The How and Why Library/Geography/Section XVI
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XVI. All Play and No Work for Manuelo
Manuelo was a little brown Filipino boy who played nearly all day long. He did not care how many Chinese boys came to his home in The Philippine Islands to be rich merchants. It seemed very foolish to him for anyone to work so hard when it wasn't at all necessary. A cocoanut shell full of rice, and a banana that he could pick from a tree made a very good breakfast. As for clothing, he wore nothing except when he went to the American school. He was a good-tempered, polite little boy. When he went to school he wore white cotton trousers and a jacket, to please the American lady teacher.
There were many things that puzzled Manuelo. He was a Filipino boy, but his name was Spanish. His language was a mixture of Spanish and his native tongue. Now the lady teacher told him he was an American boy. In the school he was learning to read English. Let us see if we can straighten out the puzzle for him.
Four hundred years ago the Spanish people, as well as the English and Dutch, were great sailors and conquerors. About thirty years after Columbus found America, another Spanish explorer named Ma-gel-lan, found a large group of three thousand big and little islands. They were away over near China. He called these islands The Philippines, after the Spanish King Philip. The Philippine Islands belonged to Spain until a few years ago. Manuelo was a baby when there was a sea-fight in the harbor of Manila. Manila is the largest city on the islands. The fight was between Spanish and American ships. After that The Philippines belonged to the United States. The Spanish soldiers went home. There was a new flag of red, white and blue. The military bands played gay new tunes. Then the lady teacher came. For the first time, little Filipino boys and girls were expected to go to school. You see now how the little brown boy became an American. There are four colors of Americans—red, white, black and brown. You will like to know the little brown American boys and girls better.
Manuelo was small. He would never grow to be a very large man, but he was straight and slender and graceful. His short black hair was straight. His bright black eyes slanted just the least little bit. His lips were thin and red. He was very clean, for he swam
in the sea, or in the nearest river, every day. There are many crocodiles in the rivers of The Philippines, and there are sharks in the sea, Manuelo had to stay in shallow water near the shore.
Our little brown cousin lived in a village of nipa palm huts, under feathery palm trees. His father's house was built of bamboo. It was raised from the ground on thick, bamboo posts. It was thatched with nipa palm leaves. Underneath the house was a room for the chickens, the pigs and the water buffalo. They all made a great noise in the morning and woke the family up. The light woke them up, too. In the walls of the house, were sliding windows set with thin, pearly squares cut from oyster shells.
Manuelo helped himself to all the rice he wanted from the red earthen cooking pot. He took a banana, an orange, a mango, a pineapple or any fruit he liked best. When he had eaten-his breakfast, he tumbled down a bamboo ladder to the garden. The garden was gay with flowers and fruit trees. A thornbush fence was around it.
If no playmates were in sight, Manuelo knew where to look for them. He ran first to the Plaza. Plaza is Spanish for open square. The church and the priest's house on the Plaza were as Spanish as those of Cuba. They were colored lemon yellow, and had roofs of red tiles. A few shops, and the best nipa houses of the village were on the Plaza. Market was held there some days, and the village band played there in the evenings. In the early morning the Plaza was empty and quiet. Thick, dark forests were behind the village. The woods ran up a mountain slope. From the bare top of the mountain, the steam curled. The mountain was a volcano. Sometimes the volcano made the earth tremble.
Manuelo ran down a street of nipa huts to the river. The women of the village were there washing clothes. His sister Juanita (Wa-nee'ta) had a bamboo basket of pineapples on her head. She was going to the big market in town to sell them. Juanita was pretty. She wore a red skirt, and a white lawn jacket with wide sleeves. She smiled at Manuelo and he slipped into the river. He swam and paddled and dived with forty other children for an hour.
