The top tourist attraction of Cagayan in 1900

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010


(Author’s note: Florence Kimball Russel was on board the cableship “Burnside” since her husband was an officer that worked with the team that laid a network of cable lines and established a telegraph station in every town they landed across the Philippines. This was a yearlong undertaking that started in 1900.Mrs. Russel wrote of her travel in a book titled, “A Woman’s Journey Through The Philippines.” She came to Cagayan de Misamis (now Cagayan de Oro) several times as well as Misamis, now Ozamiz City, Iligan and other outlying areas.)

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I FIRST found it amazing that in 1900 when the Kagay-anons and the Misamisnons staged their yearlong resistance war against the United States, there were several groups of Americans aside from soldiers, who were tourists and contract workers that visited Cagayan de Misamis. Among them were two women, Ethel Calquohon and Florence Kimball Russel who wrote about their respective visits in their books.

I am grateful to read these books for it provided me with rare glimpses of what the town was liked during the time of insurgency and rebellion. Incidentally, the Americans shortened the town's name from Cagayan de Misamis to simply Cagayan, Mindanao and at times, Cagayan, Misamis Province. However, Kagay-anons still held on to the old name decades afterward.

It may be recalled that on March 30, 1900, American warships anchored at the mouth of Cagayan River where their troops disembarked and marched to town. They fully occupied it without firing a single shot. A week later, on April 7, the Liber Troop composed of Kagaya-anons and Misamisnons volunteers under Gen. Nicolas Capistrano staged a big attack at dawn on all the American barracks around the town plaza and San Agustin Church.

This was the historic Battle of Cagayan de Misamis that resulted on heavy casualties on the side of Liber Troop. Capistrano ordered a retreat and his group established several forts in nearby hills and mountains while the town lived in uneasy peace for a year.

It was sometime after this battle that the cableship "Burnside" came to town from Dumaguete. Russel wrote that the town's harbor had a "metropolitan appearance" even if it was a small one because it had a transport ship, a coasting vessel and a navy gunboat that were anchored there. She also saw several white tents that belonged to U.S. soldiers guarding the port and the nipa shacks of the residents that had bright colored clothes that were hung out to dry in the sun.

She saw "hills dotting the seascape for miles around and the placid waters of the bay reflected the clouds and every tree on the seashore." Russel and company took the two and a half mile ride to town on what she called a Dougherty wagon that was driven by four big mules. She wrote that the officers brought them to "many pleasant excursions around the quaint old town." And what were some of these pleasant excursions?

Like Calquohon. They were brought to see what I consider as the town's top tourist attraction - the Door of the Bloody Hand. This was an imprint of a bloodied hand of a Liber Troop soldier at the door of the convent of the San Agustin Church. This was made during the battle. Russel described it as a "most gruesome memento of a night attack that took place there."

Then they were brought to see what I believed was Arcadia Valenzuela. Russel did not mention her name but from the information that she got from her military hosts, she described her as the Amazon colonel of a native regiment. It was Valenzuela of Lapasan who was named in the Bautista Manuscript as the leader of a women's auxiliary group of the Liber Troop.

However, they were so disappointed when they saw her spreading out her laundered clothes to dry on a grass near her home! I think that they were expecting a fierce looking Amazona in a military uniform, holding a gun and smoking a fat cigar.

It is interesting to know about the 'carnival mentality' of the Americans. This is a part of their culture that was handed down to them by the Europeans. But the Americans refined it and elevated this carnival mentality in to an art. They are curiously attracted to the unique, the bizarre, whether they are things or people like the Door of the Bloody Hand.

Part of this mentality is the fondness of human displays that they also sensationalized. This begun during the heyday of colonialism when human beings started to appear as exhibits in world expositions, first in Europe then in America. This was also copied in small town circuses.

They watched Valenzuela because they heard of her unique reputation as a female officer of the Liber Troop. She was treated as a kind of "tourist attraction' and it’s a good thing that she did not end up as a human exhibit in the United States. Emilio Aguinaldo almost became one.

Jose Fermin wrote in his book, "1904 World's Fair, The Filipino Experience" (UP Press, 2004), that when the Americans captured Aguinaldo in March, 1901, many showmen requested the US War Department to exhibit him. One Idaho company asked for a year's lease of Aguinaldo. The company planned to exhibit him in major U.S cities and pay the government 75 percent of the gross receipts!

Fortunately, the Department considered the idea impractical and Aguinaldo escaped the fate suffered by captured American Indian Chief, Geronimo, who became a permanent fixture in American expositions.

More about Russel's visits to Cagayan next week. (prroa50@yahoo.com)

Top tourist attraction cagayan 1900

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