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Batangas c. 1880 as Described by a Jesuit Priest

A man pounding rice in Batangas.  Image credit:  University of Michigan Digital Collections.
A book entitled “Handbook of the Philippine Islands1” published in 1899 paints a narrative picture of Batangas and other provinces of the country in the second half of the nineteenth century. The book is an English translation of an earlier work by the Jesuit priest Francisco Javier Baranera entitled Compendio de Geografia de las Islas Filipinas, Marianas y Jolo2 (Geographic Compendium or Summary of the Philippine, Marianas and Jolo Islands) which was published in 1880.

Excerpts from the section on Batangas are quoted verbatim from the book, with my own personal annotations in blue to give readers a better perspective of the information provided.

Is bounded on the north by Cavite and Laguna, on the east by Tayabas, and on the south and west by the sea. [Tayabas was renamed Quezon in honor of President Manuel L. Quezon in 1946. The seas mentioned are Batangas Bay to the south and the West Philippine Sea to the west.]

The surface measures 1,154 square miles (2,989 square kilometers). There are 312,192 inhabitants, living in 22 towns and 520 barrios. A civil governor of the first class is at the head of public affairs. The noted volcano of Taal is situated in this province. It juts from the center of the Lake Bombong. [In the present day, the land area of Batangas is estimated at 1,204.54 square miles or 3,119.75 square kilometers. The province has 3 component cities and 31 towns3. Lake Bombong was the old name of Taal Lake. Click the following hyperlinks to learn more about Taal Lake and Taal Volcano’s past history and possible etymologies of the name Bombong.]

Batangas is the capital. The number of inhabitants is 37,350. The place is well built and its people are mostly well to do. There is a beautiful cemetery, pleasantly situated. The province is remarkable for the number of large towns, among them Villa de Lipa, 37,701 people; Bauang, 38,416; Taal, 33,000; and others exceeding 20,000. [In contrast, as per the 2015 Philippine Census, Batangas City’s population was 329,874; while Lipa City has become the province’s most populous geopolitical subdivision with 332,386. Bauan presently has 81,351 while Taal’s population has grown relatively small percentage-wise since the nineteenth century. Its 2015 population was 51,503.]

Thanks to the industrious character of the natives living here, the production is large, the crops raised being wheat, rice, coffee, cacao, sugar, Indian corn and all kinds of vegetables. Stock-raising is also carried on; and a praise-worthy desire to improve the breeds of their animals and the quality of their vegetables is manifested by the eagerness of the competition for prizes at the country fairs. [The inclusion of wheat as among the agricultural products in the nineteenth century in Batangas is somewhat curious because by and large wheat is a temperate crop and attempts to grow it in tropical climate is a fairly recent endeavor among grain scientists4; but apparently, according to an article published at the web site of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, it was, indeed, grown in the Philippines during the Spanish era5.]

Weaving, carried on by the housewives, and sugar-refining are the only manufactures. [This does not sound comprehensive at all. A 1917 Anthropology paper written by one Aurelio P. Arguelles6, for instance, documented a well-established pottery industry in the province. Another 1917 paper, written by one B.B. Atienza, documented a weapons and tools-making industry in Taal7.]

The production much exceeding the consumption, the exports are large. In 1890, the soil yielded 11,372,587 pesos (this was likely an updated figure since the original book by Baranera was published 1880). Farming is especially profitable on account of the excellent means of communication. Wagon-roads cross the province in all directions, and the sea-ports are conveniently situated. [As per the calculations of Inflation Calculator, ₱11,372,587 in 1890 is equivalent to ₱294,743,264.40 in 19178.]

Tagalo is spoken with great purity. [Even in the present day, many linguistic experts regard Batangas as the heartland of the Tagalog language; and there are even those who believe that the language originated in the province.]

Notes and references:
2Compendio de Geografia de las Islas Filipinas, Marianas y Jolo,” by Padre Francisco Javier Baranera, published in Manila 1880.
3Batangas,” Wikipedia.
4Wheat in the tropics: a growing demand,” published 1989 by the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, online at CGSpace.
5Wheat Growing in the Philippines,” by C. R. Escano, published 1985, online at the Food and Agriculture Organization.
6Pot Making in Batangas,” by Aurelio P. Arguelles, published 1917, online at the Henry Otley-Beyer Collection of the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.
7Weapons and Implements Made and Used in the Town of Taal,” by B.B. Atienza, published 1917, online at the Henry Otley-Beyer Collection of the National Library of the Philippines Digital Collections.
8 Amount calculated by the Inflation Calculator.

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