Manila Carnival (1908-1939) was a rambunctious annual festival held in Manila during the early American period up to the time before the Second World War. TIt was organized by the American colonial administration to celebrate harmonious US and Philippine relations. The Carnival also showcased the commerical, industrial and agricultural progress of the Philippines.
The Manila Carnival season defined the gaiety of Manila during the early years of the American occupation. Everyone was welcome in the carnival, if one could pay the entrance fee. Prominent Philippine and American businessmen served on its organizing committees. They also worked to fund the various aspects of the Carnival.
It's The Carnival Season Again
The fabled Manila Carnival was first held on February 1908. The carnival's original organizer was an American colonial named Captain Langhorne who asked the Philippine Assembly for 50,000 pesos to build a cockpit, exhibit "half-naked" Igorot tribesmaen and set up curiosities. Horrified by the plan of the proposed carnival, Governor General James Smith transformed the planned freak show into a ritual celebrating the Philippine-American progress in the islands. Secretary of Commerce Cameron Forbes took charge of the preparation and asked 15,000 instead of 50,000 from the Assembly. He planned to raise another 15,000 by private subscription campaigns such as the Carnival Queen contest.
The site of the Manila Carnival was the old Wallace Field that was just off the present Luneta Park.
During those two weeks of carnival, Wallace Field was walled with sawali and given a decorative facade brilliant with lights and adornments. A variety of shows were presented like circus, vaudevilles, slapstick comedies, and the grand theatrical presentation of Borromeo Lou, the great impresario of the era. Such stars as Atang dele Rama, Katy dela Cruz, Canuplin, Dionisia Castro, often staged performances that audiences loved.
The entrance fee range from 50 centavos and up and one can buy at the gate a mask, a horn and a bag of confetti. The children wore a harlequin, a clown's costume, or a dunce cap, while the elder ones wore dominoes or similar attractive attires.
The scene was like New Year's Eve with all the gaiety, laughter and gossips in old Manila circling around. Everyone seemed to be tooting horns or throwing confettis.
There were five parades during the carnival season:
- The opening day parade, which was mostly clown and circus
- The military parade, mostly Americans and Scouts
- the civic educational parade in which the public schools of Manila participated, and wherein each school compete for the best and most original floats
- The business and industrial parade in which the international community participated
- The floral parade, which is the highlight parade of the carnival. The parade featured the the competing carnival beauties as well as the newly-crowned Carnival Queen, her consort, and her court.
The highlight of the Manila Carnival is the crowning of the Carnival Queen by the Carnival mascot Billiken. Cameron Forbes and the carnival promoters established the Carnival Queen contest. The Queen will be selected through purchase of ballots. Forbes decided to restrict the contest to the daughters of the wealthiest Manila families. The Queen was voted through a system of money ballots or magazine coupons. Philippine magazines like Liwayway, Telembang and Lipang Kalabaw had such coupons inserted in their pages.
The Carnival Queens dressed the most beautiful costumes of the parade, ranging from Egyptian inspired to Siamese to that of the Arabian Scheherezade.
The list of Carnival Queens is as follows:
- 1908- Miss Pura Villanueva (who later became Mrs. Teodoro M. Kalaw)
- 1909- Miss Julia Guerrero Agcaoili
- 1912- Miss Paz Marquez
- 1913- Miss Julia Arceo of Batangas(Queen of Luzon),Miss Ana Palanca( Queen of Visayas),Miss Inocencia Cabato (Queen of Mindanao)
- 1914- Miss Dolores Perez Rubio
- 1915- Miss Concepcion Medina
- 1916- Miss Manolita Barretto
- 1917- Miss Mela Fairchild (the lone American to win the title)
- 1918- Miss Enriqueta de Vega Aldanese
- 1920- Miss Virginia Harrison (Queen of the Occident)
- 1921- Miss Carmen Prieto
- 1922- Miss Virginia Llamas (her escort was the young Carlos P. Romulo. They later married.)
- 1923- Miss Catalina Castillo Apacible
- 1924- Miss Trinidad Rodriguez Fernandez
- 1925- Miss Carmen Papa
- 1926- Miss Socorro Henson/Anita Agoncillo Noble (Queen Soccorro reigned as the last Carnival Queen while Queen Anita became the first Miss Philippines. From then on, the title of Miss Philippines was awareded instead of Carnival Queen)
- 1927- Miss Luisa Fernandez Marasigan]
- 1928- NONE
- 1929- Miss Pacita Ongsiako de los Reyes
- 1930- Miss Monina Acuna
- 1931- Miss Maria Villanueva Kalaw
- 1932- Miss Emma Gonzales Zamora
- 1933- Miss Engracia Arcinas Laconico
- 1934- Miss Clarita Tankiang (a chinese mestiza)
- 1935- Miss Conchita Chuidian Sunico
- 1936- Miss Mercedes Montilla
- 1937- Miss Maria del Carmen “Chita” Zaldarriaga
- 1938- Miss Guia Gonzales Balmori
- 1939- Miss Iluminada Tuason
- Lipang Kalabaw Vol.3, No. 56 1923 (carries interesting articles about the Manila Carnivals)
- Telembang Magazine 1922-24
- Joaquin, Nick "Manila, My Manila", 1979, Manila Philippines
- McCoy Alfred and Roces Alfredo, "Philippine Cartoons" 1983, Manila, Philippines
- Mekeni (Alex Maynardo) blog with a photo album of all the Carnival Queens, as well as reproductions of ephemera such as tickets and souvenir programs