In the book Nineteenth Century Manila: the World of Damián Domingo (1990), Nick Joaquin wrote that the Tagalog people’s whole lives occurred by the water. The Tagalog name is derived from “taga ilog”, which literally means “from the river”.
Tagalog people lived, worked, harvested food and traveled by the river. That is until the technology of wheeled vehicles and roads got to the Philippines and completely changed the Tagalog people’s lives.
Wheeled vehicles and roads allowed for a greater ability to travel and a greater capacity to farm. As a result, Tagalog families built lives and homes further away from the riverbed and more inland.
Families that could afford to kept a stable for animals, a driver, and at least two horse drawn wheeled vehicles. Those that could not afford this could easily hire horse drawn carriages at stables or travel on horse drawn taxis or streetcars right on the roads.
This greater capacity to travel brought people closer together since they could visit each other more often. Wheeled vehicles and roads also allowed for more trade and commerce.
The Damián Domingo painting here is titled Un Indio Carretonero en Manila [A Native Cart Driver of Manila]. This piece is from Domingo’s Baboom collection of tipos del pais (types of the country, native dress) paintings, No. 3, dated 1833. Our description of Domingo and the Baboom collection is in our previous installment 18.1.
The native Filipino man in this painting drives a carabao drawn cart carrying two large parcels in the rear. The cart has solid wooden wheels, and the narrow width of these wheels traversed the deep ruts and constant disrepair of Manila’s cobbled streets well.
The cart driver wears a striped Barong Tagalog suitable for work. The vertical stripes were typical of the style of the 19th century Philippines. The man’s sleeves are rolled up indicating that the fabric of his barong is durable enough to be folded multiple times in the same spot. More diaphanous and fancy fabrics would be destroyed faster by such folds and repeated creasing.
The driver also wears light indigo work pants and a straw western style hat.