Domingo Sánchez first saw the sea at age 25. “The spectacle of the sea,” he would recall in amazement, years later. He was the son of “honest farmers” and had worked as a goatherd back in his home village, Fuenteguinaldo (Salamanca). Domingo had studied thanks to the determination of his mother, a peasant woman who “was addicted to reading” and could quote entire passages from Don Quijote from memory.
On July 22, 1885, Sánchez hugged his parents, mounted a horse and trotted away. Ten days later he was in Barcelona, where he boarded a steamer headed for the Philippines, then a remote Spanish colony that had been named after King Phillip II.
The Spaniard was starting out a new life as a collector of exotic animals for the Ministry of Overseas Affairs. “I was flattered by the thought of being a naturalist explorer, and by the fact that this profession would enable me to experience real-life episodes out of the novels of Jules Verne and Mayne Reid that I was so fond of,” he wrote.
Sánchez left the Philippines over a decade later, after having sent to Spain an entire zoo’s worth of dead animals as well as numerous human remains, some of which are still on display today at the National Anthropology Museum in Madrid.
His memoirs, plucked out of oblivion by an association based in his home village, do not conceal the shady origin of these items. Rather on the contrary. In the Philippines, Sánchez would introduce himself as a naturalist explorer scouring the islands “on the King’s orders, collecting plants and animals to make medicine to cure disease.” But his real obsession was with human remains, reflecting the 19th century’s obsession with anthropology.
In his autobiography, Sánchez recounts a 1890 expedition to rob bodies from the Tagbanwa, the inhabitants of Palawan island. “I wasn’t very afraid of those little men, half-Malay, half-Black, who looked upon me with great respect and for whom my rifle was a terrible weapon,” he wrote. “I was not unaware that what I was trying to do represented the greatest of crimes for those poor people. The desecration of their graves, the desecration of their dead, was the biggest offense imaginable against them, and it would have justified any attack, any kind of reprisals. But the benevolent, compassionate man had left my body. Only the naturalist was left behind, and to him, obtaining those samples deserved some sort of sacrifice. I spent that night projecting and planning the theft, because theft is what it was,” writes Sánchez in his memoirs.
The following night, when everyone slept in the hamlet of Iüahit, Sánchez and his assistant crept into the sacred cemetery of the Tagbanwa, stole a coffin and got away on a boat. From the shoreline they saw a plume of smoke rising in the sky, illuminated by flames. “Somebody found out about the desecration, probably warned other members of the tribe, and agreed to set our house on fire, thinking perhaps that we were still inside. Even if that was the case, I would never think of calling those wretched people bandits or criminals for seeking revenge for the profanation of their dead. Many peoples of the world who boast of being civilized and cultivated would have proceeded in the same manner, and perhaps even more cruelly. The fact of the matter is that we made it safe, and we saved the booty. That coffin was a good option,” reads the autobiography.
Mercedes Sánchez, 78, keeps the original manuscript handwritten by her great-uncle (who died in 1947) inside her home in Fuenteguinaldo. The memoirs take up two hefty volumes that she inherited along with a set of photographs and other notes. “We used to call him grandfather because he didn’t have any grandchildren of his own. He would bring us candy and sit us on his knee,” recalls Mercedes in a telephone conversation from Alicante, where she is spending her retirement years.
The local association Amigos del Castro de Irueña recovered Sánchez’s memoirs, published them last year, and are working to give them greater exposure. “I’m reading them now for the first time,” admits his great-niece.
The manuscript, titled Historia vulgar algo novelesca de un naturalista médico español (or An ordinary, somewhat fantastic tale of a Spanish naturalist doctor), contains a succession of hunting expeditions. Sánchez would shoot down anything that crossed his path: monkeys, armadillos, alligators, bats, otters, porcupines, black storks. He didn’t shrink away from anything. On one occasion, he required four men to help transport a python he’d just hunted down. During his expeditions through the jungle, he would stay at missionary convents or at the homes of Spanish settlers. One day in 1892, he stayed at the home of a man in Mamburao, a middle-sized town on the island of Mindoro. “In the afternoon we dug up the skeleton of a young Black girl whom my host had watched get buried,” writes Sánchez.
On a recent Wednesday, the National Anthropology Museum was practically empty due to the coronavirus pandemic. The so-called Room of the Origins of the Museum does precisely that, take visitors back to 1875, the year that King Alfonso XII inaugurated the building. Inside an old display case, there are two skeletons standing side by side: those of a female orangutan and of a Filipina woman. Hers was one of the human bodies brought back to Spain by the explorer from Salamanca.
