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OUR first glimpse of Iligan was not assuring, as only the Headquarters Building could be seen from the harbour, and in front of it, reaching to the left for some distance, stood a long, single row of cocoanut-palms, so tall that the green foliage was far above the top of the house, making the trees look like stiff bouquets in absurdly long wooden holders. At the foot of these trees water, blue as indigo on wash day, lashed itself into a white fury against the stonework of the pier.
Before daybreak on the following morning the Signal Corps had its breakfast, and aside from the not always obvious compensation which undeviating good conduct is said to bring, we had a very evident reward for our early rising in seeing Jupiter and Venus in a brilliant stellar flirtation, the Southern Cross as chaperone giving sanction to the affair.
Before the night had really paled into a gray dawn, three life-boats from the ship, each loaded with some six hundred feet of cable, were fastened in tandem and drawn to the shore by a stout rope, which had already been run to the beach, and the two shore ends, one for Misamis and one for Cagayan, Mindanao, were laid with but little trouble. As Iligan’s insurrectionary population was too aristocratic to demean itself by manual labour for any monetary consideration, the soldiers of the infantry company stationed at Iligan were detailed to dig the trench. But, being Americans, they worked with a right good will, completing the trench late that afternoon. The office was also established by this time, after which the two shore ends were laid and buoyed, thus accomplishing a tremendous day’s work.
In the early afternoon we women went ashore sight-seeing, and found Iligan chiefly interesting for what it was not. On paper — Spanish paper, that is — the town is represented as a city of some magnitude, boasting handsome barracks for the soldiers, two beautiful churches, many well-built houses and shops, a railway running from the outskirts of the town to Lake Lanao, a handsome station for Iligan’s terminal of the line, and many other modern improvements, including fine waterworks.
In reality, Iligan is a little nipa-shack settlement, some of the nipa buildings being very pretty, to be sure, but hardly pretentious enough for city dwellings. As for the railway to Lake Lanao, all that is left of it are two old engines and some dilapidated cars in a discouraged, broken down shed on the outskirts of the village, the shed doubtless representing the handsome station aforementioned. Even the rails of the road have been carried away by the Moros to be made into bolos and krises.
As for the barracks, the natives say that the Spaniards burnt them down on evacuating in favour of their American foe, while the churches probably never existed save in imagination, though one place of worship was in process of construction at the time of our visit, the skeleton of its framework being covered by a well finished roof, which, by the way, is a peculiarity of carpentering in these islands. The woodwork of the structure had a weather-beaten air, which told only too plainly how long a time had elapsed since its foundation-stone was laid, and on all sides the houses were deserted and dropping into decay. Board fences rotted under a pitiless sun, and gardens, overgrown with weeds and rank vegetation, encroached on the highway, which seemed to hold the glare of noon in its stifling dust. Degraded, wretched looking pigs wallowed about under one’s very feet, and thin babies scowled at us fiercely from behind the skirts of their unsmiling mothers.
With the exception of two or three very good little shops, run of course by the ubiquitous Chinaman, at which one could purchase Moro turbans, sarongs — the long skirt-like garments in which Moro men and women wrap themselves — petates, or sleeping mats of split bamboo, and other like curios, Iligan is a most unattractive and desolate place, by God forsaken and by man forgot.
Picturesque it could not help being. All Philippine coast towns accomplish that, built as they are of caña and nipa in the midst of luxuriant foliage, and surrounded by palms and bamboos, beyond which spread verdant plains or lofty forest hills on one side, and on the other stretches of sunlit sea and an unobstructed view of the blue and cloudless sky. Lovely beyond description, to be sure, but a loveliness of which one would tire all too quickly, its very beauty becoming monotonous, like the pretty face of an insipid woman; its sunshine and balmy airs but an aggravation to the soul, combining to make one long for rugged outlines, rough east winds, and climatic hardships and privations, anything rather than the enervation of that unending tropic softness.
