Memories of Old Manila
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - January 12, 2020 - 12:00am

This is a beautiful book. This is the first time I have ever used that adjective to describe a book. Old Manila 2nd Edition by Carlos L. Quirino is edited by Maria de Castro as the second edition to the original book Maps and Views of Old Manila  by Quirino which was published in 1971 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the City of Manila. 

According to its publisher “ :...this evocative and superbly researched collection of essays charts the changing nature of Manila and its inhabitants. National Artist Carlos L. Quirino examines Manila from the early 11th century through the end of Spanish rule, rendering the past in witty and imaginative ways. This book addresses such varied themes as  religion, theatre, war, food, pestilence immigration, crime and punishment, coinage and art. This new edition contains the original text with enriched visuals – maps, postcards, engravings, sketches, and photographs – making it a comprehensive pictorial record of Manila and its denizens through the centuries.” 

There are 18 essays in the book. The first essay is “The Foundation of a City.” When the Spanish conqueror sailed into Mania Bay in May 1571, there were some 40 settlements around the bay and on the banks of the Pasig River. The largest was Tondo; but, the political and military center was Maynila, a village on the Pasig River of less than a thousand which was guarded by wooden walls and had several cannons. The essay described the clothing, livelihood, food, housing and even entertainment and culture of the people of Maynila at that time. 

The next essays is called “Trials, Tribulations and Triumphs of a Young City” which narrated the early struggles of the Spanish colonial city of Manila against invaders like Limahong and the Dutch. It described the five naval battles of La Naval de Manila which the Spanish and Filipino forces won. The victories were attributed to the image of Our Lady of the Rosary and her miraculous intercession. 

The fifth essays is “Making a Living in Ancient and Spanish Manila.” It traced the evolution of this city from subsistence farming to hacienda crops and finally to being an Asian maritime center with the advent of the galleon trade. It also traces the evolution of currency from barter trading to dependence on the Mexican silver coin to the first Philippine minted coins beginning 1861.

Chinoys will be interested in the sixth essay “Chino, Sangley and Mestizo de Sangley in Old Manila.” There is a narrative about the first major Chinese uprising which exploded into a full scale rebellion by Chinese inhabitants. Thousands of Pampangos and Tagalogs joined the Spaniards and the result was the death of around 25,000 Chinese. When  the bloodbath ended only around 500 Chinese were left. However, after a few years, the influx of Chinese immigrants resumed and three decades after the massacre,  their number had reached tens of thousands again. One interesting fact is that the Dominicans were assigned the task of supervising the Christianization of the Chinese; and, they built the first church in Binondo.

The 14th essay fills the vacuum of most Philippine history books which are silent about the role of women in the Philippines and even in Manila. It narrates the story of the  ancient priestesses before the advent of Christianity. Then there is the story of Mother Ignacia. There is a section on the cultivation of values  such as modesty, chastity, piety and domesticity as feminine ideals. This led to the practice of recogimiento (seclusion) which gave rise to the high number of convents and separate schools for boys and girls. However, by the 19th century there were thousands of working women. Quirino, however,  quotes: ... “the Filipino women of the Spanish period had a mind of their own, assertive, active and enterprising/ The idealized notion of the Filipino women as coy, shy, and retiring was an idea that the Spaniards tried to impose on the Filipino women...The emancipated status of Filipino women in the 19th century was observed to be true not only among women of the laboring class but among the upper class as well.” Then there is a story of women in the revolution and in history.

The 18th and last essay was written by Augusto Gonzales and Gaspar Vibal called “Families of Old Manila.” The society of old Manila – before the Philippine Revolution – had different groupings according to blood descent. At the top were pure Spaniards or peninsulares. Next came the mixed blood offsprings called insulares. Offspring of indios and Chinese were next and called mestizo de sangley. Next were the Christianized natives or indios. At the bottom were the non believers who were either mountain dwellers, Muslims or non-Christian Chinese.

Among the old families mentioned in the essay, several had ancestry defined as insulares or hijos de pais (sons of the country) which meant locally born Spaniards. Among these families were Ynchausti, Ortigas, McMicking, Roxas, Ayala, Zobel, Soriano, Zaragoza, Araneta, Pardo de Tavera, Gorricho, Casbarrus, Roces, Prieto and Madrigal. 

There were other families who descended from indio or mestizo de sangley heritage. These families included the following: Tuazon, Legarda, Valdes,Paterno, Devera Ignacio, Pineda Zamora, Asuncion, Pantangco, Jacinto, Rufino, Cu-Unjieng,and  Cuyegkeng. 

The whole book has several beautiful colored illustrations and maps and photos of Old Manila and its inhabitants. This is a book that is a must in the collection of every Filipino. 

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on January 25 (1:30 pm-3 pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC. For details and registration,  email

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