Sunday, March 09, 2008

Iriga' Perfumed Past

A Spanish-time industry in Iriga was the extraction of the essence of ilang-ilang (Cananga odorata), or locally known as, tang-id. Alfred Marche, a French traveler and explorer who came to the Philippines in 1881 noted this source of livelihood among the Agta he met at Mt. Iriga:

"The Negroes of this area make their living by growing abaca; of which the region is one of the most plentiful providers. They also gather ylang-ylang, which is found in their mountains. Ylang-ylang is an expensive perfume well known in elegant society; in Paris it currently costs five hundred francs a kilogramme, and at one time it cost twice this amount. The flower which provides the essence grows in a very tall tree only found at altitudes of five or six hundred metres:"

Presumably, the raw flowers were sold to local businessmen who distilled them in a device called alambique. The extracted essence were in turn brought to Manila in the Escolta-based Botica Boie established in 1830 by a Spaniard, Don Lorenzo Negrao. It was the German pharmacist, Friedrich Shteck, however, Botica Boie's eventual owner 20 years later, who went into ilang-ilang distillation. His venture, under the brand "Pablo Sartorius", the name of his nephew; won gold medals during the 1887 Madrid Exposition and the 1904 St. Louis Exposition. After a good turn out in the European market up to the first two decades of the 20th century, the demand for ilang-ilang declined. A part of the Marche account can give us one of the reasons why:

"...unfortunately it is disappearing, for those who make their living by gathering the flowers find it simpler to cut down the tree when it is in full bloom than to climb it: which, moreover, is no easy task."

Unsustainable local agricultural practice that tried to cope with a growing demand from an early example of a global market, spelled the doom for the industry which would build such fragrance houses like Coco Channel (whose Channel No. 5 has ilang-ilang as a major ingredient) and YSL, the patent owner of ilang-ilang. Another reason is the Pinoy's penchant for poor imitations, summarized in the phrase: puede na. While Shteck's success in the business prompted others to venture into the business; they came out, however, with low quality products or worse, artificial oils.


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