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Journey of the Barong Tagalog, Addendum Part 12.1: 19th Century American Artist Illustrations of Life in the Philippines

Charles Wilkes was an American Naval Officer, captain of a ship and explorer that commanded the first US Scientific Expedition by sea from 1838 to 1842. The purpose of this expedition was to gather scientific data about the Pacific Ocean, create detailed maps of the region and to stake claims to territory in the Pacific.

After sailing around the world on this expedition, Wilkes helped prepare the report of these travels titled Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition published in 1845. One chapter, titled San Francisco to Manila, details their visit to Manila in 1841 and covers the people, products and government of the Philippines.

Wilkes - City of Manilla (1845) - Man in Barong Tagalog and salakot looks out towards the river

Artist and engraver Alfred Thomas Agate created the illustrations of this publication, including the one featured in the first image above called City of Manilla (1845). J. A. Rolph engraved this piece for printing. In the second image below, we have a closer look at the subject in the foreground with his back turned while he looks out towards the water. He wears a striped Barong Tagalog with white collar and a salakot on his head. The subject’s barong and salakot appear to be fancy and likely made of expensive materials. That and the location where he stands suggest that the man is upper class and a man of power.

Wilkes - City of Manilla (1845) - Closeup of man in Barong Tagalog and salakot looks out towards the river