Friday, August 13, 2010

Haw, haw, the Karabaw. Part 3.

Haw, haw, de karabaw, bantuten!

If there's one specie in the Philippine biota that became extinct within the country's recent memory, it's the wild carabao/water buffalo.  It was a game animal, and the Indios (before they rectified the tag to Filipinos) hunted them on horseback and with a pack of dogs to sniff them out and bring them to the open for the lasso-ing. They didn't use guns until probably when they got to learn the art of an easy kill from the white man! 

In the 1930s, wild buffalo hunting was still a touristic come-on alongside that for wild boar, deer, crocodile and the rare tamaraw of Mindoro, as can be gleaned from the visitors' guide to Manila and the Philippines put out by the American Express Company: 

"There is wild boar and deer to be found in nearly every province of the islands and in some of the remote parts carabao and crocodile are quite plentiful. On one of the islands there is a rare species of big game to be found. It does not exist in any other place in the world except on the island of Mindoro. It looks similar to the Carabao or Water Buffalo, somewhat smaller but much more ferocious, and is known as the "Tamaraw." A bull tamaraw will kill the largest carabao in a fight and has been known to chase a whole herd of wild carabao. The wild people in this province are also afraid of these animals and are often caught unawares and gored to death. The open season on Deer and Wild Carabao is from January 1st. to May 15th, on Tamaraw, July 1st to December 31st in 1935 and each fifth year thereafter. There is open season on wild pigs at all times."

"A good hunting ground," wrote John Foreman (1906) was "Nueva Ecija, near the Caraballo de Baler Mountain."  He conceded that buffalo-hunting was a dangerous sport, and it could either bring death to the "infuriated beast" or the hunter himself.

These "mountain buffaloes ... have singularly large horns, three times the size of [the Europen breed]," the Jesuit Fr. Pedro Chirino (1604) said, with "remarkable skill in striking with these horns."  This did not scare the Indians and Spaniards from hunting them because "their flesh, whether fresh or dried, is as good as the most excellent beef."

Our Indio ancestors domesticated the calves of wild carabaos to become their slow, patient, reliable and water-loving heavy worker in the farms.  That explains why in some early photographs, these animals had long horns.  When rinderpest almost decimated all the domestic carabao population in the early 1900s, cross-breeders were imported from India, thus setting on the genetic modification of the length and curvatures of the native horns, among other anatomical structures.

The Frenchman "prince of Jala-Jala", Paul de Gironiere (1855) had his wild carabaos illustrated with long horns in his Philippine adventure book.  His account of wild buffalo hunting in Maragondon is still the best we've read. It's the certain bragaddocio that he put into it that kept us cynically amused. After his first buffalo head, he felt superior to his "Indian" exploration and hunting companions who were reluctant to let him go on a perilous "combat" with the wild buffalo. 

Gironiere had to show he was a dexterous and good horseman before he was allowed to lead nine huntsmen and a small pack of dogs in his hunting debut.

"The buffalo is hunted on horseback," he wrote, "and taken with the lasso, the Indians not being much accustomed to the use of guns. ...My faithful Indian was much more anxious about my safety than his own. He objected to my taking a gun; he had little confidence in my skill with the lasso, and preferred that I should merely sit on horseback, unarmed and unencumbered in my movements; accordingly I set out, with a dagger for my sole weapon. We divided our party by threes, and rode gently about the plains, taking care to keep at a distance from the edge of the wood, lest we should be surprised by the animal we were seeking."

In this hunt, he became "a mere spectator look[ing] on with admiration at this combat--at those evolutions, flights, and pursuits, executed with such order and courage, and with a precision that was truly extraordinary." Eventually, the beast was lassoed successfully, immobilised, his long horns hacked off, and carried off between two domesticated carabaos to the village where it was killed and the meat divided among the hunters.

Gironiere was the star in the next combat.  He had to show that he was "at least equal to the best and bravest of all my Indians ...not only equal but superior in the struggle." 

"... I took advantage of the terror they had of this animal," he wrote, "and one day declared, with the utmost possible coolness, my intention to hunt one. They then made use of all their eloquence to turn me from my project; they gave me a very picturesque, but a very discouraging description of the dangers and difficulties I should have to encounter, especially as I was not accustomed to that sort of warfare,--and such a combat is, in fact, a struggle for life or death. But I would listen to nothing. I had spoken the word: I would not discuss the point, and I looked upon all their counsels as null and void. My decision was right; for these kind counsels, these frightful pictures of the dangers I was about to incur, had no other object than to entrap me; they had concerted amongst themselves to judge of my courage by my acceptance or refusal of the combat. My only answer was to give orders for the hunt. I took great care that my wife should not be informed of our excursion, and I set off, accompanied by half a score Indians, nearly all of whom were armed with muskets. Buffalo hunting is different in the mountains from what it is in the plains. On the plain one only requires a good horse, with address and agility in throwing the lasso; but in the mountains it requires something more: and, above all, the most extraordinary coolness and self-possession are essentially necessary.

