ALFRED MARCHE EXPEDITION
APRIL - JULY 1881
LUZON AND PALAWAN by ALFRED MARCHE
Alfred Marche was a French traveler and
explorer who came to the Philippines in
1881. He traveled through various parts
of Luzon, Catanduanes and Marinduque.
At Marinduque, he found a cave called
Pamintaan, which had been previously
used as a burial site. His discovery
represented "an abundant yield of
Chinese urns, vases, gold ornaments,
skulls and other ornaments of
pre-Spanish origin." (Burke-Miailhe
writes in an introduction to an English
translation from the French by Pura
Santillan-Castrence.) Marche brought
back to France the artifacts he
uncovered. They are now housed at the
Musee de l'Homme).
THE ISLAND OF MARINDUQUE
ON APRIL 13, 1881, I embarked for Marinduque, a big island situated south of
Luzon, opposite the littoral of the province of Tayabas.
The steamer that conveyed us circulated through the numerous little islands that
border the shores of Luzon. After having doubled Batangas point, cast anchor
before the town of the same name in order to leave, the dispatches, we continued
our route toward the south, in the direction of Mindoro and made another stop
before Calapan, the chief town of the province. On the 14th, at 2 o'clock III the
afternoon, I landed in front of the customhouse of Boac, on a sandy beach where
two to three small huts were constructed, and there I found my friend, Mr. Fochs,
who had precisely just settled permanently in the country. Informed of my arrival,
he waited for me at the wharf. I mounted the horse he brought me and I galloped
off at full speed toward the town of Boac, in his company and that of his comrade,
Mr. Vergara, carabinier lieutenant, leaving to the care of my men the loading of our
baggage on the wagons to transmit them to their destination. Mr. Vergara offered
me a room in his cuartel (quarters or barracks), with such grace, such insistence
that I accepted it.
Marinduque attracted me because of the fame of its funeral grottos. It is a
madreporic and volcanic island, whose highest mountain, the Marlanga, rises up to
about 500 meters. Being aware of my excavation projects, Mr. Fochs, since his
arrival, had paved the way and interested the notables of the place in the
excursions that I planned. Hardly settled, I received numerous visits. Each wanted
to give me information and to relate to me the most fantastic tales about the funeral
grottos. All knew a great many of them. It goes without saying that each of these
grottos has its legend, its spirits, its terrors.
From one, Castila (or European) spirits go out in procession every year, the night
of All Saints' Day, while singing canticles. Everybody has seen them with his own
eyes. When one enters their cavern, one sees nothing except skulls bigger than
pots. In another is a wooden door that one would not know how to break open; in a
third, at the entrance, an immense glass that one would be unable to shatter; and
in all, monstrous serpents. All began to ask me if I was not scared and if I
persisted in wanting to visit them.
So much pusillanimity made me smile and I asked them for guides for the next day,
engaging them to come with me, for I did not believe in the numerous dangers that
they feared. Before my assurance, everybody wanted to be one of us.
But until April 19, it was impossible to have a guide: the whole country was on a
holiday. The alcalde was on his rounds for the renewal of the municipalities. We
had to await his return.
Every two years, each town and village proceeds with the elections to replace the
gobornadorcillo and the tenientes. The two who obtain the biggest number of votes
are then presented to the government with their dossier, and the parish priest
and the alcalde appoint the one who, according to them, should be nominated. Only
the Indians aspire to this position.
The first grotto where I ventured on April 19 was precisely the one with the wooden
door about which such beautiful tales were told. I was not alone, far from it. I even
thought that all the inhabitants of the island were going to follow to see the
French Castila grappling with the asuang, or spirit of the caverns.
I had first as companions my friends, Fochs and Vergara, and Don Domingo Diaz,
a doctor of the province, then all the notables, some of whom had themselves
replaced at the last moment by their sons. All these people were on horseback;
the porters ran in front, and we seemed to be going to take the spirits by storm.
In leaving Boac, we went to the southwest, through the winding river, whose dried
bed served as road to us, and, after two and a half hours, we reached the
mountain facing the redoubtable place. We abandoned our horses, the path that
must be taken being scarcely passable, even for the pedestrians. Half an hour of
climbing led us to the grotto, the entrance to which was mildly sloping.
All looked at me, anxious, gaping (I speak of the Indians). I passed ahead, I
entered and almost at once I arrived at the bottom of the grotto which was small,
with calcined walls, and for ground a black mold made up of guano deposited by
legions of bats. Aside from that, nothing but the debris of crude clay vases and
some bones. There then were the thousands of skeletons that one had announced
"But," the Indians told me, "the asuang, having known about the projects of the
Castila French, has emptied the grotto before him."
Entering first, with my Spanish companions, I soon saw the Indians follow us and
gathered around me without losing sight of me as long as the excavations lasted.
The spirits no longer seemed to frighten them as much.
There were none either in a neighboring cavern, much larger, the whole in black
and deep precipices, where I descended not without trouble and without danger
into chambers of the blackest black, among bats whirling in swarms while
threatening to extinguish the torches.
The entrance to this grotto, partly hidden by the vegetation that covers the sides of
the mountain, was fairly small.
It was first necessary to descend perpendicularly, by means of ropes, to a depth
of around 40 feet, into a poorly lighted pit. From there an excavation started which
seemed to sink lower and which was connected to a fairly narrow passage, the
ground of which was soft and the slope about 25°. After a distance of 40 meters,
we arrived at the edge of a precipice, its vault rising up to nearly 120 meters above
the ground. This narrow chamber was lighted by several holes opening on the
sides of the mountain, and through which the daylight penetrated into the interior.
