Rothdauscher’s Vaguio and other Cebu stories (conclusion)

By Jobers R. Bersales |October 11,2017 - 10:07 PM


I would have wanted to share with you the entire two chapters and a half of Dr. Rothdauscher’s life memoirs covering Cebu. Gerhard Prokop, his great-grandson, is still polishing my translation and alas space will not allow the full printing of pages and pages of the precious window to our past.

Let me just mention some more important details. But I’m preparing a small monograph of these memoirs that should see print soon.

Let me share one more funny anecdote: that of his cook, Sindoy, short for Rosendo, who when drunk would announce to him that he was resigning only to come back days later. Heinrich writes, “‘So,’ I said, ‘you want to leave me. For what reason?’ ‘Because I’m drunk!’ he said in a curious way.

‘Yes you are right. Here, take your wages and go in peace.’ He was ashamed of his vice, which he could not resist, and therefore thought he had to go. I did not want to hold him back as that would have created an intolerable situation.

And so I had to work with another cook for a couple of weeks, then I had to ‘seek’ another cook through my boys in the pharmacy, and they knew exactly what I wanted. Sindoy came back and presented himself as if he had never been my cook. I would say, ‘Can you cook?’ ‘Si Señor,’ he would then answer. ‘So, then you can enter.’ Sindoy was glad he was back and I was glad for him. This comedy repeated itself a few times.”

Rothdauscher spends some time in his memoirs discussing two of his German compatriots who were direct opposites of each: the ever-conscientious, hardworking but unlucky and homesick Valerio Jährling, a former hat maker from Offenbach, and the unhurried but extremely lucky Fernando Stüben, a merchant from Hamburg.

Both had been residents of Cebu for some two decades already when he had arrived. Jährling was selling all kinds of goods, a businessman trying to raise funds to eventually return to Germany with his mestiza wife and their kids.

And when the time came to return, he died on board the ship as it made its way from Ceylon (today, Sri Lanka) to Aden, Egypt, and was buried at sea.

The happy-go-lucky Stüben, on the other hand, was a trusted officer in the local branch Smith, Bell and Company, who also had his own fleet of sailing boats that plied the coastal towns, bringing him immense profit that he would just gamble away.

Such was his luck that even when a typhoon struck, his boats, uninsured, weathered the storm unscathed. Additionally, Rothdauscher writes, “He liked to play in the state lottery and often won big sums…every week a large party of Spaniards gathered in his house, and unbelievable sums were placed on the cards.

He did not show the slightest restlessness when he gambled five or even ten thousand dollars in one evening, he was sure of his cause, he would soon take it back from the winners.”

Eventually came Stüben’s turn to pass on to the next world, and Rothdauscher describes the scene accompanying his dying hours on January 26, 1881, thus: “As Stüben was visibly weakening, the Padre Tomás, the curate of Cebu, came to him as a priest in office.

As in all the Spanish colonies, there is the curious custom that music accompanies the clergy as he goes his way to the sick and the dying.

The Cebu band came with the priest to Stüben, playing music in front of his house, and since it was playing the Urbummellied ‘Studio auf einer Reis’ which I had once taught people, Stüben was pleasantly touched.

He shouted to Padre Tomás… ‘Ole, Padre Tomás, let’s drink a glass of beer together.’ ‘No, Don Fernando, I’m serious, I have to prepare you for death!’ This was not according to the liking of the incorrigible Stüben.

He said that he was not up to it, that Padre Tomás had to come back tomorrow. This had never happened to the priest! He left in silence. He knew that Stüben was baptized, but he still considered him a heretic.”

Rothdauscher then describes the scene when, as he was placed in his preferred coffin hours later, his loyal manservant was quick to put two bottles of beer inside as per his dying wish, to which the pious and serious Jährling pushed him away, thundering, “Go to hell or I’ll break your bones.”

There are many more stories that are a wonder to retell, but space will not allow me anymore. Suffice to say that Rothdauscher was attended in his pharmaceutical lab by two locals named Mariano “Anoy” and Calisto “Astoy” Aguilar, whom describes thus: “They understood the work of the recipe perfectly … I could rely on them altogether; they deserved my confidence.

I had not experienced any disappointment with these two Indios. Anoy was a kind of mediquillo — he was consulted by the Indios in cases of illness and Spaniards often sought advice from him. His brother Astoy was the more scientific; he was concerned with chemistry. I had my pleasure when he asked me about the chemical process in the preparation of a concoction.”

Finally, one of those concoction he shares with us, the Tagoloay: “A specialty was the Balsamo de Cebu or Tagulaoay (or Tagulaway), also called Balsamo de Moros. A tree shrub, Parameria vulnexaria Radlk., from the Apocynaceae family, contains a rubber-bearing milk juice in its bark. When the bark is cut, the milky juice ‘spins’ fine, elastic, sticky threads.

The bark is boiled with good coconut oil, whence the rubbery body dissolves. This Tagulaoay balm thus produced is widely used for treating wounds. I made a lot of it in my pharmacy. A mestizo family was in possession of the secret, i.e., originally the production was the paternal privilege of this family.”

I’ve run out of space, let me just end with Rothdauscher description of Cebu’s abundant marine resources (at that time): “Cebu is the best place in the whole archipelago for fishing many marine animals: mussels, sea urchins, crabs, fish, sponges, water lilies, sea lilies and especially the magnificent, unique pebble sponge, also glass sponge, Venus brook, Euplectela Aspergyllum OW., whose silky fine fabric enchants anyone who sees it for the first time.”

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