Questions from elephant diplomacy | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Questions from elephant diplomacy

/ 05:04 AM February 11, 2022

Monuments are erected to commemorate significant figures or events in our history. They are supposed to remind us of the past, but after the inaugural fanfare what they represent are quickly forgotten. People see monuments but seldom notice them. A fine example was a cigarette vendor in Tutuban, hawking his merchandise literally in the shadow of Andres Bonifacio’s monument. When asked by a TV crew to identify the man in the monument, the vendor scratched his head, smiled, and answered: “’Di po ako tiga-rito, hindi ko siya kilala.” (I am not from here, I don’t know the man on the monument.) In 1997, the centennial of Bonifacio’s death, I interviewed people who lived in the shanties around the Pinaglabanan monument in San Juan and nobody knew what it was or why it was significant.

In 1957, President Carlos P. Garcia dedicated a monument to Simon de Anda situated within a rotunda that connects the Manila Port Area, Bonifacio Drive, and Intramuros. This monument was almost transferred by the Department of Public Works and Highways that probably wanted to replace one of the last roundabouts or rotundas in Manila with an intersection for smoother traffic flow. Timely protest by heritage advocates saved the rotunda and resulted in a simple light and water show by the monument. Few people know about Simon de Anda y Salazar (1709-1776), one of the more prominent figures in a long line of Spanish governors-general of the Philippines from 1565 to 1898. Anda led the resistance to the British when they took Manila and captured Archbishop of Manila, Manuel Rojo, then acting governor-general. Anda set up his base of operations in Pampanga, and Bacolor became the temporary capital of the Philippines during the invasion. He returned to Spain and was acclaimed as a hero, prompting his appointment as governor-general of the Spanish Philippines. He served from 1770 till his death in a Cavite hospital in 1776.

I remembered Anda recently as I reviewed old notebooks for library and archival leads for further research. Sometime in 1777, an elefanta (female elephant) was received as a gift by the heirs of Governor Anda from the Nabab Hider Alican de Carnate. Sent from Malabar, the “very special and gracious” elephant was meant “to cultivate friendship and facilitate commerce between their dominions.” The elephant was to be sent from Manila to Spain, via Acapulco for the collection of Carlos III where it would be considered King’s Jewel (Alhaja del Rey). I have written on the albino deer (el venado blanco) sent from Manila to Madrid accompanied by Mateo de los Angeles who was given a lodge in the Parque del Buen Retiro. De los Angeles later figured in the resistance to the British occupation and, for his services to the King, sought as his reward a royal order that would declare him “white.”

Juan Francisco de Anda gave an account or accounts to Tomas de Anda who informed a certain Jose de Galvez about the elephant. That expenses for its upkeep and passage would be advanced from the estate of Simon de Anda to be reimbursed by the royal estate or household. Spanish kings and administrators employed an army of clerks to make documents in multiples. Historians need a lot of patience to go through these handwritten records individually because many contain exactly the same information even if they are dated differently or written by different individuals.


From the index and catalog of documents, it seems the elephant was not sent right away. After spending a year and a half in the house of Juan Francisco de Anda, its upkeep cost P1,258. In July 1777, P5 was spent for one tinaja of oil, P2 for one pilon of sugar, P3 for seven and a half cavans of palay. Other disbursements were for firewood to cook fish and other food, plus the salary of two mozos (waiters!) to accompany and serve the elephant.

The leads I have only cover the elephant in Manila, what happened to the elephant in Mexico and Madrid? Who accompanied it on its travel? How was it received by the King? How was it classified in the King’s Cabinet of Natural History in relation to the other exotic animals, plants, stones, etc., in the collection? Were the Andas reimbursed for their expenses? Thanked for their effort and loyalty? What was the result of elephant diplomacy between Europe and Asia?


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TAGS: Bonifacio, Diplomacy, MANILA

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