On the ground, perfectly even, there existed no trace of coffins. To the left, another
opening seemed to go farther still. By means of ropes securely fastened to a rock,
I attempted the descent, around 30 feet. Lighted by torches (for two men always
followed me, while Messrs. Fochs and other men helped in the descent), I entered
into a gallery about 5 meters wide, the ceiling of which soon rose. At the end of 20
meters, a new chamber likewise lighted; then, a third passage which was very
dark, leading to the brink of another precipice towering by 40 feet over the ground
of a new gallery of 20 meters in circumference, completely dark, at the bottom of
which we found an excessively low and narrow passage, full of bats. I had to stop
When I climbed up again to the open air with Messrs. Fochs and Vergara, the
Indians sighed: they already thought that the asuang had devoured us. I came back
with empty hands, but from now on my men had confidence in me and they only
half-believed in the dark spirit of the caverns.
My foremost care was to cleanse my body completely, and it was not without
necessity. Not only did I feel very hot in my excursion to the center of the mountain,
but I was as black as a coal-man, the result of my last halting-place in the last
passage. After a fast lunch eaten at the side of the upper grotto, we went down
the mountain again up to the huts where we had left our mounts.
Before returning to Boac, they made me see two hot water springs: one, not very
abundant, disappeared into a filthy black hole and left traces of sulphur; the other,
more abundant, formed a small stream.
At the place where the water went out boiling from the earth, they had dug out a
kind of basin in which sick persons came to bathe themselves.
The temperature at the outlet was between 40° and 41 Centigrade; it hardly
contained any sulphur. Plants grew on the edges of the stream and up to the basin
itself, surrounding it with a rich curtain of greenery.
Upon our arrival at Boac, we were much sought after. My travelling companions
related the story of our exploration in the domain of the spirits and they
unanimously decided that I was the bearer of an amulet more powerful than the
"How," they asked me, "can you subdue such strong and evil spirits?"
"How? I am the king of the asuangs, and all obey me." I said that very seriously,
and they wondered, when leaving me, up to what point I had told the truth. One
must be brazen with credulous people, and such was the case here.
From April 20 to 25, we visited various caves where I found nothing despite careful
On the 25th, I departed for Gasan with the alcalde of Boac, Don Juan Gallego, and
Doctor Diaz. The road followed the seashore, first in rice fields, then through
The municipality and all the notables of Boac escorted us as far as the boundary of
the district, where all the notables of Gasan awaited us in full dress. After the usual
greetings, the cortege was formed again and we resumed our gallop up to Gasan.
We stayed there at the house of Senor Berdote, whose grandfather was French.
Berdote married an Indian woman belonging to a rich family from Marinduque. He
was truly the king of the island and they did nothing there without asking his advice.
The first concern of the doctor was to visit the smallpox patients and I
accompanied him on his rounds. In order to facilitate his task, they had the town
crier announce in the village that all the huts where there was a patient must raise
a small flag at their window. At the end of one hour, the town was entirely decked
with flags; not one hut had no patient or patients. After the general visit, the
alcalde, frightened, sent for the mediquillo (affectionate diminutive of medico, or
"How will this end? Will everybody pass through it?" he asked. "I have, however,
ordered all the children of the village vaccinated."
"How were you able to obtain vaccine?" asked the doctor.
"Very easily," said the alcalde. "I took the virus from the arm of the first patient
when I saw his pocks fairly big and ripe, and I inoculated everybody."
Our host, Senor Berdote, knowing that my searches of the preceding days were
unfruitful, started making inquiries in order to provide me with the occasion for a
new excavation. He announced to me that, while opening a road, they discovered
a certain number of big funeral urns containing skulls, but the whole was broken in
the hope of finding gold in them. We agreed to visit the bed, but I wanted to go
first to the islet of Los Tres Reyes (the three kings), where funeral caves had been
indicated to me. But, as they had already made me do a good many marches and
countermarches, Mr. Berdote sent a man to make sure that there were really
human remains. After which, we visited the parish priest of the place, a visit both
interesting and interested. The priest was Fr. Clemente Ignacio, a native of the
land, about 75 years old. An eminent collector, he had collected, I was told, so
many shells that there was hardly any man in the Philippines who could compete
with him. He would not give up his collection for 40,000 piastres or 200,000 francs.
And this was most certainly not the only curiosity of his house. His house was a
real shop of bricabrae. In a large room where the good old man hardly found a
table corner to eat, one saw pell-mell statues of saints of wood, mechanical birds
singing various tunes, old clocks of every shape, chandeliers, candelabra,
reliquaries, pictures of Epinal depicting the history of the "Infant of the Forest"; in
brief, thousands and thousands of miscellaneous objects in astounding
All the cabinets and their number is great were filled with shells and other
curiosities. In a small room were the library and the valuable objects. He showed
me a Natural History of Buffon in French, which had been given to him in China by
his friends, the missionaries from France, then 20 watches, each one costlier than
the other and, as he made me remark, all indicating the same time. He also
showed me 20 music-boxes, the tunes of all of which I was obliged to hear.
I did not leave this good man with empty hands. He had the kindness to offer me a
part of his insect collection, and among them, oh happiness! the superb euchirus
dupontinus, which the Museum of Natural History of Paris did not yet have. Only
two spec~mens of the insect figured in the entomological collections of Europe.
This one was the third.
