According to Lamvik, the Filipinos emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s as the most qualified option for the mostly European-owned businesses."They are fluent in English, they are Christians, and they accepted cheaper pay," said Lamvik, whose grandfather and great-grandfather both worked on Norwegian ships.Apparently, it was also practiced in Thailand and Indonesia, but vanished from the historical record in the mid-17th century, when men bowed to the pressures of Islam and Christianity.Mckay was shocked to learn that it still existed in what, based on his extensive conversations with Filipino seafarers, seemed like great numbers.Onboard and in ports across the world, they weave tales to mark their territory.In one of Mc Kay's papers, he writes about a Filipino captain who gave him a pitch about the handiness of his nationality's sailors, especially when things go awry. Other nationalities, if they see there are no spare parts, they will say, 'okay, that's it, we'll wait 'til we're in port,'" the man told Mc Kay. They'll make a new part or fix one." A third mate provided a sense of the way adventure fits into the Filipino's occupational identity: This is a man's job ['barako talaga']...."This 'secret weapon of the Filipinos,' as a second mate phrased it, has therefore obviously something to do," Lamvik wrote in his thesis, "'with the fact that 'the Filipinos are so small, and the Brazilian women are so big' as another second mate put it." According to University of California, Santa Cruz labor sociologist Steve Mc Kay, who traveled extensively on container ships with Filipino crews in 2005 for his research on the masculine identity in the shipping market, raw materials for the bolitas can range from tiles to plastic chopsticks or toothbrushes.
From the 16th through the 19th century, Filipinos were ordered into servitude on Spanish galleons, and in the 1800s, they helped man American whaling ships.In the 1960s, only 2,000 Filipinos worked in international waters.But after the oil crisis of the 1970s placed financial pressure on the industry and a shift in maritime regulations allowed ships to hire workers from countries with lower wages, companies set out to reduce labor costs.When Norwegian anthropologist Gunnar Lamvik first began living in Iloilo city, a seafaring haven in the southern Philippines, he sensed he wasn't getting the richest and most detailed information about the shipping experience from interviews with his neighbors, who were home on two-month vacations from 10 months at sea.To crack the cultural mystery of any total institution, you have to go inside, he reasoned.