Map of Fort William McKinley
One of the most unusual maps in the Ortigas Library collection is better described as a humorous artwork or satirical cartoon rather than serious cartography. The work in question is a large 30 by 42 inch lithograph printed in bright primary colors roughly delineating the towns and barrios surrounding Fort William McKinley now renamed Fort Bonifacio. The artist is liberal with his depiction of geography with the town of Pasay placed in the foreground and Laguna de Bay filling the upper right hand corner. The map’s elaborate cartouche explains with great gravity that the work was commissioned by the “Commanding General of the Military Reservation” in the twenty-ninth year of the American “Occupation,” 1927. Around the edges of the map are sixty, two-by-two inch vignettes depicting Philippine history from an American perspective.
Given the bawdy nature of the drawings and comical scenes illustrating the entire work it is highly unlikely it was an official imprint of the United States Government, although divisions of the Cavalry, Signal Corps, Medical Corps and Engineers are credited as sponsors. I would suspect this was a private work thought up and commissioned by members of the military while off duty. By the prudish standards of today’s American armed forces this endeavor would have gotten everyone involved immediately court-martialed. Although clearly intended as good natured humor, the racial stereotypes and sexual adventures reflect the cruder side of American popular imagination in the 1920s. It’s saving grace is that the Americans are happy enough to make as much fun of themselves as they do of everyone else depicted. Given the style and expertise of the drawing the artist employed may very well have been a Filipino.
The common theme running through the historical vignettes along the edges is quite libidinous. The “Moro” rulers of Manila in the 16th Century are pictured in their harems; the Spanish new comers are also pictured wooing and impregnating pretty Filipinas. Moro pirates are welcomed by scantily clad girls with open arms while portly friars with sacks of money are entertained by Spanish dancers. Finally the Americans arrive and the ribald pictures of romance continue. When not depicted fighting or chasing girls, all foreigners, with the exception of the Chinese appear to be heavy drinkers, including the friars.
The central portion of the map shows working class American soldiers and sailors drinking, romancing girls and generally making fools of themselves in the process. Filipina country girls, are juxtaposed with city slickers and even with a “geisha” posing in the notorious red light districts. The artist coyly depicts cute little nipa huts with red lights hanging from their eaves in Culi-Culi and Santa Ana. All this American carousing is set in a landscape populated with Filipino fishermen, boatmen, rice planters, balut vendors, lavanderas, carabaos and Spanish friars and many more stereotypes, in humorous sketches.
Maps are fascinating historical documents usually of a scientific nature; often beautifully embellished with classical designs and elegant cartouches. This map is quite the opposite; however it contains a wealth of information about popular events, myths and prejudices at work in the American occupied Philippines in the “Roaring Twenties”. The paper is brittle with age but the colors are still sharp and the draftsmanship exceptionally fine. Hopefully the entire map can soon be scanned and made available to a wider audience.