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‘A Drought so Extraordinary’: The 1911 ENSO and Disaster Nationalism in the American Colonial Philippines

Part of the Palgrave Series in Indian Ocean World Studies book series (IOWS)

Abstract

The chapter treats Taal’s eruption and the ENSO-drought of 1911 as a pivotal year in the articulation of Philippine ‘disaster nationalism.’ Both eruption and drought brought region-wide rice shortages leading scores of tenants to abandon farms. The landowner-dominated Philippine Assembly responded to the disruption as a loss of authority and called on American administrators to secure rice imports, invest in irrigation, and establish rice colonies in Muslim-majority Mindanao. The nationalist press, meanwhile, framed the shared dangers of typhoons, volcanoes, and drought as constitutive of Philippine nationhood. Disaster nationalism turned an intimate knowledge of tropical nature into a criterion of governance, national rice sufficiency into a goal of independence, and mandated state support for rice research in institutions that later hosted experiments with ‘miracle rice.’ The Green Revolution, the chapter suggests, was not a Cold War import but a product of the tensions of IOW rainfall fluctuations and the contradictions of colonialism.

Keywords

  • Taal Volcano
  • Philippines
  • United States
  • Food shortages/security
  • Disaster nationalism

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Fig. 11.1

Notes

  1. 1.

    This description is drawn from: Miguel Saderra Masó, The Eruption of Taal Volcano, January 30, 1911 (Manila: Bureau of Printing, 1911), 31; Charles Martin, ‘Observations on the Recent Eruption of Taal Volcano,’ Philippine Journal of Science (1911), 88; PJ Wester, ‘The Situation in the Citrus District of Batangas,’ Philippine Agricultural Review 6, 3 (1913), 127.

  2. 2.

    Saderra Masó, The Eruption of Taal Volcano, 20.

  3. 3.

    José Coronas, S.J., The Extraordinary Drought in the Philippines, October 1911 to May 1912 (Manila: Bureau of Printing, 1912), 3. ‘Moderate’ according to: Joëlle L. Gergis and Anthony Fowler, ‘A History of ENSO Events Since A.D. 1525: Implications for Future Climate Change,’ Climatic Change, 92, 3 (2009), 368.

  4. 4.

    Data taken from the European Climate and Assessment Dataset, which is searchable and freely available at: https://climexp.knmi.nl/selectstation.cgi?id=someone@somewhere [Accessed 8 Jan. 2021]. The Manila dataset starts in the 1860s, though is patchy for parts of the twentieth century, and stops in 1975. Most of the other datasets start in the 1900s and are largely continuous until the early twenty-first century.

  5. 5.

    For the possible effects of volcanic eruption and ENSO on rainfall in the IOW 1883–1884, see: Rockel, this volume; Matthew S. Hopper, ‘Cyclones, Drought, and Slavery: Environment and Enslavement in the Western Indian Ocean, 1870s to 1920s,’ in Natural Hazards and Peoples in the Indian Ocean World: Bordering on Danger, eds. Greg Bankoff and Joseph Christensen (New York: Palgrave, 2016), 268.

  6. 6.

    S. Self, M.R. Rampino, J. Zhao, and M.G. Katz, ‘Volcanic Aerosol Perturbations and Strong El Niño Events,’ Geophysical Research Letters, 24, 10 (1997), 1247–50.

  7. 7.

    Ibid., 1247; Masamichi Ohba, Hideo Shiogama, Tokuta Yokohata, and Masahiro Watanabe, ‘Impact of Strong Tropical Volcanic Eruptions on ENSO Simulated in a Coupled GCM,’ Journal of Climate, 26, 14 (2013), 5169–70.

  8. 8.

    See, for example: Evgeniya Predybaylo, Georgiy Stenchikov, Andrew T. Wittenberg, and Sergey Ospisov, ‘El Niño/Southern Oscillation Response to Low-Latitude Volcanic Eruptions Depends on Ocean Pre-conditions and Eruption Timing,’ Communications Earth and Environment (2020), 1–12.

  9. 9.

    Taal raged for nearly seven months in 1754 but, with no direct settlement on Pulong Bulkan, only four towns near Lake Bombón/Taal were destroyed. Saderra Masó, The Eruption of Taal Volcano, 18, 26.

  10. 10.

