Wednesday, July 30, 2008


By December of 1907, Filipino, American and Spanish communities have started naming candidates to the queenship of the first-ever Manila Carnival. The initial list of Filipina bets included Josefina Ocampo, Purita Villanueva, Leonarda Limjap and Pilar Reyes Cobarrubias, all of them beautiful and wealthy.

The public got caught up in the excitement and added their own nominations: Nenita Lukban (from Esteban de Infante), Filomena Francisco (a Liceo de Manila student noted for her intellect and moral values) , Maria Paz Zamora and Trinidad Zamora of Intramuros, Carmen Francia of Pagsanjan, Felicidad Villarica (“Talagang Tagalog”), Maria Paz Rafael Yangko (‘refined in manners”) and Pepita Rodriguez Serra. From Navotas, a certain Rufina Policarpio was singled out as “the most beautiful girl there, patriotic, educated, she can face anyone, by “tapat ng loob”.

Newspapers had a heyday selling their papers as ballot coupons were avidly sought, filled up, cut and cast. It was said that news boys no longer cry out “El Renacimiento, Castila at tagalog, walong cualta!”. Instead, they now cry out, “El Renacimiento, mayroong coupon!”. The results of the second balloting were released to the public on 23 December 1907:

Mrs. Jones – 4,169 votes
MC Baldasano – 1,978
Mrs. Beck – 1,110
Miss Leonarda Limjap – 779
Purita Villanueva – 608
Paz Yangko – 486
Carmen Francia – 457
Josefina Ocampo – 303
Felisa Hacon – 206
Inocencia Reyes – 139

Filipino newspapers like Muling Pagsilang, were quick to point out the balloting trend. Leading the contest was an American, followed by a Spaniard. The highest ranked Filipina was in 4th place. Five days after, there was a reshuffling of positions, but the foreigners still prevailed:

Mrs. Beck – 6, 647
Mrs. Jones – 6,635
MC Baldasano - 6,006
Carmen Francia – 4,352
Leonarda Limjap – 3,843
Sra. De Osorio – 3,590
Purita Villanueva – 1,089
Salud Mortera – 895
Amalia Jaime – 791
Concepcion Ocampo – 700

Also garnering votes was American Marjorie Colton, who trailed Josefina Ocampo (“Perla ng Kiapo--beautiful, humble and educated”). In the next month, the order would dramatically change for the foreign candidates, but Leonarda Limjap and Purita Villanueva consistently led the other Filipina candidates.

By January the selection of the Carnival Queen was rocked with a major controversy that resulted in the suspension of the balloting. The Carnival Committee discovered irregularities committed by newspapers and magazines. American weeklies, in particular, broke the rules when it published 4 coupons in their issues, when only 1 was permitted. A scam paper, The Sentinel, was also uncovered, printed to benefit the American contestants.

As a result, Philippine and Spanish newspapers decided to pull out from their participation; coupons ceased to be printed. Worse, the leading bets--Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Beck and Mrs. Baldasano successively expressed their desire not to be elected, with other popular candidates adopting the same attitude.

As if this was not enough, a raging cholera epidemic threatened the Carnival with postponement. The Carnival Executive Committee met quickly and decided to entrust the selection of the Carnival Queens to the Philippine Assembly.

But the epidemic eventually fizzled out, no postponement was necessary and the first Manila Carnival—with 2 queens to preside over Asia’s grandest annual event—was on its way!

Sunday, July 27, 2008


HER ROYAL ROLE. In a 1927 address to her alma mater, Her Majesty Luisa Marasigan declared," What is physical beauty if unaccompanied by a spiritual grandeur, and what is spiritual greatness that does not aspire to liberty, the supreme of all sentiments?".

Regardless of backgrounds, every queen-elect took her role and the significance of her title very seriously. The 1927 winner, Luisa Marasigan, in a message to her guests at a tribute given by her school Centro Escolar de Señoritas, downplayed the “beauty” aspect of the contest by declaring: “As representatives of the pride and flower of our land, we have duties to perform. We are not mere decorations or works of art to be exhibited in a museum. We are daughters of the Philippines endowed with physical qualities that should be utilized for the refinement and elevation of our moral and spiritual legacies..”

COLLEGIAN BEAUTIES. In 1929, colleges and universities were permitted to send delegates to the Carnival beauty congress. Schools like the University of the Philippines, Sta. Rosa College and Centro Escolar had their own bets.

