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Agents of Apocalypse

Agents of Apocalypse: Epidemic Disease in the Colonial Philippines

Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 328
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    Agents of Apocalypse
    Book Description:

    As waves of epidemic disease swept the Philippines in the late nineteenth century, some colonial physicians began to fear that the indigenous population would be wiped out. Many Filipinos interpreted the contagions as a harbinger of the Biblical Apocalypse. Though the direct forebodings went unfulfilled, Philippine morbidity and mortality rates were the world's highest during the period 1883-1903. InAgents of Apocalypse, Ken De Bevoise shows that those "mourning years" resulted from a conjunction of demographic, economic, technological, cultural, and political processes that had been building for centuries. The story is one of unintended consequences, fraught with tragic irony.

    De Bevoise uses the Philippine case study to explore the extent to which humans participate in creating their epidemics. Interpreting the archival record with conceptual guidance from the health sciences, he sets tropical disease in a historical framework that views people as interacting with, rather than acting within, their total environment. The complexity of cause-effect and agency-structure relationships is thereby highlighted. Readers from fields as diverse as Spanish, American, and Philippine history, medical anthropology, colonialism, international relations, Asian studies, and ecology will benefit from De Bevoise's insights into the interdynamics of historical processes that connect humans and their diseases.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2142-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Map of Asia and the East Indies, 1875
    (pp. 2-3)
  2. Map of Philippine Provinces and Principal Islands, 1890
    (pp. 4-5)
  3. INTRODUCTION Dimensions of the Crisis
    (pp. 6-14)

    Few people had more opportunity to observe the course of public health in the late-nineteenth-century Philippines than the Spanishmédico titular(licensed physician) José Gomez y Arce. He had already been in the islands for a decade when, in 1872, the colonial government appointed him chief physician of Iloilo province, where he then served for more than twenty years. Still passionate and outspoken but worn down by what seemed to him a losing battle against disease and ignorance, he capped a series of progressively gloomier annual reports by issuing an apocalyptic warning in 1892: Filipino defenselessness against disease was “annihilating...


    • CHAPTER 1 Probability of Contact
      (pp. 17-44)

      Classic epidemiological theory holds that the patterns of disease in any population group depend on factors that determine the probability of contact between an infectious agent and a susceptible host. That formulation still helps us understand the occurrence of the infectious diseases that weighed so heavily on late-nineteenth-century Filipinos, but it needs updating to account for patterns of others, the most important of which was beriberi, a noninfectious deficiency disease. Accordingly, anagentis understood in its current sense as “an organism, substance, or force whose relative presence or relative absence is necessary for a particular disease process to occur.”...

    • CHAPTER 2 Susceptibility
      (pp. 45-66)

      Susceptibility results from the interplay between any number of variables, but the state of the host’s defenses (rather than the virulence of invading microorganisms, for instance) ultimately determines that individual’s place on the continuum of health. Considerations of genetic inheritance, age, sex, ethnic group, prior immunologic experience, preexisting or intercurrent disease, and a wide range of human behavior influence the strength of the defense, or immune, system. Susceptibility in past populations is difficult to gauge. Our knowledge of what compromises the immune system and how it responds is still in its infancy today, so even if individual measurements of factors...


    • CHAPTER 3 Venereal Disease: Evolution of a Social Problem
      (pp. 69-93)

      Sometime in November 1897, sixteen-year-old Faustina Trias left her home in Calumpit, Bulacan, and moved with her husband, Candido Ramos, to Manila, where they entered the domestic service of a certain Doña Ladislana. After about a month, seamstress Martina Rafael and her husband, Pedro de los Santos, a day laborer, offered to employ the couple. Despite their less-than-lofty social status, Rafael and Santos somehow convinced Trias and Ramos to transfer to their service. Doña Ladislana had already advanced Ramos twenty-three pesos, however, so it was arranged that Rafael would pay the debt in full, and Ramos would reimburse her by...

    • CHAPTER 4 Smallpox: Failure of the Health Care System
      (pp. 94-117)

      No viable smallpox vaccine reached Bangued, Abra, in 1884 from the Central Board of Vaccination in Manila, and as a consequence, no vaccinations were administered anywhere in the province that year. Nor did any fresh lymph arrive the next year. Nor the next. Then in 1887 smallpox struck, attacking many people, according to the provincial governor. After six years without successful immunizations, Dr. Llanera tried to circumvent Manila by ordering vaccine directly from the vaccine institute in Gifón, Spain. Despite letters from the institute’s director confirming that payment had been received and the vaccine sent, nothing ever arrived. Resigned to...

    • CHAPTER 5 Beriberi: Fallout from Cash Cropping
      (pp. 118-141)

      The year 1882 became the most disastrous on record in the Philippines as epidemic cholera ravaged the archipelago from end to end, trebling the average annual death rate. The disease arrived in Manila from Zamboanga during August and killed one out of every ten persons before abating in October. Just after the contagion peaked, a severe typhoon battered the city and left most families temporarily homeless. The flood waters that submerged low-lying areas for weeks and the high cost of scarce construction materials prevented many from rebuilding their houses immediately. In the midst of such misery, according to resident German...

    • CHAPTER 6 Malaria: Disequilibrium in the Total Environment
      (pp. 142-163)

      In his report to the 1876 Universal Exposition in Philadelphia, Ramon Jordana y Morera informed the world that the richness and variety of Philippine flora was “beyond praise.” As inspector general of mountains, forests, and lands, he had worked almost nonstop for six months organizing the collection of forest products to be sent to the international fair. It was the perfect occasion to advertize the islands as the principal Far Eastern market for timber and to hasten the day, not far off in any case he thought, when China and Japan would build their railroads and ships out of Philippine...

    • CHAPTER 7 Cholera: The Island World as an Epidemiological Unit
      (pp. 164-184)

      By about 1870 all the elements were in place for a lethal epidemic of Asiatic cholera that would scour the archipelago from end to end. Localized for centuries in India, the disease had become pandemic in the early nineteenth century and had spread to the Philippines three times since, most recently via Shanghai. That last outbreak, in the mid-1860s, had been serious, spreading beyond Luzon to Mindanao and some of the Visayas, and officials had scrambled afterwards to fix quarantine procedures in Philippine ports. Spanish legations everywhere went on alert. Then in July 1873, the consul in Singapore notified Manila...

  6. CONCLUSION Intervention and Disease
    (pp. 185-190)

    Masbate was the most primitive island in the archipelago, according to Guevedo in 1890, “desperately poor, with no instruction, no capital, no cultivation, no means of transportation, and no subsistence.” Communications were in a “truly lamentable state.” Neither roads nor navigable rivers existed, so the pueblos were linked only by narrow forest paths, which were frequently cut by arroyos and rivers no vehicle could cross. All overland transport was accomplished by means of carabao, which was “irreplaceable as a mount on most of the slopes.” Movement between the pueblos was minimal in any case because “when a stranger arrives who...

    (pp. 191-192)