Saturday, February 22, 2014

An American in Bohol

George Percival Scriven, a soldier who served in the US army for over 40 years rising to the rank of brigadier general, was born 160 years ago today. An archive of his literary remains, including at least two diaries, is held by Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. The university’s special collections library has transcribed one of these diaries - written while Scriven was serving on the island of Bohol in the Philippines - and made it freely available online.

Born in Philadelphia on 21 February 1854, Scriven studied at University of Chicago and Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute before entering the US Military Academy. He served as a military attache in Mexico City and Rome, and as the chief signal officer of the department of the Gulf in the Spanish-American War in 1898. He was part of the 4th Philippine expedition and of the force that occupied Bohol Island under the command of Major Hale.

Although mostly engaged in the Far East (he was cited for ‘gallantry in action’ against Chinese Boxer forces at Yang-Tsun in 1900), Scriven also served in Cuba and Mexico. By 1913 he had become a brigadier general and was the chief signal officer of the US army. He retired officially in 1917 but continued to work as a military advisor to the Italian army. He wrote two books: Transmission of Military Information and The Story of the Hudson Bay Company; and he died in 1940. Apart from this information, which comes from the website of the 
Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University, there is not much about Scriven elsewhere on the internet.

Among Scriven’s papers held by Duke University are at least two diaries, one he kept in 1892 while surveying a railroad in El Salvador (see photo) and the other he kept in 1900 while serving in the Signal Corps in the Philippines during the Philippine-American War. A transcription of this latter diary forms the centrepiece of a section of the library’s On-line Archival Collection which focuses on Scriven. The transcribed journal begins on 17 March 1900 and continues through to the start of May. The book itself is small and leather bound, has 100 or so pages, not all of them used, and was originally intended for navigational notes and records by members of the US Army. The website adds that Scriven used the journal, ‘both as a personal memoir and as a place to keep notes and revise sections of a book that he was intending to write about the American invasion and occupation of the Philippine Islands’.

The website provides some historical background as follows: ‘The Philippine Islands had been a colony of Spain since 1521 when Magellan arrived and declared it part of the Spanish Empire. The United States gained possession of the more than 7,000 islands that compose the Philippines in the Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American war that had occurred from the end of 1897 until December 10, 1898. The Philippine-American War began on February 4, 1899, two days before the U.S. Senate ratified The Treaty of Paris, ending the Spanish-American War, ceding Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States, and placing Cuba under US control. After the departure of the Spanish in December of 1898, several rebellions were mobilized on various islands in the Philippines in order to resist recolonization by the United States. Probably the most famous Filipino resistance leader was General Emilio Aguinaldo. There was a rebellion on Bohol itself which was lead by Pedro Samson, and which was sympathetic to the Republic established by Aguinaldo. This rebellion is not addressed directly in Scriven’s diary, although he does mention the existence and control of “insurgents” and the fact that the island had maintained its own government, school system, churches and police force.’

The transcribed journal - An American in Bohol, The Philippines, 1899-1901 - is divided into nine sections but has ‘a disjointed quality as it jumps between an account of Scriven’s own experiences and general descriptions of Bohol Island’. The original spelling, crossed-out words, and marginal notes have all been preserved within the transcribed text. Here is the opening entry.

25 March 1900
‘Tagbilaran, Island of Bohol, Philippine Islands, The Hospital. I have been here, in the hospital I mean, sick with a fever six days now, and am beginning to feel really better this morning though weak. I seem to have had a pretty sharp attack of Dengue fever with a great deal of pain for two or three days and much weakness but thanks to skilful treatment and the great care of Dr. (Captain) C. L. Furbush, of the 44th Vol. Infantry, seem fairly in the road to recovery, which means a good deal to a man playing Robinson Crusoe - with some two hundred others - on this hitherto unknown island of the archipelago.

Still it is hard to imagine, as I write in the cool, well shaded room of the house we have taken as a hospital that the little command under Major Hale is as absolutely cut off from the world as is the case, without means of communication with the other islands, except by native’s boat, with no transport of its own, no cables, simply provisioned for two months and tossed on the shore of an unknown island, to meet and control conditions of which no knowledge could be previously obtained and with two companies of infantry to protect, control, [mould?], overawe if necessary, a population of something like two hundred and fifty thousand natives who for nearly two years have lived under their own independent government. However, as I say, it is a pretty house - this hospital - in all but its name; surrounded by bananas and topped by [feathery?] palms it is a true lodge in a wilderness from our point of view, whereas from another it occupies a corner of a street that for cleanness and straightness might belong to a New England village, and on this bright Sunday morning, as the people return in groups from church, has the moral air of that great land, an [inner?] breath of peace and good will to men stealing out as it were over a sunshine and heat such as New England never felt.

Indeed the groups returning from church are good to look upon, all dressed in their best, clean and sober minded, the men usually without hats and bare-footed, but wearing oftentimes a light coat, [otherwise?] the inevitable shirt and trousers, the women with bare feet as a rule, and perhaps [slippers?], with black shirts and over their heads a garment not unlike the head dress of the Breton peasants, with a stiff piece over the head like an Italian [illegible] and a long white veil trimmed or embroidered at the edges, a picturesque garment, but goulish [sic] as the shades of evening fall and a silent c[ ] comes moving down the street from vesper service. The Bojolanos are a pleasant people, larger and of lighter color than the natives of other islands of the Visayas whom I have seen, and with more open and intelligent faces. They appear friendly and respectful but are very shy. The women are modest in appearance and prettier than others, they have finer complexions and their mouths and teeth do not seem as fouled by the use of beetle-nut; they are larger, too, with more curves to their figures and flesh on their bones than have the willowy, bamboo shaped houris of Panay. They seem very modest and unsophisticated too and Dr. Furbush is [authority?] for saying there is no venereal disease on the island - pretty well for nearly 250 thousand people. Certainly it is a primitive Robinson Crusoe kind of an island in Arcadia now that the Spaniard has gone. But alas the snake has entered Paradise, small pox is rampant, and dysentery and fevers plentiful enough. Doctors there seem to be none, but a medicine woman or man here do their practices on the miseries of the sick. One little child dying of dysentery the doctor found with a green leaf tied to its leg, and its chest sprinkled with tea leaves. But what can they do for things, it is the best they have. This child died in spite of all the doctor could do, and he worked hard over it, and the poor mother almost a child herself was frustrated with grief for her first-born. The father, however, seemed stolid and indifferent, but it seems was [reproved?] for his callousness by the sympathy of neighbors, hard as it seems that these people are not heartless to their own as there is reason to believe the case with many of the Malays. In fact their lighter color, larger frames and well nourished bodies, well developed and rounded limbs seem to indicate a better type than the skinny monkey like inhabitants of Panay, and the quantity of clothing worn especially by women, the more graceful flowing garments and set of the clothes seem to indicate a nearer affinity to European ideas amongst the Bojolanos than elsewhere in the Visayas. (These latter notes were added Tuesday March 27. I am still confined to the hospital: my ninth day, but I am much better and hope soon to cross the island to Tubigon, thence to Cebu by banca.)’

The Diary Junction

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