In another part of the river were the water buffaloes chewing their cuds. They looked like clumsy, long-horned cows with thick legs, backs bent like bows and skins like pigs. They were plastered with mud. You would think them very ugly, indeed, but they were good-tempered, useful animals. They plowed the rice and hemp and cane fields; they drew the heavy, two-wheeled carts to market, and they gave milk. Manuelo called his father's water buffalo by a pet name. The little boy climbed up on the animal's back, then slid down, held fast by her tail and had a ride in the water.
When Manuelo went home with his mother, he brought her a bamboo pail full of water from the well in the Plaza. He cleaned some rice for dinner. He put some grain in a wooden trough and beat it with a pestle, to loosen the brown hulls. Then he tossed it in the air to let the chaff blow away. He caught the grains in a basket. Sometimes, in the spring, he helped plant rice. He waded in the mud and water to set the plants in rows. You know rice needs a lot of water to grow in. He made fish nets of split bamboo and hemp.
Manuelo learned to make all sorts of things of bamboo. Perhaps you have a bamboo fishing pole, and you know how light and strong it is. It is hollow inside, and has solid joints. Bamboo is really a kind of grass that grows very thick and tall. Some of the canes are as small as a pencil; some as thick as a man's leg. In The Philippine Islands bamboo grows wild, and the Filipinos use it for many things. Bamboo is used in building houses, carts, bridges, ladders, boats and for water pipes. Split into thin strips it is woven into awnings, baskets and hats. The tender young shoots are good to eat, as we eat celery. If a Filipino is very clever, and is willing to work a little, he can have a very good house and cart, boat and baskets for nothing. And it is no great misfortune if an earthquake shakes his house down. He can easily build another.
Best of all, Manuelo liked a day in the forest, on the mountain slope, hunting bread-fruit, figs, nuts and eggs. The woods were thick and damp and hot and still. Ferns grew as tall as little trees. The palms seemed to touch the sky. The trees grew close together. There were big, twisted and thorny bushes. In the woods were ever so many curious things. There were the mounds that birds built to hide their eggs. There were tailor-bird nests that were bags of thick leaves, sewed with spider webs. The tailor-bird used his sharp bill for a needle. Bats hung by their wing-hooks, and fanned themselves. Monkeys chattered and quarrelled and ran races through the trees. There were orchids (or'kids), great wax butterflies of blossoms, that grew on tree trunks, and fed on the air. Other things were not so pleasant. There were stinging ants and insects. There were snakes that could squeeze little boys to death, and poison snakes. But it was not often that a little Filipino boy got hurt. A number of boys always went together, and they all kept their bright eyes and their sharp ears open.
If Manuelo's father sold his fish for good prices, he bought a white cotton suit of clothes for Sunday, or a shell comb for his wife. Manuelo's mother and sisters could make good clothing, for every day, of hemp and palm threads; and a very fine, silky gauze of pineapple fiber. But Juanita liked the bright calicos in the Chinese and American shops. She sold her fruit in the market and bought gaily colored skirts and ribbons and slippers.
In the evening, Manuelo's family sat in the open door of the house, and on the rounds of the ladder, below. Big fireflies flitted in the dark garden. They could smell the flowers and fruits. The father played a new tune on his guitar, and Juanita danced. Sometimes his father played with the village band in the Plaza. On feast days, there was a church procession with beautiful tall candles and banners. Fire crackers were snapped and rockets sent up. On dark nights, the sky above the volcano was often rosy with the fires far down in the heart of the mountain.
In the house a light burned all night. The lamp was a cocoanut shell full of oil. A light might be needed at any moment. When an earthquake shook a house, everybody must scramble down the ladder in a hurry. The animals ran out from under the house. The chickens squawked, the pigs squealed, and the water buffalo mooed. The whole village of people and animals tumbled out of doors. When the trembling stopped they all .went back to bed again. Manuelo turned over and over on his bed of palm leaves. He was kept awake so long that he thought perhaps he wouldn't wake up in time to go to the American school in the morning.
That would worry the lady teacher, but it wouldn't worry Manuelo. See The Philippine Islands, page 1469.