Tuesday, January 26, 2010

103. Fantasmagoria on Wheels: CARNIVAL FLOATS, I

Of the scheduled Carnival attractions, the “Gran Paradas” (Grand Parades) stood out for sheer spectacle and visual bravura, as they featured imaginative floats on wheels of the most fantastic variety. In the first Carnival of 1908, 3 Grand Parades were held over the course of the Carnival Week: Gran Parada de Aquatica (the fluvial parade), Parada terrestre, desfile military y civil (military and civil parades on land) and the most awaited of them all— Gran parada de carrozas iluminadas (grand parade of lighted floats).

The grand parade of floats never failed to capture the attention of the Carnival visitors of all ages; some were animated, with elaborate mechanisms, while others featured bizarre designs and unique crowd-drawing elements like live mascots and local beauties. Corporate sponsors, large private companies, government bureaus, schools and provinces all had exclusively-designed carrozas that showed off their products, services and causes.

Some of the descriptions of the elaborate floats have come down to us through the coverage of El Renacimiento and the Philippine Magazine, which carried detailed accounts of the Feb. 29, 1908 proceedings:

“Yesterday’s procession of carrozas unprecedented in local history. It left Tanduay, as announced, at 4:00 p.m. Then it went to Novaliches, Ayala Bridge, Concepcion, Arroceros, Colgante Avenue, Aguados and Luneta. The sidewalks were full of people. The carriages had no place to park.

The carrozas of the Orient and the Occident were allegorical in their splendor. First came the King of the Orient and his court. It was shaped like a Turkish half –moon, with a terrible Chinese dragon, Japanese fans and lanterns to give it character.

The float of the Rulers of the Occident was of European in character, protected by two splendid lions with mouth agape. Trumpeters heralded the arrival of the King who was seated beneath a rich canopy.

The float of Albay featured the Mayon Volcano made from abaca fiber. In front was a model of a caravel dancing on the blue wave, a replica of the original boat used by Legaspi and bearing the legend “ Consigned to Admiral Evans”.

Cebu’s was decorated as Pearl of the Southern Seas, with fair damsels seated in the midst of flowery masses on a ship molded after Magellan’s. It was an instant “object of interest” to the amazed crowds.

Iloilo had an abundance of fruits, flowers and beautiful maidens. There were live butterflies flying about and every square inch of the float was occupied with maidens, cornucopias and blooms.

102. SULTANA DEL PASIG and other Minor Majesties

The Queen of the Manila Carnival and her retinue of princesses were not the only official royalties of the annual national fair. Local muses regularly graced the floats and carrozas of participating provinces. But other beauty titles were also conceived and contested by lovely nominees, as was the unusual case in the 1926 search for Miss Philippines—a “Miss Pearl of the Orient” title was hastily created and given to Carmen Fargas, who tied with Anita Noble twice for the crown, before placing a strong second in the final deliberation. The judges felt that she deserved a special title all her own.

In the very first Manila Carnival of 1908, there was a Queen of Peace, defended by the Constabulary and attended to by lions sleeping on her feet. Also appearing on the float sponsored by McCullough was the Queen of the Arts. Both however were allegorical royalties and were not true ceremonial figures.

There was, however, another beauty title, which, though lesser in importance, had enough prestige and significance to warrant its own eager public following. “Sultana del Pasig” was the title given to the muse of the city of Manila , and the prize was awarded, at least twice, during the Carnival years. "The Lady of Pasig" refers to a real Sultana, Kalangitan by name, and consort to Lord Lontoc, grandmother of Lakandula, King of Tondo, as recorded in the Malang Document of 1589.

The first Sultana del PasigConsuelo Agrava—was handpicked by city officials for her very apt beauty. As “El Renacimiento” reported, Miss Agrava, was “truly of the Sultana type, dark, with ojos de sulamita” (eyes of a peaceful woman). A spectacular float was made by her city exclusively for her, an Oriental pagoda featuring native nymphs positioned up front, in the act of rowing. Over the boat, large “tutubis” or dragonflies hovered around her, coming to life as the carroza was driven at the Hippodrome. At the poopdeck—the topmost part of the float—Consuelo did not sit, but reclined on a lounge—the dramatic pose of the sultana elicited much applause from an awestruck crowd.