Indeed, in 1929, as if to emphasize the whole notion of “beauty with substance”, colleges and universities were invited to field their contestants. That year, a UP law student was declared Miss Philippines, complete with a retinue of 4 princesses. In the next year, it was back to the 3 regional winners. In 1937, the Manila Carnival National Beauty Contest was dropped in favor of the 1st Philippine Exposition Beauty Fair.

The carnivals were such a resounding success that before long, the“carnaval” spilled over to the provinces with each one holding its own provincial, city and town fair (petit carnival) and picking its own delegates for the national finals—from as far as Cebu, Iloilo, Ormoc, Negros, Sulu, to Cavite, Baguio, Sulu, Mountain Province, Tayabas, Tarlac, Pangasinan and Pampanga. It was only in 1926 though that the delegates were called by their provincial titles, as in Miss Lanao, Miss Davao, Miss Ilocos Norte and Miss Pampanga.

CARNIVAL IN BAGUIO. The carnival fever gripped provinces, each one holding their own petit carnival, just like this 1923 edition in Baguio, with a distinctly colorful Igorot motif.

CONCEPCION CARNIVAL.Tarlac towns, as in other Philippine provinces, jumped on the Carnival bandwagon, holding local fairs and electing muses to coincide with their town fiestas.

By the mid 30s, interest in the Carnivals started to wane, losing its novelty, moreso with an impending war looming in the horizon. The curtains drew to a close with the last Philippine Exposition of 1939, and with it came the end of an era—when beauty had more substance and purpose, as exemplified by the achievements of these Filipinas, who, not too long ago were chosen fairest of the fair.

LIGHTS OUT ON THE CARNIVAL. "The Carnival is now over..", a paper wrote, "It will not be as a dream that has gone, but like a grand idea, useful, beneficial, which will be talked about by coming generations because of the many things we have learned from it.."

Behind the gaiety and the remarkable success of the annual fairs lie the real unspoken motive of the Carnival, articulated only years later by the 1st Queen herself, Pura Villanueva-Kalaw: “In those times of joy,” she said, “the ones who enjoyed the most and the ones who made the most out of the carnival were the foreigners themselves. After all, the carnivals were an American idea, organized, managed and animated by Americans themselves”.

NOW, THE GODS ARE DEAD. The Carnival is over. That is the order of Zoler...

In the end, the Carnival was nothing more than a superficial attempt to divert the Filipinos from the real issues that plagued American colonial governance, a balm intended to soothe our wounded national pride.

Even then, notwithstanding the real intent, the Carnivals were still the perfect showcases of the accomplishments of Filipina women, leaving a legacy of pulchritude at its most beautiful. The curtains finally drew to a close with the last Carnival of 1939, and with it came the end of an era—when beauty had more substance and purpose, as exemplified by the achievements of these Filipinas, who, not too long ago were chosen fairest of the fair.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


The first ever Manila Carnival of 1908 had the distinction of having two reigning queens—Reina del Occidente and Reina del OrienteQueen of the Occident and Queen of the Orient, chosen through the aforementioned newspaper balloting. But complications arose when charges of irregularities came to fore—with American weeklies allegedly printing more ballots than required to favor their American candidates. The National Assembly took the matters in their own hands and picked the two queens by votation.

TWO QUEENS, ONE CARNIVAL. American Marjorie Colton and Pura Villanueva, an Ilongga, shared royal duties in the very first Manila Carnival of 1908.

In the 1909 edition, the Occidental Queen was dropped, thus a Filipina royal reigned solo. In the quest for the 1912 muse, the title of “La Matrona de Filipinas” awaited the winner, and she was provided with an expanded royal court that included regional queens for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao—each with a retinue of princesses and escorts.

There were to be 3 years—1910,1919, 1928—when no national Carnival was held and only one Manila Carnival did not have a Queen in 1911. In 1917, it was the turn of an American queen to reign solo, a daughter of the governor-general. To celebrate the “victory of democracy” in the 1st World War, the 1920 event was known as the Victory Carnival and once again, an Occidental and Oriental queen ruled over the festivities. The 1921 fair, on the other hand, was dubbed as the Magallanes Carnaval in observance of the 400th year anniversary of Magellan’s discovery of the Philippines.

REDUX: TWO QUEENS, ONE CARNIVAL . In 1926, 2 quests were conducted--for the Carnival Queen (won by Pampanga's Socorro Henson) and the first ever Miss Philippines (Anita Noble of Batangas). It was to be the last time that the Manila Carnival Queen title was used; henceforth, all winners in the next years were named as "Miss Philippines".

