The Basi Revolt in Ilocos Norte

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The Basi Revolt in Piddig, Ilocos Norte, depicted in the painting panels of Esteban Pichay Villanueva

The Basi Revolt of 1807 (Ambaristo Revolt) was a protest against the Spanish colonial government’s monopoly on Basi (sugarcane wine) production and trade in the Philippines.

The Ilocano farm laborers rebelled because of unfair practices, but the revolt was suppressed, resulting in severe punishments, including beheadings and public executions.

Exploitative practices of Spaniards

The Spanish colonial government imposed heavy taxes and unfair regulations on the local producers of Basi, making it difficult for them to sustain their livelihoods and businesses.

The Ilocano identity

Basi held cultural importance for the Ilocano people, deeply rooted in their traditions and celebrations. The Spanish monopoly threatened their cultural practices and way of life.

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The 1807 Revolt

The discontent among Iloconos reached a tipping point, and a protest was organized led by Pedro Mateo and Salarogo Ambaristo that began in Piddig, Ilocos Norte. 

They sought to reclaim their right to produce and trade Basi independently, without the interference of the Spanish government.

On the day of the uprising, tension quickly escalated, and the locals within the pueblo sought refuge inside the church for safety.

They carried clothes and provisions, along with the children, for safety, knowing that the Spanish troops were heavily armed.

Despite the efforts of the farmers and traders, the revolt was quelled by the superior Spanish colonial forces. Ambaristo and other leaders were captured, and the insurrection was quelled.

The gruesome end for the leaders

To prevent future uprisings, the Spanish government imposed severe penalties, particularly on the four leaders of the short-lived movement. Pedro Mateo, Salarogo Ambaristo, and two other instigators were hanged and decapitated. 

The effect of the Basi uprising

Due to the Basi uprising, the Spanish authorities tightened their grip on the region, and the monopoly on Basi production and trade continued.

However, the incident became a critical part of Ilocano’s collective memory, fueling resistance against Spanish rule and reminding Filipinos of their struggles and the spirit of resistance that contributed to their fight for independence.

In 1821, the paintings of Esteban Villanueva, meant to instill fear, became a continuous reminder of Spanish atrocity. After nearly a century, the Battle of Manila marked the ultimate Filipino uprising that would definitively bring an end to Spanish rule.

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Esteban Pichay Villanueva

In 1821, Esteban Villanueva (1797-1878) most likely received a commission from the Spanish government to create a series of fourteen paintings portraying the gruesome consequences of the Basi Revolt, intended as a cautionary message to dissuade future uprising.

In one of the panel paintings, a white palm (or perhaps a comet or wind of favor) seemingly symbolizes divine favor towards the Spanish forces.

These artworks are kept at the Ilocos Sur National Museum in Vigan City, and in 2009, they were declared a National Cultural Treasure.

Seven of the most critical scenes in the Basi Revolt:

Los Naturales de Bantaoay entran al temple. (The locals of Bantaoay enter the church.)
Sangrienta lucha estallan en Bantaoay. (A bloody war between the Ilocanos and the local Spanish army breaks out in Bantaoay.)
La Victoria de la tropa de Vigan en 29 de Septiembre 1907. (The revolt was quelled: The victory of Vigan’s Spanish troops on September 29, 1907.)
Entierro de los muertos insurgentes. (Insurgents who died were buried.)
Cuatro complices procesados debajo de la korea. (Four of the insurgent leaders were captured and led to the gallows.)
Estrangulacion de lols 4 caudillos insurgentes. (Death by strangualtions of the four militant protest leaders.)
Decapitacion de los condenados a esta pena. (The penalty of beheading to those condemned. The four leaders of the revolt were beheaded after their strangulation)

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