The second and the last time that the “Sultana del Pasig” crown was awarded, was in 1927--during the quest for the Manila representative to the 1927 Miss Philippines. The winner not only received the crown of “Miss Manila” but also automatically assumed the title of, “Sultana del Pasig”. The title went to a Tayabasin student enrolled in a Manila school, Luisa Marasigan, who went on to capture the national Miss Philippines crown.

Unlike today’s pageants where corporate and other special awards are freely doled out by the dozen, the royal Carnival titles of yore carried much honor and prestige, so much so that only few were privileged to wear them, making every reign, truly a rare and royal experience.


Music was an integral part of the Carnival festivities—setting the mood, heightening the ambiance and providing great public entertainment. For the very first Carnival of 1908, Capt. Walter Howard Loving (b. 7 Dec. 1872/d.1945), the conductor of the Philippine Constabulary, specially composed a danza dedicated to the Carnival Association, entitled “Carnival Two-Step”.

Six years before, Capt. Loving, a Black American from Washington D.C. who had served in the Spanish-American War, had organized the Philippine Constabulary Band which won tumultuous acclaim at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

While the band was playing “William Tell Overture”, the electric power failed, plunging the exposition grown to darkness. Yet, the band, without missing a beat, played the rest of the music from memory, to thunderous and jubilant reception.

Capt. Loving’s “Carnival Two-Step” became the standard music of the countless carnival balls and dances that followed.

In the seminal edition of the Carnival, the hugely popular Grand Band Contest was introduced. The rules approved for the competition scheduled on February 27, 28, 29 and March 1 were as follows:

1. Bands will be judged according to the tune, conducting, execution, and interpretation.
2. Directors or owners entering the 1st contest (the proof of capability) should give the partitura (sheet music) of the music they will play to the Chairman of the Judges.
3. The last music to be played will be the “William Tell Overture”: the same partitura will be given to all.
4. The entrance fee of P20.00 is waived so as to enable everybody to enter the contest.

As expected, bands from every part of the land entered the competition. As always, there were picks and pans: Banda de Trozo (Tondo) played a selection from “Bohemian Girl”, but failed to rouse the crowd. Banda de Quiapo played accurately, while Banda Aguila, playing the “Overture of Semeramis”, did not allow all the instruments to shine. Pasig-based Banda Arevalo, conducted by Maestro Marisfoque, aptly chose “Escenas Pintoresques” by Massenet, which was excellently performed. Also well-applauded were the constabulary bands of Albay and Iloilo.

In the end, the Board of Judges, chaired by Antonio Garcia, gave the top prize of P500 to Banda Arevalo which garnered 34 votes, just half a point from the joint bands of Iloilo and Albay.

In the next Carnival of 1909, it was the turn of Pampanga to shine. The provincial government fielded a 32-member brass band from Angeles. Under the batons of Professors Higino Hererra of Angeles, Jose del Prado and Lucino Buenaventura of Baliwag and the generous sponsorship of Don Mariano Cunanan of Mexico, the band topped the national contest with their rousing number, “Crème de la Crème” by Tobani, played on French-made instruments.

Perhaps, the most exciting band contest was staged in 1932 where an all-female band, Banda Ligaya of Malabon, performed before an adoring public and bested the rest of the largely male brass bands, emerging as winners that year—a trailblazing triumph for Filipino womanhood.

Throughout the years of the Carnival, the Carnival muses inspired artists to compose kundimans, danzas, love songs and other musical pieces as melodic tributes to the fair royalties. Music sheets were issued in honor of Queens Luisa Marasigan, Monina Acuña and Guia Balmori but even outstanding provincial delegates were honored with songs composed and published by ardent admirers.

The stirring sounds of the Carnivals were finally hushed in the 1939 Philippine Exposition, but the sight of the country’s most talented brass bands, conjuring music with their polished instruments while looking sharp in their crisp, military uniforms, will always be associated with our greatest, grandest national past time.

Monday, January 18, 2010

100. Badges of Honor: MANILA CARNIVAL MEDALS

The Manila Carnival, being a national event full of sponsored activities, athletic competitions and other contests, warranted the production of medals and trophies that were presented to winners, corporate sponsors, stockholders and members of the media. The medals served many purpose—as a form of ID, as access to special boxes, as tokens of gratitude to donors, or, in the case of the contest winners, as badges of victory and honor. The Carnival years thus encouraged the flowering of medal art , and the prolific output turned out by metal craftsmen are sought after today as commemorative collectibles.

