Jesus Built My Hotrod: History Of The Jeepney

From Chapter 45: Philippines (Summer 2011)

Words and photos: Grace Villamil

I began exploring the land of my roots in 2002. Through 16-hour bus rides north and south I came to love jeepneys, the most popular mode of public transportation in the Philippines. They are a commonality across the country’s many regions, and the name is one of few words with no variation on the 7,107 islands.

Each jeepney has a rich history. Most were born as American Jeeps during WWII (jeepney = Jeep + jitney), but they have come to represent Philippine culture—a live chicken in the bag going home for slaughter; the light rap of knuckles on the hot roof, requesting a stop; and of course the bright colors wrapping the galvanized-steel and chrome bodies.

The painted words are from the heart, shouting from end to end, even reaching the mud flaps. Catholic phrases like “In God We Trust” and “Virgin Mary” are spelled out in sexy, airbrushed letters. I like to imagine “Rachelle” and other women’s names as tributes to past lovers.

Ask any native about road rage; NYC has nothing on Metro Manila traffic! Jeepneys are kings of the road, stopping as they wish. For the most part they drive in straight lines—no turns allowed. Though abundant, their numbers are starting to dwindle due to government control and the advent of the green “e-jeepney,” now available in affluent parts of Manila.

Jeepney craftsmanship, to me, is a perfect example of the imagination of the Filipino—our ability to transform something using humor, irony, devotion, and of course, tropical morale.

Want more from this chapter? Cop Chapter 45: Philippines.