Relacion de las Islas Pilipinas
by Fr. Pedro Chirino, S.J. (Rome, 1604), originally in Spanish and translated
into English by Mr. Ramon Echeveria in 1969. (Padre Chirino was born in 1557
in Osuna of Anadalucia. He graduated in both civil and canon law at Sevilla,
and entered the Society of Jesus at the age of twenty-three.
of San Carlos (USC) in Cebu City is the oldest school in the Philippines and in Asia,
founded as the Colegio de San Ildefonso by the Spanish Jesuits fathers Antonio Sedeno,
Pedro Chirino and Antonio Pereira on August 1, 1595. Chirino later became
procurator of the Jesuits in the Philippines, who established a Jesuit residence
in the city of El Santissimo Nombre de Jesus. In 1609 he was entrusted by
the provisor and vicar-general of this archbishopric to visit and examine those
many small books and prayerbooks which had been composed in the Filipino's native language
from the sermons which they heard, the histories and lives of the saints, and
the prayers and poems on divine matters. Fr. Chirino's assignment was for the
purpose of preventing errors, and one that was very proper among so new Christians. He died in 1635.)
Chapter 10 contains a description
of how Chinese immigrants were growing Balete trees (a local term referring
to ficus) onto corals. They would insert the roots into the coral's
crevices and place them onto water basins until the roots clasped the host
corals. The arrangement were small enough to be carried by one hand.
The tree would in a certain time of the year be leafless as if dead, but
only to shoot out new buds that symbolized the Resurrection of Easter Sunday.
A more detailed excerpt from Chapter 10 is thus:
"...The Chinese, who are really ingenious, are wont to plant one of these [balete] trees on a stone (so small that both the tree and stone can be held in the hand), just as if it were in a flower-pot, and then it can be carried from one place to another; and the tree, like a dwarfed orange tree, grows in proportion to its roots, hardly reaching five palmos in height. As this method of planting these trees on a stone may seem as difficult as it is curious, I shall describe how I have seen it done. They take a sprout of the tree when it is already covered with roots, and a stone which must not be too hard, or smooth, but not very solid, and somewhat porous or hollow. These stones are found there in abundance among the reefs and shoals of the sea. They tie the little tree or sprout to this stone, covering the latter so far as possible on all sides with the fibres and roots; and to make it grow, they cover the stone with water. With the water the tree clings much more readily to the stone, entwines about it, and becomes grafted into all its pores and cavities, embracing it with remarkable amity and union. A large balete stands in the patio [_i.e._, inner court] of our house in Manila, near the regular entrance. In the year 1602, in the month of April or May, I saw it all withered, with its leaves falling. Thinking that it was dying I was greatly grieved, for I did not wish to lose so fine a tree. My sorrow was increased when I saw it next day almost without a leaf; and I showed it to our procurator, who chanced to be with me while I was inspecting the tree. But on the third day I beheld it covered with new leaves, tender and beautiful, at which I was as rejoiced as I had previously been saddened; for it is in truth a beautiful tree. In this I saw represented, as in a picture, the truth of the resurrection." 2
This is the earliest known European reference to what we know of as bonsai.
Ceballos, Poncevic "Vic"
"Taking A Quantum Leap: Bonsai in the Philippines,"
Bonsai Magazine, BCI,
July/August 1999, pg. 32; "Philippine Bonsai History,"
Bonsai Magazine, BCI,
June 1981, pg. 147, which states that Chirino came to the islands in 1590
and Echevarria was a poet and business executive of Cebu. Presumably
the "corals" were chunks of the dried skeletons of the reef building creatures,
as are commonly seen today as souvenirs;
The Project Gutenberg EBook of
Philippine Islands, 1493-1898: Volume XII, 1601-1604, by Edited by Blair and Robertson.
I've included the entire quote here pertaining to the Ceballos entry to compare and contrast
his truncated episode. Note also that in this longer version, the description of the "stones"
which are "found there in abundance among the reefs and shoals of the sea." Pieces
of coral or wave-scoured rock?