    See, for example: Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World (London: Verso, 2001); Richard Grove and John Chappell (eds.), El Niño: History and Crisis (Cambridge: White Horse Press, 2000); Richard Grove and George Adamson, El Niño in World History (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 93–104; chapters by Clarence-Smith, Gooding, Rockel, Warren, and Williamson in this volume. For a Middle Eastern case study, see: Zozan Pehlivan, ‘El Niño and the Nomads: Global Climate, Local Environment, and the Crisis of Pastoralism in Late-Ottoman Kurdistan,’ Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 63, 3 (2020), 316–56.

  11. 11.

    For mainland southeast Asia, see: Williamson, this volume.

  12. 12.

    Grove and Adamson, El Niño in World History, 183.

  13. 13.

    Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts.

  14. 14.

    For a summary, see: Grove and Adamson, El Nino in World History, 183–34.

  15. 15.

    See also: Williamson, this volume.

  16. 16.

    On a parallel recasting of hunger in South Asia, see: James Vernon, Hunger: A Modern History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007) esp. Ch. 3; Sunil Amrith, Unruly Waters: How Rains, Rivers, and Coasts Have Shaped Asia’s History (New York: Basic Books, 2018); Janam Mukherjee, Hungry Bengal: War, Famine, and the End of Empire (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

  17. 17.

    Joseph Lelyveld, ‘Philippines Tries New Rice Strain,’ New York Times (18 Dec. 1966), quoted in: Nick Cullather, ‘Miracles of Modernization,’ 227. Cullather makes a very strong case that the success of the modernization project rested on the power of seeds as symbols of modernity.

  18. 18.

    Prakash Kumar’s contribution to the forum: ‘Roundtable: New Narratives of the Green Revolution,’ Agricultural History, 91, 3 (2017), 401. See also: Raj Patel, ‘The Long Green Revolution,’ Journal of Peasant Studies, 40 (2013), 1–63.

  19. 19.

    On this point, see: Patel, ‘The Long Green Revolution’; Amrith, Unruly Waters, Ch. 8.

  20. 20.

    Many journalists and authors emphasized this theme. See, for example: Murat Halstead, Pictorial History of America’s New Possessions (Chicago: HL Barber, 1899); Benjamin Kidd, The Control of the Tropics (New York: Macmillan, 1898); Trumbull White, Our New Possessions (Chicago: National Education Union, 1899). A good discussion of the impact of these works with regard to the racialization of Filipinos is: Warwick Anderson, ‘The Natures of Culture: Environment and Race in the Colonial Tropics,’ in Nature in the Global South: Environmental Projects in South and Southeast Asia, eds. Paul Greenough and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 29–46.

  21. 21.

    Ramon Reyes Lala, The Philippine Islands (New York: Continental Publishing Co., 1898), 151. Theresa Ventura, ‘“I Am Already Annexed”: Ramon Reyes Lala and the Crafting of “Philippine” Advocacy for American Empire,’ Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, 19, 3 (2020).

  22. 22.

    Benjamin Kidd, The Control of the Tropics (New York and London: The Macmillan Company, 1898), 84.

  23. 23.

    I am working with David Arnold’s definition of ‘tropicality’—the imperial socio-spatial discourse of human development that held the heat, humidity, and natural fertility of the tropics produced indolent ‘natives’ incapable of forming advanced civilizations. See: David Arnold, The Problem of Nature: Environment, Culture and European Expansion (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996). On tropicality and Americans in the Philippines, see also: Warwick Anderson, Colonial Pathologies: American Tropical Medicine, Race, and Hygiene in the Philippines (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006); Anderson, ‘The Natures of Culture.’

  24. 24.

    Gregory T. Cushman, ‘The Imperial Politics of Hurricane Prediction: From Calcutta and Havana to Manila and Galveston, 1839–1900,’ in Nation-States and the Global Environment: New Approaches to International Environmental History, eds. Erika Marie Bsumek, David Kinkela, and Mark Atwood Lawrence (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 146. On the relationship between meteorological instruments and Jesuit institutional authority in the Philippines, see: Kerby C. Alvarez, ‘Instrumentation and Institutionalization: Colonial Science and the Obervatorio Meteorológico de Manila, 1865–1899,’ Philippine Studies, 64, 3–4 (2016).

  25. 25.

    Augustín Udías, Searching the Heavens and the Earth: The History of Jesuit observatories (Dordecht: Kluwer Academic, 2003); John Schumacher, ‘One Hundred Years of Jesuit Scientists: The Manila Observatory, 1865–1965,’ Philippine Studies, 13, 2 (1965).

  26. 26.