In 1926, a parallel pageant—the 1st National Beauty Contest—was held alongside the Manila Carnival Queen quest. For the first time, the winner of that contest was called "Miss Philippines", a title that would be used permanently for all succeeding queens. The Carnival Queen had 2 damas while Miss Philippines had Misses Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao as part of her royal retinue. For this reason, the 1926 event was known as the Big Carnival.

It was also here that a Special Jury chose the winners, instead of public balloting to equalize the playing field, a selection process that was followed until the Carnivals' end.

In a 1928 Graphic magazine article written by Rodrigo Lim, he believed that “the most beautiful Filipina will be chosen regardless of whether she be from far away Sulu or from the slums of Tondo”. A recruitment advertisement for the 1930 Queen went so far as to proclaim that “the humblest girl from the most secluded barrio has a big chance to win the honor as the daughter of the richest hacendero”—so long as she possessed “beauty of face, perfection of form, and accomplishments”.

No matter, subsequent winners continue to come from landed families.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


WHERE, O WHERE. The nationwide search for the Carnival Queen, often marred with controversy and unabashed enthusiasm was satirized in this political cartoon. Everyone--from town elders, municipal officials, business executivess, socio-civic clubs to provincial governors wanted a say in the royal selection.

The tremendous success of the first Manila Carnival signalled the start of a beauty tradition that was to last for over 3 decades. While it is true that the carnival shows and exhibits elicited initial interest, it was the search for the Carnival Queen that proved to be the highlight of the Carnival, entrancing crowds and attracting participation from the provinces’ most beautiful ladies. After all, to qualify as a candidate, one had to have a good standing in la alta sociedad, with impeccable breeding, character , education and personality—not to mention financial capability.

PROVINCIAL BEAUTY BETS, at the 1926 edition of the Carnival, relaunched as the 1st National Beauty Contest.

In the first years of the search for a Queen, the selection was done through public balloting. One had to subscribe to newspapers ( La Opinion, Cablenews, Bulletin, El Renacimiento, El Tiempo, La Vanguardia), put the name of the candidate of his choice on the coupon, which was then dropped in dropboxes at designated outlets. In the first carnival, ballot boxes were placed at Clarke's, Libreria Colon and Olsen's Cigar Store at Escolta, at the Agencia Editorial on Carriedo and McCullough's on Plaza Goiti. The candidate who amassed the number of votes was proclaimed the Queen of the Carnival. This selection system—of buying votes—obviously favored the more affluent contestants.

VOTE WISELY. Coupons such as these were printed on leading newspapers, to be filled with the name of the candidate, and dropped at designated outlets. This selection process was thought to have favored the more affluent contestants.

Daughters of de buena familia were recruited by provincial selection committees to run as candidates. For many, the Carnival Queen title was a passport to further their fame, fortune and social prominence. At proclamation night, the Queen was crowned with “las diademas reales” , royal rhinestone crowns, specially designed by the country’s foremost metal engraver and maker of trophies, medals, tiaras and coronas, Crispulo Zamora.

HER CROWNING GLORY. Crispulo Zamora, the leading engraver and metalsmith of the time, was commissioned to design and create the stunning crowns, medallions and trophies for Carnival winners, guests and sponsors. This gem-encrusted crown was worn by the 1912 Queen of Luzon.

For a full year, she met presidents and foreign dignitaries, was paraded, wined, dined and honored with songs. She presided as an honored guest over countless carnival ceremonials, from street parades, coronation balls, themed gala nights and masquerade shows, many theatrical in nature. Her presence in these affairs always drew adoring crowds who shouted her name as she passed by. Past winners and contestants became lawyers, writers, diplomats, actresses, wives of statesmen and one even became a First Lady.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Oh meet me at Manila
Beside the dreamy bay
Meet me at the Carnival
Manila, U.S.A.
For there you’ll find the coconut
The mango and bamboo
And there upon the Malecon
I’ll wait and watch for you
- from an old Manila postcard

MERRYMAKING IN MANILA, U.S.A!. An old postcard invites every one to go to the Carnival in Luneta through a leisurely walk down Malecon Drive.

On 27 February 1908, the four gates of the 1st ever Manila Carnival were flung wide open. The site was the Wallace Field in Luneta and Bagumbayan, whose perimeters were walled up with Pampanga sawali, “isang umunat ang taas”. The area was strung with lights, arches and blue and yellow banderitas. Entrance tickets were sold at the taquillas, at 20 centavos each.

