Gemelli Carreri, An Italian in Manila, 1696

How would you like to hitch a ride across the Pacific and the China Sea with an Italian sea captain, Don Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Carreri, who went on a voyage to the Philippines on May 7, 1696?

Gemelli Carreri, by his given name “Gemelli,” must have been a twin, a gemelo (etymology: Greek Gemini). He came from an intellectual family, and he earned a Doctor of Laws degree. He practiced his profession for some time and then in 1685 to 1687, he traveled throughout Italy, France, Germany and Hungary. After a stint as chief auditor in Lecce and Aquila, the travel bug hit him again and he decided on a more extensive travel, this time around the world.

Gemelli Carreri (Source: Voyage du Tour du Monde)

Gemelli Carreri (Source: Voyage du Tour du Monde)

He wrote about his travels under the title Voyage de Tour du Monde and it was an instant bestseller. From his own account he was in Manila in 1696 and left a month later. To put this period in perspective, the Islands had been under the colonial yoke for 125 years, taking Miguel Lopez de Legaspi’s pacification campaign in 1571 as a benchmark.  

Manila Bay in the 17th Century 

Manila Bay in the 17th Century 

One of Carreri’s first acts upon coming ashore was to pay his respects to the governor of the Islands, Don Fausto Cruzat y Gongora. He was met with much courtesy and looked upon as a distinguished traveler everywhere he went. An indication of the high regard they had for him was the fact that he was lodged in the Jesuit College of Manila.

Carreri not only visited the city proper, but he also went through the nearby suburbs and described the important buildings, especially the churches and monasteries. The farthest he went outside Manila was Los Baños in Laguna.

He had a great contemporary characterization of the native Manila inhabitants numbering 3,000 souls. Carreri noted specifically how the population was very mixed. He indicated a strict racial classification system. “They are so many different … qualities and mixtures that they are distinguished by several strange names,” he wrote.   

“They call him criollo whose father is a Spaniard and the mother from West Indies. The mestizo is the son of a Spaniard and a mother from the East Asia Indies. Castizo or Terzeron is the offspring of a mestizo man and a native woman; Quarteron of a black man and a Spanish woman; Mulato of a black woman and a white man; Grifo of a black woman and a mulato.”


Using the terminology of Carreri, I would suppose majority of what we now generally call mestizos in the Filipino population would be considered castizos. In the language of my friend Ambeth Ocampo, almost all the mestizos in the early 17th and 18th century Philippines were offspring of Spanish fathers and native mothers. By definition of their actual Spanish-ness the priests of the parish villages and provinces must be the progenitors. There were hardly any Spanish people in many remote provinces except the friars.

Later, Chinese mestizos entered the nomenclature. These mestizo groups were entrepreneurial having inherited their Chinese fathers’ industry and initiative. Carreri noted these Chinese, called sangleys, who controlled almost all agricultural, trade, artisan work and retail.

Carreri also noted the 17th century marriage customs. Remember that marriage as a Catholic sacrament was not practiced in many places. The natives instead had a sacred family contract. The suitor had to prove himself worthy of the girl by hard volunteer work on the farm, the cottage industry, with household chores and general manual labor.

In this sort of engagement period, the lovers had accessible benefits, meaning occasional sexual favors.

At the agreed time, the two sets of parents convened and watched the pair hold hands and pledge their lives together in love and harmony. Presents were showered on the couple. Carreri was surprised that the woman paid no dowry—the custom throughout Europe where bringing home a wife was a burden, hence the monetary exchange. Children were supposed to bring blessings.

“The ordinary women of the common sort,” according to Carreri, “had no need for tailors.” He added, “A piece of material called saya wrapped around their middle and hanging down serves for a petticoat. And the other piece they call chinina was worn from the waist upwards, which serves as a waistcoat. On their feet, they wear wooden clogs because of the rain.”

Fernando Amorsolo's "Water Carrier," which illustrates Carreri's depiction of women during that time (Source:

Fernando Amorsolo's "Water Carrier," which illustrates Carreri's depiction of women during that time (Source:

The women are carried to their estates on fine reclining chairs, called duyang, woven nets of cane hanging by a long pole carried by two men.

Manila actually was a small walled city. It stood on the point of land where the river runs out into the sea. Carreri noted that it was well fortified: “It has six gates, called De los almazenes, or magazines, Santo Domingo, Parian, Puerta Real, Santa Lucia and Postigo. There were drawbridges to enter the royal gate and the Parian. The Pasig River flooded the city regularly during monsoon season.

Topografia de la ciudad de Manila by Antonio Fernandez de Roxas, Filipinas Heritage Library

Topografia de la ciudad de Manila by Antonio Fernandez de Roxas, Filipinas Heritage Library

The shape is irregular, narrow at both ends and large in the middle. Carreri visited all the suburbs of Manila: the Parian, Tondo, Minondo, Santa Cruz, Dilao, San Miguel, San Juan de Letran, Bagumbayan, Santiago, Nuestra Señora de la Hermita, Malati and Chiapo.

Carreri visited the Colegio de Santo Tomás. It had 60 “colegians” studying science. Attached to Santo Tomás was the Colegio de San Juan de Letran with 70 boys. Only sons of Spaniards were admitted to the Colegio de Santo Tomás while Spanish mestizos were admitted to the Colegio de San Juan de Letran.

After a month, Carreri left the Philippines, but his Philippine travel notes were circulated widely in Italy and France.

If he visits the Philippines today, 2014, he will find the population bursting with more complicated racial types. The ritzy suburbs would be called “villages”-- Magallanes Village, San Ignatius Village, etc. The Pasig River still floods the city during monsoon season. The Chinese taipans are still counted among the most wealthy.

Dr. Penelope V. Flores

Dr. Penelope V. Flores

Dr. Penélope V. Flores is a Professor Emerita from San Francisco State University. 

More articles by Dr. Penelope V. Flores:

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Rizal’s Great Loves
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Andres Bonifacio, The Other National Hero
November 29, 2013
Why some people think the Leader of the Revolution got the short end of the stick.

Circumcision: Writhe Of Passage
April 24, 2014
A rite of passage that generations of Filipino men had to endure

Rizal's "Kiss"
June 27, 2014
So, who really wrote this satire on the difficulty of kissing a Filipino woman – Rizal or Antonio Luna?