Bicol and the Bikolana in the eyes of a painter

In 1929, the Philippine Education Company published the book “Paintings of Twelve Philippine Women: Christian, Mohammedan, and Pagan”. These are the paintings of Fernando Amorsolo and his brother, Pablo; Fabian de la Rosa; and I.L. Miranda.

One of the paintings is the “Bikol Girl” by Fernando Amorsolo himself. According to A.V.H. Hartendorp, the editor of the Philippine Magazine, the painting, along with the other collections in the book, “must not be taken as representing the best work of (the) painter”. Even then, the painting  presents a general picture of what Bikolana women looked like in the early 2oth century. As it is often said: A picture paints a thousand words.

Accompanying the painting is an ethnographic note of Professor H. Otley Bayer “Population of the Philippine Islands in 1916”. The population estimate, though, according to Hartendorp, is for 1928. The note is quoted en toto as follows:

The Bikols constitute the fifth language group in the Philippines, now numbering around 850,000. They occupy a relatively continuous area covering Camarines Sur, Albay, and Sorsogon in southern Luzon, a part of Masbate, and the smaller islands of Catanduanes, Burias, and Tikao.

The people are fairly uniform, and have many peculiarities which distinguish them from the surrounding Bisayan and Tagalog groups. They are all Christians except for a few Negritos and pagan “Ygorrotes” who live in the mountain forests of Camarines and Albay.

Red and white are the favorite colors in dress, and the women wear a skirt somewhat similar to the Bisayan patadion.

The environment in which the Bikols live is one of the most picturesque in the Philippines, and reminds one most of the plains of central Java, with numbers of isolated volcanic cones towering amidst the green fields of irrigated rice.

Abaca and rice are the chief commercial products, and there is also considerable weaving of sinamay and hemp cloth.

The dialect of the Naga district is recognized as the official Bikol, and some three or four other dialects are spoken in particular localities which differ much in phonetics, though the general vocabularities are similar. The general language type is intermediate between Tagalog and Samar-Leyte Bisayan.

"Bikol Girl" by Fernando Amorsolo

The copyrights both of the painting and the ethnographic notes are credited to the publisher, Philippine Education Company, Manila.


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