Monday, September 15, 2008


Imagine my astonishment when told about these festive-looking boats along Manila Bay; that they're not merely used by the local kids to dive off from, but they actually serve a distinct purpose: as water taxis to ferry seamen from Baywalk to their ships anchored not at the lee of the Manila piers, but out there in the bay.

My curiosity came about when I was taking pictures for my Manila Beach post. From the corner of my eye, I saw this young man -- wearing an orange T-shirt and denim jeans (see above photo) -- nonchalantly boarded one of the boats docked by the seawall. As the boat pulled out, I took a shot and then asked the man next to me where it was heading. It was then I was told about the seamen and the water taxis.

Another surprise came about while I was chatting with a barangay official one afternoon by Ever Goteco on Recto. He said the seamen who are
in between job contracts comprise the largest segment of transient tenants of Quiapo's boarding houses. All along, I thought it was the students who attend the schools within the university belt area who were catered to since the seamen already have the huge Ocampo Pagoda near Bilibid Viejo Street as their home away from home or ship.

The barangay official also added that many local residents generate extra income by renting out their spare rooms (see slide show below). Supposedly, seamen are usually preferred because even if abroad, most continue renting their rooms and simply pay the back rent upon their return. Interestingly, many of these seamen somewhat become the landlords' extended family members.

As for the Filipino seamanship itself, it isn't a modern day phenomenon -- like the
pioneering Saudi Boys of the '70s. In fact, the Filipinos have been a seafaring lot, as well as shipbuilders, since the sixteenth century. They have been explorers of the New World much longer than any group of Asians.

Moreover, there were at least a hundred galleons built locally: in Pangasinan, Albay, Mindoro, Marinduque, and Iloilo, but the majority were built in the shipyards of Cavite. Developed by naval architects around 1550, these galleon ships were three- or four-masted, high-forecastle-and-poop vessels with over 2,000-ton cargo capacity, although most were smaller, with 700- to 1000-ton range. Nevertheless, they were all state-of-the-art vessels with a commanding appearance and almost always heavily armed. Pirates had reportedly captured eight galleons over the centuries, while several were shipwrecked or sank by the ferocious typhoons in the Pacific.

Termed polo y servicios, which means nothing more than slave labor, was used to build these ships. As many as 8,000 Indios called Cagayan were rounded by the Spaniards and subjected to the grueling tasks of cutting trees, converting them to timber, and hauling them to the shipyards.

For over two and a half centuries, some sixty thousand Filipinos had sailed on the galleons. Between 1570 and 1815 alone, every year, two galleon ships sailed from Manila to Acapulco. In the beginning only one out of five crew members was a Filipino native. In the ensuing years, as much as 50 to 80 percent of the entire crew were Filipinos. Although many were Indios, there were also many from the mestizo class. The other crew members were Spanish, Mexicans and Portuguese.

The Filipino sailors who worked on these galleons stayed in Acapulco for three months prior to their return to Manila; some keeping families in both cities, while many jumped ship altogether upon arriving in Mexico, never to return to the Philippines.

Lorraine Crouchett, an American historian, noted that some Cebuanos sailed on the galleon San Pablo when it made its historic first crossing of the Pacific Ocean from west to east in 1565. Guided by Fray Andres de Urdaneta, the San Pablo was sent by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi to find the return route to Mexico and to obtain supplies for his expedition to settle the Philippines.

The route discovered by Legaspi was used by the Manila galleons to travel to Mexico for 250 years. From that period, Filipinos traveled to the New World regularly. And they continued to cross the Pacific long after the galleons were gone.

To learn more about the first recorded landing of Filipinos in California and other tales from the galleon trade, click here.

I will post additional articles pertaining to the Filipino seamen of the sixteenth century and the Filipino-Mexican connection in the future. For now, enjoy this slide show of the various boarding houses in Quiapo.

* Refresh screen to replay slide show!

* * *

Please note:
I very much appreciate my articles and photos appearing on fellow bloggers' sites, popular broadsheets, and local broadcast news segments, but I would appreciate even more a request for permission first.
Thank you!


