Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"The Tobacco Monopoly in the Philippines-1776 to 1880" by Edilberto C de Jesus

The Tobacco Monopoly in the Philippines:  Bureaucratic Enterprise and 
Social Change, 1876 to 1880 by Edilberto C De Jesus (1980, 228 pages, Ateneo de Manila University Press)

Edilberto C De Jesus of Ateneo de Manila University (PhD Yale University, 1973) is one of the leading historians on the Philippines in the 18th century.   Speaking strictly as an amateur student  of the 18th century, the history of the Philippines is very hard to really know.   For starters, the Spanish destroyed nearly all the precolonial writings.  The notion of a unified Philippines is also a colonial construct which is still causing unrest in the country in the south.     Up until after World War II, residents of the Philippines did not think of themselves so much as Filipinos but as residents of their region.    

In his preface to the book Prof. de Jesus says most histories of colonial countries, even after they are freed, focus on the colonial rulers.   A history of  Indonesia would focus on the Dutch East Indian company and give the reader little or no idea what it was like to live in Indonesian from the perspective of the natives.   (I do not care for the word "native" in this context but I will use it).   A history of Brazil will focus on the Portuguese.    Histories of the Philippines (I have yet to find a good general one and if any one has any suggestions please leave them in the comments) have tended to start with the Spanish Invasion and see the history of the Philippines in terms of the natives adopting to Spanish rule, religion, and customs.   Prof. De Jesus and a few other modern historians of the Philippines have tried to bring to life the exact ways the things functioned in past centuries in the Philippines.

The book begins with an explanation of the ways in which the Spanish ruled.   The book focuses on Luzon (the biggest Island where Manila is located) and begins with an explanation of how the Spaniards ruled the area.   The conquest of Luzon was relatively easy compared to the conquests in  Southern Philippines as the there were basically no governmental units other than small groups of at most 100 families.    There were no huge battles with giant armies like there were in Mexico and Spanish America.    Basically the Spanish simply demonstrated superior fire power and then offered to back up the authority of local rulers if they would follow the directives of the Spanish.   As this only made local leaders more powerful, the Spanish found easy acceptance of their rule.    The Spanish did not find the great riches in the Philippines that they found in the New World.     The only real economic value that the Philippines seemed to have at the time to European powers was its proximity to the China trade areas.   The Philippines proved to be an economic liability to the Spanish (but they could not abandon it to another power with out global lose of prestige).   The Spanish colony in the Philippines was treated as if it were part of Mexico and Mexican gold revenue was used to support the colony.    The only way to make a profit from the colony was by exploiting the consumer needs of the natives.  In 1782 the administration of the Spanish Governor Jose Vargas determined that the one crop which nearly all Filipinos of adult years would pay cash for was tobacco.   There were small scale tobacco farms throughout Luzon.    Making use of local leaders (it seems only the priests tried to learn the multitude of languages found) the Spanish declared a state monopoly on Tobacco.   All local rulers were responsible for selling a quota of tobacco to the central authorities at a fixed price.   The authorities would then set up cigarette factories who would sell the product through approved merchants for a fixed price.   Women were preferred as employees in the tobacco factories and in a way the tobacco factories were the beginning of an independent non-farm labor life for the Filipino women.  

The Tobacco Monopoly in the Philippines-1776 to 1880 goes into precise detail on how the monopoly did and did not work.  He explains native resistance to to the monopolies.   He lets us see how these monopolies required the cooperation of local leaders at many levels and locations to work.   One of the qualities of colonial rule is nearly always through the selection of local leaders who will do the colonizers work for them in exchange for privileged status.

The Tobacco Monopoly in the Philippines-1776 to 1880 is a a very good book.   It gives us a detailed look at aspects of real life in the Philippines as seen through the operation of the Tobacco Monopoly. Prof. de Jesus documents well all he asserts and also gives us a lot of good reading suggestions along the way.   The only think in this book that did annoy me was his use of "Pagan" to refer to people in the Philippines who clung to older religions in the face of the attempts of the Spanish to require everyone to be a Catholic.    I do not think he means anything derogatory by the use of this term but I feel pre-conquest religions should be afforded greater respect.    

Mel u


Suko said...

I must admit that I don't know enough about the history of the Philippines. What has become of these tobacco farms?

@parridhlantern said...

Great post on a history I know very little about. As to the term Pagan, I wouldn't worry to much, It is a standard term used by a dominant monotheistic religion to describe a faith different to itself, a bit like heathen, but normally has risen off the back of the so-called pagan faith, for example, both Greek & Roman culture were pagan.

Shane said...

Why only women are preferred as tobacco employees??..why not man??..