This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

A Filipino Navy Band

02 August 2013

I collect time machines. Little marvels of simple technology, they cleverly open windows to specific moments in time. This one transports us to Virginia at the mouth of the James River just off the Chesapeake Bay. We are at the Norfolk Training Station on May 10, 1912 with eight US Navy bandsmen. Remember to keep off the rigging.

But time machines do odd things with history, revealing unexpected mysteries. There is something different about 6 of these musicians. They are men of color wearing US military uniforms. In the America of 1912 that was not the normal state of race relations. Certainly not in Norfolk, Virginia where segregation kept all people of color separated in society and culture by complex rules of apartheid. This time machine asks a question. Why are these men in US Navy uniforms? The answer is the Filipino American connection.

They stand in the great port also known as Hampton Roads, a center for all kinds of maritime industry, but especially the United States Navy. During the Spanish-American War in 1898, this navy base in Norfolk, Virginia became an important seapower piece in the global game of colonial imperialism. The war started with the sinking of the USS Maine, and lasted only 3 months, 2 weeks and 4 days, but it had a profound change on the position of America on the world stage. Overnight the United States acquired the former Spanish possessions of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, so it is not hard to see how many of today's modern political problems can be traced to this blatant hegemony by the United States over an act of terror.

But let's skip the political history and jump to 1912.

This time machine records the time and place, but it makes us guess at the faces we see. I can't say with absolute certainty that these men are Filipinos. But there is a history of Filipinos who joined the US Navy beginning in 1901, and I believe that these musicians are part of that history.

This time machine came with a companion that helps makes the connection.

This time machine take us onto the deck of a ship with more navy bandsmen. What does the caption say? Taken the ...Deck (?) The number of musicians is about right for a band assigned to a large ship. The have exchanged white caps for dark blue caps, but I think they are in the same US Navy band uniforms. In this photo they all have Asian features.

The postcard was sent to Mr. S. U. Arelfam at the US Naval Station. Unfortunately the stamp was removed and there is no postmark. Time machines are not alway reliable. The writer has a reasonably clear but challenging script. It is not in English.

For the reader's convenience I've flipped it. It is not English or Spanish, but I think it is in Tagalog, the language of the Philippines. I may be mistaken and this might be another language, but I'm writing this post in hope that someone with the right language skills might help translate it correctly.

I can't see a match between the two groups of musicians. But writer of the second card signed his name on the front. He is the tuba player on the right. Is he the same musician as the smaller tuba in the first card? I can't tell for certain.

The recruitment of Filipinos came out of the resolution to the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902. After hundreds of years under Spanish rule, the people of the Philippines were understandably expecting independence. When they realized that the US liberation was only a pretext for more foreign domination, a war of insurrection broke out. It would be just one of many military entanglements that occupied the US in the years before World War One.

The Philippines were granted US commonwealth status in 1935, but then came WW2 and the terrible Japanese occupation. The Philippines would not achieve real independence until 1945. But the ties to the US military continued and many Filipinos have served in the US Navy.

By good fortune, I spent my high school and college years in Norfolk's neighbor city, Virginia Beach, where the Navy School of Music is located at the Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base. One of the navy musicians at the school was a very talented conductor and soloist on clarinet and saxophone. His name was Alberto Romen Aercion and he was a Filipino American. My band director knew him and brought him in to demonstrate his clarinet and lead our high school band a few times. Sadly he died in 2006, but he was perhaps the first professional musician I ever met, and his artistry and musicianship was a major influence on my choosing a career in music. Over the years I would meet other fine musicians from the Navy School of Music and several of them became colleagues and good friends.

These time machines give us a glimpse of the Filipino-American connection that came out of immense political conflict and national struggle. The Filipino musicians became part of the heritage of American military bands, and by chance, a curious thread connects them to me too.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where everyone is making waves this weekend.


Joan said...

How interesting. I would never had guessed a Filipino Navy Band. I do like your time machine and will be looking forward to other ventures in it.

Brett Payne said...

I think I need to read up on the political and other aspects of both wars, because I'm woefully ignorant about them. The bandsmen certainly look Filipino to me. I worked with a few drillers from the Philippines when I was in the Solomon Islands recently. Unfortunately I'm no longer doing that hjob, or I would have printed out the postcard and asked them to translate.

