervous earth.
My house, however, is considered a fortress by the natives. As I sit pitying my loneliness, the laborers’ wives arrive in a crowd. The storm has no terrors for them, but their own huts are no longer tenable. They troop in with smiling faces, leading their children by one hand and carrying their household gods in the other. These people have no knowledge of nerves.
Night falls early; dark, drenching, and furious. “ The waters are out,” and the storm carries with it a terrible note. And the glass is still falling. Will it never end ? Rumors of destruction come in from the forest at intervals of a minute, together with the crashings of torn branches and the blowings, it seems, of a hundred horns. Gusts of wind and water combined come howling over the flood and hurl themselves against the house. At each onset the building cracks and staggers more than ever like a storm-tossed craft.
But at last the monster seems to be seeking its prey in another direction, and turns slowly eastward, hungry for more ruins. Southward, then, unless the law of storms is wrong, it will cause the greatest ravages. The vortex, to which all the radii of this gigantic wheel of the baguio converge, will pass through the south of the Archipelago.
I can hear the wind slowly veering toward the eastward and for the fiftieth time I examine the barometer. Thank Heaven, it is rising ! the mercury has a convex head and the worst is over. Within half an hour the lessening storm turns away.
At midnight, after fourteen hours of hard work, I fell asleep. That evening I had no supper. But my forty or fifty women visitors had also gone supperless, yet they slept on the hard boards amidst a shower of drippings, like blessed ones.
At daybreak there was a strange spectacle. The sun, pale and watery and as if it were ashamed of itself, started on its journey among shreds of torn mists. The river, superb and foamy, had risen above its high banks and flooded the entire plain. Here a bunch of cocoanut palms had been leveled as though by the axe ; there a great clump of bamboos had been torn up by the roots ; and not ten feet from the rushing river a strange horse was entangled in the torn bushes. Nature, like a flogged body, showed torn flesh everywhere. But no matter. Within two weeks there will be few traces of the ravage.
His Excellency the magnificent and mighty Mohammed Badaruddin, Sultan of Jolo, is mourning. For a period of eight days he has shut himself within the inner precincts of his palace, mourning in spite of himself on his own account as well as according to custom. His favorite wife, the peerless Layhaya, has met with a sudden and tragic death ; the victim of her master’s self-will and her own outraged pride.
Badaruddin, surrounded by his submissive servants, lies upon a couch gay with multicolored silks, with cushions embroidered in gold supporting his indolent brown limbs. On that face, so hollow-eyed, crow-footed, and so evidently marked with surfeit of the pleasures of the harem, he wears a fixed look of contempt and hate. Unconsciously toying with his glittering slippers, and with his angular chin resting in his hand, he gazes indifferently through the narrow, dirty hall which gives entrance to his room. The farther doorway frames a picture, but he is not looking at it. He sees neither the disorderly massing of the clouds, nor the tortuous meanderings of the Naybung playing hide and seek through the forest. The murmur of sparkling waves breaking on the yellow sands has no charm for him, nor is he admiring the vivid green of the river banks where the stream leaps to meet the sea. It is midday. An overwhelming sun is lending its blinding light and heat to the already stifling atmosphere, and producing gorgeous color effects with the leaves of the trees, the sand of the shore, and the pebbles of the river bed. Wafted by the faint, intermittent breezes come strange noises from the forest, and the perfume of diampaca, ihlang-ihlang, and a hundred other flowers unknown to the civilized world.
Already the lamentations of Musta have been recited with loudly expressed grief, and the psalms of mourning have been chanted. Already the Fahbdi has revealed the mystic pleasures of the future world, the hatintins, or bells, are dumb, and the fuzes of the lantacas (primitive bronze cannons) have smouldered out. All that is left is in the next room, wrapped in the sleep from which there is no awakening. It has great black eyes and a marble visage with angry spots of violet on either cheek. The tight-drawn lips are a curious blue, and the limbs are cramped and twisted. Rigid, contorted, and with staring eyes full of dread, it is a thing to be shuddered at. Agony is depicted on that awful countenance, and likewise desire, — a desire for vengeance.
I knew her. She was then but a pearl lost in the tranquil depths of Jolo. That was before the lustful eyes of the Sultan had lighted upon her. She was tall, lissome, and wore with the distinction of a great lady the jabul, the native robe, which hinted at the beauteous contour of her form.
For a long while, according to the Jolo custom, her marriage had been arranged by the old men in council, with a certain Datto. But it was necessary to gain the Sultan’s consent before the union. One day, therefore, the Datto presented himself at the palace, dressed in his richest apparel, a golden - hilted creese by his side, and his retainers and slaves behind him. When his mission was respectfully made known and he was awaiting a favorable answer, the Sultan sent him a blunt refusal.
For a few seconds the Datto was struck dumb ; then he begged, he prayed, he made promises, ay, even menaced the Sultan. But without effect. Nothing could change the tyrant’s decision. Before he left, the Datto entered the Sultan’s apartment without giving him the traditional obeisance. Looking at him with a proud, steady gaze, he said, “ I will leave you for the present; you who have torn my wife from my arms. You have power, as the Sultan ; but you covet Layhaya’s heart in vain. She will never be yours. Hear me, Badaruddin ! I renounce forever my allegiance to you, and as a masterless man I declare war against you! ” As he finished, he passed quickly through the door, vaulted to his horse, and disappeared down the valley.
The Datto’s fears came but too true. Emissaries of the Sultan, deaf to sobs and entreaties, tore Layhaya from her home and brought her before their chief.
First came surprise, outraged innocence, indignation and fear, then vacillation, desperation, outbursts of grief, stupor and indifference. Her parents constantly urged her to submit, and held before her the honor she would have in being the legitimate wife of the Sultan with a hearing in the council. Presently she wavered, and at last gave her unwilling consent.
The new wife of the tyrant of Jolo who, now that she was his, was treated like a dog, passed through varying stages of sensibility to apathy. Then, suddenly, her outraged feelings rose in rebellion. She resolved to forego all her empty honors and titles at the expense of her life. Her soul once more gained the ascendency over her body.
There grows in Jolo a vine, whose embraces join together plants and trees of the most varying character; that twines round bridges and stretches itself like a living telegraph wire through the forest. Its roots husband a deadly poison which paralyze the vital centres of those who partake of it. This Layhaya took and died in her master’s bed, and his serene Excellency, Mohammed Badaruddin, Sultan of Jolo, is in mourning. In the innermost recesses of his palace he is weeping in conformity with the laws laid down by the Mussulman religion. He is mourning according to usage and a little on his own account.
H. Phelps Whitmarsh.