The designs of the medals, made from gold plate, silver, bronze or copper, were aligned with the visual themes of the Carnival. The very first medals for the 1908 Manila Carnival were produced by Schwabb S. & S. Vo. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.A. It featured two ladies, representing America and the Philippines, in a friendly handshake, with a clown and a child reveler flanking them. The next year, until 1923, the Whitehead Hoag Co. of Newark, New Jersey crafted the Carnival medals. Heacock Company, which employed Filipino metal craftsmen, was also commissioned to make medals as early as 1921 but it was the taller de Crispulo Zamora (b. 1871/ d. 1922) that produced the most number and best-designed medals.

The art of metalcrafting ran in the Zamora family for generations. Before Crispulo, a Taller de Plateria, Escultura y Grabados was operated by one Tomas Zamora in Quiapo, a relative. Crispulo’s father, Mauricio, also ran an engraving shop in the same area, and he trained Crispulo early on by enrolling him at the Escuela de Dibujo y Pintura to study art. At age 21, he married Pelagia, herself an accomplished artist. When his father died, Crispulo inherited the business and cornered the market for military decorations like buttons and insignias for the Philippine revolutionary government. His engraving plant, the biggest in the Philippines, also made religious metalworks, plaques, school medals, presentation cups and trophies.

His works for the Carnival first gained notice at the 1913 edition, where he made a slew of trophies for contest winners and designed the magnificent crowns of the national beauty winners. In the years that followed, Zamora virtually had a monopoly of the medal commissions from the Philippine Carnival Association, and rightfully so because his designs were always striking and imaginative, often melding Art Nouveau, and later Art Deco with Philippine motifs like bamboo, anahaw leaf and Filipina maidens. Soon, even provincial carnival committees were calling on the Zamora workshop to create their own petit fair medals.

Leading artists of the day were also tapped to contribute like future National Artist Fernando Amorsolo, who is credited with styling the 1914, 1922 and 1927 medals of the Carnival. Medals were also enameled to give them color, and they are most valuable when the ribbon and the bar are intact. Some medals featured the Carnival mascots like the Red Devil and the Billiken, while others, harlequins and clowns. Keepsakes like commemorative coins and tokens echoed the same design elements.

In the waning years of the Carnivals, the medals became smaller and thinner but the standard of design quality remained high. Which is why, the Manila Carnival medals are valued today, commanding consistently high prices at local and international auctions. Once badges of honor, Carnival medals continue to be prized today, commemoratives that once marked an important timeline of our colonial history.

Monday, January 4, 2010


The Carnival beauties, the majestic floats and the spectacular foreworks and light displays were not just the visual stunners that drew crowds and invited rabid participation at the national event. The Fancy Dress Balls and the Costume Contests proved to be one of the more awaited events, a showcase of Filipino creativity at it most imaginative—in which adults and children show off their most original, most fanciful and most outlandish fashion creations in themed fashion competitions, befitting the wild, unbridled carnival atmosphere.

If one were to review the very first Carnival of 1908, it was in fact a one big costume and masquerade ball. The grotesque dances, pageants and processions had participants masked and dressed as harlequins, clowns and allegorical figures. The pageant that involved the Occidental and Oriental royalties featured characters dressed in formal raiments of the richest variety. Following the ceremonies, the evenings were lighted up “to show costumes, masks and masquerades”, leading to the Grand Masquerade Ball of Nations. Ethnic tribes like the participation of the Moros provided much local color, alongside cowboys, military soldiers and Indians.

Prizes were first given to costumed participants on the First Carnival Ball on 5 February 1908. On this night, loving cups were awarded to the most beautiful lady’s costume, the most beautiful gentleman’s costume and to the most attractive group. Gracing the first ever costume ball were the artists of the Italian Opera who happened to be performing in Manila that time. The opera stars regaled the audience when they escorted the Carnival royals to their thrones, wearing their fabulous costumes from the opera Aida.

The succeeding balls were a combination of both a masquerade and costume party, with the traditional unmasking happening at midnight. No one was allowed entrance unless he was suitably garbed in a costume.

