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Journey of the Barong Tagalog, Spanish Colonial Philippines Part 13: Sinibaldo de Mas

Sinibaldo de Mas was the Spanish diplomat to Asia during the 19th century. He was also an adventurer, poet and photographer that introduced photography to the Philippines in 1841. De Mas spent two-and-a-half years in the Philippines, and he wrote the Informe Sobre El Estado de las Filipinas en 1842 (a report on the state of the Philippines in 1842). He is significant because he is the source of a common misconception about the Barong Tagalog.

As we’ve written previously, upper class native Filipinos and mestizos (mixed blood Filipinos) were adopting Spanish and European style. Seeing natives and mestizos dress like Spaniards and the lack of class distinctions upset de Mas, and he called for a dress code to easily tell people apart.

By edict, this dress code said Spaniards were only allowed to wear neckerchiefs, and natives and mestizos were to be distinguishable by the salakot (helmet-like native hat) and loose shirts worn outside the trousers. Also, the edict gave the principalia class (native Filipino ruling class) the special privilege of wearing short jackets over their shirts.

This edict was later distorted into the myth that native Filipinos were forced to wear the barong to prevent stealing, hiding weapons and to remind them of their inferiority. This is simply not true. The dress code merely required that natives and mestizos dress the way they were already dressing. This was more a directive to Spaniards not to wear barongs and a reminder to tuck their shirts in, which was highly uncomfortable and impractical given the climate.

Native Filipinos liked wearing salakots, especially fancy ones, and they already wore their barongs according to the edict. If it counts as oppression, surely many rich and privileged Filipinos were upset that they were not allowed to wear neckerchiefs anymore. Also of note, this edict was passed towards the end of Spanish colonization.

Un Indio de Manila bestido. Portrait of a native Filipino in Manila in his Sunday best, including barong with neckerchief. Painted by Damian Domingo circa 1830

Caption - Un Indio de Manila bestido. Portrait of a native Filipino in Manila in his Sunday best, including barong with neckerchief. Painted by Damian Domingo circa 1830.

Un Indio Capitano. Gobernadorcillo del Pueblo. A native governadorcillo is on the left and a municipal captain is on the right wearing a barong under his jacket. Both are members of the principalia class. Painting by Damian Domingo circa 1830.

Caption - Un Indio Capitano. Gobernadorcillo del Pueblo. A native governadorcillo is on the left and a municipal captain is on the right wearing a barong under his jacket. Both are members of the principalia class. Painting by Damian Domingo circa 1830.

Portrait of Sinibaldo de Mas
Portrait of Sinibaldo de Mas