    Alvarez, ‘Instrumentation and Institutionalization,’ 403.

  27. 27.

    Lukas Rieppel, Eugenia Lean, and William Deringer, ‘Introduction: The Entangled Histories of Science and Capitalism,’ Osiris, 33, 1 (2018), 1.

  28. 28.

    George Dewey (2 Feb. 1899), quoted in: Cymbeline R. Villamin, ed., Biographies of Early Scientists in the Philippines, Vol. 1 (National Science Development Board: Manila, 1976 and 1978).

  29. 29.

    José Coronas, The Climate and Weather of the Philippines, 1903 to 1918 (Manila: Bureau of Printing, 1920), 14.

  30. 30.

    James F. Warren, ‘Scientific Superman: Father José Algué, Jesuit Meteorology, and the Philippines Under American Rule, 1897–1924,’ in Colonial Crucible: Empire in the Making of the Modern American state, eds. Alfred W. McCoy and Francisco A. Scarano (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009), 509.

  31. 31.

    Ibid., 509. Algué also contributed maps of the distribution of rainfall to the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915. See: Coronas, ‘The Climate and Weather of the Philippines’ (1920), 15.

  32. 32.

    Dean C. Worcester, ‘Present State of Agriculture,’ Report of the Philippine Commission, Part 1 (1902), 297.

  33. 33.

    W. Cameron Forbes to Hamilton Fish (7 Dec. 1907), W. Cameron Forbes Papers, MS 1366, vol. 6, letter 392, Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

  34. 34.

    Brendan Luyt, ‘Reading the Minor Forest Bulletins of the Philippine Bureau of Forestry: A Case Study on the Role of Reference Works in the American Empire of the Early Twentieth Century,’ Information and Culture, 53, 1 (2018), 43.

  35. 35.

    Elmer D. Merrill, ‘Report of the Botanist’ and ‘Report of the Botanist on the Royal Botanical Gardens of Ceylon and the Botanical Gardens at Singapore,’ Philippine Commission Reports, 600.

  36. 36.

    Tomoko Akami, ‘The Open Ocean for Interimperial Collaboration: Scientists’ Networks Across and in the Pacific Ocean in the 1920s,’ in Ocean Archives, Indigenous Epistemology, and Transpacific American Studies, eds. Yuen Shu, Otto Heim, and Kendall Johnson (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2019), 153; Paul N. Edwards, ‘Meteorology as Infrastructural Globalism,’ Osiris, 21, 1 (2006).

  37. 37.

    Theresa Ventura, ‘From Small Farms to Progressive Plantation: The Trajectory of Land Reform in the American Colonial Philippines, 1900–1916,’ Agricultural History, 90, 4 (2016), 460.

  38. 38.

    Daniel F. Doeppers, ‘Fighting Rinderpest in the Philippines, 1886–1941,’ in Healing the Herds: Disease, Livestock Economies, and the Globalization of Veterinary Medicine, eds. Karen Brown and Daniel Gilfoyle (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2010).

  39. 39.

    Richard A. Overfield, ‘Science Follows the Flag: The Office of Experiment Stations and American Expansion,’ Agricultural History, 64, 2 (1990); Elmer D. Merrill, ‘Report of the Botanist,’ 600; James H. Shipley, ‘Report of the Farm Machine Expert. Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Agriculture for the Year Ending August 31, 1902. Exhibit C,’ Philippine Commission Reports, 605.

  40. 40.

    Alfred McCoy, ‘Sugar Barons: Formation of a Native Planter Class in the Colonial Philippines,’ in Plantations, Proletarians and Peasants in Colonial Asia, eds. E.V.B. Daniel, Henry Bernstein, and Tom Brass (London: Frank Cass, 1992), 121–23.

  41. 41.

    On Araneta’s census assistance, see: Census of the Philippine Islands, vol. IV (1905), 168; On the expedition, see: Warren D. Smith, Geology and Mineral Resources of the Philippine Islands (Manila: Bureau of Printing, 1924), 167. On his assistance to the USDA and oversight of the Negros model farm, see: Alonzo Stewart, ‘Agricultural Conditions in the Philippine Islands,’ presented to USDA Secretary James Wilson in 1903. Published in serial set of the 60th Congress, 1st Session, Document 535, 23.

  42. 42.

    R.L. Chute, ‘The Importance of Agricultural Education for Capiz Province. Delivered April 13, 1909,’ Philippine Agricultural Review, II, 7 (July 1909), 405.

  43. 43.