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posted by Señor Enrique at 6:55 AM


Blogger FilMasons NSW said...

A very informative post.

In a recent cruise of the South Pacific, we've encountered cruise ships (P & O Cruise) with more than 80% Pinoys and Pinays crews!


September 15, 2008 8:29 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

My father was a seaferer even before I was born during the sixties until he retired a decade ago. I remember as a young kid,the most common way we communicated with him back then was via the mail which takes months to reach us. Now modern ships are equiped with internet and satellite phones which allows families to communicate real time.

September 15, 2008 10:09 AM  

Blogger escape said...

this is interesting. i didnt know that too.

September 15, 2008 1:08 PM  

Blogger Sidney said...

Interesting post. Look forward to your additional articles about the Filipino seamen.

September 15, 2008 1:32 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Hi Mario,

Thank you! Glad you enjoyed this post.

However, I must also thank Ka Tony for having inspired me to delve more into this Philippine-Mexican connection. I guess, you say that this is the prelude for delving later on on the Mayan culture.

I have a nephew who works as a baker in one of those cruise ships. He told me that the crew is basically comprised of Asians and those from India and Pakistan.

He's out eight months out of a year and comes home to Manila for four. He has practically seen the world a few times over. Nonetheless, he's one subject to intense sea-sickness when the water gets rough :)

September 15, 2008 7:31 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I know, Leo. Back then, we had no other choice than the slow mail, but I used to collect the stamps, though :)

There was only one seafarer in my family, a brother who joined the US Navy, but have six cousins who also joined the navy back during the '60s.

Nowadays, I have a nephew who works in one of those cruise ships as a baker. He's a member of the team that prepares bread and cakes for like 3,000 people three times a day. Whew!

September 15, 2008 7:35 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I'm thinking of one day renting one on a late afternoon for a couple of hours so I can shoot images of Baywalk, CCP, and MOA from the water side.

That'd be great, don't you think, donG?

September 15, 2008 7:38 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Hi Sidney,

I do have to thank Ka Tony first and foremost for my interest in this subject.

Incidentally, I linked Pusa's Pagoda post because she has yours linked to hers. This way, our fellow bloggers who may follow the thread would have an interesting route, so to speak :)

September 15, 2008 7:40 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I visited Acapulco, I saw a lot of things from the Philippines displayed in their museum and other historical places. I bet there are residents there who can trace their ancestry to Pinas as a consequence of the galleon trade.

September 15, 2008 9:55 PM  

Blogger pusa said...

nice seafarers story, and what an interesting fact, i also thought that those boarders in most of the houses at quiapo were students!

thanks for the link, LOL at "interesting route"

September 15, 2008 10:53 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting post and pictures!
I was on a short cruise recently and I would say over 50% of the workers there were from the Philippines. It looks like hard work and I always wonder how much they get paid for work that requires one to be away from home for so long.

September 15, 2008 11:31 PM  

Blogger ka tony said...

Hi Eric, I'm humbled by your endorsement. Thank you.

You are right Pinoys were & still are great seafarers, simply because we are surrounded by water. Not to mention our kababayan "Enrique de Malacca" or "Black Henry" was the first man to circumnavigate the globe! The outrigger canoe which still very much in use today, traditionally used from Madagascar to Easter island. The single or double outrigger boats were used as early as the first millennium BC, Malayo-Polynesians move out of South Asia & curiously traveled, guided only by stars to Micronesia, Melanesia & Polynesia on the largest ocean in the world, the Pacific!

Recorded Boxer Codex, quote ..."they (Pilipinos) have many kinds of ships of different shapes & names." Ancient Pilipino boats were; Virey, Barangay & Prahu, which generally made of bamboo, wood & straw.

Without Pilipino crew, who guided & taught Spanish sailors to maneuver the Pacific Ocean, the Manila Acapulco Galleon Trade might not have existed. The galleon trade started the exchange of culture between Asia, the Americas & Europe. The richness of Asia were stocked in Manila, thus became the "warehouse of Asia." Asian goods were shipped to Acapulco, hauled by land to Vera Cruz, then transport via Atlantic Ocean to Spain. On this route the Caribbean became heaven to pirates!

