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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

entry arrow12:10 AM | Observances of Silliman Institute in 1905 from An Observer in the Philippines by John Bancroft Devins

“I trust that you will visit the Silliman Institute at Dumaguete," said Governor Taft when outlining our trip to the southern islands. "It is only a few days ago that one of the provincial officers from Negros was speaking with me about this school, and he made the remark that no effort of Americans had done more to bring about a good feeling between their government and the natives of that island than the establishment and conduct of this institution."

From another source similar testimony was borne to the excellent character of the institute, which bears the name of its donor, the Hon. Horace B. Silliman, LL.D., of Cohoes, N. Y., who gave $20,000 to found it. The city of Dumaguete is exceptionally healthful and the Institute is located on a beautiful palm-shaded tract of nearly five acres on the main street, near the Governor's residence, and fronting the beach. It is easily accessible, not only from the province in which it is situated, but from the populous islands of Cebu and Bohol, where the same dialect is spoken.

The friendly spirit and practical co-operation of the Provincial Governor and other prominent persons at Dumaguete in all that pertains to the school enterprise and the general plans of the station are everywhere seen. That Dumaguete is a station of exceptional salubrity and exemption from disease has been shown in the fact that Dr. Langheim, one of the instructors of the Institute, has by judicious and watchful care and sanitary precaution saved the community to a large extent from the fearful ravages of cholera which visited Iloilo. The medical work of Dr. Langheim is varied and exacting; besides' his services at the Institute, he has important duties as general superintendent of the Board of Health for Oriental Negros.

The Rev. Arthur J. Brown, D.D., the Secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, through which Dr. Silliman presented his gift to the Filipinos, visited Dumaguete in 1901. In "The New Era in the Philippines" he gives his impressions of the place and the work in these words:

"The location is the most healthful and beautiful that I saw in the Philippines. The land rises gently from a pebbly beach to a noble mountain range. The lower levels are covered with plantations of tobacco and sugar cane, higher slopes with hemp, and summits of the mountains with heavy forests of hardwoods. Across the clear water the islands of Siquijor and Cebu are seen, while farther away, but in plain view, are the outlines of Bohol and Mindanao. I drove for several miles in various directions from the town in order to get some idea of the adjacent country. The result was surprising. In this alleged uncivilized land on the other side of the globe, I found such roads as I had not found in China, outside of the foreign settlements, and which would be considered even in New England good country roads. Back from the road were continuous cultivated fields, while lining it were the picturesque bamboo and nipa houses of the people nestling in groves of banana, cocoanut, mango, papaw and breadfruit trees. A more charming drive could not easily be found.

"The advantages of Dumaguete as the site for the Silliman Institute are: (1) Its accessibility to a large population. While the parish of Dumaguete has only about twelve thousand, yet, as already explained, the place is within easy reach of the populous islands of Bohol and lower Cebu. (2) The absence of competing schools. Superintendent Atkinson told me that while the Department of Public Instruction contemplates the establishment of an agricultural college on the other side of the island of Negros, and an industrial school at Cebu, it has no plans for anything in Dumaguete beyond the public schools, and that we could have a comparatively clear field for the development of the Institute. (3) The friendliness and intelligence of the officials and people. The opposition to American occupation in this region was slight, and there would have been none at all if it had not been for the malcontents from Cebu. Now an American can travel with perfect safety in any part of the island. The influence of Rome appears to be comparatively weak. The people have driven the friars off the island and the Roman Catholic churches are in charge of native priests for whom the people apparently care little. The Governor of the province, Senor Demetrio Larena, and his brother, the Presidente of the municipality, impressed me as unusually fine types of Filipinos intelligent, able and broad-minded. They, as well as the best people of the place, are outspoken in their gratification over the location of the Institute in their city, and give it their cordial support. The Governor sent the prospectus of the Institute to every village in the province, and his own son is one of the pupils."

Dr. Silliman and the Presbyterian Missionary Board intended to make the Institute an industrial school, but it has been impossible to carry out that part of the plan at first, owing to the illness of the American who was sent to take charge of it, and because the students were able and willing to pay the required fees and equally unwilling to work with their hands. Several branches of manual training were started, and Dr. Brown urged the teaching of gardening as well as printing and carpentering.

"For, oddly enough," he says, "while the Filipinos understand the culture of sugar, tobacco, hemp, bananas and cocoanuts, no vegetables can be had in Dumaguete, except a coarse, stringy sweet-potato. The soil of the Institute grounds is too sandy for cultivation, but there is an abundance of fertile land to be had within half a mile. With the growth of the School, such a tract will be a necessity. There are thousands of boys within the vicinage of the Institute who need just such training, need it as much as boys anywhere. But here again the Malay indisposition to labor comes in. These people are utterly unable to understand why Americans always want to work. They must be taught the necessity and the dignity of honest toil.

"The curriculum of the Institute is an excellent one, having been formed after the model of our best Indian schools. It assumes that students should not be less than ten years of age ; there is a middle department and a high school, with electives in drawing, botany, natural history, book-keeping and shorthand. The students were fine-looking boys, and with the white suits and red sashes, which they wore at the reception given to us, they presented a striking appearance."

The need of a hospital building at Dumaguete is so imperative that the Mission Board allowed Dr. Langheim to use $1,200 granted by the Government for the superintendency of the medical work in the district, for the purpose of erecting a small hospital. The medical work of Oriental Negros, with a population of 150,000, has only three physicians : the army surgeon, a Filipino doctor and an American missionary. Dr. Langheim's work in a single year consisted of 1,655 treatments, including 210 surgical cases. In November, 1903, the Institute and Hospital buildings were dedicated. The exercises were interesting, with tall palm trees waving above the visitors who had come from the United States, England, Ireland, Spain, China, Canada, Russia, as well as other provinces in the Philippines. The decorations of palm leaves and Japanese lanterns were pretty. The Governor of the province delivered an address, and the presidente of the city also spoke, closing his address with these words:

"Let us do all we can to help these people who have come over here to do this great work."

