Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sites in the Book: 1940s Filipino Country Homes

"In 1939 we built a big family house..."

The original Reynaldo home that they (and the Japanese) lived in during World War Two is long gone. There are no known photos of it. I remember from my father-in-law Felipe's stories that it was two stories tall, with a cement first floor and a wooden second floor. This picture that you see on the top left, was a typical home of a well-to-do country family in the 1940s, and it was the image that I used to imagine as the Reynaldo farm in The Yellow Bar

In the olden days, a house like this would have window panes made of capiz (oyster) shells. It was cheaper than glass, and still let the light in. The wood used in a house of this type would usually be a mixture of coconut and/or narra, which is Philippine mahogany. It had high ceilings and wide open windows to keep the house cool. The roof was made of zinc or tin, which was considered very modern and leak proof. The only problem was that in a heavy rain, it was very noisy; the roof reverberated like a drum at a rock concert. Some homes used used spanish tile.

Back then, the majority of country folk in the Philippines lived in Bahay Cubo, also know as Nipa Huts. These were made of bamboo, rattan, planks and nipa grass. (And whatever else was around.) They were usually elevated on stilts, and in a land where earthquakes, typhoons and floods are a constant, these houses are ideal for their climate and are easy to repair.

Houses such as these are still ubiquitous in rural  southeast Asia: Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. I have stayed in a few of them over the years and have found them surprisingly comfortable and hygienic (apart from the occasional lizard that falls from the ceiling.) Plus, there is nothing quite as comfortable as walking bare-foot on a split bamboo rail floor.

Nowadays, the modern asian family prefers a cement house with air conditioning. Ceilings are lower and windows are smaller. God help them if the electricity ever goes out.

Note: As the title says, these are country homes, like the one ones situated in The Yellow Bar. In contrast, 1940s Manila was one of the most modern and historic cities in Asia. There, the architecture varied from from Spanish Adobe to Art Moderne apartment buildings to American suburban. I will be posting more pictures of these remarkable building in the near future.

B/W photos courtesy of John T. Pilot. Click on image to see larger version.

1 comment:

  1. Great posting. I recently stayed in a home-stay in Cambodia that was built in traditional style, very like this. Cambodian's like all SEAsians and Islanders, build on stilts; Vietnamese, like Chinese, build their houses directly on the ground.