Monday, August 9, 2010

Haw, Haw, the Karabaw. Part 2.

Pen, pen, de sarapen, de kotsilyo de almasen,
Haw, haw, de karabao, bantuten.

 Bantuten ... mabantot.  The carabao stinks? It depends, we think, on the state of one's olfactory sensitivity, or on the occasion, whether our quadruped just had a good, clean bath down the river, by the neighborhood deep/artesian well, a good cleansing from the rains while in harness for the plowing, or it has just risen from a good nap in its small muddy wallowing pond at the backyard.

It may be that the carabao was more delighted in mud or muddy water, an observation that's reflected in the literature of the early years of the American regime.  It must be "allowed to have a mud bath once or twice a day," wrote Devins (1905), or it becomes "water mad."  It seemed like this animal could not resist jumping into the muddy pool no matter if it was carrying something on its back so that the mud drying and caking on its body would serve as insect repellant (Browne, 1900; Morris, 1906).  In Manila, where they were transport animals, the carabaos had the esteros for their wallowing ponds, all fully submerged there with only their heads above the water (Carpenter, 1926; Devins; Miller, 1912).

And that would explain why the early American visitors found the carabao smell repulsive, and yet, they were also surprised/shocked to find that the animals also were disgusted with them white people. They thought the animals hated their 'American' smell (Devins, 1905) or 'white man' smell (Dauncey, 1906).

"The carabaos are as gentle and amenable as horses with the natives," wrote the Englishwoman Dauncey, [but they] "are not at all safe as regards white people, however, for they can smell and detect them at an immense distance; and they will occasionally charge them ferociously, so that they are very dangerous in the open country."  She said she heard about "carabaos killing and trampling on white men in out-of-the-way places."

The official handbook (1903) for the Philippine exposition exhibit noted that "in the more remote towns [carabaos] sometimes display a violent dislike for white men, occasionally stampeding at the mere smell of one."  Morris thought so too, that the buffalo (his term) was "prejudiced against white men, the scent of an European traveller being sometimes sufficient to set all the buffaloes in a village on the stampede," clarifying that this applied to "villages rarely visited by the whites."  Browne, on the other hand, thought it was "an overmastering fear of foreigners, and the mere sight of a white man [that] has been known to stampede every buffalo in town."

Whether the smell mattered or not, the carabao or water buffalo figured in its own way on both sides of the Philippine war against the Americans.

In all its mud-smelling glory, it could have been a medalist for valor in recognition of its contribution to revolutionary journalism.  Without the carabao, the propaganda war against the Americans could not have been pursued on the run.  Wildman (1901) wrote:

"... there were more potent influences at work than force; one of these was official information published in La Independencia, the Insurgent organ, which followed the fortunes of the revolutionists. Its utterances were accepted by the people as gospel. It reached all official headquarters, and circulated extensively among the people throughout the Archipelago. It was the only Insurgent paper published in Luzon, and it was always issued from Aguinaldo's headquarters. When he and his staff retreated, La Independencia, with its few fonts of type, and its old Franklin handpress, was packed into a carabao cart, and dragged along. This printing outfit was of vast importance to the "paper" republic. Had we been able to capture the Insurgent printing outfit, I think the "government" would have perished of ennui.

"Always at a safe distance from the firing line Paterno, Mabini, Aguinaldo, or one of the cabinet ministers, spread into type the gospel of revolution, and circulated it broadcast throughout the Archipelago through the columns of La Independencia. These ardent revolutionists realized the influence of anything "in type," and employed their little outfit to the full limit of its possibilities."

While it was an insurecto (Devins), the carabao was also harnessed by the American military forces to serve them. Holmes (c1918) took the "slow, deliberate, and dignified" carabao as "a curious feature of the street life of Manila ... scores of  [them] dragging in their lazy wake long trains of carts now used for forwarding supplies to soldiers at the front"  during the night.  By daytime, these would return either empty or heaped with their dead or the wounded.

After the fall of the Republic in Palanan, Isabela, the Americans put the carabaos to good use in building peace-time Philippines.  They hauled timber from the virgin forests for government infrastructures. They were harnessed for road building. Even when modern agricultural equipment were introduced, the carabaos continued to be kings of the farms and the farm-to-market roads though rinderpest almost wiped them all off in the early 1900s.  


Browne, George Waldo. (1900). The pearl of the Orient : the Philippine Islands. Boston: D. Estes and Co. Retrieved from;idno=sea210 

Carpenter, Frank. (1926). Through the Philippines and Hawaii. Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, Page and Company. Retrieved from

Dauncey, Campbell. (1906). An Englishwoman in the Philippines. London: John Murray. Retrieved from;idno=sea186.

Holmes, Burton. (1918?). Manila. Chicago?:? Retrieved from

Miller, George Amos. (1912). Interesting Manila: historical narratives concerning the pearl of the Orient. Manila: E.C. McCullough. Retrieved from

Morris, Charles. (1906). Our island empire: a hand-book of Cuba, Porto Rico, Hawaii, and the Philippine Islands. Philadelphia: Lippincot. Retrieved from;idno=sea200

Philippine exposition board. (1903). Official handbook of the Philippines and catalogue of the Philippine exhibit. Part 1. Manila: Bureau of public printing. Retrieved from 

Wildman, Edwin. (1901). Aguinaldo: a narrative of Filipino ambitions. Boston: Lothrop Pub. Co. Retrieved from

Photo credits: 

Browne, George Waldo. (1900). The pearl of the Orient : the Philippine Islands. Boston: D. Estes and Co. Retrieved from;idno=sea210

Hannaford, Ebenezer. (1900). History and description of the picturesque Philippines, with entertaining accounts of the people and their modes of living, customs, industries, climate and present conditions. Springfield, Ohio: The Crowell and Kirkpatrick Company. Retrieved from;idno=sea192

University of Wisconsin Digital Collections/National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Philippines Images Collection. Retrieved from

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