At the convent of Gasan, the parish priest had as regular guests his niece, the
mother, the uncle and the aunt of the young girl. The parish priest had a very great
affection for his niece, so the scandalmongers of the land began to assert that
she was more closely related to him and that he had very good reasons to love her
as a daughter. What do the scandalmongers not say! If I referred to the rumors
concerning this subject, it is because such cases are not rare in the Philippines,
as in also all the countries formerly occupied by the Spaniards.
This young niece was the schoolteacher of Gasan and plays the organ very well:
we heard her executing several pieces with much dexterity, This parish priest has a
town and a country house; the latter is very pretty and the best organized that I
had seen in this island.
The church and the convent of Gasan, built on a small hill, are surrounded by a wall
with embrasures. Only a few years ago, in all of these little islands, the Moros!
(Malay Moslems) came to raid and plundered, burned, dragged those whom they
could capture to slavery. If the attack allowed them the time, they sought refuge in
the fortified convents, from where they sometimes saw their house burning; but
life and library were spared.
On April 26, we, Messrs. Fochs, Vergara and I, departed by banca for the islet of
Los Tres Reyes; Senor Berdote rejoined us in the course of the day.
We experienced some difficulty in our navigation to cross the canal which
separated the little islet of Marinduque; the very rapid tide rushed into the passage,
and we took in some packets of sea.
Mr. Vergara, however, did not seem satisfied with this little navigaton. He would
have preferred to travel on horseback rather than be tossed about thus by the
waves. We finally landed, and a vertical sun dried us fast.
To construct a shelter in which to spend the next night, and other nights if the
excavations were fruitful, was our first job. I deeply desired to make some
discovery, but they had so often made promises to me, and I had so little success
until this day that I still had doubts.
After a short rest, we got on our boat again to go on a survey of the east coast.
We discovered a cave at nearly 70 meters above sea level, but the sea, very
heavy, broke with fury on the rocks, where we easily might have been smashed
into a thousand pieces. About 2 o'clock in the afternoon, the sea being calm, on
another exploration of the coast, we visited a few crevices and discovered a grotto,
the entrance of which was hidden by debris produced by a volcanic convulsion.
At the entrance of the grotto, there were about 20 skulls. I entered and, having the
ground dug, I found out that the bottom was carpeted with a bed of skulls slightly
covered by madreporic debris and sand.
All these skulls were assembled in groups of twos and threes. They rested on a
layer of sand and of madrepores covering a bed of bones among which I found a
small broken vase, the fragments of funeral urns and some pieces of warped
wood having the form of coffins of a small size. There were also same bracelets or
rings carved from shells, and others of softened shells, made of lamellae, glued
together, a method still used in Japan to make pins and other ornaments far the
use of women.
The night having come, I retired with a load of skulls and bones: I put them in sacks
which I had dragged along for some time with me, without having had the chance,
up to that moment, to make use of them. Finally, I had begun to find something, the
promises had not been in vain this time. These skulls were almost all artificially
The next day, we visited the grotto in order to finish my explorations there. I
gathered skulls even outside, and one would discover others, I believe, under the
crumbled rocks of the entrance.
Having gone around the island, the guide led us to a cavern where there was,
according to the story of the natives, only a single cranium, but it was enormous.
After a rather perilous ascent among rocks more or less firm on the base, we
arrived at the cavern. Here again the mountain had been shaken. The entrance was
blocked by a rock with a volume of several hundred cubic meters. I succeeded in
creeping through a narrow passage and then found myself under a kind of tunnel
plunging at an inclination of almost 45 degrees into the interior of the island.
I went up again after an hour of searching and excavating without having found a
single skull. When we had gone out, I pointed out to the guide that he had deceived
me, but he assured me, as did all the Indians present, that they had always seen a
skull at the entrance, but it had no doubt disappeared at my approach. I tried in
vain to convince them I did not have the least effect on such poltroons.
At night, we returned to Gasan and, as a result of my excavations, I suffered from
two days of fever, during which I sent my men to the place where they had found,
they said, funeral urns. On the third day, they came to inform me that the place had
been reached and the excavations had been started.
I went at once to the place and had a ditch dug parallel to the route. On the same
day, they uncovered two urns, but both were broken into several pieces and
contained in a bowl or saucer; the skull was full of earth as was the urn. I had
everything brought as intact as possible to the house of my friend, Berdote, to
examine it at leisure.
These two glazed vases, of a greenish yellow color, were completely plain, without
any ornament, depressed or embossed. .I found inside another jar or small bottle
also full of sand, one or two ornaments of gold fairly resembling buttons, made
up of a gold leaf as thin as a sheet of cigaret paper, the stems of which were
formed out of a small gold pipe perfectly soldered, some cut beads and a kind of
polished agate of a beautiful brown red. The skulls were very friable and would
have, I feared, much difficulty arriving intact at the anthropology laboratory of the
the funeral urns, who in the caves, who in the fields, but of a hundred pieces of
information, scarcely was there one that was accurate. I was able, however,
before leaving Gasan-where, nevertheless, I certainly expected to return-to get an
urn found in the interior of the grounds. I gave to the owner the price he asked for it,
but he afterwards demanded one piastre from me to pay him for its transport.
On April 29, having returned to Boac, I began to pack up the product of my
discoveries. I brought back from my excursion 70 skulls, incomplete skeletons and
various ethnographic curiosities more or less remarkable.
On May 2, I departed from Boac on horseback with Messrs. Fochs and Vergara
for Santa Cruz de Nabo, on the northern coast of Marinduque. One had to travel
through the island in the direction of its smallest width. They affirmed that the
funeral caves of the north had not been excavated like the ones of the south, and
immediately I started on my way.
