To make tuba in Mexico and the Philippines. Four centuries of shared history

Received: May 8, 2018

Acceptance: September 26, 2018


The main objective of this documentary is to show the art of making tuba in two geographically distant places, but united by history: Colima, in western Mexico and Bohol, in the Philippines. The tuba is a drink obtained from the sap of the palm tree (Cocos nucifera L.), whose technique was introduced in western Mexico in the 17th century, thanks to the Filipinos who arrived aboard the Manila Galleon. The public will be able to know, from a comparative perspective, the processes of its elaboration, its forms of consumption and commercialization, as well as its cultural importance in their respective contexts.

Keywords: , , , ,

Tuba-making in Mexico and the Philippines: Four centuries of shared history

The documentary's principal goal is to portray the art of tuba-making in two disparate geographical areas that are, in fact, historically connected: Colima, in western Mexico, and the town of Bohol in the Philippines. Tuba is a wine made from the sap of the Cocos nucifera L. palm, a technique that reached western Mexico aboard imperial Spain's seventeenth-century Manila Galleon shipments. Based on a comparative perspective, audiences learn its production processes, how it is consumed and sold and its cultural import in its respective contexts.

Key words: Tuba (palm wine), Filipinos, Colima, Bohol (Philippines), the Manila Galleon.

The context: the first Asian immigration to Mexico

More than four centuries ago, thousands of Asians traveled the length and breadth of the Pacific via the Manila Galleon, and settled in New Spain (now Mexico). Many of these individuals - mostly Filipinos - stayed to live permanently on the Mexican Pacific coastline. At the same time, there was another event that accompanied this migratory phenomenon: the introduction of tropical plants from Asia, which acclimatized very quickly in the same places where the Filipinos were located. This is how a type of human-nature interaction was transferred to the soil of New Spain, in which the use and management of the coconut palm by the Filipinos did not take long to take root on this side of the Pacific.

According to Déborah Oropeza, between 1565 and 1700 around 7,200 Asians would have entered New Spain, of which about 5,000 would have stayed permanently in New Spain, mainly in three regions: to) Mexico City and its surroundings, b) the coast of the Mar del Sur (from Colima to Zacatula), and c) Acapulco (Oropeza, 2007: 80-104). Of course, the immigration of the "Chinese Indians" - as the majority of Asians were called when they arrived in New Spain - has no parallel whatsoever with the entry of the population of African origin, because if we take into account that between 1594 and 1674 approximately 72,100 African slaves entered through Veracruz (Vega, 1984: 186), that means that the Asian population would represent, at most, the 10%. Despite the lower proportion, the importance of the Asian population became evident in the rural areas of the Mexican Pacific coast, where it left its mark on food, architecture, material culture and even on some symbolic practices in religion and culture. the game (Machuca and Calvo, 2012; Machuca, 2016).

Therefore, in the case of the Filipinos in New Spain, we are facing the most important transcontinental indigenous migratory phenomenon in the framework of the Spanish empire —except for the case of African slaves—, due to at least three reasons: to) the distance traveled between the place of origin and your destination, b) the number of individuals who crossed the Pacific and, above all, c) the cultural imprint they left in the places where they settled.

A story, a documentary

The making of a documentary raised as one of its objectives to highlight the legacy of the Filipinos in Colima society, through their work as producers and sellers of tuba (tubers). One of its historical transfers is still preserved in the city of Colima, capital of the homonymous state and located on the shores of the Mexican Pacific. There, the most obvious and short-term result was the elaboration of a drink of Philippine origin, called tuba —Vocal of Malay origin—, which today constitutes one of the most important identity elements of Colima, “the city of palm trees”. But with the passage of time, the trace of that Asian heritage was erased in the memory of the Colima people: for them, the coconut palm is native, and the tuba dates back to pre-Hispanic times, where they say that the "King Colimán", mythical pre-Hispanic chief according to local history, already took tuba.

What is tuba? I have already referred to it on several occasions, so it is time to clarify the term. The tuba It is a drink obtained from the sap of the palm tree. The tubers delicately cut the bud or inflorescence of the palm tree, from which a viscous liquid emanates; This is collected in small clay, wooden or plastic containers, depending on the region, which the tuberos hang and watch over jealously. These cuts are made twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. In total, about 1.5 liters of tuba per palm tree in a whole day. In Colima, after being collected, the tuba it is sold natural or compound; the latter takes a whole preparation process, detailed in the documentary, and is offered as a refreshing and medicinal drink.

In the Philippines, tuba it is an ancestral drink, most likely millenary. There it is well known in its three regions (Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao), and it is produced and consumed in popular neighborhoods or barangays. There, the extraction process is almost the same as in Colima, what changes is the way of consuming it: after being collected, it is left to ferment for a few days so that it becomes an alcoholic beverage that reaches 7-8 degrees of alcoholic volume. However, Filipinos are currently unaware that Mexico makes tuba and that it was her ancestors who introduced her here. Also in the archipelago, part of the historical memory has been erased, and neither the Manila Galleon nor the ties with Mexico have a place in the national history that is told in public education, at the same time that the practice of Spanish has disappeared.