The galleon trade began by accident, when Spaniards rescued Chinese sailors whose sampan had sunk off the Philippines in 1571. With the Chinese sampan, were silk & other commodities. Manila & Acapulco became sister city, there was a place in Mexico named Manila. While in the Philippines we have a place called Mexico, in Pampanga. There were Pilipino crew from the galleon who jumped ship, passed as native Mexican & stayed. Some settled as far as Louisiana, became known in the states as "Manilamen." There were also Mexican "Guachinangos," a Nahualt (Aztec) term for "inhabitant of a forest" who were left behind by the Spanish galleon in Macabebe & Mexico, Pampanga.

With the exception of two small galleons which were built in Thailand & Japan, giant ones were built in shipyards of Cavite, Barraca in Binondo, Marinduque & Puerto Gallera (galleon port) in Mindoro. Hard Philippine timbers were used; narra, yakal, molave, ipil, etc... These Philippine hard wood earned Spanish armada the title "mistress of the sea." Small canons from pirate ships, were like mosquito bites on galleons made from Philippine timber. The "Concepcion" was the riches & largest Spanish ship built on her time, 160 feet long, displacing about 2,000 tons! When she finally sank near Saipan, had a cargo worth 4,000,000 pesos, worth $10,000,000. today!

A large number of plants & fruits was introduced from Mexico to the Philippines. Having no Spanish names, Spaniards adopted its Nahualt names; maiz, kolitis, kakauate, kalachuchi, kamachile, kamote, chiko, kamate, cacao, chesa, mani, abocado, etc... To Mexico we introduced our mango. Now Mexico is the larges exporter of mangoes, in the world!

The Spaniards exported the Aztec made "santos" in Manila; Nuestra Senora de la Paz y Buen Viaje in Antipolo, Senor de Quiapo, Nuestra Senora de Porta Vaga (patron of the galleon) in Cavite, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, to name few of them. Mayan architecture, design & engineering can be seen in churches like; the Guadalupe & Miag-ao, Iloilo. Maig-ao church feature the "Mayan tree of life" on its facade & both churches have Mayan "katuns," hieroglyphs and side triangular supports like those at the pyramid of Chichen Itza.

One of Mexico's patron saints, Felipe de Jesus lived for some years in Manila. He worked in one of the convent's infirmary. San Felipe de Jesus went to Nagasaki, Japan, where he was crucified, like our saint Lorenzo Ruiz.

Eric, these are some tidbits of Pilipino/Mexican relationship, I can share for now. Muchisimas gracias,
ka tony

September 16, 2008 3:15 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are those colorful bancas being used to tender the seamen from their ship to shore ? LOL.. that's quite ingenious hehe.. People make money from all sorts of ways - tax free at that :)

BTW your slide looks cool :)

September 16, 2008 8:32 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

I thought it'd make an interesting link, Pusa. But what's interesting is how your Pagoda post somehow coincided with the one I was working on :)

As for Sidney, until his complete and active comeback, will just have to keep linking his features to keep his 'presence' in blogosphere ... hehehe.

I really thought the students were the largest group of tenants of these boarding houses. Amazing, isn't it?

September 16, 2008 8:36 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

"I bet there are residents there who can trace their ancestry to Pinas as a consequence of the galleon trade."

I bet there are, bertN!

From what I understand, in Acapulco and in surrounding towns, Filipnos or their mestizo versions are everywhere as revealed by their skin, almond eyes, black hair, and infectious smile. And although many work in menial jobs, they serve as the backbone of the city's tourism trade.

I will dig more into this and share my finding in my future posts.

September 16, 2008 9:14 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Hello Heidi!

My brother and his wife in New Jersey -- now that their kids had flown the coop, so to speak -- would save up to treat themselves to a cruise as often as once a year.

Besides the places they get to see and the nighttime dances aboard the ship, my brother truly enjoyed meeting the Filipino crew members like long lost relatives. My sister-in-law, on the other, would always be concerned for these Pinoy crew members; afraid they might get in trouble because of my brother who would engage them in extended conversations ... hehehe.