It was the feast of Santa Cruz, [on the following day] and everybody wanted to go
there. Thus, all Boac-say, about 40 persons-followed us.
To travel this distance in half a day was a difficult thing. One passes thru Mogpog,
an old village of bandits and of pirates very much feared by their neighbors, but
who were at that time active smugglers. One crosses 14 times the same river
before arriving at the foot of the mountains, that one climbs up to an open pass at
an altitude of 340 meters, then one descends over the littoral thru one of the worst
paths, especially in rainy weather. Everything went as one would have it until about
5 o'clock in the afternoon. But I began to be left behind, my hired horse being
unable to maintain a pace as fast as that of the mounts of my fellow-travellers.
Soon the whole party having taken the lead, I proceeded at a walking pace on the
route, which became less tiring.
At 6:30, I was at the foot of the mountain, on the other slope of which Santa Cruz
was built, and my horse which refused to go farther, and the dark night that arrived
with the prospect of a bad route, all that was very gay. One must be resigned. I
dismounted and pulling my horse by the bridle, I climbed the mountain, not without
often stumbling against the rocks that litter the route, or without being abruptly
thrown backwards as the horse snapped up, in passing, all the tufts of grass it saw
in spite of the darkness.
At the top of the mountain I met again all the troops, who had waited for me to
make our entry into the town.
At Santa Cruz they lodged us, my two friends and me, in the most beautiful house
of the town, and invitations rained on us-invitations to dinner, to dance.
I had travelled through a great part of Luzon; everywhere I have found the
population, Indian women and mestizas, inclined to dance and to entertain, but on
the island of Marinduque this double passion was carried to the extreme. Life is
easy there. The soil, prodigiously generous, amply gives the necessary rice, even
during the bad years, and during the good ones it produces enough rice to permit
its considerable exportation to Manila and Tayabas. Abaca, cultivated on the side
of the mountains, is the finest, the longest in all of the Philippines. Sugarcane
thrives there; wood for construction, for cabinetwork and for dyeing, abound there,
the meadows are savory there and their livestock are exported to Manila; the sea
abounds in fish; in short, whoever wants to move his ten fingers a little, lives there
"in clover." It is a real land of plenty.
Until the arrival of Mr. Fochs in the island, commerce was exclusively done by the
Indians. They have a fairly considerable flotilla of cutters and schooners for the
transport of their products, and the few Chinese who have come to settle there
only do a very small part of the commerce.
The island has several very rich indigenous families. If fires were not as frequent,
one would see houses belonging to the Indians, the appearance of which would be
rather pleasing and the comfort of which would leave nothing to be desired. The
ones that have escaped from the last disasters are proof of it. In one of them, we
were able to find a rather good billiard table, but the cues could not maintain their
tips in place, probably due to the constant humidity of the atmosphere. Speaking of
pianos, there are at least half a dozen at Boac and as many at Santa Cruz. Labor
is very much favored here, which explains the prosperity of the land. But one is
very peaceful here. Although Santa Cruz is not very far from Manila, the inhabitants
live and act as if the center of the government was a thousand leagues away.
The next day was the feast of the town. After the religious ceremony at the church,
a procession attended by all the faithful went through the streets of the town,
adorned with canopies of greenery and garlands of flowers. In the evening, a big
banquet was given by the parish priest of Santa Cruz. He was the son of a
Frenchman and a Spanish woman, but he did not know a word of the paternal
language. He also had his collection, from which he was willing to deduct a few
shells for me.
On May 5 and 6, I explored caves which contained nothing. On the 7th, we made
picturesque vales, to which one arrived through a route leading to a small lake,
the limpid waters of which reflected the slopes of the mountain and allowed one
to see the bottom made up of rock and sand. In some parts, the water was
hardly two meters deep, but elsewhere at least 20 meters.
Not having any boat at my disposal, I was obliged to follow a small, almost
inaccessible passage at the edge of the lake. I arrived without getting myself too
wet, at a little distance from the entrance by jumping from rock to rock, but it was
impossible for me to reach the last one in this manner. I then had two bamboos
cut which served me as a bridge. The water was very deep in this place and a
bath could be unpleasant, considering the great chill of the water.
Two of my men passed first, to test the strength of the bridge as well as hold its
end while I crossed. Arriving at the entrance, I found myself in the middle of a
corridor dug amidst madreporite or coral rocks where I could walk almost
standing. After walking 20 meters I ended in the middle of a huge chamber, the
torches hardly lighting the vault. To the right was a mass of rocks which had
fallen one on top of the other; in the middle flowed a spring which fed the lake.
After leaving the cave, we climbed the mountain and on its opposite side we
arrived at the entrance of another cavern named "Bathala;" where I found several
human remains. The pathway was still obstructed by fallen rocks. A few meters
from the entrance we entered a big chamber which contained many bones;
unfortunately, successive landslides had almost covered the floor and I could only
find a few skulls.
I was digging the earth when I felt tremors. I ordered my men to leave the cave
without telling them the cause and I joined them at once. As they were so busy
removing the rocks, they did not feel the light earthquake; otherwise, they would
have panicked and scrambled out and while trying to avoid falling stones, they
would have broken an arm or a leg rushing out amidst falling rocks. A bit longer
I myself would have become a specimen to be discovered in the future.
