Remembering General Lucas, the Forgotten King of all Negritos
Our history shows that Negritos, like other ethnic groups, have always been marginalized since the day lowlanders took over their lands and conquistadors drove them back into the far reaches of the islands, roaming uncharted mountains and forests. Still, others were sold into slavery, but their integration with communities proved difficult, so the government let them be.
NEGRITOS AT STOTSENBURG. As co-inhabitants of the reservation, the Negritos were free to roam Fort Stotsensburg and its environs, a source of amusement to Americans who thought them to be gentle, peaceful, and harmless.
There was a time in our past though when the outside world was fascinated with them, as seen in the ethnological exhibits that were all the rage in international expositions and fair. The 1904 World’s Fair, for example, gathered over 40 Negritos from the Philippines and put them in a Negrito village recreated in St. Louis, Missouri. Though the major celebrities in the Fair were the Igorots, the Negritos, who were described as “savages, small black people, amiable and cordial to visitors,” had their own fans.
BASILIO, CHAMPION POLE CLIMBER, was one of the athletic wonders of the 1904 World’s Fair, placing first in the pole climbing contest at the 1st Anthropological Games with a time of 201.25 seconds.
When the 1st Anthropological Games unfolded at the Fair to coincide with the 3rd Summer Olympics, a Negrito—Basilio—topped the Pole Climbing competition in 20.25 seconds. His performance was recognized as a "marvelous performance at pole climbing ever witnessed in this country" and his time praiseworthy and worthy of a record.
“EL CAPITAN,” the chief of the Negrito Village at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, amused visitors when he forsook his loincloth for Western fashion.
Then there was a Negrito, known only by his moniker, “El Capitan,” who stood out from the group by strutting around the village dressed in a suit and a bowler hat, in sharp contrast to his half-naked tribemates.
One sensational event at St. Louis was the birth of Negrito baby on 19 July 1904. The first American-born Negrito was given a Spanish-American name—Luis Francis Wilson—and was an instant hit with photographers.
AMERICAN-BORN NEGRITO. Luis Francis Wilson, born on 19 July 1904 in St. Louis, Missouri.
Also attracting attention was a Negrito named Ibag. Though degraded in the “human zoo” exhibit, he was given a bronze medal for his cooperative attitude and good behavior.
Back home, the nomadic Negritos of Pampanga, Tarlac, and Zambales, made themselves known early to the Americans who set up the Stotsenburg camp near their habitat. They knew their place, however, and kept a respectful distance from the white foreigners who often saw them padding quietly across the porches of the officers’ quarters.
In her 1914 book, An Army Woman in the Philippines, author Caroline S. Shunk observed that the Negritos were allowed to roam around the army post, often silently watching the activities of the American soldiers. Some ventured to sell air plants, ferns, and orchids, while others gamely posed with the white men for souvenir photos.
THE LONG AND
THE SHORT OF IT. Dean C. Worcester, secretary of interior of the American-administered Philippines, liked being photographed with tiny Negritos for size comparison.
Dean C. Worcester, a member of the colonial administration in the Philippines in the years, was so taken by the Negritos that he took many pictures of them. When he was indexing his collection of 8,000 photos of Philippine people, he put the Negritos first, ahead of the Tagalogs.
There is no Negrito, however, with a reputation more sterling than one Pinatubo native who held the royal title of “King of Balugas” (a local term for ‘Aetas’ or Negritos). He took his role so seriously that he commanded attention wherever he went.
AND SHE SHALL BE QUEEN. It was the Americans who took to the habit of giving royal titles to Negritos, mainly to humor them. This lady
for example was dubbed as the “Negrito Queen.”
It is to be noted, however, that while the Negritos did have their own leadership system, there were no “kings” to speak of. Among the clans in their community, seniority is equated to authority. The oldest member of the clan was sought for advice, especially when tribal transgressions took place, and was looked up to as a chief.
It is certain that the honorific “King” was first given by a bemused Americans military man to give a sense of importance to credulous Negritos who sort of co-shared their camp, and who
LUCAS, KING OF
BALUGAS, arrayed in regal splendor, in military uniform, boots, hat, and complete with military medals, badges, and a swagger stick. 1922. Photo courtesy of Mr. Jim Biven.
A more renown successor would come 14 years later: General Lucas “Ukat” Valentin, “King of
It was an American general who gave this Negrito a royal title—Gen. Johnson Hagood—who took command of Camp Stotsenburg in the 1920s. The general took a deep interest in these dark-skinned Filipinos; he even wrote many anecdotes about them, which filled up seven pages of his published two-volume memoirs.
GEN. JOHNSON HAGOOD. The post commander of Fort Stotsenburg in 1922 took a fancy to Gen. Lucas and named him “King of All Negritos.”
Beyond his amusement and curiosity, Gen. Hagood shared the belief with fellow Americans that help and protection would not come from the local government; hence, he viewed the Negritos with paternalistic concern.
The one who struck
Lucas once presented himself to Gen. Hagood arrayed as “a brigadier general in a miniature khaki uniform wielding a sword” and wearing an assortment of “fantastic and humorous commendations,” one of which was a Manila Carnival medal that identified him as “a prize bull.”
When Gen. Hagood learned that feuds had broken out between Baluga tribes, he found it opportune to proclaimed Gen. Lucas as “King of All Negritos” (or King of Balugas
NOBLE SAVAGE. Gen. Lucas and his wife, both Pinatubo Negritos, pose with the 26th Cavalry regiment Commanding Officer and other American VIPs.
Of course, the festive rites were all done in good humor, but Gen. Lucas took his title earnestly, even posing for an “official royal photo” smartly dressed in military regalia. Years after, his brother Alfonso would also be decorated as an honorary brigadier
What their fellow Negritos felt or thought of at that time can never be known, but for the next decades, they continued to become fixtures of Clark Field, with many families settling in “Baluga Village” in the 1970s. They enjoyed perks such as free medical care (the base hospital allocated a budget for them) and free food from welfare groups run by the wives of American servicemen, and they also set up stalls to sell “authentic” souvenir weapons (actually, Manila-made).
King Lucas is now but a blur in our memory, practically, a king of nothing as his small ”kingdom” has all but been swallowed by Pinatubo, taken over by malls and resorts, and stolen by unscrupulous land grabbers. Even the culture and traditions of his race are being obliterated and changed by modernism. Help from the government has been too long in coming. Yet, the hardiness of these simple, free-spirited Filipinos remains. Only time will tell if this is enough for their survival.
Images from The Dean C. Worcester Photographic Collection at the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology.
Fermin, Jose D. 1904 World’s Fair: The Filipino Experience. The University of the Philippines Press, Diliman, Quezon City. 2004. P. 92-93.
Meixsel, Richard B. Clark filed and the U.S.Army AirCorps in the Philippines 1919-1942, New Day Publishers, 2002, pp.73-76.
Pilapil, Virgilio R., M.S., Touring the Legacy of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, The House of Isidoro Press, Springfield, Illinois, 2004
Official Website of Edwin Price Ramsey, 1917-2013