Anonymous said...

That was quite fascinating. Thanks

Alex Daw said...

Oh I do hope you find someone to translate the writing on that postcard. The third photo is just beautiful when you click on it. So clear. Thanks for history lesson. So many wars of which I am completely unaware.

Wendy said...

Reading about this band that was right in my back yard was fun for me as well as enlightening. I fully expect to read your follow-up soon.

Karen S. said...

How wonderful! Go Navy, my daddy was a sailor!

Bob Scotney said...

Mike, you have introduced me to another war that I knew nothing about. I didn't expect the Filipino connection. The last photo is a gem.

Little Nell said...

Wouldn't it be wonderful if someone came forward who could translate the writing for you? Nevertheless the pictures themselves tell quite a story in their own right.

Kristin said...

Very interesting. I had a friend who was Filipino and could have translated the card for us but we have lost touch. I should check for her on fb.

Jackie said...

I'm the new girl this is my first visit to sepia Saturday
I have been learning so much as I travel around the different blogs.
I do hope you can find someone to translate for you I would love to know what is written on the cards

anyjazz said...

Glad to run onto someone else who regards cameras and photographs as time machines. That they are.


I've lost touch with a Philippino friend but whenever I heard him speak his dialect, I understood none of it. He claimed it was somewhat derived from Spanish, but I found nothing there that sounded even vaguely familiar. Good luck with that translation.

Great pics BTW!!

Sharon said...

Good luck in getting it translated.

Alan Burnett said...

Wonderful. Those first two sentences could well be the motto for Sepia Saturday. And can there be a better way of being introduced to new aspects of history than by blogs such as yours?

C. Lisa Lee said...

You are right. The musicians were Filipinos. Long history of Filipino band during the American colonial period in the Philippines. The American government established the Philippine Constabulary Band and they travelled around the United States. I believe they played at the inauguration of President Taft and before that they performed at the 1904 St. Louis World Exposition. The band was directed by Lieutenant Colonel Walter H. Loving. If you google his name, you will find a long history of the Phil Constabulary Band and Loving.

The text is indeed written in Tagalog and written in an older version of the alphabet meaning some of the words are no longer spelled this way, but still phonetically correct. Example is that the letter "c" is no longer used in the Tagalog alphabet and replaced by "k", etc. etc....and the word Caibigan means "Friend" but also can be "My friend" when used in this informal context.

The handwriting is hard to decipher but some I can understand..From what I can read it said the following "Caibigan tangapin mo itong retrato. Ito ay kuha noong cami _ _ g cacaa _ _ _ sa Bus_ _ _ at nag cataon na cami ay na Cam _ _ _ _ sa isang bahay na malaki. Caya pag _ _ _ _ _ _ na ito ay ano pang __ _ _ ay mapapagdalhan kita ng isang maigueng _ _ _ (the rest are illegible.)

Translation: T-Tagalog E-English

T: Caibigan tangapin mo itong retrato.
E: My Friend, please accept this photograph. (Retrato is the Spanish word for photograph/picture.

*During the 1900s, many Filipinos still mix native and loan words. Our official language (Pilipino contains more than 3,000 loan words from Spain.

T: Ito ay kuha noong cami _ _ g cacaa _ _ _ sa Bus_ _ _ at nag cataon na cami ay na Cam _ _ _ _ sa isang bahay na malaki.
E: This picture was taken when we were _ _ g at Bus _ _ _ (illegible) and it so happened we were (illegible) in a huge house.

T: Caya pag _ _ _ _ _ _ na ito ay ano pang __ _ _ ay mapapagdalhan kita ng isang maigueng _ _ _ (the rest are illegible.)

E: That is why _ _ _ _ _ _ (illegible) this one at any other _ _ _ I will send you one good _ _ _ (illegible). The rest are illegible.

Hope this helps a little. Thanks for sharing your wonderful article, pictures and the postcard!


Mike Brubaker said...

Thank you, Lisa, for your translation and confirmation that the language on the postcard was Tagalog. The history of the Philippines and the United States deserves to be better known. I continue to find other examples of Filipino musicians in early U. S. Navy bands. There is one in my story on the The Navy Band of the USS Minneapolis.


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