05 November 2017

19th Century Talisay, Batangas as Described by a Spanish Historian

A rural scene which could have been anywhere in the Philippines in the 19th or early 20th century.  Image credit:  New York Public Library.
This article is the second instalment of a series featuring the towns of Batangas in the nineteenth century. Most of the information contained herein has been culled from “Batangas y su Provincia1,” a book written by the Spanish ex-government official and historian Manuel Sastron and published in 1895. Presumably, the information provided by Sastron was gathered in the immediate years preceding the book’s publication.

Sastron described the town of Talisay as to the north of Lemery (more correctly, to the northeast), south of the provinces of Cavite and La Laguna, east of Calaca and west of Tanauan. It had a land area of roughly 15,000 hectares, of which only ⅕ was flat lands. The rest, Sastron wrote, was hilly.

Furthermore, Sastron described Talisay as being a “modern town,” one which formally became a municipality in 1851, when Juan Antonio de Urbiztondo was the Spanish Governor General of the Philippines2.

At the time, Talisay was divided into 13 barrios. The town could be reached from Tanauan by carriage using a main road “during the dry season.” Presumably, by Sastron’s omission, the road was virtually unpassable during the rainy season from June to about September or October.

There were rivers that flowed through Talisay: Aya, Bignay, Sampaloc, Bobaton and the Bayuyungan or San Gabriel. All of these rivers, Sastron wrote, “had little water flowing.” There were also a few estuaries than ran through the town.

Like most other towns of Batangas, agriculture was among the principal preoccupations in Talisay. The town produced rice, corn, monggo, quibal, garlic and onions. There were even one or two neighborhoods which planted cotton in their fields. Irrigation, Sastron observed, was non-existent and watering the fields was left pretty much to the elements.

Farmers in Talisay had also tried planting abaca and coffee, but with little success. Sugarcane, in fact, was more promising; and production was getting better with each passing year.

The mountains and hills that surrounded Talisay were lush with numerous varieties of trees and plants, and Sastron named some of them: banaba, balayong, molave, anobing, malabunga, valor, himamaus, dulitan, antipolo, calumpang, abilo, malaruhat, talisay-gubat, banay-banay, taluto, baliti, bungculan, lamis, catmon, latang-gubat, alpay, malatipay, sahing, pisa, pagsahingin and the naghubo, to mention but a few.

Talisay had a lot of land on which animals could graze, but at the time had limited livestock. According to official records, there were just 294 heads of cattle, 178 carabaos, 215 horses and a thousand sows.

Along the roads leading to Tanauan, there were six wooden bridges. There were also other minor roads. One went north to the towns of Calamba, Cabuyao, Santa Rosa and Biñan, all in the province of La Laguna. Two local roads also went in the direction of Silang, Amadeo, Mendez and Alfonso in Cavite. Another road went west to the towns of Lemery and Calaca.

Primary education was available to children of both genders, but the school was in two rented houses which were in a very bad condition. Sastron noted that the education was of little benefit to the children of the town because they were needed by their parents to help tend the agricultural fields and, therefore, had precious little time to spend inside the classroom.

Despite the fact that Talisay was relatively isolated, Sastron noted that the inhabitants of Talisay were more open to visitors than those of other towns that he had visited. He wrote that the people of the town were respectful, very active and protective of their old ways. He also observed, however, that they were also “muy aficionados al juego.” Presumably, what he meant was that they were also fond of gambling.

Sastron also noted that criminality had declined in admirable proportions in Talisay, especially in comparison to the town of Tanauan. He wrote that there were hardly any incidents of crime committed for two years, presumably preceding the time when he wrote his account on the town.

He further wrote that Talisay was a healthy town with a “sweet climate,” excepting the months of March, April and May3. This was just as well for the town’s inhabitants because medical service was non-existent and locals turned to herbalists to cure their ailments.

The old church was already in disrepair, but another one was already under construction as directed by the Augustinian priests who tended to the flock. There was a cemetery about half a kilometer from the town center, and Sastron expressed concern that its proximity to houses could be unhealthful.

He also noted that the fishing industry was small and that there were just a few pens, in stark contrast to the present day. He also noted that sharks had been known to swim in the waters of the lake close to the town.

Notes and references;
1Pequeños Estudios, Batangas y Su Provincia,” by Manuel Sastron, published 1895.
2 De Urbiztondo was Governor General of the Philippines from 1850-1853. Wikipedia.
3 March to May, of course, being the most oppressive in terms of heat because these are the dry months in the country even to the present day.

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