A half-hour later, I continued the diggings. At the end of the cave, I discovered a
little opening leading to a chamber bigger than the first: half of the roof had caved
in and one could see the peak of the mountain and the trees bending towards the
abyss, retained only by their roots.
Thirteen skulls in good state but without lower jaws and the remains of the tibors
with designs in relief-such were my harvest in the Cave of Bathala.
"Is it true," the inhabitants of Santa Cruz asked me, notably two Indian priests,
when I returned with the skulls; "is it true that your skulls are marked with the
cross? In which case, they are heads of Christians."
What they took for the cross were the designs formed by the cranian sutures. To
dissuade them, it was necessary to show them an adult head and show them that
the cross did not exist.
As one of them, the priest Leon Recalde, an Indian of pure blood, was not
convinced, I asked Samy to bring me a monkey's head and showed him that it
had the same sign.
I said to him: "Well, Father, if you supposed that this mark belonged exclusively
to Christian skulls, then this monkey is also one." All the Indians laughed and the
priest Recalde left very angry.
On May 8, we left on a new trip of several days in eastsoutheast of Santa Cruz.
At the outskirts of the town, the road was good enough but two kilometers
further, the road disappeared. The weather was fine and the earth was firm, but
one had to look out for holes. At 6 o'clock in the evening, we arrived in Boulen, a
hamlet near the caves which had been highly recommended to me. We reached
the mountain in the morning and we arrived in the caves of Silean, but they were
only holes which we had to climb in like monkeys to enter.
After two hours of digging, I was rewarded with two little earthen jars with a
chicken form. A few debris of coffins convinced me that these caves were used
as a cemetery and that many skeletons had disappeared, as elsewhere, because
We redescended and after having gone around the mountain where we found
several very deep but empty caverns, here we were at long last in Pamin-Taan
where I did not waste time or effort.
At first, this cavern did not impress me. The entrance was a low hole. I slid down
and found myself before a pile of coffins one placed over the other. At last, here
was an intact funeral cave!
Before touching anything, I invited Mr. Foch, who accompanied me in all my
wanderings, to see in what state the things were and I forbade my other
assistants to touch anything. I reserved for myself the task and the pleasure of
I began with the coffins near the entrance and worked my way to the interior;
these were placed, as I have already said, one on top of the other, filling the
length of the corridor which was 1.7 meters. Behind the coffins were huge urns
also containing skeletons.
I tried to lift the coffins without letting the bones fall but I succeeded only for
some. Each intact coffin was removed from the cave so that I could examine
them leisurely. The biggest was hardly 90 cm. long, 70 cm. wide and 15 cm.
high. The bones were on top of each other in disorder. Almost all the coffins
contained a skeleton and two skulls, one of which must have belonged to a child
of from 8 to 12 years. Among the ornaments which made up my booty here, I
found bracelets curiously similar to those I had previously gathered in the caves
of the island of Los Tres Reyes. One was a spiral like a serpent bracelet of our
elegant crowd; others were pierced, as if they were used suspended in the ears
or around the neck; one of them was smelted in a turtle shell.
Some ornaments were in gold, all formed from a very thin golden leaf and
represented buttons or stars with recessed designs. These golden leaves were
placed loose or in the nose. There were very few pearls, either because the water
had washed them away or they were rare in that epoch.
Several authors thought that these caves served as direct burial places because
way the bones were mixed, and the position of the skull contradicted this opinion.
The lower jaw was placed at the bottom of the coffin and the skull was in another
One other proof of the transfer of the sepulture in the caves is that often the
interior of the skull was filled with earth where one found pearls, golden leaves and
teeth. Among the bones, I found dishes, plates, little jars and bottles, some
made of glazed clay, others of enamel and cracked, some others in porcelain.
An extraordinary thing I noted was that not one object resembled another, although
they were very similar. They were different in form, design or material. When I had
lifted the row of coffins, I found myself before huge urns sealed to the ground. I
hurriedly removed the coffins placed above and with my hunting knife began to
remove them. On most of these urns, the mouth had been widened to permit the
introduction of the skull. A plate or a broken dish served to obstruct the opening so
as to prevent water from filling it up. Sometimes the things inside had literally
disintegrated because of the humidity.
Some urns were broken, but I was very happy on the second day to have dug a
most beautiful urn without any accidents. It was of glazed clay with the exception
of the base which was unglazed. It had for ornament two dragons spewing flames
from the mouth. Its body was that of a serpent with wide scales, endowed with
four legs, with four fingers each. This jar was certainly the most beautiful piece in
my collection. Moreover, it had the advantage of being unique and of being
perfectly preserved. I took care of it like a child. I placed it in a special basket
which was carried by two men. From the cave to Manila, it cost me 150 francs, but
I was able to bring it as intact as when I found it.
Found from the same cave other jars of brown and black clay, glazed without
designs, containing the same objects as the coffin, but generally of a more
precious kind. Each urn enclosed from two to four golden ornaments and pearls
were less rare. One may conclude that these urns were the last sanctuary of kings
or to refer to it more humbly, of some chiefs.
I found very little copper-one or two ornaments, probably earrings, and a single
For arms, I only saw one specie of the blade of a knife which had been eaten by
rust and was slowly disentegrating, another instrument· that looked like a bolo, a
kind of lance made of wood, plus a baton which could be a lance.
On all the sides of this cave of Pamin-Taan, I found coffins in great numbers which
had not yet been used; the others, protected from the water, contained a collection
of leaves that could have served as nests to some animals or bats. In going
further inside the end of the cave, I found an entrance to a very low corridor and I
had to lie on my stomach to continue with my diggings but I found only one empty
This lucky cave of Pamin-Taan occupied me for three days. During the duration of
the diggings, my friend Mr. Fochs helped me in the cave while Mr. Vergara,
outside, received all that had been brought out by our men and directed the
cooking of our meals.
