Manilamen and Mandarins – Filipinos in 1860s China, Part 1: Vincente Macanaya

Vincente Macanaya

“…There he stood in the midst of a perfect hailstorm of stone, firing away like a fury, whilst his companions were dropping on all sides of him, killed by the unerring aim of the rebels on the walls. …If real bravery consists in an undauntedness of spirit, a cool presence of mind, and active physical exertion, then all these qualities are combined in Vincente…”

Such was the praise Vincente Macanaya received from his 1860 Shanghai contemporaries in the publication Friends of China, so little wonder he stands out in Yang Shen, Book I. Leader of a small band of Filipinos of that day, imagined for the novel, Vincente’s role is crucial to the success of the early Foreign Rifles in their effort to protect Shanghai from the Taiping rebels. This post is the first of several that will showcase several of the extraordinary Manilamen – as Filipinos were know then – that appear in Yang Shen. With the exception of Vincente, all have been conjured up from early sources about the wild land of the Philippines in the 19th century. Here is more about Vincente from Friends of China.

…There is nothing rough about [his] appearance. Gentlemanly in his ways to all, kind-hearted to his friends, sober in his habits, quick in perception, frank, liberal to a fault, and with an eye always to his duty, serving faithfully where he serves, beloved and respected by his comrades in arms…

Chinese War Steamer Confucius

Fletcher meets Vincente aboard the Chinese war steamer Confucius. “Macanaya was a slender, lithe Manilaman in his middle twenties, with oil-black wavy hair and deep black eyes who, thought Fletcher, no doubt broke the hearts of swarms of señoritas when he left Manila. Around his left wrist, there was a bracelet of what looked like large white shark teeth, which clicked when his hand moved.
     “Magandang umaga Vincente. Good morning,” Fletcher said in Tagalog only vaguely remembered. “Ang pangalan Fletcher ko my name is Fletcher. Kumusta ka, pare how are you, friend?”
     The Manilaman looked at Fletcher as if he was some kind of talking parrot. “Humihinga pa. Ikaw? Po?” he answered suspiciously, “Still breathing. You? Sir?”

Ever Victorious Army field battery in Vincente’s day

…Among his countrymen here the name of Vincente is renowned, and they have a firm belief that he bears a charmed life, which renders him bullet-proof. At one place in particular, where he was fighting desperately, and almost in the midst of he rebel host, bullet after bullet was fired at him, and when he escaped out of the melee, on looking at his clothes, they were completely riddled with bullet holes, he not having received a scratch.

Yang Shen
 created the following background for Vincente. “My home in mountains south of Lingayan, in Pangasinan, on island of Luzon. Many year before, my grandfather leave Tondo, go north to Pangasinan, make home in mountains, grow rice, sugar cane. My grandfather speak some Spanish, so make him headman at Salasa, un cabeza de barangay, a don. Some people not like Tagolog cabeza in Pangasinan barangay, say bad things, make lies. Then Spanish military officers, peninsulares, take away grandfather and father to execute. I escape with mother, brothers and sisters back to home in mountains, then I go back down to Salasa. I find those officers, I cut off heads with bolo and throw heads in barracks, set barracks on fire and burn Spanish soldados to death. In Heaven, my grandfather and father listened con mucho gusto to screams of Spanish pigs. Then I run away to Manila, float under guns of Fort Santiago on Pasig River, go to sea in Chinese trade junk. Just fifteen years old.”

At Duching he rode into the midst of the Rebel army, cut off a Rebel prince’s head, took the prince’s horse and equipments, brought them in triumph to the Imperial camp, to the wonder and amazement of not only the mandarin and his comrades, but also greatly astonishing the General and his officers by such a daring feat.
– Excerpts from “Memoirs of the Late General Ward, the Hero of Sungkiang, and of His Aid-de-camp Vincente Macanaya,” Friends of China, Shanghai, 1863.

[Part 2 will take up with Cebuano Paco Cockfighter Dalogdog, the former Gallera de Campeón cockpit boss from the Parian ghetto of Cebu City.]

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