Books & Art

Why This 1904 Book Is Titled The Brownies in the Philippines

It’s not about pastry. 
IMAGE Murvyn Callo
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In 1904, a book of fiction about the Philippines was published in the United States. It was titled The Brownies in the Philippines.

No, it wasn't a recipe book, and the “Brownies” were not pastry. 

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Photo by Murvyn Callo.

Photo by Murvyn Callo.
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The Brownies in the Philippines was written by a Canadian named Palmer Cox and published by The Century Company, which was based in New York. The book has 144 illustrated pages, bound in hardcover. The photos above are from the first edition of the book, which was distributed in the United States. 

 

What is ‘Brownies’ about?

Photo by Murvyn Callo.
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It was unfortunate that Cox chose that title for the book, which is easily misconstrued these days as a racial slur about the brown skin of Filipinos. But that is not what the book is about. 

The Brownies in the Philippines is part of a series of publications by Cox, collectively known as The Brownies. Other titles under this series include The Brownies Abroad, The Brownies Through the Union, and The Brownies and Prince Florimel, and many others. 

Cox’s Brownies are little men who are mischievous and go on many adventures around the world. They are similar to the mythical creatures of Britain, such as fairies, sprites, and goblins. They like to come out and play when humans are asleep. 

Photo by Murvyn Callo.
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According to Murvyn Callo, who took the photos of the book, the author attempts to bring the Philippines into the American consciousness by depicting in cartoon illustrations its traditions, values, and ways of life. 

“He uses a putative 'harmless' characters from Scottish mythology to portray Americans observing the Filipino people,” said Callo. 

 

Palmer Cox, Author and Illustrator of 'The Brownies in the Philippines'

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.
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The Symbolisms of the Brownies

Photo by Murvyn Callo.

The Brownies are not Filipinos. They are Americans.

“To Cox and his reading public, these ‘Brownies’ symbolize the American nation, its presidential executive, industry, and penal control systems," said Callo. 

According to Callo, these characters form a panoply of commentary in support of Americans in the Philippines.

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‘Brownies’ was Racist

In the book, Filipinos are depicted as short people with dark skin, curly hair, and flat noses. It was a stereotype that stuck for many decades in the minds of the American colonizers.

In their exploration of the different islands and provinces in the Philippines, the Brownies never encountered the ethnic diversity of Filipinos. 

Photo by Murvyn Callo.
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Photo by Murvyn Callo.

Photo by Murvyn Callo.
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Brownies do not encounter a more ethnically typical Filipino or 'Indio,' much less the more Europeanized Tagalogs or Visayans,” said Callo. 

Palmer Cox died in 1924. On his epitaph, the inscription reads: "In creating the Brownies he bestowed a priceless heritage on childhood."

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About The Author
Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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