Oh, My! Snakes, Wild Beasts and Virile White Hunters

La Gironiere's first shot at a buffalo (Source: Twenty Years in the Philippines by Paul P. De La Gironiere, Harper & Brothers, 1854)

Tropical Philippines is a famous ecotourism destination. Western entertainers—such as the reality game show “Survivor”—used aspects of its environment to depict a picturesque paradise or a sense of wild danger. These portrayals hark back to the period of High Imperialism, or the 19th and early 20th centuries, when Western hunters traveled to the Philippines and wrote about their experiences.

These accounts hint at how some of them wished to be perceived by their audiences at home, as adventurers and Alpha male conquerors who mounted dangerous jungle expeditions to find beasts and curiosities to conquer. To achieve the ideal impression, Westerners even imported what ever happened to be missing, or replaced anything that was unsatisfactory. For example, Australian dogs were sent for, as those in the Philippines were considered too noisy and would violate the silent suspense and dangerous thrill that came with hunting.

Some of them wished to be perceived by their audiences at home, as adventurers and Alpha male conquerors who mounted dangerous jungle expeditions to find beasts and curiosities to conquer.

Aside from being a form of recreation, hunting was also an opportunity to express masculinity and superiority in a wild foreign land. One such manly traveler was Scotsman Robert MacMicking, who in the mid-19th century promoted trade opportunities between the Philippines and Britain (Recollections of Manilla and the Philippines, During 1848, 1849, and 1850. London: Richard Bentley, 1851).

MacMicking compared himself with Filipino hunters: Learning that wild buffalo were sighted near his camping area, he writes of how the wild buffalo’s “reputation for savage ferocity is so great, that few of the Indians like to shoot them, because, if merely wounded without being disabled, they are certain to charge the hunter, which is more than Oriental nerves are fond of.” So, while not actually seeing or hunting the wild buffalo, he manages to imply his and other Occidentals’ superior courage over the Orientals’.

La Gironiere in his hunting dress (Source: Twenty Years in the Philippines by Paul P. De La Gironiere, Harper & Brothers, 1854)

Another traveler who was enthusiastic about hunting was Paul de la Gironiere, a French naval surgeon who, left behind by his ship, eventually ran a farm in the Philippines until he was able to go back to France. Gironiere's book (Twenty Years in the Philippines. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1854) had pictures that visually showed him as an adventurous hunter.

Also Gironiere actually encountered wild buffalo while MacMicking did not. Unfortunately for the buffalo, in the picture titled “La Gironiere in his Hunting Dress, ” Gironiere stands in his distinctive hunting outfit complete with hat, knife and gun with his foot atop the head of the dead prey.

A native woman seized by a cayman (Source: Twenty Years in the Philippines by Paul P. De La Gironiere, Harper & Brothers, 1854)

Gironiere’s writing was heavily influenced by the Romanticist style of his time. In the preface he writes that his friends “begged” him to publish his adventures and that Alexandre Dumas, author of The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, had even mentioned him in his book The Thousand and One Phantoms. Intriguingly, Gironiere says he wrote his book “to prove to the public that I am really in existence.”

He writes for dramatic effect, depicting different animals of the jungle as “monsters”: Bats are “vampires”; a crocodile is an “amphibious beast”; boa-constrictors are “centuries' old monsters.” Westerners could achieve ideal self-representation by exaggerating their interactions with the environment to their audiences at home.

Twenty Years in the Philippines by Paul P. De La Gironiere, Harper & Brothers, 1854

Meanwhile, later 20th century Filipino artists, specifically the writer Carlos Quirino and painter Ben Cabrera, depict Western hunters as foolish, unprepared and incapable of doing anything on their own. Quirino, in Filipino Heritage: The Making of a Nation (Manila: Lahing Pilipino Pub., 1977) highlights paintings that show Western men in unflattering situations: One climbs a tree as a carabao or water buffalo attacks from below; another has fallen off his horse while in pursuit of a wild boar; a hunter is stuck in the mud, holding an umbrella as it rains; a Westerner is given a piggy back ride by a Filipino across a shallow river. Similarly, though in a more serious vein, Ben Cabrera’s painting titled “Brown Brother’s Burden” portrays Westerners as having a complete disregard for the role of Filipino people in their activities. 

Interestingly enough, while Western men depicted Filipino men as scaredy cats who cowered before wild animals, Gironiere’s picture of his wild buffalo hunt features a dead prey that looks suspiciously like a domestic water buffalo that Filipinos used as a farm animal -- not the wild variety, which has significantly longer and straighter horns. Macho, indeed.



Cabrera, Ben. Brown Brother's Burden. 1972.

Gironiere, Paul P. de la. Twenty Years in the Philippines. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1854.

MacMicking, Robert. Recollections of Manilla and the Philippines, During 1848, 1849, and 1850. London: Richard Bentley, 1851.

Quirino, Carlos. Filipino Heritage: The Making of a Nation. Manila: Lahing Pilipino Pub., 1977.

Lisa Ritchie

Lisa Ritchie

Lisa Ritchie, is a recent UNSW Arts graduate, majoring in history. As part of her studies, she undertook a course in Filipino history and this article formed part of her major research project.