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Journey of the Barong Tagalog, Addendum Part 11.3: 19th Century English Artist Illustrations of Life in the Philippines

Charles Wirgman (1832-1891) was an artist, cartoonist, journalist and art professor of British nationality and Swedish ancestry. He spent the greater part of his life in Asia, and he was based in Hong Kong from April 1857 and after, where he would often travel to the Philippines, Macao and China before moving to Japan. Wirgman was a special correspondent and artist for the Illustrated London News (ILN), a weekly news magazine with drawings and pictures. Periodicals like these were quite popular in the 19th century in Europe and America. Wirgman was a prolific artist and writer, sending his drawings and articles to ILN regularly from his home base in Hong Kong.

Wirgman - Bargaining for Horses in Calamba (1857) - Western travelers and Native Filipinos in Barong Tagalog in the Gobernadorcillo's Home

The Wirgman illustration featured here is titled Bargaining for Horses in Calamba (1857). This was part of his narrative of travels and adventures in and around Metro Manila and the National Capital Region with other Englishmen and western travelers.

In his description of this scene, Wirgman reports that he and his travel companions went to “the Gobernadorcillo’s nipa-hut to order horses”. Gobernadorcillo refers to the town judge or governor that served as a municipal leader in cooperation with the Spanish government.

In this scene to the left, we see European men, possibly Wirgman and/or his travel companions, in western formal-looking clothing: shirts with jackets, necktie, slacks and leather shoes. As you look towards the right, you see the native Filipino people dressed more casually and practically for the environment. A shirtless man guards the door. The men sit and stand around the table in Barong Tagalog of various colors, some solid and some with stripes, with the sleeves rolled up. They all are barefoot with cropped work pants. Some of the men wear putong (head wrap), and one wears a western hat. The lone woman in the room wears an off-the-shoulder dress.