So, based on those elements of the past and present, I considered that there was a story to tell, and the message had to reach a wider audience than that of academic specialists. The making of this documentary, Doing tuba in Mexico and the Philippines, is the product of that effort. The brief and tight pages that follow are intended to present the central elements that revolved around this product. On the one hand, it is a topic little studied in historiography: the transcontinental movements of indigenous people and the first Asian migration in America. The focus oscillates between micro and macro history, and methodology has in mind the so-called regressive history (Wachtel, 2014), in which the tools of anthropology, such as the realization of ethnographies, associated with the documentation of the past allow a much broader vision, and even more precise.

Approaches and methodologies: a game of scales between the micro and the macro

Today's history, preoccupied with geopolitics, with great inter-bloc interactions, and attentive to the construction and dislocation of empires, apparently pays little attention to tiny destinations. When it deals with them, in the form of microhistory, it is difficult to connect with the big one, “the global one”. However, this is what the new historiographic trends are trying to do, to arrive at an understanding of "macro" phenomena as a whole, from realities "from below", where the individual lives, moves, acts in his environment, which it has been called Global Microhistory. The fact that a few hundred Filipinos arrived on the Colima coast from the second half of the 16th century, in parallel with some of their Asian plant seeds, which transformed the landscape, living, and reality of today's Colima, Can it be considered macrohistory? Or is it rather microhistory? Perhaps the imbrication of both in the crucible of History. What matters is the tension of one thread that joins the other, which makes the life of the Colima of the 17th century have its conclusion in the Colima of the 21st century, in that hot and tropical "city of palm trees".

In addition to the historiographic approach, a second element that must be taken into account is the methodology, since writing the history of cultural exchanges between Mexico and the Philippines at the time of the Manila Galleon necessarily requires the use of the historian's own tools —the archives. -, but also of the anthropologist - ethnographic work. Historical documents only partially or scarcely inform about these sociocultural phenomena, while field work reflects realities of the present in which a part of the memory of the past has been modified. It is, in its own way, a regressive story to Wachtel (2014), in which it is about recovering the past within the present. It is also what is known in Anglo-Saxon historiography as upstreaming, that is, the use of contemporary ethnological studies to interpret the societies of the past (White, 2009: 27).

A narrative from the visual: the challenges of the documentary

Moving from a written language to a visual one is not an easy task for a historian. Usually one has scarce material means, but with the main motivation that the work must be carried out in a different way than usual, that is, to go from the book or the scientific article to the audiovisual work; move from an academic audience to a more general one. This documentary had four main supports: archive work, field work, search for financing and audiovisual production.

a) The archival work. The Historical Archive of the Municipality of Colima constitutes the most important documentary collection for the academic support of the investigation. The most detailed news about the life of the Filipino “vinateros” is located there, although the Historical Archive of the State of Colima and the General Archive of the Nation (Mexico City) allowed me to supplement the information. Based on these sources, I published some articles and book chapters, in which I reflected on the insertion of Filipinos in the Colima society of the seventeenth century (Machuca, 2014; Machuca, 2015).

b) Ethnographic work. I did the ethnographic work at different times. Between 2012 and 2013 I conducted in-depth interviews with tuberos from Colima (Mexico) and Bohol (Philippines), which allowed me to know in situ the process of making tuba. The Colima environment, of course, was more familiar to me. The one in Bohol, in the Central Visayas of the Philippines, represented greater challenges: many of the tuberos (called mananguetes) They did not speak English but the Visayan language, so I relied on colleagues from the Ateneo de Manila University for some translations.1

c) Financing. There are few sources of financing for documentaries, at least for non-professionals in the area of multimedia production. This documentary implied high costs, both for the transfer to the Philippines and for the recordings in Colima with the entire multimedia production team. Not counting the post-production part. The shortage of resources could be remedied thanks to the support of various institutions: I made my trips to the Philippines between 2012 and 2013, in part, thanks to the Mexican Academy of Sciences, which awarded me in 2011 the Scholarship for Women in the Humanities. The recordings in Colima were made thanks to a project by PACMYC and the Secretary of Culture of the Government of the State of Colima in 2013, and post-production would not have been possible without the Multimedia Production Area of El Colegio de Michoacán, in conjunction with the City Council of Colima (2012-2015).

d) Digital platforms. The documentary was presented in DVD format from December 2013, with a production of 500 copies. It was screened in some theaters in Colima, Jalisco and Michoacán, and the copies sold out quickly. Therefore, in 2017 El Colegio de Michoacán decided to upload it to the YouTube platform, so that it could be seen internationally. The project to subtitle it in English is in process, so that it can reach a wider audience.

In conclusion: local identity processes or the "invention of tradition"

Photograph 1: Hugo Fierros (father), the “Indian Tubero”. Photograph by Paulina Machuca (2013).