Like the skulls found in the island of Los Tres Reyes, those of the cave of
Pamin-Taan were deformed. I had brought about 40, most of which had their lower
jaw and a dozen skeletons more or less complete.
From Pamin-Taan we proceeded to Macayan. Only after a thousand conferences
with my men did they accompany me. They had worked with me in Pamin-Taan for
three days at rour reales (2 francs 50 centimes) a day they considered themselves
rich enough and did not want to work anymore. In the cavern of Macayan, one
heard during storms spirits playing music, singing or ringing the bells, so the
legend goes. This cave had very big chambers descending to great depths. From
the ceiling descended blades of stalactites which when struck sounded a little like
bells; I was able to produce quite different harmonious sounds. At the entrance
of the cave where Mr. Vergara was, he told me how he had heard my music
echoed by the walls of the caves, softened by the distance, and repeated by the
echoes-they seemed to him similar to the drone of distant bells. In hearing this
noise, his men were terrified. They thought us under the spell of the asuang and it
was very difficult for him to retain them.
This visit, while not as fruitful as the preceding days, nevertheless gave me five
deformed skulls. I also found the debris of many pots, sometimes broken by the
natives who thought them full of gold. On our return to the camp and after a more
than frugal dinner, the living nearly dead, Messrs. Fochs and Vergara went back to
Boac where I too returned in the morning of May 14, after fruitless researches on
several sides. Forty men carried my loot to Santa Cruz where they were packed,
then brought to Boac.
One hour after my return to Santa Cruz, my hut was visited by those who
undoubtedly were interested in the "treasure" which I had gathered. To dissipate
these absurd rumors, which were so troublesome to me, I permitted everybody
who came to look at them; and among the most curious was Father Recalde. He
was convinced that the most beautiful of the jars was filled with ounces of gold.
I learned later that this brute of a priest-I couldn't find a better expression-took 40
men to loot another cave where nobody, according to his formal order, had dared to
lead me. They broke everything without finding any traces of a treasure. I could
have, if this vandal had not obstructed my trail, gathered a rich harvest as in the
caves of PaminTaan.
On May 14, at 3 o'clock in the morning, I left Santa Cruz with 40 carriers under the
leadership of Samy, my hunter and an alguazil especially commissioned to
supervise the carriers. All went well until daylight. We had passed over the
mountainous regions of the island which were dangerous for my collections. We
stopped for lunch and after an hour's rest, I gave the signal of departure in the
same order. Then, spurring my horse, I continued alone towards Boac. The road
would have been easy had it not been for this damned river that had to be crossed
14 or 16 times and which the rains of the last two days had swelled.
Fortunately my horse had a sure footing and swam well. I was ready for a series
of baths which would not be too disagreeable since the temperature was very high.
At 8 o'clock in the morning I was at Boac, where my men joined me at noon. There
I dismissed the unwanted men, not wanting to abuse the hospitality of Mr. Vergara;
I packed well all my collections that had to wait thus, sheltered and secure until
My success in Pamin-Taan was so intoxicating that I dreamed only of new
excavations. On May 15, I was in the caves of May-Igi and of Padere, in the
vicinity of Boac, but met with complete failure in spite of the optimistic information
given by the natives. On the 18th, I went by sea to San Andres, north of the island.
It was a little port closed by little islands which permitted boats to seek shelter
from stormy weather. Arriving at night in my banca, the teniente of the barrio of
Balinakan came to look for me and led me to his hut, assuredly the most beautiful
in the place.
In the little port of San Andres, there were only two or three schooners being
repaired. The authorities were intimidated by the cost of a road from this place to
Boac or to Mogpog and yet it was the only point of the west coast of the island
where there was a port.
At night after the dinner, I assembled all the inhabitants of the village and promised
two piastres to the person or persons who could point out funeral caves to me.
This unexpected offer for men who earn at most 12 centavos a day excited all
cupidity and unleashed all tongues. There was not one native who did not know of
a cave unknown to the others where he would guide me at once and without
hesitation. The most boastful would win. Everybody wanted to talk at once.
In such and such a cave, the inhabitants ate from golden and silver plates during
feast days, I was told. I ended by not believing anything and to quell the tide of
explanations I added that the two piastres would be given only after the
The natives began to shout that if the skeletons were no longer there at my arrival
it would be because of the jealous spirits, the asuangs, who did not like anybody to
go in their dwellings. Fix it with the asuang, I told them, "since asuangs there are;
the piastres after the skeletons."
In the beginning there were 20 guides but after my reply nobody wanted to guide
me. The caves, then, were empty, but I wanted just the same to visit them.
Perhaps I could gather something and I promised half a piastre to anybody who
could show me a cave. Hearing constantly the natives speak of good and bad
spirits, of the asuang or some other spirit, one would think he was in an idolatrous
country. But it is not so: they are all Catholics, but of a relative Catholicism,
having conserved all the beliefs of their ancestors when it came to spirits.
In fact, all the Indian priests, except for some rare cases, teach the two religions
and some Spanish friars say that it could be true and it would not be surprising that
there were spirits and ghosts in the countryside, since in Spain and in Europe
many people were persuaded that they existed. So much for the natives. I must
admit that I often sent all the spirits to the devil.