A STREET IN ILIGAN
Market-day, which comes every Saturday at Iligan, made a break in the dull uniformity of our several visits there. It was full of interest to everyone, for it is then the Moros come to town, like the beggars in the old nursery rhyme, “some in rags and some in tags,” but none in velvet gowns, no doubt because of climatic exigencies. It was a glorious day of dazzling sunshine, and the market-place fairly swarmed in colour, which blinded the eyes and warmed the heart. There were to be seen in sarong, or coat, or turban the faded reds and subdued blues that artists love, with here and there a dash of vivid green, scarlet, and purple, barbarously tropical.
The Moros were represented mostly by men and boys, lithe, graceful creatures, their legs encased in skin-tight trousers, or else concealed entirely by a sarong wrapped closely about them, the long end tucked into a belt at the front. Their jackets, in the gayest of colours, fitted them not wisely for so hot a climate, but too well; their long, lank hair, done up in a knot at the back of the head, was usually surmounted by a resplendent turban, whose colours shrieked and stuck out their tongues at each other, being on even worse terms with the rest of the costume; and in their belts would be stuck a barong or kris, often both, and a square or semicircular box of brass, sometimes inlaid with copper, sometimes handsomely carved, and sometimes plain. These boxes were divided into three compartments on the inside, one for betel-nut, one for the lime to be smeared on the betel, and one for the leaves of the pepper-tree, in which the combination of lime and betel is wrapped before being chewed. Dattos of rank were followed by a slave carrying these boxes, the receptacle in their case being large and much more beautiful in design.
It was hard to differentiate the few women in the crowd from the men, for they also wore a sarong wrapped closely about them, which, if it slipped aside for a moment, showed a tight fitting jacket of gay cotton worn over a camisa, short at the waist line, where a band of brown flesh showed frankly between it and the top of the wide, bloomer-like garment on the nether limbs. They also wore their hair in a knot at the back of the head, with a long, straight wisp hanging out of the coil, and in most instances were much less attractive than the men, being quite as unprepossessing in appearance, and lacking the redeeming strength and symmetry which gave beauty to the masculine figure.
Several of the Moro men, presumably chiefs by the goodly number of slaves following in their train, protected their august heads by means of a gaily coloured parasol; others had the parasol held over them by one of their retainers, while at their sides gambolled small Moro boys, either entirely naked or decorously clothed in a very abbreviated shirt. Some of the youngsters sported old sarongs, which could be discarded or put on at their discretion, and only one boy seen throughout the morning was fully clothed.
A delightful figure was that of a Moro dressed in a faded sarong drawn closely about him from waist to knee. Above this he sported a flannel blouse on which he had fastened with safety-pins two very dilapidated infantry shoulder-straps of a second lieutenant’s grade. He also wore on his right breast some crossed cannon of American artillery and a huge Spanish medal. On his head was a plaid turban, as parti-coloured as the proverbial coat of the overdressed Joseph. Between the straining buttons of his blue flannel blouse dark flesh gushed forth, and from beneath the variegated headgear fell some straight, straggling locks, too short to be confined neatly in the coil of hair at the back of his head. He was not at all averse to having his charms of person and dress perpetuated in a photograph, and from the way the Moros and natives gathered around him it was evident that he was a personage of no little importance in the community.
Scattered around the market-place were various groups of Iligan natives and Moros from the hills, all squatting on the ground, and haggling over the price of fish and eggs. There were Moro chiefs, looking world-wearied and indifferent, followed by their attendant slaves; there were thrifty Moros willing to sell one anything from a kris or a barong to the very clothes on their backs; there were handsome young Moro blades, who stared shyly at the strange white faces and chatted volubly the while in their soft Malay tongue; there were Philippine market women in camisa and panuela, some of them carrying large, flat baskets of vegetables or fruits on their heads, the green of ripe oranges and bananas making an effective splash of colour above their dusky hair; there were a few, a very few, Moro women, as I have said before, and they wrapped themselves more closely in their sarongs as we approached, smiling at us broadly with the utmost friendliness, their blackened teeth behind red, betel-stained lips reminding one irresistibly of watermelon seeds in the fruit.
