Basi Revolt (1807)

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The Basi Revolt, also known as the Ambaristo Revolt, was a revolt led by Pedro Mateo and Salarogo Ambaristo on 16 September 1807 in response to the Spanish government’s wine monopoly, which prohibited the Ilocanos from manufacturing and selling their locally made wine, basi (sugarcane wine). The uprising started in Piddig, Ilocos Norte and spread across the province of Ilocos Norte before it was effectively quelled by the Spanish militant army.

Cause of Revolt

Prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the Philippines, the Ilocanos had already been brewing sugarcane and vinegar to produce basi. Systematic and large-scale production was sometimes employed for products to be traded with the Chinese merchants, the Igorots of the Cordilleras, and the Tagalogs of Central Luzon. Furthermore, the sugar cane wine was part of Ilocano natives’ tradition and celebration. In 1781, the Spanish government imposed a monopoly in the production and distribution of agricultural goods such as basi and tobacco. This prohibited the Ilocanos to make their own, forcing them to buy the liquor in government-approved stores and market. The abolition of basi-making effectively disrupted Ilocanos’ way of life, further deepening their anger over Spanish prejudices and abuses and eventually leading to the uprising.

The Revolt

The revolt started on 16 September 1807 when Pedro Mateo and Salarogo Ambaristo attacked and seized the local government unit of Sarrat, Ilocos Norte with the aid of the Ilocanos who escaped from Vigan jail and hid in the mountains of Piddig. The Ilocanos then marched out of Sarrat and into the neighboring cities of Dingras, San Nicolas, Batac, and Paoay. Meanwhile, Ambaristo led a force to Vigan in Ilocos Sur, then known as Ciudad Fernandina. Priests and Spanish officials who head heard of their plan to attack Vigan gathered an army to face the rebels led by Mateo and Ambaristo. The rebels encountered the army in Badoc and easily defeated it. The rebels moved further and successfully seized the cities of the South. They then planned to spread the rebellion to the North. In preparation for the attack, Governor Juan Ibanes and Mayor Francisco Bringas organized a militant army to guard the cities of Bantay, Santa, Narvacan, Sta. Maria, Santiago, and Candon. The militant army marched to meet the rebels and on 28 September 1807, the two parties fought with each other in the river of Bantaoay in San Ildefonso. Finally, the militant army quelled the rebellion. The surviving rebels were then brought to Vigan, either to be publicly executed or brought to Mindoro to be exiled.

The Cultural Context of Basi

Basi is ingrained in the Ilocano culture. It also encompasses various social, economic, political, and ideological perspectives.

The communal drinking of basi affirms and strengthens social ties. It is also often associated with festivities and celebrations. Moreover, basi also plays a crucial role in rituals, especially when people fervently seek the help of the ancestral spirits. For instance, a "sickly child would be bathed or re-baptized in warm water with basi and coins while burning a bundle of rice straws; he or she will then be given a new name, and the godmother will offer the coins to the church to complete the ritual."

Another customary belief is related to the practice of atang, an offering made during the harvest season. In a different ritual context, there is a common practice of sprinkling basi over the death bed and belongings of the deceased.  Similarly, the arms and face of those who participated in the funeral were also washed to avoid any misfortune that was normally linked to death.

Lastly, basi is also considered as an anib or talisman. It is believed that dispersing basi can drive away spirits that cause diseases.

The Basi Revolt Painting

Esteban Pichay Villanueva made the 14-panel Basi Revolt, an oil painting done in “naïve art” style. Each measures 91.44 cm x 91.44 cm and are on public display at the Burgos Museum in Vigan. The paintings, which depict scenes from the revolt, was done by Villanueva, a farmer and unschooled painter. He used watercolor brushes to paint oils. It is said that the painting was commissioned by rich Ilocano businessmen who were affected by the revolt to dissuade the Ilocos peasantry from thinking or pursuing any similar act.


External links

Antonio, Jayson and Ancheta, Celerino.“Revisiting the Basi Revolt of 1807: Its Historical and Axiological Relevance”.DLSU Research Congress. (Accessed on 15 January 2021).



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