    Paul Kramer, Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 288. See also: Ruby Paredes, ed., Philippine Colonial Democracy (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1989).

  44. 44.

    ‘Serum and the Experts,’ La Democracia (15 Apr. 1911), in Elliott Papers, Box 3, Bound Volume: ‘Translations from Spanish and Filipino Newspapers.’ All newspaper excerpts come from Elliott’s bound volumes. On American and Philippine press relations, see: Carson Taylor, History of the Philippine Press (No publisher: Manila, 1927); Sheila S. Coronel, ‘The Media, the Market, and Democracy: The Case of the Philippines,’ The Public, 28, 2 (2001); Glòria Cano, ‘Filipino Press Between Two Empires: El Renacimiento, a Newspaper with Too Much alma Filipina,’ Southeast Asian Studies, 49, 3 (Dec. 2011).

  45. 45.

    Frederic Sawyer, The Inhabitants of the Philippines (Charles Scribner’s Sons: New York, 1900), 130.

    Bataan Representative JM Lerma presented a petition from Cerferino Tiangco, Julian Calimbos, Pedro Paquio, and Felipe de los Reyes for irrigation in Pilar, Bataan, Committee Report, No. 18. Governor General James Smith returned the petition with a request for more information, Journal of the Philippine Commission (JPC), 2, 1, 32. The Commission unanimously approved AB No. 233, ‘An Act to Authorize the appropriation of P750,000 annually for the promotion, establishment, and maintenance of irrigation systems in the Philippine Islands,’ on 10 June 1908 but rejected AB No. 241, ‘An Act Authorizing municipal and provincial governments to grant, under certain conditions, privileges, and concessions for the utilization of public waters for agricultural irrigation and for other purposes,’ on the basis that it did not have the power to decree water use and water rights. JPC, 2, 1, 302, 305, and 320.

  46. 46.

    ‘League of All Patriots Without Distinction of Party, Race, or Sect, to Defend the Political Rights and Material Interests of the Filipinos Grievously Neglected by Those Most Called to Support Them,’ El Comercio (10 Jan. 1911).

  47. 47.

    Warren, ‘Scientific Superman,’ 513.

  48. 48.

    Alvarez, ‘Instrumentation and Institutionalization,’ 395; Ibid., 517; James F. Warren, ‘Philippine Typhoons, Sources and the Historian,’ Water History, 7, 2 (2015), 225–26. Mark Elvin calls the attribution of weather to human behavior and/or spirits ‘moral meteorology.’ See: Mark Elvin, ‘Who Was Responsible for the Weather? Moral Meteorology in Late Imperial China,” Osiris, 13, 1 (1998). See also: Chapter by Schottenhammer, this volume. At the same time, it is important not to overestimate the providentialism of past interpretations of the weather and the secularism of present. See: Gregg Bankoff, ‘In the Eye of the Storm: The Social Construction of the Forces of Nature and the Climatic and Seismic Construction of God in the Philippines,’ Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 35, 1 (2004).

  49. 49.

    ‘About the Failure of a Bill,’ La Democracia (7 Feb. 1911).

  50. 50.

    ‘They… and We,’ El Ideal (7 Feb. 1911).

  51. 51.

    ‘There Is a Public Spirit,’ El Ideal (11 Feb. 1911).

  52. 52.

    Ibid.

  53. 53.

    Coronas, Extraordinary Drought, 4.

  54. 54.

    ‘The Famine in Cebu,’ El Ideal (12 Apr. 1911).

  55. 55.

    La Revolucion, quoted in ‘The Famine in Cebu,’ El Tiempo (12 Apr. 1911).

  56. 56.

    ‘Fratricidal Silhouette,’ El Ideal (18 Apr. 1911).

  57. 57.

    Coronas, Extraordinary Drought, rainfall averages, 3; Vigan, 9; temperatures, 5.

  58. 58.

    Coronas, The Climate and Weather of the Philippines, 115.

  59. 59.

    ‘Monthly Crop Conditions—November 1911,’ Philippine Agricultural Review (hereafter: PAR) V, 2 (1912), 106, 107.

  60. 60.

    Daniel F. Doeppers, Feeding Manila in Peace and War (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2016), 91.

  61. 61.

    Kathryn Edgerton-Tarpley, ‘Tough Choices: Grappling with Famine in Qing China, the British Empire, and Beyond,’ Journal of World History, 24, 1 (2013).

  62. 62.