Since the very first cruise they took, my brother has made it a point to also save some money for the "tips" he would give to the Pinoy crew memebers he gets to meet onboard.

These cruise ships prefer hiring onboard employees from outside the United States because of the much lower labor costs.

My nephew who works as a baker in one of these renowned cruise ships probably doesn't even make more than a a couple of thousand US dollars a month.

I'd like to mention, by the way, the dark side of the Manila galleon:

Both the Spanish and Portuguese engaged in the capture of about a hundred thousand Asian slaves from India, Burma, Indonesia, and Mindanao. They loaded on the galleons in Manila and transported to Acapulco.

These Asian slave somehow fulfill the shortage of labor or manpower due to the high rate of deaths among the Mexican Indian population
who succumbed to the diseases brought by the Europeans.

September 16, 2008 9:15 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Hi Ka Tony!

These are no mere "tidbits!" These are incredibly valuable and significant information about the historic "Pilipino/Mexican relationship!"

I will definitely draw from these as I pursue my planned series on this subject matter.

New York City is so far removed from Mexico and the entire west Coast; hence, I never 'felt" the connection of the Philippines with Mexico while a NY resident.

Again, Ka Tony, THANK YOU!

And I am very sure all our fellow bloggers and history students who pass by this way immensely appreciate your "generosity" as well. We are indeed blessed by the insight you tirelessly share with us :)

Maraming salamat po!

September 16, 2008 9:25 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

"Are those colorful bancas being used to tender the seamen from their ship to shore?"

I wouldn't be surprised if they do provide such service, BW. And sine practically everyone has a cell phone these days, it'll only take the seamen to send a text message to the bankero to come and fetch them ... provided they give him the coordinates of the ship's exact location, of course ... hehehe!

And thank you once more for Slide! As you can see, am making good use of it :)

September 16, 2008 9:50 AM  

Blogger ka tony said...

Hi Eric ...again,

Every summer break, my wife & I treat our kids for a vacation (if they have good grades). Last June we decided to have a Mexican cruise to San Diego, Ensenada & Cabo San Lucas, we all don't like Cabo 'cuz we had a bad experience last time in that place, but it was part of the trip.

We boarded the Elation, Carnival cruise line. Big beautiful liner, great service, great food... everything was great! Almost half of the crew, specially in the dinning & the kitchen are Pinoys! I'm always mistaken for a Japanese as our Pinoy waiter started serving us, I recognized his Pinoy accent. So, I started talking to him in Tagalog, things changed, he pampered us with great service. In a secretive way whispered to my ear "Boss bukas dito kayo kumain ulit, kasi bukas meron kaming "lobsters," itatabi ko kayo ng marami" On board passengers have a choice of 6 different places for breakfast, lunch, dinner & snacks. Food was 24 hours & you can request for room service as well, all inclusive except for drinks.

So, next day we went back for the sit down dinner, gossssh! Our Pinoy waiter gave each of us 8 big lobsters!!! We couldn't eat anymore 'cuz we felt that these lobsters were coming out of our ears! After 3 days, we're all sick of the food on board. Our Pinoy waiter noticed our reaction, so bumulong uli "...Boss, sawa na ba kayo sa pagkain? Mamayang gabi kakatok ako sa room ninyo at dadalhan kita ng pagkain." Later that night a knock on our door, openned it, I saw our Pinoy waiter with a formal presentaion of steaming "sinigang na sugpo," "sisig" and "tuyo" A real Pilipino hospitality!!!

Eric, I asked our Pinoy waiter how "Pinoy Seafarers" are hired. He said that the cruise liner don't hire their crew directly. They have to go thu recruitment agency to be hired or rehired. They pay for their physical & dental exam, pass port & other papers. Their job is by contract for 6 or sometimes 8 months. Though food are plenty, almost half of these food are thrown away, they are not allowed to eat them, even leftovers! Being caught is immediate termination! They eat & cook their own food. Seafarers' job is 24 hour always on call.

It's a tough job Eric!
ka tony

Here are some pix of our cruise...

September 16, 2008 3:37 PM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Wow! What a feast, Ka Tony!

