Hats and Buttons | Opinion of the applicant

Zoilo Galang’s Encyclopedia of the Philippines first appeared in 1936. A 20-volume second edition, using material that survived World War II, appeared in 1958. Galang’s, like all printed encyclopedias , was obsolete when it was released, but it stayed on my shelves because it’s a bottomless pit of column hardware. My reference volumes in Galang’s encyclopedia are the two on art: for Fabian de la Rosa’s historical essay on the development of Filipino art, and the entire volume of photos which document important paintings, sculptures and antiquities lost or destroyed after the 1945 battle of Manila.

Due to lack of space on the shelves, I seriously considered keeping the two volumes of Art and selling, giving away or throwing away the other 18 volumes. Fortunately, I realized that while the material in the science, commerce, politics, and education volumes was outdated and unsuitable for reference, this one had become “historical.” I closed my eyes and opened a random volume to “Minor Industries in the Philippines”. Reading this made me realize that I knew so little about the Philippines outside of the late 19th century.

Soft drinks are part of everyday life today, the generation of our lolos and lolas had soda or soda water, an industry that dates back to the Spanish period. My great-grandmother, Bartolomea Nuqui (who had a succession of three husbands), had a carbonated machine in Guagua, Pampanga, and bottled a line of soft drinks called La Familia. Before Perrier and overpriced sparkling water became all the rage, Filipinos had a choice between agua con gas (sparkling water) or agua sin gas literally “water without gas” better known as ‘” Still water “. Sparkling water came with lemon or other flavors. Then, during the American period, San Miguel produced Royal Tru-Orange, the only flavor of many that survived and is known today as “Royal” or “RTO”. This helps us understand why Kentucky Fried Chicken changed its name to “KFC”, so that health conscious people aren’t put off by the word “fried”. In political rebranding, Ferdinand Marcos is a name heavy with baggage, which is why his namesake cannot be identified as “Junior” and had to become “BBM”.

Manila’s first bakery, according to Galang, was government-owned and opened in 1631. This was centuries before “hot sal pan” became a fad in the 1970s. In a fit of nostalgia, we who live in the age of microwaves and conduction ovens now have the choice between a pan of salt cooked over a traditional wood fire or a pugon. Besides bread, some pre-war bakeries also made sweets or candies, the pioneer being MA Clarke.

Buttons may have been a minor industry in the pre-war Philippines, but in 1918 the United States imported 2.5 million pesos worth of buttons! These buttons weren’t the mass-produced plastic ones we have today. Buttons in the pre-war Philippines were made from shells: trocha, mother-of-pearl, green snail, and chambered nautilus. Due to limited domestic demand, most of our shells and beads have been exported, but what about buttons made of coconut, wood and other materials?

In 1919, the Philippines exported 1,470,026 pesos worth of hats. At the time, hat making was a cottage industry and the materials used were buntal, buri hemp and bamboo. The best hats came from Baliuag and Lucban which all rivaled the famous Panama hats. Reading this today I wondered when hats went out of fashion. Common sense – which is not common – dictates that hats are a second skin for people who live in the tropics. At the time Galang published his encyclopedia, there was only one major hat factory in operation. She also made straw hats, woolen hats and umbrellas. Then, as businessmen now gazed enviously at the Chinese market, Galang wrote: “…with its hundreds of millions of souls, many of whom have already begun to wear hats, [it] is also a large potential market for [hats].” Maybe we lost sales because the Chinese decided to make cheaper hats themselves and competed with ours.

These old trade figures may be outdated today. But read by a contemporary historian, they should not be limited to being reflections on the past, but provide paths of opportunities for the present and the future.


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Edward K. Thompson