Capt. Langhorne asked the Philippine Assembly for a P50,000 funding to build a hall and “exhibit half-naked Igorots and set up amusements”. Gov. Gen. James Smith , shocked at the tone of the planned carnival, asked his Secretary of Commerce, Cameron Forbes to take over. Instead of a freakshow, Forbes designed an international exposition to showcase Philippine-American progress. The government subsidy was reduced and money was raised through various means like the search for the Carnival Queen, where one voted through cash donations.
The site of the Manila Carnival was the old Wallace Field in Luneta and Bagumbayan, whose perimeters were walled up with Pampanga sawali (woven bamboo). The area was stringed with lights, arches and blue and yellow banderitas (pennants)with entrance tickets priced at 20 centavos. In the very first Carnival, two queens with their king escorts reigned: Purita Kalaw of Iloilo as Queen of the Orient and Marjorie Colton, Queen of the Occident. The fair was marked with theatrical shows, masquerade balls, band competitions, sports fests and games galore.
Big commercial businesses, provincial governments and other agencies were invited to create their carrozas or floats, as well as set up exhibit booths. Fabrica de San Miguel for instance, had a float featuring men made of beer cans. Meralco’s float included a man holding a lightning, while Clarke, a Manila soda parlor business, had a float trailed by children distributing goodies. The exhibit booth of La Fortuna Fabrica de Biscochos was singled out for its creative representation of the Goddess of Plenty holding a cornucopia of biscuits and sweets.
Among the provinces, Cavite, Bulacan and Laguna were the first to sign up for the fair. Laguna showed-off its best produce in its 250 sq. m. agricultural and industrial booths. The well-presented products included fine rice varieties, textiles, sandals, buri hats from Liliw, fish from Laguna de Bay and mineral drinks from Mahayhay. No wonder, Laguna won the best pavilion award.
Cavite’s booth was well decorated but “the exterior was not inviting”. Bulacan opted for a “palacio” (palace) theme but the presentation of products was disorderly, which included Baliwag hats, rattan chairs (silleria de bejuco) from San Miguel de Mayumo, wines and chinelas (sandals) from Malolos, narra furniture from Angat, mats from Calumpit and salakots (native hats) and bilaos (woven winnowers) from Polo. “Pearl of the South” was the visual theme of the Cebu booth, which also included a Magellan figure. Iloilo was very innovative with the use of fruits and live butterflies!
The 1st carnival was a resounding success and before long, the“carnaval” spilled over to the provinces with each one holding their own provincial, city and town fair—from as far as Cebu, Iloilo, Ormoc to Cavite, Baguio, Tayabas, Tarlac and yes, Pampanga. The 1925 Pampanga Carnival was held in Angeles, and this picture shows the agricultural booths of Macabebe and Masantol. The gaily decorated booths were topped with an eagle figure symbolic of America and stylized plows representing Kapampangan agriculture. Young men in americana cerrada (American style clothes) and straw hats and ladies in saya (native skirts) manned the booths, shaded with curtains of shell beads and accented by what looked like coconut shells. One can make out canned and bottled preserves as part of the exhibit. Could these have been Pampanga’s fabled delicacies-- pickled achara, buro (fermented rice) or taba ning talangka (crab fat)? Were the fine bentwood Thonet-inspired rattan chairs also part of the showcase?
The highlight of every provincial fair was the nomination of a Queen to compete in the national finals. In 1925, Pampanga chose a multi-titled beauty, Rosario Panganiban of Macabebe. The next year, she competed in the 1st Philippine Beauty Contest (won by Batangas’ Anita Noble) the same year that Socorro Henson of Angeles won the Carnival Queen 1926 title. The carnivals in Pampanga turned out to be a highly organized and socially-prominent affair, with the 1933 edition being chaired by no less than Hon. Justice Jose Gutierrez David.
Behind the gaiety and the remarkable success of the annual fairs lay the real motive of the Carnival, a hard, unspoken truth articulated only years later by the 1st Carnival Queen herself, Pura Villanueva-Kalaw: the carnivals were an American idea, organized, executed and animated by the same. In the end, the Carnival was nothing more than a superficial attempt to divert the Filipinos from the real issues that plagued American colonial governance, a balm intended to soothe our wounded national pride.
(28 September 2002)