CARNIVAL GROUNDS, at the Wallace Field in Bagumbayan or Luneta.

WALLED IN SAWALI. The carnival site was ringed with Pampanga sawali and the grounds were festooned with fiesta flaglets, posters and strung with miles of brilliant electric lights.

Once inside, the visitor is treated to even more dazzling array of electric lights and Carnival colors. The fair was marked with theatrical shows, masquerade balls, band competitions, sports fests and extravagant float parades sponsored by big commercial establishments, provincial governments and local agencies. Provinces vied for attention and awards with their attractive booths that displayed their arts, crafts, agricultural and industrial produce. The pavilions of Laguna and Bulakan were singled out for their attractive decorations while that of Cavite was deemed, “not inviting”. Iloilo showcased its fruits while Albay replicated its famous Mayon Volcano, made from abaca fiber. The booth of Cebu was decorated as the Pearl of the South, guarded by a figure of Magellan.

SHOWCASING PAMPANGA'S BEST. Provincial booths were set up, each showcasing the native produce and the best in arts and crafts.

Private enterprises also showed off their wares. There were shoes by Adelanto de Siglo , hats by Vicente Liwanag and buttons by La Concha. Mr. Roces of Paete had furniture of narra beautifully varnished, while Messrs. Braulio Feliciano and Sousi offered nata de pina and Jarcias.

SPRUNGLI & CO., makers of Bear Brand Milk, supported the Carnival by contributing a decorated float to the annual float competition.

Even government agencies did a bit of breastbeating by setting up booths of its various bureaus like Public Works, Navigation, Forestry and Commerce, that flaunted their achievements. The Bureau of Science, for instance, showed silkworms, different kinds of wood and minerals. Foreign countries like Japan and China sent delegations to show off the richness of their culture with their commercial booths while the United States strutted its mighty stuff with military drills and naval shows. Even the great battle between the naval squadrons of America and Spain in 1898 was recreated.

A GOVERNMENT BUREAU FLOAT makes its beautiful presence felt in the traditional parade of floats, that also featured those of various government agencies.

Meanwhile, people from nearby provinces filled the venue every week-end to watch imported circus acts, thrill to exciting rides, sports competitions, firework displays and partake in the maskings, sports spectacles and interesting trade exhibits sponsored by the Bureau of Education.

MASKED REVELERS, like these carnival participants dressed as "payasos" or clowns, walked the carnival grounds and contributed to the merrymaking. Prizes were given to the most spectacular costumes.

A Hippodrome accommodated paraders that included cowboys, cavalry men , Indians, clowns and artists. Filipino aerialists, recently arrived from the United States, performed to the crowd’s delight. The highlight was a death-defying act where a lady descended from a height of 50 feet to the floor—held only by the hair.

Music and street amusement continued no end, attracting hordes of people “as thick as ants”. The gaiety and magic promised something extraordinary in one’s monotonous life. But, if one were to define and single out the fair’s lasting and singular highlight—it has got to be the nationwide quest for las Reinas del Carnaval—the Queens of the Carnival—who, just by their mere presence, inspired awe and excitement, mesmerized crowds and captivated a whole country by their allure and achievements.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


MANILA CARNIVAL GATE. Designed for the 1924 edition. The Carnival was held annually, starting in 1908, at the Wallace Field in Luneta Park.

Perhaps, no other event has piqued the interest and stirred a nation’s imagination more than the spectacular Manila Carnivals, held annually from 1908-1939. The Spanish-American War and the “Philippine Insurrection” were just a few years past behind us and our new colonizers felt it was the perfect time for healing old hurts and wounds.

CAPT. GEORGE T. LANGHORNE, aide de campe of the U.S. Navy, proferred the idea of an event to foster Philippine-American goodwill and promote a positive image for the Islands to invite businesses in.

As early as Sept. 1907, Capt. George T. Langhorne, aide de camp of the U.S. Navy, enlisted the support of businessmen, politicians, newspapermen, foreigners and prominent Filipinos in organizing a goodwill event to celebrate harmonious U.S.-Philippine relations. Feelings of hostilities had abated, more so with the inauguration of the Philippine Assembly in 1908 and Langhorne felt that such an event would make the world take note of the gains made by the country and would further drum up business opportunities. The idea was enthusiastically supported by Governor General James F. Smith and Major General Leonard Wood.
GEN. JAMES F. SMITH. Governor General of the Philippine Islands (1906-1909) fully supported the idea of a Carnival.

