Manila Village 馬尼拉村

Winston Ho 何嶸.
Rutgers University, New Brunswick,
Departments of History and Asian Languages and Cultures

2016 July 1.


cfm_uploads_approved_large_large454In spring of 1883, the journalist Lafcadio Hearn of the New Orleans <Times-Democrat>, and the sketch artist J.O. Davidson of <Harper’s Weekly>, commissioned an Italian sailboat from Spanish Fort on Bayou St. John, and sailed to the floating village of St. Malo, on the shores of Lake Borgne in St. Bernard Parish, southeast of New Orleans. 

The article they wrote was the first major study of the “Manilamen,” Filipino fisherman who had lived in the bayous of Southeast Louisiana since Spanish colonial rule in the late 1700s. The Filipinos were possibly the first large group of Asians to settle in North America, joining the Spanish Isleños who were there even earlier.


Hearn later moved to Japan and became more famous for his writings there, though his article on the “Manilamen of St. Malo” remains widely-known among Louisiana researchers.  But thirty years later, another artist, Frank E. Schoonover of <Harper’s Monthly>, traveled down Barataria Bay to another village, Manila Village 馬尼拉村 in Jefferson Parish.

Louisiana - Shrimp Dance (Blum and Bergeron, 1910s) - 1Built in the late 1800s on submerged pilings and small islands in the middle of the marshland, Manila Village was once an important center in the Gulf Coast seafood industry, processing vast quantities of dried shrimp 蝦米 for export from the Port of Orleans to Asia, China, and the Chinatowns of the world. Dozens of similar floating villages, populated by Filipinos, Chinese, Italians, Croatians, Isleños, Cajuns, and many others, once existed throughout Southeast Louisiana, but Manila Village was one of the earliest and the largest.

Louisiana - Shrimp Dance (Blum and Bergeron, 1910s) - 2In the summer of 1911, Schoonover illustrated several sketches of life in Manila Village, which were published in December of that year in the article “In the Haunts of Jean Lafitte.” These remarkable sketches reveal a flourishing community of families, and provide a rare glimpse into the culture of this now lost world.

cfm_uploads_approved_large_large445Schoonover was also one of the first to document the giant platforms used to dry and preserve seafood. These were football-sized platforms, also built on pilings over the water, where freshly caught shrimp was unloaded directly from boats and boiled in large vats with salt.  Once cooked, the shrimp would be spread over the platforms with brooms and rakes, dried in the sun, “danced” to crush the brittle shells, and shoveled into baskets to filter the dried meat from the powdered shells.

Schoonover, Frank E. - In the Haunts of Jean Lafitte - Harper’s Monthly Magazine (1911 Dec.) - 448 - A Bit of Domestic Life


Hearn, Lafcadio, and Davidson, J.O. “St. Malo, A Lacustrine Village in Louisiana.” Harper’s Weekly, vol. 27 no. 1371 (1883.03.31): p. 196-199.  [The full article can be found on HathiTrust,]

Schoonover, Frank Earle.  “In the Haunts of Jean Lafitte.”  Harper’s Magazine (1911 Dec.).  [Drawings from the Schoonover Museum,]

Blum & Bergeron. “Spreading shrimp to dry.” 1910s.  Photographs from LouisDigital,]


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