The ‘Manillas’ in our Heritage – Exiles from the Philippines

Kalk Bay on the Cape Peninsula has become a popular trendy tourist attraction with its host of eateries, art shops, bric-a-brac shops, theatrical offerings and so on. It is also famous for its working fishing harbour complete with Cape Town’s most popular fish and chip shop – ‘Kalkies’. But few know of its rich history or how that in part the vibrant harbour and small town commercial activity emerged from an exiled Filipino community who integrated into the small existing free-slave fishermen eking out their living from the sea.  The enterprising Free-black fishing communities from Kalk Bay up the east coast and from Table Bay up the West Coast has a long and intricate history going back to the 1660s that also goes unacknowledged.

There is no place of tribute nor any explanatory community museum about either the Fred-slave fishermen nor the Manillas. The Manillas (Filipinos) of Kalk Bay as they were known, are another piece of the jigsaw puzzle that constitutes our Camissa Creole heritage – the genetic and cultural roots that were embraced by the descendants of Khoena, San and other African peoples as well as by non-conformist Europeans at the Cape. Amongst us today throughout Cape Town there are a host of Spanish surnames – Fernandez, de la Cruz, Florez, Padua, Manuel, Pasqual, Garcia, Croza, Palma, Torrez, de la Varcia, Bonaventura and many, many more. These generally go back to the Manillas.

The Florez-Adams family.

The Filipinos, nicknamed the Manillas, were exiles or refugees from Spanish repression in the Philippines. Over the troubled and extended revolutionary period between 1860 to 1880 they trickled into the Cape as word spread by the first Filipino, Felix Flores, who arrived in Cape Town in 1863. By the time of the successful revolution led by the Katipunan and the La Liga Filipina, the Manila chapter of the Propaganda Movement and its rebel army, which saw the expulsion of Spain from the Pilippines in the late 1890s, the Manillas of the Cape were well settled in their new home and their children were Capetonians. In the middle of the revolutionary period in 1870 and 1872 respectively, the Labios Revolt and the Cavite Mutiny, saw a dramatic increase of Filipino exiles arriving in the Cape. By 1882 there were 68 Manilla families in Kalk Bay. In 1898 the Primera Republica Filipina was established by Emilio Aguinaldo and a new Philippines Republican Army replaced Spanish military control.

Staunchly Catholic and imbued with revolutionary nationalist and anti-imperialist sentiments these Filipinos had fled to England, Hong Kong, Japan and South Africa. The catalyst was the execution of three of their leaders – revolutionary priests Burgos, Gomez and Zamora during the Cavite Mutiny against the imposition of a new tax, led by restance leader Sergeant Ferdinad la Madrid, against Governor General Rafael de Izquierdo.

We are able to trace the history of the Manillas of Kalk Bay, not through historians, but rather through a inquisitive journalist back in 1946, by the name of Maxwell Price who wrote for the Cape Times. Max took his readers back to the time when there was just a track known as ‘the friendly road’ going beyond Farmer Peck’s Hostelry in Muizenberg. He painted a picture of travel on the muddy road by ox-wagon and Cape Carts and how these drivers had to pay their tolls at the old toll-gate at Muizenberg (they had their own version of e-tolls back then). The area between Muizenberg and Simonstown in those days was quite precarious and inhospitable and on the way Kalk Bay as we know it today was just a little twist before the bend leading to Fish Hoek.

 Max Price relates how the founding father of the Manilla community, Felix Flores (later known as Florez) came to be in Cape Town. Felix was born on Panay Island in the Philippines in 1844 and arrived in Cape Town in 1863. From a photograph of Felix on board a vessel it would seem that Felix Flores arrived on the CSS Tuscaloosa. This was a vessel seized as spoils of war by the CSS Alabama and commissioned into the Confederate Navy of the rebel Confederacy at Civil War with the Union of States in North America. The two ships had sailed down the Latin American coast and on to the Indonesian and Polynesian islands before arriving with much fanfare in Cape Town (Daar Kom Die Alibama) with some of the crew jumping ship and settling at Churchhaven on the West Coast. Felix would have boarded the ship as it passed through the Phiippines where it took on extra crew. The Royal Navy at Simonstown seized the CSS Tuscaloosa to return it to its rightful owners, while the CSS Alibama continued on to France where in French waters a sea battle ensued with a Union ship and the Alibama was sunk. The Crew of the CSS Tuscaloosa were thus stuck in Cape Town for awhile and this is when Felix fell in love with what would become his new home. He also spread the word to others in the Philippines.

Felix set up a shop in Kalk Bay and married the daughter of a German Count and a Mazbieker former slave. Their business supplied the arriving migrants from the Philippines with provisions, fishing gear and he organised accommodation too. Felix was the godfather of the community. The community spoke a mixture of Spanish, Tagalog and English and soon began speaking their own comical version of Afrikaans.

