Vice of nature

The Visayans are not going to like this, someone said that the last capital sin—sloth—is their first, and  being slothful (lazy) is a matter of choice, it stems from the “disposition of the body” coupled with climatic conditions and the influence of the stars. It is a vice of nature. That was how Visayans were described in the 17th century, a bit more than a hundred years after the Spanish conquistadores settled in Cebu and Panay. The author of those unsavory  words was Fr. Francisco Ignacio Alcina, S. J. , a zealous missionary who spent most of his adult life in the Philippines. (History of the Bisayan People in the Philippine Islands, 1668)

Fr. Alcina also observed  that the men were the lazy ones, not the women. I suppose he would go about house -to- house, visiting the flock of Christians whose great grandparents had been hastily baptized and deemed converted,during those perilous times  of Humabon and Lapu Lapu. He said that the men were so lazy, they would stay in bed all day, stark naked but wrapped in a blanket and at meal time would demand to be fed. Oftentimes, the wife would have nothing to cook because husband was too lazy to go to the fields to gather something to eat. The wife who was also hungry would have to do everything herself.

Fr. Alcina  said that out of a hundred natives, not even five paid  the tribute to the King and encomendero on time; they always wait until the last minuteand  when are about to be thrown in jail, that is when the men go to the forest to look for wax  and root crops or to  fish; meanwhile the women weave  instantblankets  to cover the difference. The same goes for the bandala they have to give  their local chiefs; they have to pay with rice. Considering that  the grain  happens to be  the staple, they  plant barely enough to fill their needs.

Since the missionaries, like Fr. Alcina, have to go on foot from town to town, celebrating Mass, catechizing, administering the Sacraments, he wrote that the Visayans were so lazy they would not even clear pathways in the forests to make travelling easier. When Visayan men, women and children have to cross a thickly wooded area to go to the next town, they slash their way through without clearing fallen branches. They are so lazy, they would  rather risk swimming across rivers infested with crocodiles, than exerting physical effort to make permanent trails.

Once, after a storm had destroyed a wooden chapel, Fr. Alcina asked some of the young men of the town to help him sort out the debris and reconstruct the altar. The image of Our Lady, painted on a slab of wood, was on the floor, blown by the wind. As a young male volunteer entered the chapel, he stepped on the image with his muddy feet,  instead of going around it. Fr. Alcina was so incensed, that to him was the height of laziness;  he gave the  irreverent sloth  a good lashing.

On the other hand, Fr. Alcina observed that there were Visayans who were generous to the  point of extravagance. There would always be a pot of newly-cooked “morisqueta” (rice) for visitors and unexpected guests. Anyone seen ambling in front of their homes would be cordially invited to share a meal, no matter how modest.  Let it not be said that they were too selfish and stingy, especially during fiesta time. “This is a point of honor among these people,” wrote Fr. Alcina,” They may care very little about their reputation but in this matter, they prove to be excessive.” That is why even the  Visayan principalia were always in debt.

In his opinion, the Visayan islands were “very conducive for comfortable living and amassing wealth, the goods found here  without much effort  are all high quality, esteemed and valuable. If the natives were diligent and hardworking, they would become rich, but because they do not take the initiative, all comes to nothing.” Two hundred years later, Jose Rizal would debunk the  racist tirade  that the indolence of the Filipino was a vice of nature.