These Special Filipinos Had Extraordinary Features That Made Them Stand Out
From the moment they were born, these Filipinos had something unique and extraordinary going on, held up as examples of the remarkable forms, varieties, and oddities of the human body. Then, as now, they bring a sense of wonder to the world, commanding our attention and fascination, and expanding our understanding of our own cultural identities.
CAPIZ BOY, “The Piebald Filipino Boy
In the late 18th century, a three-year-old boy from Capiz was documented as having giant hairy patches of skin from the chest upwards, with more hairy birthmarks all over his body. The visual effect was a piebald (pattern of pigmented spots), fur-covered body that sometimes resembled that of a spotted, hairy animal. Piebald people were celebrated in their day: Magdeleine (b. 1783 in St. Lucia) has a statue at Harvard, while the portrait of the famous Colombian two-tone piebald Maria Sabina, hangs in the Hunterian Museum of London. For two centuries, piebald children were thought to be products of the union of albinos and blacks—a hypothesis that has since been debunked. It can be confirmed that the Capiz Boy has a condition called Giant Congenital Nevomelanocytic Nevus (CNN), a rare birth defect that occurs in just 1% of infants, where moles and birthmarks can spread as the person grows, to cover large areas of his body, often with hair.
CIPRIANO MAGHANOY, “The Limbless Wonder”
Born in Siquijor in the last decade of the 19th century, Cipriano Maghanoy was born with one leg and two underdeveloped arm appendages without hands. He, however, became very adept at using his foot to do everyday chores. It was these skills that brought him to America, where, at age 29, he was exhibited at the Coney Island Amusement Park around 1905, and billed as the “Philipino Limbless Wonder”. There he demonstrated his abilities, accomplishing difficult feats like shaving, thrading a needle and sewing, and shooting a rifle.
MARTINA AND JUAN DE LA CRUZ, “The World’s Smallest People”
Billed as the “World’s Smallest People”, twins Martina and Juan de la Cruz were some of the most celebrated personalities at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. They were born as midget to average height parents in Capiz. To elicit interest in the Lilliputian-size siblings, their heights were reported variously as 27 inches tall for Martina, and 29 inches tall for Juan, at age 31 and 29 respectively. Other postcards had Martina at 21 inches, and tipping the scales at 34 pounds, while Juan stood at 24 inches, and 32 pounds. No matter, the twins had a long career long after the fair ended—travelling all over America as sideshow attractions in state exhibitions. While in the U.S., Juan, who holds the distinction as being the smallest man to register for the draft, married Gregoria Gabriel, a normal size Filipina, who gave him a daughter, Maria. Tragically, their daughter died in Florida on March 15, 1907. The twins were still exhibiting in their 60s, in the last photo taken of them in Lewistown, Pensylvania.
MAXINE MINA, “The Only Four Legged Girl Alive”
The Filipina born with a parasitic twin in 1896 was billed as “the four legged girl”, Maxine Mina, was first featured in a sideshow at Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1917. This anomaly, called “craniopagus parasiticus” is a result of the failed separation of fetal twins, resulting in the death of one, leaving that twin undeveloped. In the case of Maxine, her twin’s two lower limbs remained with her. According to eyewitness Rear Admiral G.W. Baird, Mina exercised some form of control of her extra legs. Mina often performed naked so that the audience saw no trickery in her appearance.
GODINO TWINS, “Samar United Twins”
The world-famous “Samar United Twins”—Lucio and Simplicio Godino—were born in Samar on March 8, 1908, conjoined at the waist by a dense but flexible fibrous tissue. They caught the attention of an American impresario who brought and exhibited them at the Coney Island amusement park in New York at age 10. The two boys learned to speak English, sing, play musical instruments, tennis and basketball. Arthur Towne, an official of the Brooklyn Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, took the circus manager to court on the issue of child labor. Fortunately, Filipino tycoon and Washington-based Philippine resident commissioner Teodoro Yangco, came to the rescue by adopting the Godinos, and resettling them back to the Philippines. The highlight of their lives were their 1929 marriages to their twin girlfriends , Natividad and Victorina Motos. When they applied for their marriage license, a legal dispute arose as to whether the twins were one person or two, but this was quickly resolved. The Godino couples honeymooned in the U.S. and then formed “All-Filipino Band” , which featured their jazz music and their dancing brides in touring vaudeville shows in the 1930s. The Godinos played jazz music and Lucio unexpectedly died of pneumonia on 24 November 1936 in a New York hospital, and a certain Dr. Wertheim operated on the twins to separate them. Simplicio survived, but succumbed to meningitis just 12 days later.
SIONY AND TELIE, “Armless Wonder Performers”
In 1957, two girls were star performers of a traveling sideshow. Sionny, 6 years old from San Jose, Samar and Telie, 7, from Butuan City who—despite having no arms—could perform activities like sewing, washing, cooking, playing the guitar and the harmonica.
