The Basi Revolt is a series of 14 paintings created in oil by Esteban Villanueva. The pieces are the earliest known works to depict a historical event in the Philippines, namely the Basi Revolt of 1807.
The series is considered a Natural Cultural Treasure.
The theme of this series is the revolt of the Ilocanos against the government monopoly over basi (the local sugarcane wine). This record of historic events also served to go against Spanish control. However, this art was used by the colonial authority to strengthen their power.
The artworks are painted in oil on canvasses measuring 91.44cm x 91.44cm, and depict scenes during the rebellion. According to art experts, the paintings were patterned after the Stations of the Cross. While Villanueva’s style can be said to be rough compared to other works of the time, critics have praised his canvasses for their powerful messaging.
Scenes depicted in the series
The scenes are as follows:
- Alcalde Mayor Juan Ybañez and local troops at the vigil;
- Ybañez calls the chiefs of Bantay, San Vicente, and Santa Catalina;
- Chiefs of Candon and Santiago are reprimanded for tardiness;
- Rebels of Ilocos Norte march to Ilocos Sur;
- Troops are sent to confront the rebels;
- An arrested rebel dies of lashing;
- Vigan troops are sent to repel enemies;
- Natives flee to Bantay Church;
- Bloody battle is waged at Bantaoay;
- Dead rebels are burried;
- Victory comes on 7 Sept. 1807;
- Convicts are brought to the gallows;
- Rebel leaders are hanged;
- The condemned are decapitated.
History and context
The Basi Revolt of 1807 was a 13-day rebellion in protest of a ban placed by the Spanish colonial government on the private manufacture of basi. Spain wanted to remove competition in the wine trade, as colonials were importing wine to the Philippines through Acapulco. Instead of producing their own alcohol, the natives were forced to rely on the Spanish imports.
This affected a large number of Ilocanos, and they took up arms years after the ban was first imposed to compel the government to lift it.
The revolutionaries were led by Pedro Mateo and Saralogo Ambaristo, and were composed of townspeople from Piddig, Badoc and other towns. They were eventually defeated and executed via public hanging.
Historians postulate that Esteban Villanueva was a farmer born in Vigan in 1797. He was commissioned by unknown authorities 14 years after the Basi Revolt, when he was 24, to paint the events despite his lack of a formal art background.
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- Tabios, Hanah. National Museum launches virtual edition of ‘The Basi Revolt’. Manila Bulletin, 2020. Accessed 4 May 2021.