Silang through the foreign eyes…


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The Philippine Islands. John Foreman, F.R.G.S. New York, C. Scribner's sons, 1899 cover pageJohn Foreman wrote a book entitled “The Philippine Islands” in end of the 19th century. Preceded by eminent writers like de la Concepcion, Zuniga, and Comin (Comyn) and reliable accounts of Jagor (and Gironiere)  or even centuries ago by Fr. Chirino, S.J., Foreman aspired and attempted to continue the accounts of these writers (especially that of Jagor written 20 years before) citing social and material progress and highlighting the changes in the colony. In his numerous travels in the archipelago, Foreman rendered a “hypercritical view of things”—the location, the people and its culture—very anthropological in approach and a vividly graphic glimpse of the past.

In his travel in the island of Luzon, he started off from Manila riding a vessel up to the Pasig River, ending in Laguna de Bay and from their started his travels on land. Prior to his arrival in Silan, he had been to Jala-jala, Los Banos, Santa Crus, Pagsanjan, Botocan, Cascade, Majayjay, Tayabas and Pagbilao, San Juan de Bocboc, Batangas, Lipa, Bombon Lake (Taal Lake), Talisay, Taal and Balayan. He went to Cavite by canoe in Isla de Punta Fuego and reached Maragondon, Santa Cruz de Malabon, Indan and then Silan.

The Philippine Islands. John Foreman, F.R.G.S. New York, C. Scribner's sons, 1899 preface 1 table of contentsFrom Silan, he proceeded to Carmona, Binan, Peres Dasmarinas, Cavite Viejo (Kawit) and Cavite (port).

The following is an excerpt of Foreman’s “The Philippine Islands” written in 1899 Chapter 23, pages, 454-455.

…We rode on to Silan. On leaving Indan, and about one-third of the way to Silan, there were so many rises and falls in the road that I suppose no one ever attempted to journey in a vehicle, but the route is very good for riding. The last two-thirds of the road are better still, and we went a fast troy all the way to Silan.

There were nothing but coffee plantations, or waste land, or fields out of tilth to be seen on the way. Two miles of the road this side of Silan were splendid. I was in the heart of that region which, in 1896, became the centre of the Tagalog rebellion. Silan stands high up, and it was cold and damp. For the first time, in this Colony, I really felt chilly. There was some excitement about coffee prices. There has been a market rise in Manila, and several brokers had come to adjust bargains for deliveries. I was mistaken for one of these persons.

Silan is a large town with a few fairly good houses, a large church and convent, a very hospitable priest and a civil guard station. The townspeople happened to be celebrating their annual fete. Here and there were groups of fighting-cock owners and sportsmen.  On one side of the church there was a big fair. At night the principal streets were illuminated by every householder hanging out paper lanterns of varied colours. The windows were wide open—the neighbours were paying mutual visits—wayfarers from afar were welcome everywhere.  In each dwelling a table was spread with confectionary, sweetmeats, drinks and buyo.

I had alighted at the Town Hall, but was at once kindly invited by a headman to his house. As I pass along with my host we were repeatedly called upon by the townfolks to “honour their houses”. Sometimes we thanked the inviter and passed on, but at three and four places we entered and accepted sweets, cigars, and betel-nut as a matter of compliment. Nowhere had I witnessed such display of disinterested hospitality.

In the square a temporary theatre had been erected, before which a good-humoured mob stood gazing with delight at the “Moro Moro” performance. All was gaiety—prince after prince was being slain—the piratical tyrant was eating dust— the Christian cavaliers were winning their laurels.


The next day we rode on from Silan with the same ponies through Carmona to Viñan — an uneventful journey by beaten paths through fields only enlivened by a magnificent view of the Laguna de Bay when we were near to Carmona…


The Philippine Islands. John Foreman, F.R.G.S. New York, C. Scribner's sons, 1899 the author

The author with his trusted local guide.

What can we get from here? One, it shows Silang agricultural heritage.  Cultivation of coffee is a large-scale enterprise. The author noted that the people were excited in the rise of coffee prices. Apparently, it is the life of Silang as well as of its neighbour, Indang (and nowadays as with most 3rd District municipalities, most are coffee growers, i.e. Amadeo).

Two, Silang is always known for its cool, temperate (even chilly) climate. Chirino’s account in 1600s made similar accounts (Chirino: the climate there is very moderate, and in no season of the year is there excessive heat–rather, the mountains render it cooler).

Another interesting point is about the town folks who are always congenial and has positive character. Relacion de las Islas Filipinas described the 1600s natives in Silan as, “tractable, and well inclined toward all good things”. Foreman was readily welcomed by the people or perhaps he was no stranger at all for he also mentioned that he was present in 1896, the start of Cavite rebellion which was in Silang.

He also mentioned some structures in the town: “a few fairly good houses, a large church and convent… and a civil guard station” and even a town square where a crowd can watch a show; Silang was a fairly organized community with decent infrastructures. He also mentioned “a very hospitable priest”— if the visit happened in 1898 (for the book was published in 1899), the parish priest is a Recollect named Padre Juan Lopez who served Silan in 1897-1898. But from 1868 to 1904, a priest of Diocesis or a Secular was also present and his name is Rev. Lino Capili.

Even more fascinating is the time Foreman arrived in Silan: “The townspeople happened to be celebrating their annual fete”, he wrote.  Note that Foreman was accompanied to some houses by a host, who was identified as a “headman”, perhaps the Capitan Municipal then (equivalent to today’s mayor). In 1898-1900, Jose Kiamzon was the Capitan Municipal of Silan. It is possible that when the foreigner went to the Town Hall, the people led him to the Capitan Municipal (headman) to formally accommodate the guest in time for fiesta.

Since the olden days till now, Silang celebrates its annual fiesta with a fair and a show. Houses are open with feasts at their tables welcoming any visitor who may enter. It is always an honor to receive a guest.

“Nowhere had I witnessed such display of disinterested hospitality”, he wrote. This is certainly a compliment from a foreign perspective.

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