The Carabao and the Encounter of the Law in Nineteenth-Century Philippines

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The place of the non-human animal in the legal world has been questioned. Animals’ legal status as property has been probed on how to best protect their welfare. While this is significant for animals who are not on the farm, it might not be effective when considering animals raised for food. The case of the carabao, or the water buffalo, in the Philippines is seen as a hybrid. This article traces the development of the carabao in Philippine history during the nineteenth century. Through historical, archival, and legal research on animals, the carabao is situated as private property. Colonial instruments of control were introduced to protect the carabao from criminals. In its proper historical context, the classification of carabaos as property indeed highlighted the animal’s status as legally owned, which did not necessarily demean the animal’s relationship with the human peasant nor the carabao’s quality as an animal.