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Journey of the Barong Tagalog, Addendum Part 18.4: Un Indio Labrador by Damián Domingo

According to Nineteenth Century Manila: the World of Damián Domingo (1990) by Nick Joaquin, prior to the Spanish arrival in the Philippines, it was the women that did the farming and were the food-providers in the lowlands after male-dominated hunting activity declined. The primitive stick and mat farming methods used did not require much strength but also did not provide food beyond subsistence level, which often was not reached in many areas.

After the Spanish arrival, it was the Christian Church that introduced and taught the native people the more advanced plow, harrow, spade, and draft animal techniques, which required more physical strength. With these advances, farming responsibilities shifted to the men, and fewer people were able to produce much more food beyond subsistence level. Within a few generations, the Philippines became an exporter of rice to the rest of Asia.

In Domingo’s Baboom collection of tipos del pais (types of the country, native dress) paintings, No. 3 (1833), he included this painting below titled Un Indio Labrador [A Native Farmer]. Our description of Domingo and the Baboom collection is in our previous installment 18.1.

Damián Domingo - Un Indio Labrador - Native Filipino male farmer in indigo work barong and knickers

In this piece, the male farmer stands tall before his farmland and crops in his indigo work barong, indigo knickers with the legs rolled up and straw salakot (wide-brimmed dome hat) to protect him from the sun and rain. The barong and knickers were likely made of a breathable cotton, ramie, linen or abaca fabric. Their indigo color was more suitable for work as they could be worn longer before washing was needed.

The farmer holds his rake in his right hand, rope in his left (possibly for his carabao), and his knife hangs from the back of his knickers. To the right of him is his plow, which is the tool that made men farmers in the lowlands.