    This timeline of events comes from the diary of Philippine Commissioner Charles B. Elliott (8 Oct. 1911), see Box 1, Folder 2, Charles B. Elliott Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC. More research in French sources is needed to substantiate whether or not Indochinese authorities banned exports. The diaries of US officials and editorials in the Philippine press indicate the ban was imposed. US Consular reports are less clear. For claims that the ban was contemplated but not imposed, see: The 1912 Consular Report of Great Britain’s Foreign Office, 10. For a report on rice crop conditions in Indochina in 1911 see: The Daily Consular and Trade Reports produced by the United States Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, Vol. 1, 1–75, 903.

  63. 63.

    ‘The Present Scarcity of Rice,’ La Vanguardia (8 Sept. 1911).

  64. 64.

    Coronas, Extraordinary Drought, 5.

  65. 65.

    ‘The Present Scarcity of Rice,’ La Vanguardia (18 Sept. 1911).

  66. 66.

    Ibid.

  67. 67.

    ‘I Told You So!’ La Vanguardia (20 Sept. 1911).

  68. 68.

    ‘Face to Face,’ La Democracia (18 Sept. 1911).

  69. 69.

    Elliott, Diary (8 Oct. 1911).

  70. 70.

    El Comercio (16 Oct. 1912).

  71. 71.

    ‘A Serious Question,’ La Democracia (28 Sept. 1911).

  72. 72.

    ‘Rice and Meat,’ La Vanguardia (14 Sept. 1911).

  73. 73.

    ‘Official Prosperity and Popular Misery,’ La Vanguardia (20 Sept. 1911).

  74. 74.

    ‘Let Us Reflect a Little,’ La Democracia (20 Sept. 1911).

  75. 75.

    Forbes, Journal IV, 425–26 (23 July 1911).

  76. 76.

    ‘The Situation,’ El Ideal (22 Sept. 1911).

  77. 77.

    Journal of the Philippine Commission, V, 1 (16 Oct. 1911), 28, 32.

  78. 78.

    AB 1039, ‘An Act to Prevent Distress Among the People of the Philippine Islands from Failure of Food Staples,’ 1 Feb. 1912, Journal of the Philippine Commission, 656.

  79. 79.

    David Ekbladh, The Great American Mission: Modernization and the Construction of an American World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press 2010), 27–30.

  80. 80.

    Forbes, The Philippine Islands, vol. II, 487. Forbes included examples of this abuse in his appendix.

  81. 81.

    Ibid., 73, 75.

  82. 82.

    Ibid., 74, 77. See also Journal, IV. 433 (7 Aug. 1911).

  83. 83.

    Forbes, Philippine Islands, vol. II, 73.

  84. 84.

    Taylor, ‘Speech to the 1912 Teachers’ Conference in Baguio,’ Philippine Craftsman 1, 1 (1912), 54–55. On the corn campaign, see: Ventura, ‘Medicalizing Gutom’; Glenn Anthony May, ‘The Business of Education in the Colonial Philippines,’ in Colonial Crucible, eds. McCoy and Scarano.

  85. 85.

    Nick Cullather, ‘Miracles of Modernization: The Green Revolution and the Apotheosis of Technology,’ Diplomatic History, 28, 2 (2004), 227–54. See also: Nick Cullather, The Hungry World: America’s Cold War Battle Against Poverty in Asia (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010); Patel, ‘The Long Green Revolution,’ 14.

  86. 86.

    Nobutaka Suzuki, ‘Upholding Filipino Nationhood: The Debate Over Mindanao in the Philippine Legislature, 1907–1913,’ Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 44, 2 (2013), 275–77.

  87. 87.

    Philippine Commission Report (1914), 376.

  88. 88.

    Gilbert to Forbes, Journal of the Philippine Commission, 1913, 23, cited in: Suzuki, ‘Upholding Filipino Nationhood,’ 283.

  89. 89.

    Yoshihiro Chiba, ‘The 1919 and 1935 Rice Crises in the Philippines: The Rice Market and Starvation in American Colonial Times,’ Philippine Studies, 58, 4 (2010), 535.

  90. 90.

    Patel, ‘The Long Green Revolution,’ 2.

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Ventura, T. (2022). ‘A Drought so Extraordinary’: The 1911 ENSO and Disaster Nationalism in the American Colonial Philippines. In: Gooding, P. (eds) Droughts, Floods, and Global Climatic Anomalies in the Indian Ocean World. Palgrave Series in Indian Ocean World Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-98198-3_11

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