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THE OCCUPATIONS of the majority, after cultivating their small parcel of land or the orchards of their masters, was reduced to looking for whatever was necessary for their sustenance and their daily necessities. The men fished in the rivers, lagoons or streams with rattan traps or nets, frequently standing in waist-deep water and subsequently contracting fevers and other ailments. They also gathered fruits and uncultivated vegetables in the forests that, mixed with rice and together with a little fish, constituted the essentials of their diet. They dried kindling, rattan, palm leaves and certain filaments to fix their houses and fences, fabricated their utensils and work tools.
They rented out their animals and carts, if they owned any, as well as themselves and their children to transport produce to provincial markets, realizing from this and other products of their orchards something to satisfy their most pressing needs, such as cooking oil, dried fish, bananas and other commodities like tobacco and buyo, or bolos that they used and other hardware goods that the women preferred. They wove textiles from palms and filaments and dried carabao meat to make jerky or tapa.
The women devoted themselves to selling the products of their harvest and industries and the buying even of animals because they exhibited more aptitude, ingenuity and business acumen than the men, according to the Jesuits. They cleaned the cotton from the branches, dyed and sewed it for their domestic use. The women of the northern region of Ilocos, for instance, were considered models of industriousness, and their blankets were highly priced in Manila (the difference being that in those days cotton was cultivated and harvested in Ilocos.) When they harvested indigo for dye, it was the women who labored by an exceedingly difficult or even unhealthy process, macerating and beating the leaves to extract the juice and gathering it in earthen dishpans.
When abaca was harvested, it was again the women who wove and prepared it, mashing great big bundles of fiber for days in lusongs (referred to as luzones, hence the name of the island Luzon, one could conclude) that they used as well to unhusk rice grains. They applied themselves to other industries like making mats, bags, hats, etc., prepared the nipa palm fronds, extracted the oil from coconut and other plants. They worked in tobacco factories, tended to pigs and chickens, watered the fields, etc. If they had children, they saw to it that from when they were very young, they helped their parents detailing the boys to the care and pasture of work animals and the girls to the domestic, housekeeping, laundry and the care of the younger siblings.
Both boys and girls pounded the rice and cooked meals. When they grew older, they were a great help to their parents whom to a great extent they respected and obeyed.
Girls from a very young age displayed wisdom and intelligence. They went to market to buy or sell goods, while little children sold commodities that their mothers prepared: tobacco, buyo and other trifles. The boys were not considered as diligent and painstaking as the girls and sometimes grew up to be loafers.
The laziness of the native has been exaggerated. The lack of public works and the scarcity of minimum wage jobs contributed in great part to the idleness of the Filipino. (In 1900 there were already complaints about the deficiency in infrastructure for agriculture, so it's not like this is something new. What we should ask is why the provinces have remained undeveloped in this respect despite that massive pork barrel.) And if in the fields they were not productive, it could be attributed to the lack of fondness for the agricultural chores to which they dedicated themselves out of necessity. (Not to mention the payback was/is miserable.)
The employment of those belonging to the ilustrado [educated] class was as varied as in European countries. It was also possible to compare the education they received favorably with that of other civilized countries. (Granted that the Jesuits may have been biased, but on the other hand it was not like they didn't have other schools in Europe and the United States. Unless the education they offered abroad was different, which is doubtful.)
Notwithstanding his profession, the Filipino had to work in hot weather, an enervating atmosphere and a humidity that was daunting. He was sustained by a few fistfuls of rice and fish, yet still faced an eight- to 10-hour day calmly without displaying fatigue or weariness. As a rule, Filipinos were eager to try something new and they did not lack valor in facing the dangers of the sea. They were excellent sailors and adept at handling masts and sails, a talent that seemed instinctive since they grew up surrounded by lagoons, lakes and streams that abounded everywhere and which they frequented. They were very sparing with their food, which consisted of a little rice cooked with water to which they added some vegetables and salted fish, counting themselves blessed if they could add a small piece of meat to their meal.
Games of chance, lotteries and raffles held a great attraction and were not diversions but a means of livelihood or a chance to escape poverty.