Food rations, resistance, and agency at the Culion leper colony, 1900s–1930s

  • Febe D. Pamonag Western Illinois University


This study explores how Filipino Hansen’s disease patients confined to the Culion leper colony engaged with government authorities over food-related issues during the first three decades of the twentieth century. Food rations are understudied themes in the history of the Culion leper colony. Earlier scholarship on Culion focused on the segregation policy, medical practices, and general conditions. Recent work highlighted the theme of resistance evident in the patients’ flight from the island, protests against the ban on marriage and cohabitation, and petitions for rights as citizens. A few considered agitations and other actions by patients in response to the food situation.

In this study, I argue that food was a platform upon which colonial authority was contested in a myriad of ways and forms. Patients’ reactions were directed not only at poor quality and insufficient quantity of rations, but also at the American colonial state’s policy that exiled them to the island of Culion. Many of them practiced self-sufficiency to address basic food needs and to provide financial assistance to the families they left behind. Others actively participated in committees to improve the distribution of rations.

The study of food supply and rations in Culion offers insights into the engagement between Filipino patients of Hansen’s disease and colonial administrators. It demonstrates varying forms of patients’ resistance and exercise of agency within a restrictive setting and in a colonial context. In some instances, patients’ agency was enabled by authorities, thereby complicating the story of their engagement. Consideration of their diverse and multifaceted practices facilitates a fuller understanding of how Filipino Hansen’s disease patients dealt with government officials during the American colonial period.

KEYWORDS: Culion, Hansen’s disease, resistance, agency, food rations