One of the leading gentlemen of the province made a good speech in Visayan. The exercises were in English, Spanish and Visayan. The occasion was peculiarly interesting, too, because from that school were selected the two boys of all those in that province who were best fitted to go to the United States for an education.

The Rev. Lewis B. Hillis, of Manila, gives these impressions of the Institute after a close study of the school and its instructions from the first:

"One of the suggestive features of the Institute is the universality of boy nature. They cut and mark the desks, draw pictures of the teacher and of each other, hide one another's things, whip tops, spike tops, play baseball, football, march in civic processions, wear a red ribbon which stands for 'Silliman,' have a college yell and a cheer leader, mass together and make life uneasy for the Chinaman who dares to allow one of them to pay a few cents more for an article than the man before paid for it; swim, play truant when they think they will not be missed, and frequently have a severe attack of sickness when they have not their lessons. It is a peculiar characteristic of the Visayan that he prefers to bat flies or kick the football to playing a regular game. Whether or not this will continue to be the case, remains to be seen.

"The democracy among the students is another interesting feature. Formerly when boys went to the Institute they had servants to carry their luggage and to take care of their clothes. It was considered undignified, in fact disgraceful, to do any manual labor. The majority of the students are sons of wealthy parents, but there are a few who are working their way through. Now they have a standing in the School which accords with the real worth of each one. Often a promising man is sent from some other station in the hope that he may make a good preacher. One was sent from Cebu a few months ago. He was under the impression that when he became a Protestant he had finished all that there was for him to do, and that others would provide for him. When the instructors asked him to work, it hurt his feelings, and he almost organized a mutiny among the graciados :

"'We did not enter the Protestant religion to become servants,' he said, and he started back to Cebu.

"Another man, a teacher, about twenty-eight, who had been accustomed all his life to being considered far above labor, was anxious to go to the School, but he had no money. He was offered a chance to clean the floors, because that was the only thing to be done at the time. The teachers knew that he would object, and were sorry to discourage him, but they were practically forced into making the offer. He accepted and did it very well. In a few weeks there was some translating to be done, and he was asked to do it. It would take but little of his time and be far better for the School than the other work.

"'Yes ; I will do it, but it does not take much time; I can clean the floors, too.' Some of the boys support themselves: One has just arrived from Iloilo. Another works as clerk in the afternoon and evening in a store. One has a wife who runs his salt works while he attends school. One is a silversmith. Most of them are sons of the hacienderos large planters but occasionally there is one who cannot pay his tuition.

"What has the School accomplished? It has attracted the talented pupils. One self-taught, so far as the teachers can learn, painted the building on a contract, but stranger still, when they wished for a picture of Washington, he brought in his own painting, which would attract favorable comment as the work of an untaught schoolboy anywhere. I thought that they must be poor judges of painting when they spoke so highly about it, but I changed my mind when I saw the picture. A secretary of the insurrection, who is easily one of the best Visayan scholars around there, is a student. A boy's paper in Virgil was almost perfect. One young man from a family that opposed his attending the school came in the morning and arranged his teaching so that he could do it in the afternoon. A short time ago he passed the examination in Dumaguete with the highest mark given at that examination. He now receives a salary of $60 a month, and is stationed nine miles from Dumaguete. But it took the combined influence of his family, which weighed little, the long distance, which was considered little, and the teachers at Dumaguete to prevent his arranging his work to teach one-half the day and ride in for School the other half. A school that attracts that kind of material is not made in vain. The Constabulary, the Educational Department, the merchants and men in the offices who had clerical work to do, place great temptations in the way of the boys, but there are rarely more than half a dozen who leave the School in a year unless it be from sickness or poverty. They like it. And they are learning to work in the printing plant and at other things around the building."

Dr. Silliman is deeply interested in this school for the Filipinos, which he desires to follow Hampton and Tuskegee Institutes in Virginia and Alabama. Whatever men and means can accomplish will be done to insure its success. The trades to be taught in the Institute are carpentry and cabinet-making, printing, farming and gardening, masonry and bricklaying, and blacksmithing. Dr. Silliman will erect the buildings that will be needed for the teaching of these and other trades and equip them with machinery and tools. He is also now erecting two dwellings for the missionaries who give their time to the Institute, and two for the missionary members of the station. Dr. Silliman feels that the help which they will give to the Institute will be a fair offset for their rent.

The industrial department of the Institute will be developed gradually as circumstances justify. Land has been secured for gardening near the Institute grounds, and a farm at a little distance for the teaching and practice of agriculture. It was fitting that Dr. Silliman should receive from the Board of Missions "its hearty appreciation of his intelligent, sympathetic and generous plans for the Institute," and a pledge from the Board that it would "unite with him in every reasonable effort for the uplifting of this important institution."

With the American Government sending Filipino youth to the United States to study in the schools and colleges of this country, and Dr. Silliman providing for others in their own land, there will be an opportunity in four or five years to see which method produces the better result. The generous gifts of Dr. Silliman for the practical education of hundreds of young Filipinos have not been equalled by any other American, and the Government officials are very hearty in their approval of the Institute, and justly so, for his motive is worthy of all praise: "To give the students such training, physical, mental and moral, as will best qualify them to help the inhabitants of the islands to improve the conditions of their civic and social life."

From "Chapter 28: The Silliman Institute" of An Observer in the Philippines: or Life in Our New Possessions by John Bancroft Devins (New York: American Tract Society, 1905). You can read the entire book here.

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