Thursday, December 10, 2009

What's there to see in Dumaguete?

We're quite certain Dumaguete would not pull any surprises at all for first-time travellers there.  Like any city from Aparri to Zamboanga, we'd expect hotels (both classy and backpacker-friendly types), bars and bistros, restaurants of Pinoy and international cuisine, and accessible beach resorts since the city proper, according to antique literature, is just about five minutes walk to the seashore.  We suppose there may be spa and massage parlors, but in a city of conservative and Protestant mores (we heard this somewhere), they could only be clean and well-lighted places, the extra-sensationl fares in sin cities absolute no-noes.  Needless to say, there are no girlie joints then?  What could be the entertainment strip in a "city of gentle people"?

We know that chartered city Dumaguete is sixty-one years old, and each year, the birthday fiesta takes the whole month of November.  They have their Sandurot Festival, which we suspect is cousin to Panagbenga (Baguio), Sinulog (Cebu), Dinagyang (Iloilo), Ati-Atihan (Kalibo) and Masskara (Bacolod).  Same musical beating of the drums? That we got to hear.

Overall then, we'd like to experience what great difference the gentle citizens would impart to a first-time visit for fond remembrance, as what foreign visitors noted more than a century ago.

When Dean Worcester visited the Philippine islands as a University of Michigan faculty researcher in 1890, he found Dumaguete "to be a typical Visayan town of the better class. Its shops were kept by Chinese merchants. The population, numbering perhaps 8000 souls, was composed chiefly of natives, with comparatively few mestizos and still fewer Spaniards. The soil near the town was fertile, and the people seemed prosperous."   Worcester would come back as a member of the Philippine Commission and later as Secretary of the Interior.  It would be nice to check if gentle souls from Dumaguete were part of the exhibition he brought to the St Louis Exposition.

"Dumaguete is a clean, pretty little town on a fertile island, where there has been no trouble, and the people are well-to-do," Edith Moses said.  She was the wife of an American government official, and she was writing about an event there in April 9,1901. "They raise sugar and cocoanuts, rice and other crops, and, according to the knowing ones, it is the best place for business in the Philippines."

That 1901 event was connected to the inspection of the Philippine Commission done throughout the islands.  Thus, where ever they went, there was always a reception as this was, and still is, a typical Filipino custom.  The Dumaguete reception, recalled the officer Daniel Williams, "compared favorably with any yet given. ...We landed upon a large covered bamboo raft, and were welcomed by an immense crowd of people. There were seven bands, each endeavoring to outplay the other. Two or three triumphal arches graced the landing, and the entire distance from the wharf to the session hall, nearly a quarter of a mile, was shaded by a canopy of cloth strung upon a frame of bamboo. This is the most ambitious effort yet encountered to do homage to the Commission."  He did not write anything of semblance though to today's Sandurot.

Sometime in 1907, cable lines were laid between several Visayan islands, and one woman, Florence Russel was on board the cable ship.  She found Dumaguete "a tropically picturesque little town, surrounded by forest-grown hills, and built mostly of nipa, with the exception of the church, convento, watchtower, and tribunal, which were of wood painted a dazzling white."  Russel had other stories to tell about the people they met; the most amusing is about how the coin divers at the pier reacted when pieces of ice were thrown at them instead.

When Worcester was there around 1890, they were accommodated in the tribunal, which he said was "unusually comfortable for a building of its kind, being divided into several rooms, one of which served as a kitchen, while another afforded us some privacy. A lock-up was finished off on the ground floor."  He might have been describing the tribunal shown in his book (copy of that picture above).  It was not yet the wood structure that Russel saw in 1907.  The original town/city hall was a big bahay kubo, a nipa hut!

Since more than a century ago, two landmarks of Dumaguete--the old watchtower in the plaza and Silliman Institute/University--were the must-see in a visitor's itinerary, five-minute-walk apart from each other in the old days.

The only difference between these two old tower pictures--about a decade apart--were the trees.  Could they have been acacia?  If they were, they could still be tall and robust today unless they were cut as price to pay for city growth and development.   What infrastructures rose across the hundred years on the wide tracts of land around the tower, church and convent?  Good enough reasons to make a trip to Dumaguete then!

-----------------------------Notes ------------------------------
Dumaguete population grew from about 8,000 souls in 1890 (Worcester, 1899); 13,829 inhabitants (Baranera, 1899); 16,227 inhabitants (Census, 1918); 25,000 people (Carpenter, 1926), to 116,392 people (Census, 2007).

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