“The female skeleton is from the island of Luzón. All we know is that it was sent by Domingo Sánchez, but we don’t know when or how,” explains a spokesperson for the museum, which is overseen by the Culture Ministry. “The items in the Physical Anthropology collection have yet to be investigated. Their origin is very complex and hazy.”
Many of the samples obtained by the explorer arrived in Madrid for the General Exposition of the Philippine Islands, held in 1887. Sánchez sailed from Manila on April 1 of that year, on a steamer whose deck was filled with cages containing live animals, including monkeys, deer, pythons and carabaos, a buffalo-like grazing mammal. Up near the bow, there was a multitude of birds, especially parrots and magpies. Among all these animals, there was also a group of 43 indigenous people who were getting paid to go on display at Madrid’s Retiro Park.
María Cristina, the queen regent, solemnly opened the Expo on June 30, 1887 at the park’s Crystal Palace, which was built for the occasion. At night, the park would light up with the recently installed electricity, fascinating everyone who looked on. News reports of the day talked about more than 30,000 visitors a day.
The historian Luis Ángel Sánchez Gómez analyzed the circumstances surrounding the exhibition in his 2003 book Un imperio en la vitrina (or An empire in the showcase). Over the course of just a few weeks, three out of the 43 Filipinos died, and a baby was born. They were all sleeping in Retiro Park. One of the deceased women, Dolores Nessern, was a Catholic and she was buried at La Almudena cemetery. The newspaper La Iberia described the ceremony thus: “The lifeless remains of the young island woman were taken to the East cemetery, where religion and science battled hard over them. In the name of anthropological and ethnographic studies, very profound doctors meant to snatch the body and study it in the dissection room, and later deposit the bones inside a museum hall. The priest bravely fought for those remains.”
“Body snatching was relatively common,” underscores Sánchez Gómez, of Madrid’s Complutense University. This historian brings up the case of Doctor Pedro González Velasco, founder of the National Anthropology Museum, who had a small palace built next to the old cemetery in the Basque city of Zarautz, where he would sometimes venture at night with the French anthropologist Paul Broca to steal craniums from the ossuary. It was 1862, and there were theories in vogue linking the shape of a person’s head with the alleged superiority of specific races. The skulls of Basque people, deemed to be primitive, were in high demand among some anthropologists. And if this required stealing them, then so be it. “It was clear that it was not a morally acceptable, or a legal, thing to do, regardless of whether it was being done in Europe or in ‘wild’ territory, but they assumed that it was justified because of the scientific interest involved,” explains Sánchez Gómez.
Domingo Sánchez returned definitively from the Philippines in 1898, after spending 13 years there. He fled with his wife, Encarnación, following the victory of the Filipino uprising that ended more than three centuries of Spanish rule.
The National Museum of Anthropology still stores nearly 40 human skulls sent by Sánchez, according to a list drawn up by the museum at this newspaper’s request. The National Museum of Natural Sciences, also in Madrid, holds some of the animal specimens collected by the explorer, including monkeys, bats and a tamarao.
But most of Domingo Sánchez’s “treasure” no longer exists. On April 28, 1897, the bells of Manila cathedral went off to signal a fire that ended up devouring four city blocks. The flames reached the Inspectorate General of Forestry of the Ministry of Overseas Affairs, which stored over 5,000 jars containing animals preserved in alcohol. “It was a terrible thing to watch,” wrote Sánchez. “The flames reduced to ash those beautiful collections representing my work of nearly 12 years. My anthropology collection, made up of nearly 500 skulls, a few skeletons, many pelvises and other human remains were also burnt down.”
Sánchez recalls that one time, after snatching human remains from a cemetery in the mountains in the north of Luzón, he felt remorseful: “I didn’t feel at ease in that place. It was as though my conscience was accusing me of stealing those people’s treasure, of desecrating the remains of their ancestors. Behind the naturalist, there peeked out the man who presumed to be honest and just. I was starting to be mortified by notions of consideration and charity. But it was no longer possible to go back, nor was I thinking about it. And I resolved to leave that place as soon as possible.”
