Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Of Galleons: Cannonballs were no match for the hardwood Palo Maria


Or finding a surprising link between the galleon's cannonballs and Palo Maria.

For 250 years, more than a hundred galleons were built in the Philippines, in shipyards located in Cavite, Pangasinan, Albay, Mindoro, Sorsogon, Iloilo, Masbate, Camarines and Marinduque.  Task forces of as many as 8,000 men, it is written, were organized by the Spaniards to cut down the trees, convert them to timber and haul them to the shipyards. 


And it came to pass that able-bodied Filipinos were forced to work in shipbuilding under a compulsory system called polos y servicios, or forced labor, simply put. Men from 16 to 60 were mandated to work for 40 days for the goals of Spain like building galleons. Usually the 40 days rule was not followed and the forced labor would continue for months.

In Marinduque was built the almiranta San Marcos and the galleon San Juan Bautista.

Of such galleons, “their breastwork were of Philippine hardwood that could not be pierced by cannonballs”, such that Philippine-made galleons earned a reputation as formidable sea vessels, one British commander (Rogers), during the war with Spain noted: “These large ships are built with excellent timber that will not splinter; they have very thick sides, much stronger than we build in Europe”.

palo_maria

What timber did they use then? 


An account from The Manila-Acapulco Galleons (Shirley Fish) reads:

“In 1619, Captain Sebastian de Pineda, wrote a letter to the Council of Indies in Spain in which he described the shipbuilding activities he witnessed in the Philippines. The letter is an important document as it was an eyewitness account of how the galleons and other vessels were constructed at Cavite, as well as the types of woods, iron, sails, provisions used in the process…"


"In those islands is found a wood called maria (palo maria), which is used to make the futtock timbers of all the galleons, galleys, and pataches and all the knees and compass timbers of all sizes required. There is much of this timber from which to select, although, because of the ships built by Don Juan de Silva, the suppy of it is now obtained from a distance. That wood is used only for this purpose, for the tree is short and not straight."


According to Fish, some scholars have asserted that the main hardwoods used by the Spanish shipbuilders were palo maria, banaba and dangan.”

marinduquemountain

The once forest-clad Marinduque mountains.


There are no historical records indicating how many trees were felled during the colonial period for the construction of galleons but it was estimated that at least two thousand trees were needed for the construction of one galleon alone. We could only imagine, then, how many forest-clad Marinduque mountains were wantonly denuded during the Spanish period for the building of galleons and the repair of many more.


Marinduque was an important shipyard. We find another account stating that five vessels sailed to Marinduque from Cavite for repairs in that year, 1619. It was so decided because it was less expensive to provide the repair and careening services in Marinduque than transporting timber to Cavite for the same purpose.


But, one supposes that under the roots of the palo maria, banaba and dangan trees that have managed to survive in Marinduque could probably still be traced their ancestral stories, that are akin to our own historical stories.


Susong Dalaga Hill

Susong Dalaga Hill
Susong Dalaga Hill from Bagtasan isthmus

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