In the succeeding Carnivals, children were allowed to compete in a new category called Children’s Fancy Dress Parade. One of the prize winners in the 1916 contest were the Kalaw children, that included the future 1931 Manila Carnival Queen, Maria Villanueva Kalaw. She and her siblings Teodoro and Purita dressed up as Oriental royalties complete with veils and turbans, in costumes made from sinamay, designed by their mother, Pura Villanueva Kalaw.

In the 1922 edition of the Carnival, the sponsored nightly balls also went thematic. For example, the Pan-Pacific Ball required guests to don Hawaiiana costumes. The other Comparsa nights gave prizes not only to costumed revelers but also to the “best impersonators of Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin and Mae West”.

Towards the end of the Carnival years, the Fancy Costume Balls were tamed down; the last costumed Coronation Night was held in 1932 which had Emma Zamora and her court dressed as exotic Siamese royals. The next year, the Carnival Association eliminated the themed coronation program altogether, but even with costumes or without, the formal coronation rite retained its classy, glamorous style.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

98.Advancing an American Agenda: HEALTH AND SANITATION

American colonial scientists and doctors, after being exposed to the hazards of a tropical climate, came to view the Filipinos as a contaminated race, triggering massive public health programs to improve the Filipinos’ personal hygiene, sanitation practices and social conduct. Through intensified disciplining of the native’s bodily custom and habit, American physicians believed that Filipinos might eventually become capable of self-rule.

The Carnivals became the perfect vehicle for the Americans’ relentless health crusade. Without fail, the Bureau of Health and its affiliate bodies, participated in the Carnival parades and exhibit, with the intent of opening the eyes of the Filipinos to the importance of hygiene and sanitation in combatting national plagues like cholera, typhoid and dysentery that occurred with regularity every year.

In February 1918, the Red Cross dominated the Carnival with its presence, starting with a grand parade of Red Cross women who reflected on their faces “the beautiful rays of Christian charity and unburdened patriotism”. The centerpiece exhibit that was described as “the most elaborate and most telling” was the Philippine Health Service’s display of a Sanitary Model House, complete with a water closet. However, the crowd in attendance, which consisted mostly of students, ignored the exhibit to join the revelry, to the chagrin of health officials.

The Clean-Up Week was also introduced earlier by the Americans as an alternative to the Philippine fiesta which was characterized by an overflow of food (hence, germ exposure) and crowd (transference of diseases). The Clean-Up Week was dutifully promoted during the Carnival season, with the aim of sanitizing and beautifying Philippine towns. Citizens were enjoined to clean private and public premises, to collect and burn trash and to help construct drainage and toilets.

In 1922, the Philippine Health Service had its own pavilion in the annual Carnival that was plastered with health messages and displays inside and out. The exterior was decorated with diagrams of different disease-carrying germs, intestinal parasites, mosquitoes and flies. Inside the pavilion, one could find a model of an artesian well, a model public bath and toilet. Visitors were given free vaccinations while being shown diagrams of the country’s morbidity, mortality and birth rate. Case incidences of venereal diseases in Manila were also shown in poster form. Talks were given by PHS officers covering such topics as cholera, malaria, dysentery and beri-beri.

In the years that followed, when scientific breakthroughs became more available, the Carnival became the venue for introducing the concept of a neighborhood puericulture center and ambulant x-ray machines, as what happened at the Manila Carnival of 1935.

Our American colonizers, in their anxious effort to control and civilize a contaminated race, used every available channel to advance the cause of science and medicine in relation to public health. From the time America arrived in 1898 through the 1930s, no channel was spared to make sure everyone get the message—whether it be a smalltime town fiesta or a grand national event that was the Carnival.

(Reference: Warwick Anderson, Colonial Pathologies: American Tropical Medicine, Race and Hygiene in the Philippines. Duke University Press: 2006)

97.Advancing an American Agenda: SPORTS AND PHYSICAL EDUCATION

In revamping the educational system of the country, competitive sports and physical exercise programs were major integrations into the curriculum. Americans believed in the power of sports and physical education became a major tool in the subtle acculturation of Filipinos to American values. Sports provided a less militaristic approach towards instilling beliefs than subjugation through war. As Americans regarded Filipinos genetically inferior to merit self-rule, education via sports, could be a means to strengthen “muscle and nuts”, as opined by Dean C. Worcester in his recommendation of baseball as an ideal Philippine sports.

