The Life and Culture in the Town of Lipa, Batangas in the 1800s
For a 1948 publication called the Batangas Directory, one Baldomero B. Reyes wrote a fascinating article entitled “Important events that occurred in Lipa during the Spanish regime.” The article is informative and should be interesting whether the reader is from Lipa City or not.
Rather than paraphrase the article, since it was already well-written, I decided to cite its 19th century account of Lipa verbatim, with annotations in brackets [x] where I feel they are necessary. Please note that Reyes’ article cited no references.
Excerpts from “Important events that occurred in Lipa during the Spanish regime” by Baldomero B. Reyes
“During the last century of the Spanish rule over Lipa, from 1800 to the revolution of 1896, some important events took place in this town.
“In 1805, under the mayorship of Leon de Africa, famine overtook Lipa so much that the price of rice rose to one manicolo (ten centavos) a chupa1. [A chupa was an old Philippine measurement, 1 chupa = 0.00000375 m3. Ten centavos in 1805 is equivalent to ₱2.04 in 2015 according to Inflation Calculator.] The poor who could not afford it used to unfold cloths on the amorcico [likely the amor seco or mimosa] grass that grew by the waysides, idle yards and fields so the tiny seeds would stick, be gathered, pounded and the small grains boiled soft in plenty of water and swallowed by the people to escape from death by hunger.
“In 1808, Galo de los Reyes began the widespread cultivation of the coffee trees by compelling the people to plant the same and thus brought about the wealth, splendor and fame that Lipa had after this time.
“In 1820, the tronko system of fixing the boundaries of the land under Felipe Teodoro as mayor was introduced. Previous to that time, anyone who could clear the forest was considered owner of his clearings.
“In 1829, an adventurer from Bauan became gobernadorcillo2 [the leader of a town or pueblo] of Lipa. He was Pablo Macarandang who became famous as a poet, a prophet and medicine man. He could cure various diseases and tell the exact moment of the death of anyone he examined though appearing well and strong.
“In 1841 when Galo de Africa was mayor, a comet [probably the Comet 7P Pons-Winnecke3] with long tail which the people called sombol appeared and foretold of bad omen. This was followed by a revolt in Tayabas [likely the conflict of Hermano Pule’s Cofradia de San Jose with the church and colonial government4] which caused death to many including women, children and the aged.
“In 1852 when the gobernadorcillo was Pedro Bautista, there were successive earthquakes5 [see Notes and references] so strong that the midnight mass for Christmas that year was not held.
“In 1858, when the gobernadorcillo was Mateo Katigbac, there arrived in Lipa a Spaniard by the name of Gregorio Aguilera who collected for the first time the fallas or extra tribute from those people who did not like to work in the public works. Because of his work he was called Fallas.
“In 1868 fire burned the southeastern portion of Lipa and in 1869 another fire burned the entire town together with all the belongings and coffee plants of the people in the suburbs. But the people did not mind the destruction, because they were wealthy as a consequence of the coffee industry. On the ashes they built new houses, bigger and more massive, of thicker bricks and stones, galvanized iron imported from Europe and the best of timber hewn from the mountains. The planning, premises, court yards, art, architecture, carvings, statutes and decorations were patterned after the mansions and castles of the barons and rich people of Europe during the days of the manorial lords.
“Those were indeed golden days in the glorious history of Lipa. During those days of about half a century from the time of Celestino Solis in 1843 to the time of Eduardo Mayo in 1890, the gold of Europe through Spain and of America through Nueva España [Mexico] flowed to Lipa. It was at that time in 1887 that Lipa was given the title Villa de Lipa [essentially making Lipa a city but revoked in 18956] by Queen Cristina II of Spain because of the fame of Lipa as one of the coffee producing centers of the world.
“Lipa at that time, together with all of its barrios and mountains, was filled with coffee plants. During harvest season, the main streets were filled with hundreds of carts loaded with coffee, being pulled by cows and carabaos to the warehouses of the rich where the seeds were to be dried on pavements hectares in extensions.