Capt. Langhorne asked the Philippine Assembly for a P50,000 funding to build a hall and “exhibit half-naked Igorots and set up amusements”. An immediate uproar erupted, with local newspapers protesting the very concept that reminded them of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair where tribes were displayed and shamed.

El Ideal, a leading newspaper, lamented—“The public will be obliged this year like previous years to witness the not very edifying spectacle of a legion of savage men, torn from their forests and haunts, to be the object of derision and ridicule of ‘civilized people’. WILLIAM CAMERON FORBES. Commissioner of Commerce and Vice Governor of the Philippines (1908-1909) also threw his support for the Carnival. He later succeeded Smith as Governor-General of the islands.

Gov. Gen. James Smith , shocked at the tone of the planned carnival, asked his Secretary of Commerce, William Cameron Forbes to take over. Instead of a freakshow, Forbes designed an international exposition to showcase Philippine-American progress. The government subsidy was reduced and money was raised through various means like private companies’ sponsorships and the search for the queen of the carnival through public balloting.

The Carnival Association lost no time in enlisting the support of leading American, Spanish and Tagalog newspapers of the day to promote the fair, scheduled for February 1908. There were sub-committees formed to take charge of the program, costumes, decorations, reception, illumination, tickets, food, publicity, music and peace and order.

LA GERMINAL CIGAR & CIGARETTE FACTORY. One of the major sponsors of the 1st Carnival. It was located on Calle Marques de Comillas, next to the Ayala Bridge. Dr. Ariston Bautista Lin served as the President.

Invitations were sent out to major business enterprises like Fabrica de Cerveza de San Miguel, Botica Watson, Germinal Fabrica de Tabacos, Manila Electric Railroad, Edward Keller and Co., Alhambra, Sprungli and Co. (maker of Bear Brand Milk) and Clarke Soda Parlor, which were readily accepted. Local government bureaus and provincial governments also pledged their participation through booths and floats. International dignitaries from Ceylon, Singapore, Siam, Saigon, Hong Kong, Canton, Bombay and Japan were also included in the guest list.

CLARKE'S. The leading ice cream and refreshment place in the Orient, at 2 Escolta. This pioneer establishment was also a major sponsor for the event, even serving as a drop-off point for ballots cast for the queenship of the Carnival. M. A. Clarke was the proprietor.

The February 7 opening date had to be postponed due to a cholera outbreak in Manila. The launch was pushed back to March 9. But as soon as the health hazards cleared, the 1st Manila Carnival was on!

Monday, July 14, 2008


The concept of a World’s Fair or Exposition began in France as early as 1844 with the holding of an industrial exhibit in Paris. But the 1st real “Expo” was held 7 years later in the Crystal Palace in London, under the title “Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations”. An idea of Prince Albert, the “Great Exhibition” was the first truly international showcase of progress, that was soon to have a greater impact on aspects of society including global trade, foreign relations, tourism and art and design.

Spanish Philippines was quick to adapt such events that aimed to increase commercial and economic relation between the archipelago and the metropolis while showing indigenous achievements to the Spaniards. 1887 saw the first Philippine participation in the Exposicion de Madrid in Spain, where the quality of exhibits—mostly fine arts-- was met with mixed reviews. Even then, this fair pre-dated American expositions by a good number of years.
It was only in 1893 that America held its own World's Columbian Exposition (also called The Chicago World's Fair) to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the New World. Forty six foreign countries participated, and over 26 million came to visit. Its scale and grandeur far exceeded the other world fairs, becoming a symbol of then-emerging American Exceptionalism.

A little over a decade later, the St. Louis’ World’s Fair held in Missouri to mark the Louisina Purchase, dazzled the world with its grand attractions, led by its new colony in the Far East—the Philippines.
The Philippine Exposition drew large crowds every day with its exotic shows of tribal groups in recreated native settings. Here, Igorots, Aetas,Bagobos,Tagalogs and Bisayans wowed thousands with their daily performance of music, sports and regional rituals, so strange to foreign eyes.

Though heavily criticized for the manner in which Filipinos and other ethnic groups were presented, the exposition was a resounding success, what with the fair also playing host to the 1904 Olympics, 62 countries and 20 million visitors.

Our love affair with fairs, carnivals and expositions have just begun...