The Bureau of Education was also of the belief that “exercise is necessary to make Filipinos taller and bigger—that the stock of the race can be improved considerably despite many hindrances”. The Bureau regularly sponsored many regional meets, and by 1916, participants and winners were formally rewarded with academic incentives. The Bureau Director shared in the life-changing benefits of alternative sports to cockpit-loving Filipinos and that “this new spirit of athletic interest is actually revolutionary, and with it comes new standards, new ideals of character”.

THE SPORTS PROGRAM, for the 1908 Manila Carnival, featured games like American football, baseball and rugby.

It was no wonder then that when the first Carnival was initiated in 1908, a series of athletic competitions was planned, and the national fair managed to incorporate the Filipinos’ love of revelry while spurring regional rivalries in the sports spectacles.

The events in 1908, held in the specially-constructed Hippodrome, included inter-racial games like tennis, but also assumed white supremacy, holding separate competitions for Americans and Filipinos in disciplines like baseball and English football.

MANILA SPORTING CLUB MIDGET TEAM. Carnival champions of 1925.

By 1912, the sports program had expanded to include men and boys’ baseball, basketball, volleyball, track and field, girls’ basketball, with open competition in swimming, tennis, rowing, golf, polo, soccer, football and bowling. In 1913, the baseball game between the Philippines and Japan evolved into the 1st Far Eastern Games under the leadership of the YMCA.

THE CARNIVAL HIPPODROME. Venue for the athletic and sports shows. Other sports disciplines that needed special facilities (e.g. swimming, basketball) were conducted in nearby schools and stadiums.

International competitions were intended to instill a greater sense of Filipino nationalism against foreign rivals, but racist practices persisted in the separate whites and non-white game structures. In 1909, invitations were sent out to Dutch, British and French athletes to participate in the games of the Carnival. Crack athletes from the United States Army were also strongly in evidence. A publication speculated that “it is also reasonably probable that the Chinese new military establishment will send to Manila a number of athletes who will constitute formidable rivals to the best that the ‘white man’ can produce in the Orient”.

For Filipinos, sports became a means to challenge the notion of white supremacy by establishing their own physical skills, which allowed them to gain self-esteem, cultural pride and create a greater sense of national identity. For example, in a 1915 volleyball championship conducted by the American-led Philippine Amateur Athletic Federation, Filipino clerks trounced their American bosses causing the latter to declare that the natives played deceptively, a behavior that was unsportsmanlike.

Despite these, sports continued to be a major crowd-drawing event in the Carnival, becoming larger in scale every year. In 1922, the Chairman of the athletic competitions, Fred O. England, announced the addition of cricket and trapshooting to the list of sports events, which were played mostly in the Carnival stadium, Nozaleda Park, American YMCA or at the polo club grounds.

The national championships of the 1935 Carnival was held under the auspices of the Philippine Amateur Athletic Federation with Dr. Regino Ylanan as Chairman. The world-class Jose Rizal Memorial Field was the venue of the sporting events, contested from February 3 to March 3. The disciplines included: baseball, track and field, soccer-football, swimming, fancy diving, water polo, volleyball, indoor baseball, bicycle race, boxing, wrestling, weightlifting, tennis, handball, gymnastics—plus the native sports of sipa and folk dancing.

In the years that followed, America’s sports crusade bore fruit, making the Philippines an athletic powerhouse this side of Asia, by dominating the early editions of the Far East Games, the pre-cursor of the Asian Games, against Japan and China. It also spawned sports icons like boxers Ceferino Garcia, the legendary Pancho Villa, Olympic medallists Teofilo Yldefonso and track stars Simeon Toribio, Miguel White and Miguel Nepomuceno. While Americans never managed to get rid of cockfighting, they introduced us to basketball, a game we, Filipino shorties, surprisingly embraced and excelled in. As they say, only in the Carnivals could one find the objects of a Filipino’s obsession: beer, beauty and basketball.

(Reference: Gerald R. Gems. The Athletic Crusade: Sport and American Cultural Imperialism. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press: 2006)