I visited then on May 20 seven caves in which I found nothing but the debris of
pots. On the 21st I went on new explorations of five caves without any results. It
was really discouraging. Only one of these caves merits a description. Its entrance
was situated at the peak of a little calcareous mountain 300 meters high and one
went in through a not too deep well where I had let down all the necessary
materials. Then I prepared lunch, since we had been walking under a burning sun
for five hours and the men were tired and starved. They were happy to find at last
a little shade and coolness.
During lunch, I penetrated the lighted part of the cave at some steps from the
opening. I felt suffocated, but thinking that this slight disposition was caused by the
climb that we had just made, I did not pay any attention to it, but when I wanted
,to light my lantern to go further in, all my matches died out after giving a faint and
pale light. Finally, going back to the entrance, I lighted three candles and I
advanced with two men in the interior, but after some steps our lights began to
vacillate. The flames became blue and, finally, they died, leaving us in darkness. I
did the experiment six times and I could not succeed to keep the light on. I had to
make a torch with dry grass to· be able to go at a distance of 20 steps. There
I was stopped by a precipice into which I threw a piece of my torch which died out
the same way as my candles as soon as it touched the bottom. It goes without
saying that all my native companions had abandoned me. Only Samy stayed at my
Seeing that I could not keep the light, I returned to the entrance with a strong
headache while Samy complained of dizziness, but these disappeared at once as
soon as we were outside. This cave must not have been always emitting
asphyxiating vapors since I found a swallow's nest, old it is true, but constructed at
a time when the air in the cavern was still breathable. In all the caves that I visited
this was the only one where I observed such a phenomenon, but several times
natives assured me that spirits put off their torches without the slightest wind doing
so. Not having with me an instrument which allowed me to take samples of the gas,
I could not know exactly if I was dealing with carbonic acid or any other
incombustible gas. From what the natives had said and my experience of the day it
made me think that there must have been a considerable quantity of carbonic acid
At night, after several futile trials, I returned to Boac. This little town was still
celebrating. At my arrival, I found an invitation to a marriage, done in all forms. Two
days later we shall have made a visit to the groom and brought our gifts to the
bride, since custom demands that each guest make his gift, either in kind or
money. Since it was a marriage of a rich family, all the gifts were in kind. The
following day, the parents of the groom came to fetch us, Messrs. Vergara,
Fochs and me, with a music band at the head, to conduct us to church.
The ceremonies Were done in the usual way, except that at the moment of
consecration, the Spanish national anthem was played as specified in the invitation.
After leaving the church, we gathered to take simple refreshments and during the
preparations, we began to dance. I have already explained the ceremonials used in
these feasts. Suffice it to say that the feast, the dance and banquet ended the day
after for those who loved to dance.
On May 30, I visited a cave, not too far from Boac and a rumored gold mine which
was actually a copper mine. Our followers were always numerous. Four hours of
hiking conducted us to the bottom of a ravine where the mine was located which,
after much work, might be productive, but here nobody was bold enough to
undertake the exploitation or to advance the necessary capital.
On June 2, I went to a new find. It was raining hard and after several hours of
horseback riding we had to abandon our horses which advanced only with difficulty
on a wet and slippery soil. We were even obliged to leave our dripping clothes and
to go on in shorts like our Indians. At noon we reached the foot of a perpendicular
madreporite or coral rock, 70 meters high: on its sides were five to six caves. In the
lowest cave I found a skull with a slight stalagmite covering and a small broken
gargoyle. It took us nearly an hour to climb this rock, at whose peak was an
elevated vault which crossed it entirely. From there, one could see many easily
accessible corridors. In one of them, there were debris of coffins and of tibors [or
Chinese jars]. We descended without any untoward incident. A few days later, I
was happier in the vicinity of Gasan. On a little mount which bordered the
coastline of the island, some workers who were constructing a new road found
some funeral vases. On a surface of several meters, they found five vases which
they hurriedly broke in the hope of finding some treasure. Fortunately, they did not
think of looking for more. Since my first excavation, done on the left side of the
road, which I had already mentioned, I harvested only two broken urns and skulls
disintegrating into dust.
This time, during seven succeeding days, the work was done on the left side of the
road, on the side towards the sea. On the two first days, not a single discovery
was made; on the second day, we found traces of burials; and two clay vases
with united walls like those of our first finds and each containing a skull, a little tibor
and some pearls.
On the fourth and fifth days, having cleared the soil on the side of the ocean, we
discovered an urn decorated with a double serpent in relief or a dragon with four
feet. On the sixth day, I let some small trees be uprooted and beneath the roots, I
found an urn containing two skulls (one was a child's) four bronze rings, many little
pearls and two ornaments in the form of stars. On the seventh day, same findings:
an urn was sheltered within the roots of a big tree. To get it, I had to cut down the
tree. On the last urn, the same design in relief was noted as on the preceding
ones. It is now in the Museum of Madrid, with some skulls and samples of the
industry of the people whose sepultures I had unearthed.
I found myself exposed to a series of false searches which the lies of the natives
could invent. Knowing their bent and the extreme facility with which they tell their
stories, I avoided as much as possible falling in their trap but I could not always
avoid the long walks in the search for hypothetical caves closed by the asuang
before my arrival and which existed more often than not only in the mind of the
natives. Moreover, if we touched the pastores [wooden images of anitos], the
asuang would let rain fall. Having made it known that we had not touched anything,
I nevertheless announced to them, thanks to my barometer which started to go
down since morning, that we would have rain soon. Two hours later, torrential rain
fell for about an hour.
