Past and Curious
Land transportation before cars and trains
According to some Filipino historians, the carabao (water buffalo) and the horse were already in the country before the Spaniards arrived. The cow came later. Carabaos were either at rice paddies or coconut plantations, cows populated hilly grazing grounds, and horses inhabited mountainous areas. These beasts of burden also pulled all the carriages in the early days, even after the first motorized land vehicle, the train, was inaugurated in 1892.
The sled, which was the simplest and cheapest to make, can still be seen in rural areas. It is a small carriage with no wheels, made for short distance runs. The carromata was a private commoner’s carriage with two seats. The two-wheeled, four-seater calesa and the fourwheeled, 12- seater calesa- bus were considered public-utility carriages. A cochero drove these units, and some calesa- bus even hired conductors. Similar utility carriages were the tartanilla in Cebu and the carretela in Bicol.
After the war, the calesa was permitted to operate in Divisoria, Binondo, and Santa Cruz through side streets. Its operation was extended to Intramuros and Luneta for tourists.
For a time, the victoria carriages also roamed the streets of Manila, Vigan, Iloilo, and other cities. This four-wheeled vehicle pulled by two horses and driven by a cochero was derived from the 1838 British brougham used by Queen Victoria. The Governor-General, the Archbishop, and rich families used these to travel around.
The carreton was a carabao-drawn cart that transported goods from the Pasig River and other estero warehouses to stores around Manila, until a Manila City ordinance was passed to ban its use in the early ’ 60s. American traders introduced horse-drawn wagons with roof and side panels in the 1900s. Manila police also used horse-drawn paddy wagons to transport law violators to Bilibid Prison.
Pangasinan-based cattle-drawn caravans sold handicrafts like duyan, bilao, and salakot along the service lane of EDSA and Quezon Avenue intersection until the ’ 80s. Today, they have been replaced by horse-drawn caravans that trade along the Bulacan-to-Pampanga section of the MacArthur Highway (formerly North Road).
Observed in China, Japan and Korea for centuries, jinrikisha or rickshaw services were also seen in Zamboanga and Jolo during the late-Spanish and early-American eras. A certain Luzon Jinrikisha Company applied for a permit to operate in Manila, but the city’s Advisory Board disapproved the request in 1902. Jinrikisha services in East Asia were eventually banned for being inhumane to laborers.
The porter service is an olden practice that is still around. Filipino porters had used urimol (a chair suspended from bamboo poles), duyan, or hamaca (hammock) to transport people in places where modern conveyances are unavailable or impossible to use—hilly terrains, steep mountain trails, and coastlines with no dry docks.
Even as gasoline-fed vehicles are gradually being replaced by electric ones, porters remain ever-present at hotel lobbies and transport terminals. Dressed in native attire, they are also found in remote areas like the base camps at Mount Pulag and Mount Apo. It pays to always be nice and polite to them—a porter might be the one to save you from falling down a mountain path or other such accidents.