The old explorer was 76 and working on a clean copy of his memoirs when the Spanish Civil War broke out. He was in Madrid, himself turned into “a walking skeleton” by hunger, and outraged by the assassinations of priests, monks and nuns “under the Reds.” Sánchez, who studied natural sciences before emigrating to the Philipines and who finished his medical studies at age 40, had started to work in 1903 at the lab of the famous neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal, then located in the same building that today displays the skeleton of the Filipina woman. During the war, Sánchez studied the structure of insects’ nervous systems under the microscope.
“This pleasant task was frequently disturbed by the sound of cannon, by exploding howitzers, by the shots of anti-aircraft missiles and machine guns,” he wrote with sadness. “There is no greater ferocity than the one on display during the cruel and fratricide war we have just endured. I never could have thought that our dear, chivalrous Spain could hold so much ferocity and shamelessness, so much moral misery! Our fellow countrymen, who have sponsored and committed such repugnant crimes or witnessed them with glee, have far surpassed the most savage and bloodthirsty Igorotes from the mountains in the north of Luzón in the Philippines.”
All Health Service Executive (HSE) staff, including those working in administrative roles, should get a financial bonus for the work done during the Covid-19 pandemic, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said.
“I want to see something done, yes, I absolutely really do. I think our healthcare teams have been incredible. We are still fighting the fight, but I definitely want to see some form of recognition for the extraordinary work that they have all put in,” he said.
Speaking after a visit to the HSE’s Limerick Covid-19 vaccination centre at Limerick Racecourse, Patrickswell, Mr Donnelly said: “We need to listen to the frustrations that they have.
“We do need to acknowledge that for nurses, doctors, allied health professionals, administrators – for everyone who has worked in the HSE over the last year and a half – that they’ve had an incredibly difficult time.
“I think they represent the very best of us and they have stepped up to the plate,” he said. “When the rest of us were told to stay at home to keep ourselves safe, they went into the hospitals, and into the Limerick hospital to keep other people safe, and we need to recognise that.”
The arrival of the Delta variant has been delayed by the use of some of the “strongest” lockdown measures in the European Union, but foreign travel now is adding to case numbers.
“We are seeing spikes in some parts of the country. There are cases linked to [international] travel, we know that. Most of the cases we are tracking are Irish people going abroad and coming home,” he said.
Some people travelled without a vaccination, or before their vaccinations had time to work. “They shouldn’t have done that. Some of them have come back and they have contracted Covid, but we will take care of them, we’ll make sure they get the care they need,” he said.
In “certain cases”, people have received a second dose of vaccine within 17 days of their first jab, as opposed to the previous advice of four weeks, and this may happen more generally, he said.
A HSE spokeswoman later said “For operational reasons and due to the pace of the rollout we are in a position to offer the second dose after 17 days in some cases. Second doses within this widow are clinically safe and effective.”
On the vaccination programme, the Minister said: “There aren’t that many people who would have thought just a few months ago that, in July, we would be vaccinating 16-year-olds.”
There will be no immediate change to rules around attendance at funerals, Masses, Confirmations or Communions, while the closure of indoor summer camps is being kept under review.
“More than half of the total population is now very well protected against the coronavirus and thus the highly contagious Delta variant thanks to the full immunisation,” Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein said on Thursday afternoon.
Burgenland has the highest percentage of vaccinated people with 66.1 percent, followed by Carinthia (55.7 percent) and Salzburg (55.2 percent).
The lowest percentage is in Upper Austria, where 54.9 percent of the population is vaccinated.
Kleinmürbisch in the Güssing district has the highest percentage of vaccinated people in Austria, with just under 80 percent of people vaccinated.
The village however only has 230 residents.
“But we are still a long way from reaching our destination,” warned the minister.
About the author: For lovers of Russian culture, folklore, and history, Kotar’s work is a treasure. The grandson of White Russian immigrants, the 34-year-old is an author of epic fantasy novels inspired by Russian fairy tales. You can see his four books here on Amazon.
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Stereotypes are a funny thing. On the one hand, they’re often no more than caricatures. On the other hand, there’s a surprising amount of bitter truth to some of them. Like the Russians say with their morbid humor, “In every joke, there’s a bit of a joke.”
This is especially interesting when we consider old Rus. We don’t have much to go on, historically speaking, other than chronicles, treaties, and a few bits of birch bark.
