Hacienda’s twilight-2

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LET’S continue with the rise and decline of the hacienda, specifically the lands in Negros devoted to sugar. In our native parlance, the hacienda is related more to sugar than to other crops which retain their original name as “uma” or the wider application, “kaumhan.”

Due to government neglect, Negros remained stagnant for over two centuries since the inception of Spanish rule. The inhabitants increased only from the reported 30,000 in 1570 to an estimated 50,000 in 1850, a clear indication of the economic state of the island.

In 1840, however, the government realized the potential of Negros with its fertile swath of flat, open lands and the huge forest that covered 95% of it.

To start the development of the island the government invited anybody willing to come because “lands were abundant and without owners.” Among those who came were political exiles from the civil conflict in Spain.

The first of the natives to come were landless from the nearby islands who cut the trees and opened parcels of earth for production. The kaingin, or slash and burn system of clearing lands that were used in other provinces was used extensively.

The opening of the Iloilo port to international trade in 1855 and its profitable sugar export to England, spilled over to Negros as businessmen from Jaro and Molo who had just lost their sinamay business for their inability to compete with imported English textiles, brought their capital and business acumen to Negros.

They bought lands or forced out the earlier immigrants by means fair and foul. As sugar prices continued to rise, profits tripled and demands for workers increased, more people came to Negros as did non-workers like encargados or overseers, civil guards and government functionaries. More towns and parishes were created.

To be more profitable, sugarcane cultivation requires a plantation-size area and in response the Spanish government established several colonia agricola or agricultural colonies of several hundred hectares each and granted or sold large tracts of land. These became the origin of the “hacienda” system not the encomiendas similar to those of Luzon.

The word “hacendero” (not haciendero) actually refers to the person who works in the hacienda, in our reference, the farm worker. The owner of the hacienda or landowner is correctly called “hacendado”. At least in the twilight of the hacienda we get the term right.

I think the use of “hacendero” became popular for the hacienda owners because at the time farm owners were also workers in the land. The capitalists preferred mainly to lend, collect payment and interest usually in the form of sugar that they traded. Soon the term referred to the landowner and the workers called, “jornal” or “obrero”.

Be that as it may, the expansion of international trade in sugar led to the massive purchases of lands in Negros, though mainly in the occidental side. The government came into the picture by bidding public lands and in mid-1880s privately-owned “colonia agricola” of several hundred hectares came into the picture. These were differentiated from the haciendas.

The need for sugar from Negros was insatiable and so did the expansion. Small farmers were swallowed up by force in many cases, workers were exploited and those who feared reprisal from hacendados moved inland.

But soon even these far-away lands were “invaded” by the hacendados whose ambitions could not be contained. The government, after all supported the hacendados for the wealth they brought. Land grabbing and workers’ exploitation, mostly of the sacadas or migrant contract workers, engendered resentment and enmity and eventually, hostility.

The growth of the industry was so phenomenal that from a Negros Island production of 3,000 bags by three families in 1850, the output reached 618,120 in 1880. This already included all farms in the island. Negros was divided into two provinces only in 1890. By the last record of 1895, just before the revolution, the occidental side alone produced 1.9 million bags.

The European market was lost with the 1898 revolution                when Spain gave up the Philippines. The Negros leaders, composed almost to a man of hacendados, supported the Americans in an apparent effort to secure the American market for Philippine sugar. The Emilio Aguinaldo government where Negros was not represented, was not recognized by a single foreign power that would establish its international legitimacy and thus could not provide a market for Philippine sugar.

We will continue on July 28.

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