La India Chichirica: The 19th Century Filipina

La India Chichirica
Islas Filipinas: India Chichirica 

I recently bought a book titled: El Periodismo Filipino (1811-1910): The First Century of Philippine Journalism. It chronicles the different publications that appeared in the 19th Century Philippines. The bulk of the content was based on the bibliographical notes, biographical entries, critical notes, extracts, and anecdotes by Wenceslao Emilio Retana. The Spaniard Retana is best known as the first biographer of Jose Rizal (Vida y Escritos del Dr. Jose Rizal). The book also contains an essay by historian Jose Victor Z. Torres, "The History of the Philippine Press, 1811-1910"

One of the periodicals that Retana talked about in the book was Ilustracion Filipina. I first encountered this newspaper while reading a biography of Miguel Zaragoza, an artist, who was a contemporary of Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo and Juan Luna

Ilustracion Filipina (Filipino Enlightenment) Periodico Quincenal was a biweekly newspaper that started its publication in the early part of 1859. It was a popular periodical that featured excellent illustrations, prose, poems, and articles.

The newspaper's target readers were the cultured elites but due to the numerous illustrations, the cost of printing was high. The periodical was sold at one real or 25 centavos which made it expensive compared to other newspapers. It eventually issued its last edition in December 1860. 

Ilustracion Filipina (Vibal Foundation)

Decades later, Miguel Zaragoza and his older brother Jose, who were fans of Ilustracion Filipina, established a similar periodical named La Ilustracion Filipina. Obviously, the brothers patterned theirs after Ilustracion Filipina. Retana dismissed the Zaragozas' endeavor as a 'poor imitation of the original'.

Federico de Lerena was a major contributor of poems to Ilustracion Filipina. He was a Spanish writer, journalist, and poet who lived in the Philippines. He was a supporter of the Filipinos and colonial reform. He often wrote about the local scenery in the Philippines and its people incorporating these themes in his prose.

One of the poems of de Lerena which was published in Ilustracion Filipina was 'Titay La Chichirica'. The term India Chichirica was a descriptive term used for the native Filipina. Its connotation was of a coquettish and sophisticated female out to tempt the newly-arrived Spanish and European males and make them fall in love with her. La India Chichirica was the Filipina version of Scarlett O'Hara. 

Another definition of chichirica that I came across is that of a Catharanthus rose. Also known as an old maid, rose periwinkle, and Madagascar periwinkle. In the Philippines, we refer to it as kantutay.

A few years ago, quite by accident, I acquired a copy of a 19th Century colorized lithograph print of Islas Filipinas (India Chichirica). As per the caption, it was printed as part of a catalog or announcement for an exhibit of The Juan Luna Paintings and 19th Century Prints from the Far East Bank Art Collection. This exhibit could have happened in the late 1980s or early 1990s. The Far East Bank Art Collection is now part of the BPI Art Collection.

The lithograph featured a young black-haired Filipina dressed in fashionable clothes holding a handkerchief and a fan standing on a cliff amidst a lush scene of greenery. Her posture and the look in her eyes beckon the mesmerized viewer. Who wouldn't fall in love with this beguiling woman? 

On the bottom left of the engraving was the signed name of Lit. del Munoz, Malaga, and on the bottom right: J. Llerena lit. It is undated. 

In Carlos L. Quirino's Old Manila (2nd Edition) and even in El Periodismo Filipino, the same exact lithograph print appears on both books. Quirino writes that the original illustration was made by C.W. Andrews and appeared in Ilustracion Filipina in 1859. It could have accompanied de Lerena's Titay La Chichirica poem. 

The same lithograph but colorized was published in 1876 alongside Vicente Barrantes' essay on 'Las Mujeres de Filipinas'. Barrantes was a Spanish chronicler, poet, writer, and bibliophile. Jose Rizal was not fond of him as Barrantes wrote criticisms about Rizal's Noli Me Tangere. 

El Periodismo Filipino

Both de Lerena and Barrantes in their works showed a fascination with the Philippine woman. They were in awe of her, mystified by her beauty but also wary of her effect on them. They question her motives thus in effect tracing the intelligence and cunning of a Filipina. But, they also implied that the Filipina could be a victim of circumstance or a pawn in a man's world. 