This is the way in which it is done: the hunter takes a gun on which he can depend, and places himself in such a position that the buffalo must see him on issuing from the wood. The moment the animal sees him, he rushes on him with the utmost velocity, breaking, rending, and trampling under foot every obstacle to the fury of his charge; he rushes on as if about to crush the enemy, then stops within some paces for a few seconds, and presents his sharp and threatening horns. This is the moment that the hunter should fire, and lodge his ball in the forehead of the foe. If unfortunately his gun misses fire, or if his coolness fails him, if his hand trembles, or his aim is bad, he is lost-Providence alone can save him! This was, perhaps, the fate that awaited me; but I was resolved to tempt this cruel proof, and I went forward with intrepidity-perhaps to death. We at length arrived on the skirts of an extensive wood, in which we felt assured there were buffaloes, and here we halted. I was sure of my gun, and I conceived I was equally so of my self-possession; I therefore determined that the hunt should be conducted as if I had been a simple Indian. I placed myself at the spot where it was fully expected that the animal would come out, and I forbade anyone to remain near me. I ordered everyone to his proper place, and I then stood alone on the open ground, about two hundred paces from the borders of the forest, to await an enemy that would show me no mercy if I missed him. It is, I confess, a solemn moment, when one stands between life and death by the more or less certainty of a gun, or the greater or less steadiness of the arm that holds it. I was, however, perfectly tranquil. When all were at their posts two hunters entered the forest, having first thrown off some of their clothing, the more readily to climb up trees in case of danger: they had no other arms than a cutlass, and were accompanied by the dogs. A dead silence continued for upwards of half-an-hour; everyone listening for the slightest noise, but nothing was heard. The buffalo continues a long time frequently without betraying his lair; but at the end of the half-hour we heard the repeated barking of the dogs, and the shouts of the hunters: the animal was aroused from his cover. He defended himself for some time against the dogs, till at length, becoming furious, he sprang forward with a bound towards the skirts of the forest. In a few minutes after, I heard the crashing of the branches and the young trees that the buffalo rent asunder in the terrible velocity of his course. His advance could only be compared to the galloping of several horses-to the rushing noise of some frightful monster-or, I might almost say, of some furious and diabolical being. Down he came like an avalanche; and at this moment, I confess, I experienced such lively emotions that my heart beat with extraordinary rapidity. Was it not death-aye, and frightful death-that was perhaps approaching me? Suddenly the buffalo made his appearance. He stopped for an instant; gazed, as if frightened, around him; sniffed up the air of the plain which extended in the distance; then, with distended nostrils, head bent, and horns projected, he rushed towards me, terrible and furious. The moment was come. If I had longed for an opportunity of showing off my courage and sang-froid to the Indians, these two precious qualities were now put to a severe test. There I was, face to face with the peril I had courted; the dilemma was one of the most decided and unavoidable that could possibly be: conqueror or conquered, there must be a victim-the buffalo or me, and we were both equally disposed to defend ourselves.

It would be difficult for me to state exactly what was passing in my mind, during the brief period which the buffalo took in clearing the distance that lay between us. My heart, so vividly agitated while the ferocious animal was rushing through the forest, now beat no longer. My eyes were fixed upon him, my gaze was rivetted on his forehead in such a manner that I could see nothing else. My mind was concentrated on one object alone, in which I was so absorbed, that I could actually hear nothing, though the dogs were still barking at a short distance, as they followed their prey. At length, the buffalo lowered his head, presented his sharp-pointed horns, stopped for a moment, then, with a sudden plunge, he rushed upon me, and I fired. My ball pierced his skull, and I was half saved. The animal fell within a pace of me, like a mass of rock, so loud, and so heavy. I planted my foot between his two horns, and was preparing to fire my second barrel, when a long and hollow bellowing indicated that my victory was complete-the monster had breathed his last sigh. My Indians then came up. Their joy was succeeded by admiration; they were in ecstacy; I was everything they could wish for. All their doubts had vanished with the smoke of my rifle, when, with steady aim, I had shot the buffalo. I was brave; I had won their confidence; I had stood the test. My victim was cut up in pieces, and borne in triumph to the village As the victor, J took his horns; they were six feet long. I have since deposited them in the museum. of Nantes. The Indians, those imaginative beings, called me thenceforward, "Malamit Oulou," ["malamig ang ulo"] Tagal words, which signify cool head."

He was a sharp-shooter obviously, and he thought he proved himself as brave as his Indian companions.  Could he have been as successful if he threw the lasso, as one of the Indians would have done, and led the captive through the thickets until it's subdued and immobilized? A matter of white man's ego, eh?


American Express Company. (c1932). Manila and the Philippines. Manila:[?]. Retrieved from  

Chirino, Pedro, S.J. (1604). Relacion de las Islas Filipinas. Rome. In Blair & Robertson (1904), The Philippine Islands 1493-1898.Vol. 7 (169-322). Retrieved from 

Foreman, John. (1906). The Philippine Islands; a political, geographical, ethnographical, social and commercial history of the Philippine Archipelago, embracing the whole period of Spanish rule, with an account of the succeeding American insular government. New York: C. Scribner's Sons. Retrieved from;idno=sea199 

La Gironière, Paul P. de. (1855). Adventures in the Philippine Islands. Translated from the French ... Revised and extended by the author, expressly for this edition. London: C.H. Clarke.  Retrieved from 

Tinted picture (man on a carabao cart) from the Philippine Photographs Digital Archive of the Univeristy of Michigan, retrieved from

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