Tuesday, January 26, 2010


LIGHT MY FIRE. Then, as now, smoking was a favorite Kapampangan past time. It also spawned a backyard industry in many Pampanga towns, where contracted workers rolled and wrapped cigars in lithographed paper packages such as this "La Pampanguena" brand from Angeles. ca. 1920s.

Cigar and cigarette manufacturing in our islands officially began in 1782, under the tobacco monopoly introduced by Gov. Jose Basco y Vargas. The 1st factory was located in Binondo, with space provided rent-free to the government by the Dominicans. Under the monopoly system, the government had complete control of the cultivation (only select provinces like Bulacan, Nueva Ecija and Pampanga were authorized to grow tobacco), processing and manufacturing of cigars and cigarillos. Thus began the first application of the factory system in the Philippines, where thousands of laborers, mostly women, reported to a central place of work, which were often cramped, hot and humid. Nevertheless, factories provided livelihood and the tobacco business accounted for the government’s biggest share of revenue.

When the monopoly ended 10 years later, private entrepreneurs rushed to cash in on the lucrative cigar/cigarette industry, setting up factories in Manila and nearby provinces. To protect consumers from fly-by-night operations, a cigar tax was imposed. Quality cigars were churned out by the millions by Alhambra and Tabacalera.

The cigar industry, however, failed to respond to changing consumer preferences in smoking, which was about the time the Americans arrived. When cigar production dwindled and mechanization of cigarette processing was launched, Filipinos switched to cigarettes or cigarillos. Cigarette companies like La Paz y Buenviaje produced a variety of brands, like the “Dollar” brand, capturing a whole new market of “sajonistas” altogether.

Turn-of-the-century cigarettes were often distinctively packaged in batches of 24s-30s, in wrappers with detailed graphics such as these examples of Pampanga provenance. Local entrepreneurs probably bought processed cigar leaves and engaged backyard workers to roll and wrap cigarettes in these 2-color, lithographed packages carrying assorted visual themes, often irrelevant to the product, ranging from the patriotic (pictures of heroes, Katipunan) to the mythical and romantic.

Notable example is the “Sinukuan” brand, from Plaza Sto. Tomas Pampanga, which has a truly local Kapampangan theme, showing a barebreasted Mariang Sinukuan holding a billowing flag with a range of mountains in the background. The back panel shows a Aeta workers gathering palm leaves in the middle of a tobacco plantation (!) with their leader welcoming a cigarette-smoking stranger.

A unique Betis wrapper, "La Reina Malaya" (The Malayan Queen), on the other hand, contains a nationalist verse that calls upon Filipinos to patronize Philippine-made products and not those made by our colonizers--highly seditious stuff on print!

On the other hand, “Las Dos Hermanas” brand from Bacolor is no different from the way we name small businesses even today (as in “3 Sisters Carinderia”).

The inappropriate “Ates” brand also carries the name ‘Nemecio Leonardo’, who may have been the entrepreneur, the same way “La Soledad” banners the name ‘Maria Consolacion’ of Betis. “Los Enamorados” (The Enamoured Ones) from the Fabrica de Pampanga Plaza Guagua simply defies explanation with a European boating scene that hints of a menage a trois, in the middle of the sea abloom with lotus flowers!

Today, these cigarette wrappers are being collected not just for their artistic merit, but also for their value as cultural ephemera, defining our taste for leisure and recreation under our colonizers.


Anonymous said...

this is wonderful alex! i love what you're doing!
with love and light,

alex r. castro said...

Thank you, dear Margo. Have a few more articles left before I end this blog though!