However, Russians have preserved some interesting stereotypes about the inhabitants of old Russian cities. Whether there’s any truth to them or not is almost beside the point. They’re fascinating, revealing a window to a world long gone, yet still persisting in the habits and personalities of today’s Russians. (Here’s the original Russian article that I translated)
EVERYONE IN GREAT NOVGOROD IS A REBEL
Novgorod’s rebelliousness is legendary. The image of a brawling Novgorodian is almost a calling card of the city. The reason this stereotype came about has to do with the old chronicles. They were filled with illustrations of the constant arguments at the Novgorodian Veche, a kind of popular assembly that met in the central square. (See my translation of “Martha the Mayoress” for a vivid fictionalized example).
Of course, there were arguments and even fights during the Veche. However, they did not constantly devolve into fist-fights, as the legends suggest. Naturally, the chroniclers would choose the most vivid and bloody examples from history to illustrate their point. After all, Novgorod was often an opponent of Kiev and, later, Moscow. But in actual fact, the inhabitants of Great Novgorod were fiercely loyal to their government and loved their city. Compromise was the order of the day, not broken heads. Plus, they were more than usually literate.
EVERYONE IN PSKOV IS A THIEF OR A MORON
Even in modern times, Pskovians have had to endure countless jokes about their crudeness, stupidity, and their lack of good manners. This may or may not be true. As for their lack of manners, that is entirely a matter of hats. The inhabitants of Pskov, no matter what their social standing, hardly ever doffed their cap before anyone (which is extremely bad form in old Rus). However, this wasn’t crudity or bad breeding.
The painful topic of Russian alcoholism became especially relevant in Nizhni Novgorod at the end of the 17th century. A kind of epidemic of alcoholism rose up, and it was normal to see women as well as men lying in the streets in a drunken stupor. Foreign travelers recounted after their visits to Nizhni Novgorod that “Russians don’t do anything but feast.”
Of course, they did more than feast. But on holidays, Russians have always allowed themselves some excesses. It’s not entirely fair to single out Nizhni Novgorod, when alcoholism still is the gravest problem facing Russia today, as in olden times.
EVERYONE IN VLADIMIR IS A CRIMINAL
This stereotype appeared very early. It’s easy to understand. Vladimir itself had five prisons, including the famous “Vladimir Central Prison.” From the beginning, Vladimirians have been considered con artists who like a dangerous life. It didn’t help that the path to Siberia for exiled convicts went through Vladimir. It was even called the “Vladimirka.”
Exiled convicts stopped in Vladimir to have half their heads shaved (a scene vividly recounted in the excellent Russian film The Siberian Barber). Then they’d be branded as exiles or thieves, clapped in irons, and set upon the road to Siberia. In old times, the path could take as long as two years, and those two years were not counted as part of their allotted time.
Vladimir itself, for all that, was a typical enough provincial town.
EVERYONE IN ROSTOV IS AN ARTISAN
When a Russian hears the word “finift’” (enameling), he immediately thinks of Rostov. Nothing could change the old stereotype that every inhabitant of ancient Rostov worked in the enameling guild. That’s complete nonsense, of course. First of all, the best enamellists in old Rus were as a rule in Kiev, the capital city. There were also some famous artisans in Pskov, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, and Great Novgorod.
The only difference is that Rostov alone has preserved the traditional techniques of enameling since ancient times. Even today, there is a factory producing enameled work. Perhaps for this reason alone, tourists still visit Rostov exclusively to see enameled boxes.
THE INDUSTRIOUS YARSOLAVIAN
The industrious muzhik from Yaroslavl is an image that we even find in Gogol. From the times of Rus, Yaroslavians were known as people who were never apathetic, lazy, or prone to tiredness. Instead, they’re known to be active to a manic degree. This may have something to do with the odd tradition that Yaroslav is a city of buried treasure.
Apparently, wherever you turn, you see someone uncovering a jewelry box or trying to break into an ancient chest of drawers. Perhaps a little more seriously, Yaroslavians have long been known as “chicks of the cuckoo.” In other words, they’re more than usually capable of leaving their homeland without much regret. This quality has a clear historical origin.
Yaroslav was built on the crossroads of ancient roads—a path used by merchants from Scandinavia all the way to the Arab lands. From the middle of the 16th century, Yarsolavl became the most important center for trade in all of Rus. This constant movement often inspired young Yaroslavians to try out their luck in foreign lands.
True or not, such stereotypes make for fascinating stories. For myself, the “myth” of the boisterous Novgorodian comes to life in my third novel, The Heart of the World, in a semi-fictionalized setting of the Veche that goes fabulously wrong for all concerned.