It must have been tough

It must have been tough for that first batch of American teachers who arrived in Manila on 21 August 1901, after a month-long sea voyage aboard a converted cattle ship named US “Thomas”. That was why they were called Thomasites.

Assuming the Thomasites were given a thorough briefing of what life is like in the tropics, they must have still had the worst cultural shock which the majority of them endured quite heroically.

In the records of the War Department of the USA (Doorway to the archives of our national greatness”), the Philippines, Manila and the Filipinos were described from the cynical eye of the conquerors: “Many have taken advantage of the opportunities offered for education by the Jesuit order, and have been carried through the classics, but then the majority seem to have suffered from the: civilization offered them…” a cryptic statement worth reading between the lines.

The Thomasites were probably warned about the terrible weather, described in the War Records as such: “The blistering sun or something else has burned both ambition and emotion out of him (the Filipino) if he ever possessed either. With the possible exception of some parts of the interior of India and Arabia, it is doubtful if there is any hotter clime than that of Manila. The islands reach within four degrees of the equator. The temperature is not so very high but the humidity is excessive.“

The unnamed rapporteur of the War Annals warned that, “the most extreme care must constantly be exercised to keep one’s physical condition properly toned all summer long. The hottest days in the year are in May and June. for seven months of the year, from April to October, no one but the poorest laborer goes out of doors unless compelled to between 8 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. ..In Manila, the whole population rises at 4 and 5 a.m. and gets the work of the day out of the way until 8 o’clock. At sundown, Manila wakes up.”

After the weather advisory, came a language situationer as they were sent to these islands to teach English. Judging from the War Annals, they must have been told something to the effect. “Practically nothing, but his [the Filipino] curiosity, which seems insatiable, will stir him from his rut and the vocabularies of hundreds of thousands of the tribesmen lack anything that answer for “Thank You”.

Even then, it was observed that Tagalog was the language of commerce: “Of the dialects, the most important is Tagaloc (sic) it is spoken by fifteen hundred thousand. Tagals is Luzon and the adjacent island. Ten thousand girls have often been heard chattering Tagaloc (sic) all at once in a Manila tobacco factory. The native aptitude in the use of modern writing material is beyond doubt. ..” The report quotes a Spanish priest who sardonically said that, “the natives no longer use arrows and spears against us, but pen, ink and paper and fables, calumnies and jokes.” ( He must have been alluding to Rizal and his contemporaries.)

Was there peace and order? The Thomasites arrived five months after Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo was captured, yet the Philippine-American war was still raging. A month after they landed, Philippine Revolutionary Forces led by Gen Vicente Lukban wiped out a whole company of American soldiers in Balangiga, Samar, which in retaliation was left a “howling wilderness”upon orders of Gen. Jacob Smith. In Laguna, parts of Central Luzon, Negros and Cebu, fighting was still going on, guerilla-style, in defense of the First Philippine Republic. Generals Macario Sakay, Luciano San Miguel, Artemio Ricarte and Julian Montalan were still up in arms even if Apolinario Mabini had been arrested and exiled to Guam.

As they were fielded to various provinces, did the Thomasites notice that communities were being uprooted and concentrated (hamletting)? Scorched earth destroyed crops to prevent Filipinos from supporting their revolutionary fighters. According to historian Augustin de Viana, resistance continued in the islands, but with the passage of the Brigandage Act of 1901, those who continued to resist US domination were labeled insurgents, tulisanes, highwaymen and outlaws.

An American linguist of the time, Mary I.Bresnahan wrote: ” It continues to be speculative if the Filipino’s purported desire to learn English was genuine or not. Documents tell us about Filipinos trembling with fear inside their huts built on stilts as they expected the intrusion of the cruel Americans reputed to be blood thirsty giants bent on killing even the most trusting among them. Unsure about the real motives of the invaders, the Filipinos did what they thought would please the Americans the most. And that was to learn their language– English. ( Martinez, Alfonso Garcia E,” The Americanization of the Philippines, the Imposition of English “ Law College of Puerto Rico.1982)