SALES QUADRUPLETS “The Philippines’ Only Quadruplets”
Back in 1956, the Sales Quadruplets—all boys named Bernardo, Bienvenido, Benjamin and Bernabe—held the distinction of being the only quadruplets in the Philippines. As such, they were looked at with awe and wonder, causing nationwide stir, visited by doctors, politicians, movie stars and gawking tourists. They were the children of Elena Seco and Aniano sale, born under impoverished conditions in a remote barrio of Buenavista, Marinduque on 12 March 1956. The mother was assisted by a “hilot”, but were later transferred to the Marinduque Provincial Hospital and placed under the care of its medical director, Dr. Pablo N. Marquez. The frail Sales quads became wards of the state, and were adopted by the hospital for years with four nurses and a governess to attend to their health needs. Donations also poured in from individuals and socio-civic organizations. When the boys came of age, they were sent to a local public school. They learned to overcome their shyness, often performing short programs of poems, songs and dances for their guests. Nothing has been heard about them in adulthood.
COLLAO QUADRUPLETS “The Philippines’ First All-Girls Quadruplets”
Quadruplet births were still rare occurences in the Philippines in the 1960s, and so it was big news when Epifania Cipcon Collao, married to Epifanio of Tabaco, Albay, gave birth to a set of four female babies on December 9, 1964. Their daughters were Amanda (3 lbs. 15 oz.), Belina (4 lbs. 5 oz.), Concepcion (3 lbs. 5 oz.), and Divina (2 lbs. 7 oz.). The quads were rushed to the Children’s Memorial Hospital in Quezon City, and were placed under the supervision of Dra. Fe del Mundo, the well-known pediatrician. Another person who took interest in them was President Ferdinand Marcos, who became their “ninong”. The Philippines have yet to produced its own Dionnes, and the Collao Quads were the closest to happen in the 60s generation. The 4 girls grew up to adulthood and some of them became professionals.
JUNREY BALAWING, “The Shortest Man in the World”
The world’s shortest man in 2011 was born Junrey Balawing on June 12, 1993 in Sindangan, Zamboanga del Norte. He was just the size of a one-liter softdrink bottle at birth, and stopped growing at age 1. When he turned 18 in 2011, he measured only 23.62 inches, and a weight of 5 kgs., and was certified by the Guinness World Records as the world’s shortest man, breaking the record of Nepali Khagendra Thapa Magar of Nepal who stood at 26 1/3 inches. An Indian, Chandra Bahadur Dangi, dethroned Balawing in 2012 with his height of 21.5 inches. But Dangi died in 2015, enabling Balawing to reclaim the title of the world’s shortest living man.
AGUIRRE CONJOINED TWINS “The Separated Carniopagus Twins”
The case of the craniopagus twins Clarence and Carl Aguirre from Silay ( b. April 21, 2002) elicited extensive international attention after their historic operation that separated them in 2004. The twins, conjoined at the top of their heads, were bought to the Unites States through the auspices of PAL Foundation and Children's Chance, a charity group whose director, Dorita Urrata, sought the help of pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. James Goodrich at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. The breakthrough separation involved a series of smaller surgical operations to enable recovery after each surgery, with the final one completed on August 4, 2004. Post-operative care at Blythedale Children's Hospital in Valhalla, New York followed. Carl, whose parietal lobe was affected, has mobility and speech issues that require him to stay in a wheelchair while Clarence, the more independent twin, continues to undergo physical and speech therapy. The Aguirre twins, now 16 years old, receive special education and live with their mother, Arlene Aguirre, in an apartment provided by a charitable organization.
The Mystery of the Petrified Filipino Girl
One of the famous 1950s attractions offered by the American impresario, Horton’s Side Show, is the so-called Petrified Filipino Girl. Only promotional cards about her exist, without her picture—promising the experience to be “educational”. Before her, a “Petrified Man” found in Lexington County, South Carolina in the late 1890s had been exhibited in several fairs in America—the remains of an unknown man, dubbed as Sylvester, that had turned solid through the years. Though no picture of her exists, there is a high degree of probability that the“Petrified Filipino Girl” was a mummy, perhaps from the northern highlands of Luzon.
The Hoax that Hurt: IGOROT WITH A TAIL
In 1925, there appeared in the book “I Believe in God and in Evolution” by author William Keen, a photo of a Bontoc native, with what looked like a five-inch tail , purportedly taken by Keenan’s grandson, John Freeman. The picture accompanied an article on “Human Beings with Tails”, their existence confirmed by both Sir Arthur Keith, Curator of the London’s Hunterian Museum and the anthropologist-scientist Rudolf Virchow. A scientific explanation is that human tails can, in rare instances, happen as a vestigial remnant of the embryonic tail.
Unfortunately, this particular photo of a tailed Igorot was held up as an example of how less developed and therefore, inferior and primitive the Filipinos were. It did not help that this angle was played up in the media during the American regime, where fake stories about tailed men among certain Philippine tribes were circulated in papers like the San Francisco Examiner, which carried an article “The Man with a Tail, an Igorot in Luzon” in 1930. Much uproar was raised by Filipinos over the offensive picture, calling it libelous and racist.
However, author Keen retracted his statement about the origins of the controversial photo, after receiving explanatory letter from the Smithsonian, which verified that the photograph was doctored. An original untampered snapshot of the tail-less Igorot was also shown to him. His grandson also denied taking the photograph.
Nonetheless, damage had been done, and while the furor waned, discrimination against Filipinos, and against the Igorot people in particular, continued.