Thus on June 14, my friend Mr. Berdote and I left to visit in the east of the island
caves where idols, bones, tibors and coffins were abundant. Two trusted men (it
was necessary to call them such) sent ahead confirmed the information given us.
Arriving at the place, we found nothing except a big perpendicular rock. I was
furious to have taken the pains for nothing. I treated them-as they merited-with a
piece of bejuco; because some very resounding Spanish words would not have
sufficed. On the same day, I had another proof of their propensity to lie and to
sustain a lie once said. I had been assured that there was in the island of turtle
dove, a coup de poignard, which, instead of having the breast a dark gray,
was all white. I promised a piastre to the one who could bring me one. One of my
carriers told me while we were on an excursion that an Indian had a white one of
the same species but was asking two piastres for it. I had him lead me to the
hut to see the bird. I asked the possessor to show me the turtle dove. It was a
gray one, an ordinary specie of the region, and when I called his attention to it he
answered without emotion: "Well, yes, you're right, it is gray." Among the natives,
telling a lie is a racial trait.
Back in Gasan I busied myself with navigating the island, which I planned from the
beginning of my stay in Marinduque. The boat which I needed was easily found and
rented but the most difficult part was to employ nine men to man it, including the
master. The first men to whom I proposed the job found the work too hard;
moreover, we were in the middle of a feast, answered one of them, and an Indian
cannot miss the feast of Corpus Christi. But there was another motive underlying
this disinterest of the natives. Some days before the priest of the village had said
to the Indians "that it would be better for them to go and confess rather than run
around with a foreigner to look for skulls and skeletons." And this priest had
pretended to be my friend!
Finally, on June 24, thanks to Mr. Berdote who accompanied me on this excursion,
we were able to leave, but only with two-thirds of the group which we had hoped to
muster while on the way. We rounded the island in the east and because of the
calm sea, we were obliged to use the oars. We disembarked many times during
the day but without finding anything valuable; everywhere debris of funeral vases
and bones - but none of them whole - could be seen. According to what they said,
before there were many skulls in the caves but an Indian, an owner of a big herd of
cattle, put around his land the skulls perched on sticks to drive away the evil spirits
and had emptied all the burial places.
On the 25th in the morning, we reached Castillo de Figui. At 1,000 meters of the
coastline, while exploring a part of the coast, we found buried plates, vases, etc. I
was able to get three of these plates. We spent the day excavating and examining
the surroundings. They let me see the natalum batu, the stone that cries, and the
caves of Antipolo, where one sees los pastores, little wooden statues, a kind of
fetish very popular in ancient times and which are still believed in today. I found two
of these, badly done, representing the human form very imperfectly.
On the 26th we continued on our way. We visited without any results the caves of
Manochoe and Salombog. On the 27th, after disembarking in Balakasa, I was able
to obtain 10 skulls, some pieces of tibor, also a big plate, unfortunately broken, in
the cave of Lugukan. The rest of the day was spent in futile research. All these
terrain, mountains and caves of madreporic origin were of the same aspect. On the
28th we went to Torijos. On the 30th, we pushed through Boulen, a kilometer from
Pamin-Taan. In my researches, I discovered alone many caves and excavations
which they refused to tell me about. Under a thick covering of guano (birds'
excrement), I unearthed the debris of pots and two sculpted coffins. On the cover
of one of them, could be seen - done in wood - an iguana with laced tail; on the
other were two iguanas on their backs and whose heads, passing over the cover,
served as handles for carrying the coffin. On July 3, we arrived, after two days and
two nights of navigation, at the little island of Moupon, whose caves contained
nothing but very little remains, but my hunters found eggs of the tabon
(megapodius) of two different sizes.
At 4 o'clock, we sailed to the bay of Santa Cruz. A furious wind pushed us and our
sailors lost their heads. The pilot went on the pass to know the way, because it
was raining so intensely that it was impossible to distinguish anything at a distance
of 10 fathoms. At the moment that the helmsman asked if we were on the right
course, and the pilot had answered in the affirmative, we grounded against a
sandbar where we landed nearly dry and happy not to have sank then and there.
At 6 o'clock, we were able to re-embark, and descended on Santa Cruz, in the
middle of strong winds. The weather was becoming worse. We were expecting a
storm. I let my collection be removed and sent by land to Boac where I also went
by the same route.
On the 4th, back at my general headquarters, I busied myself at once, assembling
all my collections to be able to take advantage of the mail which was due to pass
by there in a day or two.
On the 5th, the storm came with all its fury. The river overflowed; all that floated on
the ocean was thrown at the coast and broken. On the 6th, I learned that my boat,
swept to a rice field, did not suffer any serious damage. My men were detained on
the way for personal reasons and on their arrival did not hesitate to ask me 10
piastres as payment for the men and carabaos that were needed to put back the
boat to sea.
On the 12th I said good-bye to my friends in Marinduque and I left for Manila
where I had the good fortune to bring my collection intact. I did not hesitate to
transform the house of my friend M. Warlomont into an ossuary.
I left Marinduque with regret that I was able to get a very beautiful collection there
but I also left my good friends, the three Spaniards, Messrs. Foch, Vergara and
Berdote. Moreover I found in the notable Indians of the island much friendliness
and an unsolicited eagerness to give me all the help I needed. In this little island,
the Indians of a certain class possessed a better education than the average in the
From the Filipiniana Book Guild 1970 VOL XVII Original by Alfred Marche,
translated from the French by Carmen Ojeda and Jovita Castro