“The Real Street of Lipa [C.M. Recto St. in the present day] was like the Escolta of Manila. It was lined on both sides by stores, bazaars, and tiendas owned largely by Chinese, Hindus and Jews. They sold all things, goods and commodities imported from Europe, America and Asia. People from the neighboring regions came here to make their purchases for then it was seldom that they could not buy here anything that they desired to have. The seaports of Lipa then were Calamba, Batangas and Manila, for it was in these places where she brought her coffee to be exported to Europe and to Mexico and in the return trip, the hundreds of carts and horses that brought the coffee grains, brought the gold coins and the goods and commodities from these seaports. During those days, many of those that engaged in the planting and trade of coffee became fabulously rich and most of the rich families had a hundred or more servants each. They took away the molds from their gold coins by drying the coins on wide mats in the sunshine on the azoteas [rooftop terraces], yards or roofs of their big houses. During those days, paper money was not common and the custom among the people was to bring their heavy gold coins in bags loaded on horse backs or in carts.
“But the coffee industry which brought paradise to many did not last long. A certain kind of fungus known as smuts began to appear, sapped the juice of the plant and killed it7. [See Notes and references] In 1888, during the mayorship of Martin Kison, the colorful procession held to celebrate its prosperity proved to be the industry’s funeral; for in the year that followed in 1889, during the mayorship of Eduardo Mayo, our coffee trees began to die, and the industry that had brought wealth, splendor and fame to the community was no more. The superstitious, not knowing the origin of the death of the plants, assigned the cause to the coincidence that beautiful ladies and not the images of saints were placed on the beautiful floats that paraded during the celebration.
“In 1882, when Bernardo Solis was the gobernadorcillo, an epidemic known as Asiatic cholera swept the entire southern Luzon regions and Lipa became a victim. So mortal was the attack that whole households were wiped out in many places and most of the cemeteries in the provinces were so filled with dead bodies that the people did not have the time to bury them so corpses were filed like sacks of coffee one above the other in heaps on the cemetery grounds. Later, this was followed by another kind of epidemic called beriberi and in 1889 when vacuna or vaccination was first introduced here in Lipa to prevent the spread of that dreaded disease.
“From 1886 to 1887, there came and stayed in Lipa as a student and teacher of Don Sebastian Virrey in his college a man who later became the soul of the Philippine Revolution. He was Apolinario Mabini, the irreconcilable, the sublime and the brains behind Aguinaldo. He finished here his Bachelor of Arts degree and the degree of Professor of Higher Instructions, having finished his secondary course in his hometown, Tanauan, under another Lipa tutor named Valerio Malabanan, a priest.
“In 1889: the reputation of Rizal as a great patriot was already well known in Lipa; and in 1896 the people revolted and Rodrigo Navas, the commander of the Spanish garrison of 500 Spaniards surrendered to the Filipino insurgents under the command of General Eleuterio Marasigan8 on July 10, 1896.
“Of the around two hundred gobernadorcillos that Lipa had during the Spanish times, the most important in so far as laying the foundations of Lipa’s prosperity and greatness was concerned, was Galo de los Reyes, who became gobernadorcillo four times in 1808, 1812, 1822 and 1825; because if he did not have the foresight, the industry, the pioneering spirit and the strictness for the planting of the coffee plants, Lipa would have been just a mere town like many others without any name, glamour and golden pages in its past.
“The people that received the blessings of his foresight did not fail to recognize his importance to the town when for the celebration of the industry in 1888 his picture was the only display on the first float of the parade. In fact, the Lipa people then planned a monument for him, the site and corner stones of which were already begun but the death of the coffee trees caused the abandonment of the idea.” [The article concludes with a litany of names of people which should be of no further interest to the reader and is not included.]
Notes and references:1 “Philippine units of measurement,” Wikipedia.
2 “Gobernadorcillo,” Wikipedia.
3 “Bootids Meteor Shower 1841,” online at Bronberg Weather Station Pretoria South Africa.
4 “Hermano Pule, Wikipedia.
5 “Destructive earthquake in Batangas Province and northern Mindoro. Ruined many buildings, among which were the church of Taal and the church and convento of Bauang; the church of Batangas likewise suffered severely.” Quoted from “Catalogue of Violent and Destructive Earthquakes in the Philippines With an Appendix: Earthquakes in the Marianas Islands 1599-1909,” by Miguel Saderra Masó, published 1910.
6 “Demythologizing the History of Coffee in Lipa, Batangas in the XIX Century,” by Ma. Rita Isabel Santos Castro, December 2003.
7 The simplistic explanation of the decline of Lipa coffee due to a fungus was challenged by Castro in her dissertation listed as the preceding citation.
8 Eleuterio Marasigan was originally from Calaca and was one of the generals of the Philippine Revolutionary Army.
9 The main text of this publication comes from excerpts from “Important events that occurred in Lipa during the Spanish regime,” by Baldomero B. Reyes, published in the Batangas Directory of 1948.