Several years ago, Mr. Hugo Fierros, a tubero from Madero Street in the city of Colima, decided to dress as an “Indian”, with a blanket suit and a red scarf. For him, it was a way of relating his work to the Colima tradition: the tuba and the "Indian", the native. It was also a way to get the attention of passersby, which worked for him. He is nicknamed the "Indian" tubero (photo 1). But when asked if he knew that the tuba It was a drink of Filipino origin, he gave his own version: that even King Colimán drank tuba in pre-Hispanic times. Mr. Fierros's opinion is shared by many people from Colima, for whom the drink is a native element, which may well go back to the period prior to the arrival of the Spaniards. This is reminiscent of the well-known phrase of Eric Hobsbawm, for whom traditions “appear or claim to be ancient, often have a recent origin and are sometimes invented” (Hobsbawm, 1987). That was one of the final reflections of the documentary, that the tuba it has taken a letter of naturalization among the Colima, along with the coconut palm. The tuba and the tuberos of Colima also have their songs, their corridos, and even their monument in the central Núñez Garden of the Colima capital. On the other hand, in Bohol it is a rather discredited drink, a "drink of the poor", related to marginality, perhaps as pulque was in Mexico at the time.2

Five years after the documentary

Photograph 2. Hugo Fierros (son), in the current position of tuba. Photograph by Paulina Machuca (2018).

In February 2018, I walked through Madero Street, where the main stalls of tuba in the city of Colima. It is something that I do often, but I noticed that something had changed: there were no longer those makeshift wooden tables with their colorful plastic tablecloths, but instead I found fixed and decorated stalls, decorated with the typical Rangelian motifs (photo 2) .3 After a brief talk with the young tubero Hugo Fierros (son), he told me that the Colima City Council had supported them with these structures, in recognition of their work and to attract more tourism. I asked him if he knew where the idea had come from, because in the documentary Doing tuba in Mexico and the Philippines we used the Rangelian elements in the iconography and in some animations, which made me think that perhaps there was some relationship. He told me that the idea had come from the authorities and he did not know more; But he did reveal to me that after the documentary foreign clients came with him, he remembered Germans and, above all, Americans, who told him that they had seen it on YouTube.

I told Hugo that I would write a text about the experience of the documentary, and he emphatically asked me to mention that he had not been handed over his Rangelian position, since the one he used was his father's. "I don't know why they haven't given me my job, since I've already asked for it many times." Hugo thought that if I expressed his concern he would have his position as a tubero more quickly, conferring on me an authority that he, according to his own criteria, did not have. That made me think about the role of academics in our work, in the social implications that our works have, in our positioning in the face of the demands of a group, beyond the theoretical-methodological reflections of our own scientific work.

Data sheet

Realization: Paulina Machuca

Production: El Colegio de Michoacán, PACMYC Colima, H. Ayuntamiento de Colima (2012-2015).

Editing, post-production, design and animation: Nery Prado

Executive production: Carlos Antaramián

Production assistance: Eva Alcántar

DR Paulina Machuca, 2013

Duration: 47´37 minutes / Mexico, 2013

Spanish Language

Video: DVD NTSC Full HD


Hobsbawm, Eric (1987). "Inventing traditions". stories, no. 19, October.

Machuca, Paulina (2016). "In the footsteps of cultural miscegenation between Mexico and the Philippines",

in Thomas Calvo and Paulina Machuca (eds.). Mexico and the Philippines: Cultures and memories about the Pacific . Zamora: El Colegio de Michoacán / Ateneo de Manila University, pp. 384-401.

_____________ (2015) "Les 'Indiens chinois' vintners of Colima: processus d'insertion sociale dans les haciendas de palmes du XVIIè siècle". Diaspores. Histoire et sociétés, no. 25, pp. 121-137.

______________ (2014) “The art of making tuba in Mexico and the Philippines: an ethnohistorical approach”, in Angela Schottenhammer (coord.), Tribute, trade, and smuggling: commercial, scientific and human interaction in the Middle Period and Early Modern World. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, pp. 247-267.

______________ and Thomas Calvo (2012). "The Santo Niño de Cebu between coast and coast: from the Philippines to New Spain (1565-1787)". Lusitania Sacra, 2nd Series, t. XXV, January-June, pp. 53-72.

Vega Franco, Marisa (1984). The slave trade with America (Seats of Grillo and Lomelín, 1663-1674). Seville: School of Hispanic American Studies.

Wachtel, Nathan (2014). Des archives aux terrains. Essais d'anthropologie historique. Paris: Le Seuil.

White, Richard (2009). Le middle ground. Indiens, empires et republiques dans la région des Grands Lacs, 1650-1815. Tolouse: Anacharsis.

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Irma Dugelby
Irma dugelby
1 year ago

Splendid investigation, I congratulate you.
Is it possible to upload it to social networks? It is an important legacy for our country, it must be made known.


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