Manilamen and Mandarins – Filipinos in 1860s China, Part 3: Tata Grandfather Viray

Tata Grandfather Viray

Tata Grandfather Viray was born in 1821 or 1822, he was not sure which, the son of an Ilocano boat-builder.

“I grew up playing in Cavite and Vigan boatyards. Those yards build vessels native to our islands, small chatta, covered cargo boats, casco, flat-bottomed barges, and twenty-oared viray surf boats.”

“No one remember huge Spanish galleons once built in Cavite. That was centuries ago – for trade with Mexico and Spain.”

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Drawings in the Spanish friars’ old books showed Tata the tall prow and stern, many decks crowded with great cannon, towering masts, and broad sails of the old 1500-ton galleons. Tata’s father told him of the thousands of natives that slaved for the Spanish, in the earliest Spanish polo, to cut trees and haul timber for the shipyards to build the galleons. Before the Spanish trade monopoly collapsed, and the last of these treasure ships sailed in 1815, the galleons carried millions of pesos in gold coin, the wealth of the Philippine Islands, between Manila, Acapulco and Madrid. As a boy, Tata imagined one day constructing magnificent vessels like the Spanish galleons, but until then was content to fashion small outrigger bangkâ, bilog, and barangay, and vessels for the coasting trade.ngkâ, bilog, and barangay, and vessels for the coasting trade.

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When Tata was ten years old his father left Cavite and took his family back home to Caoayan, south of Vigan in Ilocos Sur, on the west coast of northern Luzon. Vigan looked west out over the South China Sea toward China, and north toward Japan, and had long been a center of Asian commerce, competing with Manila in the trade of tobacco, indigo and pearls for silk and pottery, when the Spanish arrived in the 16th Century and imposed their language and religion on the “heathen” Ilocanos.
Over the centuries that followed, the Spanish built their forts, churches and stores, and walled in their stone houses, changing the town into another Intramuros. The Spanish colonials and friars never failed to provide ample cause for insurrection by the native people. Monopolies of tobacco and sugar kept tenant farmers in debt while hacienda owners became rich, exorbitant taxes and forced labor impoverished los Indios, and ordinary people were flogged in the public squares for trivial offences. Unbearable conditions caused many to flee into the forests and become brigands, tulisans, and lawless bands roamed the countryside as highwaymen and desperados.

While visiting family in Nueva Ecija in 1854, Tata learned of a commandante de carabineros, a Spanish mestizo named Cuesta, who persuaded native troops to mutiny and rise up against Spanish oppression. When in Spain for his education, Cuesta was received by Queen Isabella and became embroiled in the intrigues of liberals in the Spanish court who told him about American government by the people, and the French Liberté, Égalité, and Fraternité. Cuesta returned to the Philippines determined to help his people.

“I join Cuesta’s rebels, rise against local Spanish officials and clergy. We take back wealth of the people, drive hateful overseers from province. Four Luzon provinces join Cuesta’s fight for independence. Just before the end of year, the Governor-general of Nueva Vizcaya send two companies of infantry south from Bayombong. They joined half of garrison from Palayan City send west by Nueva Ecija Governor-general. Together, make very big attack, Cuesta’s army surrounded, captured, crushed. Cuesta, his officers, all shot or hanged and many followers banished. I barely escaped with life, went to sea from Vigan.”

The first Foreign Rifles drilled in the manual of arms with the Sharps carbine until the drill was second nature and the carbine was as familiar as a jackknife. Tata Viray was the oldest of them all – thirty-seven, maybe thirty-eight years old and, so, nicknamed “grandfather” – but he became very good with the manual of arms and in Yang Shen Book II (and Yankee Mandarin) Vincente Macanaya asks him to show the drill to new recruits.

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Viray was a weather-beaten old jack in green striped pants and a plain black cotton jacket over a white undershirt, a gaunt 130 pounds of splotchy brown leather hide, with sunken black eyes and thinning black hair shot with gray. He snapped to attention and in twenty seconds spun his carbine through a whirl of movements, from one shoulder to another, back to order arms, and then parade rest.

“So, can you do as well as our grandfather here?” Macanaya said. “Wait, there’s more. Viray – inspection, carbine!”

The “old man” raised the carbine smartly, pushed on the lever, and opened then closed the action.

“Order, arms,” said Macanaya, giving the commands in English. “Load in four times. One – ready. Load!”

Viray made a smart half-turn to the right, seized the muzzle with his left hand, levered the action open with his right hand, then moved his right hand to the cartridge box on his belt. Macanaya moved around to Viray’s other side.

“Two – charge cartridge!” ordered Macanaya.

Viray withdrew a linen cartridge from the cartridge box, inserted it into the breech, ball first, then closed the action and placed his right hand on his cap pouch. Paco Dalogdog stepped next to Viray.

“Three – prime!” ordered Dalogdog.

Viray withdrew a cap and placed it on the nipple, pressed it down, then lowered the hammer and grasped the stock with his right hand.

“Four – carry, arms!” ordered Dalogdog.

Viray snapped the carbine to his shoulder and stood ramrod straight at attention.

“So, you see,” Macanaya said sharply. “Not just Banta – all of you. Grandfather has learned the English commands and drilled this way many times, so now he is fast, accurate, and makes no mistakes. That is why we drill. Watch this. Tata, firing position, ready!”

Viray again made a quick half-turn to the right, raised the carbine and grasped the barrel with his left hand, pulled back the hammer with the thumb of his right hand, placed a finger on the trigger guard, and grasped the small of the stock with his right palm.

“Aim,” ordered Macanaya.

Viray lowered the muzzle and brought the stock up to his shoulder, looked down the barrel with his right eye, and moved his finger from the guard to the trigger.

“Recover, arms,” Macanaya said.

Viray removed his finger from the trigger, raised the carbine, and resumed the ready position.

“Carry, arms!” Macanaya said.

On the command “carry,” Viray thumbed back the hammer, depressed the trigger, and then let the hammer down gently on the cap. On the command “arms,” Viray snapped the carbine to his right shoulder and came to attention.

“At ease. These are simple movements, Banta, one-two-three-four. That makes it easy to get them right, with drill. It will be even more simple with these one hundred new carbines because they have tape primer and you won’t have to place a percussion cap on the nipple.” Macanaya used the English words “tape primer,” “percussion cap,” and “nipple” as these words had no equivalents in Philippine dialects and no would recognize the Spanish even if Macanaya knew the Spanish.

“You ask for much,” grumbled Kirat.

“Well, then, remember this. The señor koronel asks us to do this. And, I ask you to do this. Without complaint. Better than any of the mga puti – white trash. And if you make me lose face, I will kill you. …But if you do well, I will honor you. Now, I have given you many more reasons than I should have to give to any of you. So get to it, and stop whining. Dismissed! Viray, well done.”

“That’s a small matter, Vincente,” Viray said, laughing. “I can throw a carbine around just fine, but I’m still trying to just hit a target, to say nothing of a coin at fifty yards.”

“We will change that, starting this morning,” Macanaya said.

[Images from Wikimedia Commons]
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