06 November 2017

Rosario, Batangas in the 19th Century, as Described by a Spanish Historian

The roads to Rosario were passable by all types of horse-drawn carriages.  Image credit:  New York Public Library.
This article takes a look at the town of Rosario in the nineteenth century through the eyes of Manuel Sastron, the Spanish ex-government official and historian who was one of the few who wrote comprehensively about the Province of Batangas during the Spanish colonial era in his book “Batangas y Su Provincia1.”

The book was published in 1895, and presumably all the information contained in it was collected in the years preceding its publication. This article is the third of a series on Sastron’s descriptions of Batangas’ towns as he saw them in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Rosario, Sastron wrote, was bounded to the north by Villa de Lipa, to the east by the town of Tiaon (Tiaong as it is contemporarily spelled) and San Juan de Bocboc and to the south by the towns of Lobo and Taysan. In the latter half of the nineteen century, Rosario had 35 barrios and a total population of 35,000.

Rosario could be reached by way of roads that could accommodate horse-drawn carriages that led to the town of Batangas, the province’s capital. This road passed through Ibaan. There was another road that went to Villa de Lipa. These roads were fairly wide and were passable by all kinds of carriages. There were also four bridges, three of which were in good condition, the last one barely usable.

Sastron named the rivers that coursed through Rosario: Tubignangbayan, Tangob, Bani, Paningsingin, Pinagcaanoran, Malaquing-ilog, Bantoc, Quiloquilo, Natu, Pinagsibaan, Lauaye and Masahing. There were also three streams: Tombol, Tilaga, Ticbahan, from which branched out estuaries, the best known of which were Tiquiuan, Baybayin, Mabato, Pinagtipasan, ltlugan, Quibalayang, Balete, Tampayac, Santol, Bulandal and Muntingtubig.

For a town that was blessed with so many natural waterways, Sastron observed, Rosario’s farmers were curiously dependent on rain to water their fields. There were no irrigation systems as yet.

Like Villa de Lipa, the town of Rosario also suffered from the decline of the coffee industry due to an infestation of a worm which Sastron called the “bayongbong2.” Farmers tried to cope with the loss of their coffee plants by turning to the cultivation of rice, corn, sugarcane, abaca and cotton. Some still retained hope that coffee could once again be grown.

In the forested areas of the mountainous terrain in Rosario lived deer and wild boars, along with countless exotic birds. The better known of these were the balid, tarictic, manocnoc and the punay, along with many varieties of doves. These forest animals were not hunted, according to Sastron.

He further noted that there were vast lands in the town which belonged to the state on which livestock could graze; and broached the idea that farmers who had suffered due to the decline of the coffee industry could as an alternative turn to raising livestock, instead. This, he rationalized, could compensate for the loss of their coffee income. At this time, Rosario was still located in what is present-day Padre Garcia, which is known for its livestock.

At the time, Rosario had 1,500 heads of cattle, 700-800 carabaos and a thousand horses, relatively small in comparison to, say, what Villa de Lipa had.

Rosario, Sastron went on, was founded in 1687. Its original settlers were refugees who had moved away from the shores of Lobo to escape the frequent raids of Moros from the south. They had turned to the praying of the Holy Rosary for their delivery from their trials, and this was how the town obtained its name. By the nineteenth century, parochial administration was under the Order of the Recollect priests.

Rosario’s court house was being rebuilt, according to Sastron; and the town had a private school which offered the first two years of secondary education. Most of the other schools in the town were in a bad state of repair.

Sastron noted that while most of the town’s inhabitants were respectful and possessed a kind disposition, the rate of criminality in the town was relatively high. The theft of livestock, in particular, was quite frequent.

The climate in Rosario, Sastron wrote, was “mild.” However, from August to October, already the rainy season, malarial outbreaks also rather tended to occur. Despite this, however, the town’s population continued to increase.

Friday of each week was Rosario’s market day, and trade was limited to the sale of rice, horses, cattle and pigs. The town, Sastron sadly noted, was suffering from something of an economic crisis. Not only was it reeling from the decline of coffee plantations, it also had to deal with a drought and a locust infestation in 1886. There was also a rinderpest (a cattle disease) epidemic in 1887-1888 along with a malaria outbreak in 1889-1890.

Notes and references:
1Pequeños Estudios, Batangas y Su Provincia,” by Manuel Sastron, published 1895.
2 In “Demythologizing the History of Coffee in Lipa, Batangas in the XIX Century,” a dissertation written by Maria Rita Isabel Santos Castro in 2003, it was claimed that the coffee plants started to die out because of a fungus infestation.

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