Is La India Chichirica an accurate account of what a 19th Century Filipina was to the foreigners or is it an idealized version?

An Excerpt of TITAY LA CHICHIRICA by Federico de Lerena 
(translation: Jaime M. Marco)

Between green banana trees,
Coconut and papayas
And in a nipa hut,
That house has a name,
The young Titay lives there,

An India who does not wear finery,
Nor does she boast of riches;
But she has such grace
And she's so neat and so clean.
That in her humble saya,
A handerkerchief and a tapis
They acquire a price without a fee,
Because Titay, without knowing it, 
Has a kind of elegance;
That's why her friends
Call her chichirica.

I will also say that she is beautiful, 
If a snub nose can be so, 
With black, very black eyes;
Long, very long eyelashes
And white teeth, very white
And killer hair...
That kills Luisa, Mingay, and Juana
With envy and jealousy.

Along with these attractions
Titay has other flairs
Although they are revealed by her dress
I must not reveal them;
But if I can say, 
Because fame says so.
That chichirica is
Successful, young, and beautiful. 

The Spaniards flatter her,
The Indios write letters,
They invite her to the dances,
They confront her with presents
And among all the people
She stands on a pedestal. 

Bordered and put in a frame.
In the afternoon, in the evening, and tomorrow
She acquires to spend
Life poor but honored.

She is alone with her mother.
A weak old woman struggling
To preserve the entire
Piece of her insides.

Never is there a lack of opportunists
Who insult her misfortune,
By daring to ask her love
In exchange for gold or silver.

But the beautiful Titay
Such offers she rejects,
There are also in the Indias
Rigid Virtues.

An Excerpt from Las Mujeres de Filipinas by Vicente Barrentes 
(translation: Lorena Gauthereau-Bryson)

"Does the Philippine woman feel real love or is it passionate attraction, an exclusive effect of natural instincts from which Fournier created the most robust and least solid basis of his communist system?"

"Does the blind, absolute, servile, submission that the Philippine woman shows her lover, especially if he is European or Spanish, arise from her astuteness? Does it arise from her indifference? Does it arise from the inconceivable coldness of he blood? Is it, in short, a tacit recognition of her weakness, of her lack of weapons for the fight?"

"When they use the famous 'whatever you wish' in response to the gravest questions, in the most transcendental and decisive occasion, which also means, 'as you wish' --- 'that is for you to resolve' --- 'I am inert clay in your hands' --- is it a character synthesis or a sentimental poem? Is it diplomacy or abnegation? Cunning or candor? Indifference or authority over her own self?"


Quirino, Carlos L. Old Manila (2nd Edition), Vibal Foundation

Retana, Wenceslao E. El Periodismo Filipino 1811-1910. Translated and Annotated by Jaime M. Marco, Vibal Foundation

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William Summers said…
It is so exciting to see mention of E. W. Retana. He was a very dedicated student of the life in the Philippines. If I may, I would like to point out that despite the massive destruction of the Battle of Manila, the journalistic products Retana and others chronicled do in fact survive, partially, from 1848 to 1898. They reveal extensive factual information about the day-to-day public professional performance life of the capital. Hundreds of professional Tagalog theater performance, even more Tagalog youth theater performaces, many thousands of Spanish-language theater events, 580 Euopean opera performance and a mere 2770 free outdoor, public, free military band concerts. Three hundred and fifty different opera and zarzuela titles were presented in band arrangements. All of this took place within fifty years. These are all revealed in the papers and periodicals published in Manila, cataloged by Retana. For information please write. William Summers.
dr ngo said…
Nice little essay. Is it possible that the "Llerena" of the lithography is somehow the same as (or related to) the "Lerena" who wrote the poem?

As for whether this is the Real Filipina or just some foreigner's image of her - who can tell? The same question is being asked a century and a half later, and is just as unanswerable now as then.
I also saw similarities in de Lerena and Llerena names. But, my guess is that they were two different people.
I've read about references to W.E. Retana and some of them were not flattering. In some cases, he was a staunch opponent of the Ilustrados. I just recently discovered that he had this long and deep relationship with Philippine history. Thank you for providing more details about him. Would be interesting to research and write about him.