 Together with an eccentric Spanish speaking Irish Catholic priest F Duignam the Manillas built a Catholic Church at St James, by blasting rock for the purpose. Fr Duignam ensured 100% attendance at Holy Mass by a rather unusual means. He carried a sjambok which he called ‘Nagslang’ through which he ensured with the blessing of his Manilla congregation that all youngsters in the community towed the line. Fr Duignam succeeded Felix as the uncrowned king of Kalk Bay. He died in 1931.

Felix Flores had four daughters and a son. One of the daughters, Franzina, married Chritiaan Adams a likely descendant of a slave and Passenger Indian, Free Black. My friend Gail Smith married to Steven Smith comes from this lineage. Descendant Mark Adams, now in the Netherlands, provides much of the in-depth Family History on his website –
We last communicate some years back when I first wrote about the Manillas of Kalk Bay.

The Photo shows Franzina Elisabeth Florez and Christiaan Adams with their children.

Today the thousands of descendants of the Manillas are integrated in families throughout the length and breadth of South Africa and are another part of our hidden dna and culture, like the indentures, the Siddis, the Kroomen, the Saints, the Mazbiekers and so much more.


11 thoughts on “The ‘Manillas’ in our Heritage – Exiles from the Philippines

  1. Pingback: Dear South Africans, I am from Philippines not China

    • I have a great feeling this is where my grandfather Samuel Daniel Flores comes from.He settled in Port Elizabeth.

      Melissa Flores(Orange)Gauteng

  2. My wife’s grandfather, Gregorio Pastor is one of those “original ” Filipinos who settled in Kalk Bay. He originated from the village of Palompon, Leyte in the Philippines. He married Juana Hilario and they eventually settled in Loader Street, Green Point with their children. We still have contact with the Pastor family in the Philippines And as recently as 2016 attended a family reunion in Palompon. We also attended a family reunion in Los Angeles in 2007 and hosted one in Cape Town
    In 2013. My wife has documents such as her grandfather’s baptism certificate (in Spanish) as well as the marriage certificate of her grandparents marriage which took place in St James.

    • Wow. I love the stories. Such a rich and amazing history of how people from different sides of the planet connected; through whatever circumstances. I am also married to a Filipina. We live in Cape Town. We have 2 beautiful daughters. My wife has Filipino family spread all over the world, and luckily we are in contact with them through social media. What a rich heritage we’ll leave behind for our girls. They’ll never feel alone, if someday we’re not around.

  3. The Filipinos of Kalk Bay – a proud history has just been published and is on sale for R50 at Kalkys or the Olympia Bakery in Kalk Bay. It is a pretty accurate history based on church records starting with the first Manilas who were in Kalk Bay by about 1840.
    All interested should note that the Kalk Bay Historical Association applied for the steps from Boyes Drive to the old graveyard to be named Manila Steps and the sign went up in December.
    A commemoration of the Filipinos will be held on 28th October and will be attended by the Philippine Ambassador among other dignitories. More info will be published – all are welcome

  4. My grandmother was Francesca Macranus from Kalk Bay, she was married to Francis Vincent De la Cruz now Winn at St James Catholic Church in 1899. My father Herbert Winn was a teacher at Kalk Bay Primary School for many years. I’d attended my first first year the same school.

  5. Hi Ken, thanks you for leaving your message for us to find, and for providing origin of your family in the Philippines, I am a descendant of Felix Florez from Panay Island, I am trying to find our family in the Philippines and really struggling to make contact with the right Flores families. I am trying to map out where all the original Filipinos came from to find a place where our Flores family came from (the island of Panay is large) and they could have come from anywhere on the island although I have been told its likely they came from iloilo I still can’t find likely flores family that might be our family regards walter (I live in London but was born in Cape Town) I know kalk bay very well spent lots of time there when I was a kid

    • Hi Walter. Greetings from Cape Town.
      My wife’s grandfather remained in contact with his family in Palompon, Leyte and in turn passed these family connections on to his children who in turn passed these family relationships on to their children. The results are that strong family bonds exist between the Cape Town Pastor clan and the family in the Philippines, USA, Canada & Australia.

  6. The Filipinos of Kalk Bay were commemorated with the naming of the Manila Steps in Kalk Bay in October 2019. Hundreds attended the unveiling of an information board by the Philippine Ambassador. A booklet published in 2018 – The Filipinos of Kalk Bay – a proud history is available at R50 at Kalky’s in Kalk Bay harbour.

  7. Filipino togetherness is unique. My wife also has family spread across the globe. We always keep in touch and have an international family reunion every three years either back in Palompon or a city where there is a concentration of family.

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