Now I know why my brother makes it a point to save up for those Pinoy crew members. He's probably impressed by the extra attention those Pinoy crew members give him :)

Yes, it's no easy job. My nephew had confided a couple of times that he would quit in a jiffy if there were any decent opportunity here at home. And this is the reason why not too many Americans are found working in those cruise ships.

Incidentally, my nephew also mentioned of the racial tension amongst crew members who come from various and mostly third world countries.

September 17, 2008 8:07 AM  

Blogger nutart said...

Eric, you and Ka Tony should really have a joint blog! I get sooo engrossed that my housewife time is always eaten up! My husband usually ask me why I am taking so long reading your blog. I usually say, history class! Thanks both of you!

My first time in Singapore was quite memorable--- my friends and I were looking for cheap buys in the malls but all we could find were way above our budgets. So, we began discussing among ourselves in Tagalog. Two guys overheard us, came up to us and introduced themselves as seamen and were quite happy to hear daw some Tagalog words. They offered to help us do the haggling. We accepted and we were so surprised how good they were in speaking Fookien (complete with gesticulations and whatnot). They even hinted at me to flirt with a Chinese kasi daw crush daw niya ako. The Chinese brought out a tray out of his cabinet and there was a lot of the cheapest watches and calculators with brand names even. The watch I had bought from that Chinese lasted me many years! The seamen, meanwhile, didn't ask for anything and said they just felt good helping their kababayans in some way.

Another seaman i accidentally got to talk with (we were both whiling away our time waiting for people to come)gave me a whole earful of his stories---my goodness! he talked about all the women he had affairs with in all the countries he went to. And they all adored him and his gentle ways of relating with them daw. he would tell me all he would ask is how they have been, eat with them and pasubo-subo ng pagkain. Simple lang naman ako , he says, pero marami palang babae na gusto ang ganitong klaseng lalake. His Pinay takes it like it is a professional hazard but has decided to finally separate from him. Another professional hazard among seamen, I guess.

September 17, 2008 9:43 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Hi Bernadette,

I'd be much too unfair for Ka Tony for us to have joint efforts, because he's much too fast for me. I need at least a few days to absorb all those information that he gladly shares with us all.

You remind me of one of my very good friends in NYC. People feel so comfortable with him that they'd tell him everything about themselves, and we didn't even know if they realized it or not ... hehehe. But I think that says a lot of positive qualities about you.

You were fortunate to have met those seamen who helped you with your shopping :) I guess, being away out in the sea on such long stretches makes them so homesick and long to be with other Pinoys.

September 17, 2008 8:49 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been around your blog and enjoy reading your posts but too shy to comment. This one I felt I really had to because of my encounter with 3 Filipino seamen roaming around Chinatown in Victoria, BC, Canada last August where we went on vacation. They look like they were in there mid twenties, very young and they are really having a good time while taking pic beside this fancy sports car on the sidewalk. So when they finished, I approached one of them if they can take pic of me with my family, which he gladly did but made a joke "kung mabilis daw akong tumakbo", nakuha ko agad yung joke then I joked back that my husband is a trained killer (retired US Army) which is true. WE laughed, it was fun meeting them, but they seem were in a hurry, they said their cruise ship is docked in the Inner Harbour. I didn't get their names but I was really grateful for them, we had a nice family pic. So whenever I see post about Filipino seamen, I try to thank them maybe they will read it somehow.

Yeah, I knew about those transients because my friend is renting a couple of their rooms in their house in Herran.

I'll be back and read more of your posts.

October 02, 2008 11:53 AM  

Blogger Señor Enrique said...

Hi Pearl!

Firstly, thank you for making your presence known and for visiting :)

I'm sure they much appreciated your talking to them. A friend in New York once had a small Pinoy store and every Saturday, some seamen would drop by to buy some Pinoy foodstuffs to bring back to their ships. Many times, I'd get a chance to meet and talk with them, too. I could always sense the homesickness in their talks of families and friends back home.

This and future entries about Pinoy seamanship is a personal tribute to these compatriots who brave the open seas and make a career out of seafaring :)

Again, many thanks, Pearl!

October 02, 2008 8:53 PM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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