“IT WAS EVIDENT THAT HE WAS A PERSONAGE OF NO LITTLE IMPORTANCE"
Of course the Moros asked us exorbitant prices for their arms, Americans being made of money, and transient Americans, in particular, having the added reputation of being utterly bereft of reasoning faculties, but we had been warned as to their business methods by officers of the post, so were as adamant. At first the Moros seemed indifferent whether we purchased or not, and only when we had really embarked in one of the life-boats for the ship did they let us have the knives for one-half of what they had originally demanded.
One gentleman who boasted a coat, sarong, and wide sash of brilliant green, the material being of Moro manufacture, and hence of great interest to the Burnside people, was possessed that one of us should buy the outfit, and only with great difficulty and the utmost tact was he persuaded from denuding himself then and there, so anxious was he to make a sale; and long after the life-boat was under way did some belated Moro rush to the beach, wildly gesticulating and calling, evidently willing to exchange some treasured knife, buyo box, or brightly coloured turban for American gold at our own valuation, although he had perhaps scorned a very high price for these same things earlier in the day.
The second morning after our arrival at Iligan, on the occasion of our first visit there, all on board were shocked to hear that one of the buoys attached to a cable anchored in the bay was missing. It was the buoy to which the Cagayan shore end had been fastened, and there was not a little mystery as to how it could have got away from its mushroom anchor. So, instead of starting to lay the cable to Misamis, we used the machinery as a fishing tackle, and, after some little trouble, hooked the Cagayan cable in a hundred and twenty-five fathoms of water. Later in the day the buoy was picked up, a most disreputable looking object, banged and battered almost beyond recognition, which showed it had undoubtedly been struck during the night by the ship’s propeller, owing to the tremendously swift current in the harbour.
All that afternoon the cable sang its song of the drum, in preparation for the morrow’s trip, and a little after daylight the next morning the Misamis buoy was picked up and its cable spliced to that in the main tank, after which we left Iligan, paying out the cable so slowly that it was five o’clock before we anchored off the Misamis buoy, just in time for a splice to be made ere the swift darkness of the tropics was upon us.
The signal sergeant in charge of such work had a large audience that evening watching his skilful joining together of the two ends of cable. How deft he was in unwinding the sheathing wire, how exact in cutting off just the right amount of core from each end of the cable, how careful in stripping the insulation from the cores’ end with a sharp knife not to nick the wires, which would have produced untold trouble. Then the seven wires stranded together in each end were unwound, carefully cleaned and scraped, that they might solder readily, after which they were again twisted together with pliers, and the joint completed. When this was done the rubber tape was wound round and round the copper wires, after which the whole was put into a vulcanizing bath of hot paraffine. Upon soaking half an hour, it was removed from the paraffine and the jute serving was bound back again; then the armour — a steel wire spiral jacket — was replaced, the spirals winding back into their original position with the greatest ease. Wire was then wound at intervals over this steel jacket to keep the spirals in place, after which the whole, for ten or fifteen feet in length, was served with a neat finish of spun yarn.
At sunrise the next morning we went into the harbour of Misamis for the third time, staying just long enough to ascertain that the cable was working satisfactorily, after which we sailed once again for Iligan, leaving there the following day for Cagayan, taking soundings every half hour in preparation for the laying of the cable between those two places. The morning was so rainy and disagreeable that no bearings could be had, but just as we were nearing the harbour of Cagayan, at about four in the afternoon, the mist cleared away, the sun came out wetly from behind a mass of clouds, and over the harbour to the southeast stretched a bow of promise, with the town of Cagayan standing at one end of the arc like the proverbial pot of gold for which we hunted in childhood.