National Geographic : 1898 Jun
THE PHILIPPINE ISLANDS to an infinity of uses, from the construction of bridges and dwell ings to the manufacture of furniture, domestic utensils of all kinds, pipes for conveying water, musical instruments, mats, fences, and scaffolds-in fact, the roots, trunks, branches, and leaves are all utilized. The varieties of bamboo are almost in numerable, some attaining a height of fifty or sixty feet and varying in diameter from eight to nine inches, while others are as small as a rattan. The forests also abound in the various classes of canes, rattans, and others of the calamus family, which are important and useful and serve for a great variety of purposes. The Areca palm grows to about the same height as the cocoa nut tree, and produces a nut about the size of a small hen's egg. It is called bonga by the natives, and the quantity used is enor mous-men, women, and children all chew it. A piece of the nut is wrapped in a leaf of the betel pepper, which is smeared with shell lime made into a paste with water. In the city of Manila alone there are hundreds of places devoted solely to the sale of this article prepared ready for use, and it can be found on sale in every town and village. AGRICULTURE There is a great similarity between the agricultural products of Cuba and the Philippines-in both sugar and tobacco are the great staples -but the latter islands possess an unique product which hitherto it has not been found possible to raise success fully elsewhere, although attempts have been made to introduce it in Borneo, Cochin-China, the Andaman islands, and other places. It is known commercially as Manila hemp, but this is a misnomer, as it has no relation to the hemp plant. Its native name is aback, and it is the product of a species of plantain or banana, Musa textilis, which differs very slightly in appearance from the edible variety, Musa paradisiaca. Its fruit, however, is small, disagreeable to the taste, and not edible. It grows to the height of twelve to fifteen feet. There is evidently some pecu liarity of soil or climate, or of both, which enables these islands to retain a monopoly of this fiber which has become of such im mense commercial value. It grows best in hilly or mountain ous districts, and particularly in the volcanic regions in the east ern parts of the islands. It is hardy and suffers little from any enemy except drought. It has the advantage of being a peren nial crop, like its fruit-bearing relative, month after month young shoots springing up from the original root.