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The Sad Story of the Filipino Slave Known As The “Painted Prince”

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In the late 1600s, a Filipino slave caused quite a sensation when he arrived in England. The Filipino was given the name “Prince Giolo.” People also called him the “Painted Prince” because his body was adorned with intricate tattoos. However, the man didn’t exactly live like royalty. In fact, he was treated like a freak and dismissed as a savage.

As it turns out, the Filipino slave wasn’t really named Prince Giolo. His real name was said to be Jeoly. His journey to England wasn’t by choice. He was a victim of circumstance and other people’s greed.

Miangas was once called “Palmas Island.”

Jeoly’s strange tale begins sometime in 1690. He and his mother were on a boat near the island of Miangas. The island is located about 70 kilometers from the coast of what is now Davao Oriental. At that time, Miangas was still considered part of the Philippines. As such, Jeoly was a Filipino. After all, it was only in 1928 that an international court decreed that Miangas was part of Indonesia. Even then, the territorial dispute was between the US and the Netherlands, the colonial rulers of the Philippines and Indonesia respectively.

Tragically, slave traders spotted Jeoly’s boat. They captured the mother and son, took away their gold accessories, and sold them for what would amount to $60 to a foreigner who was identified only as “Mr. Moody.” Moody later sold Jeoly and his mother to William Dampier, the British adventurer who inspired Robinson Crusoe — the title character of Daniel Defoe’s novel.

Perhaps, William Dampier’s greatest discovery was Jeoly.
Source:Thomas Murray (painting) via Wikimedia Commons

Dampier had grand ambitions to get rich by discovering spice and gold in the so-called “Spice Islands.” However, his dream didn’t become reality. By the time he ran into Moody, he was already broke and was set to return to England with nothing to show from his failed explorations. Thus, when Moody offered to sell him Jeoly, Dampier saw his chance for redemption through the tattooed Filipino slave. In time, Dampier set out to go back to England with Jeoly and his mother in tow.

During their long journey to England, Jeoly and his mother got sick. Jeoly recovered but his mother died from the illness. Dampier wrote in his diary that Jeoly was grief-stricken and could not be comforted.

Once they arrived in England in 1692, Jeoly had to face a crowd of people who were especially curious about his tattoos. He was covered with them. Only his face, hands, and feet didn’t have tattoos. Later on, historian would note that Jeoly’s tattoos, as seen in illustrations of him, looked similar to traditional Micronesian tattoos of people from the the Caroline and Palau Islands.

Here’s how Jeoly was “sold” to spectators.
Source:John Savage (etching) courtesy of the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Australia

In time, wild tales were told about Jeoly. One man, who was described as a “mysterious writer,” even claimed that he understood Jeoly’s language. This self-proclaimed writer then declared that Jeoly was an actual prince from the land of Gilolo. Moreover, it was also claimed that Jeoly’s tattoos were magical because they could drive away venomous snakes and poisonous insects.

The fake story didn’t stop there. It also stated that Jeoly or “Prince Giolo” became a slave after sea pirates kidnapped him. The prince supposedly became a slave in the kingdom of Tominec. The story claimed that the people of Tominec engaged in piracy and were “devil worshipers.”

Jeoly allegedly fell in love with a princess of Tominec named Terhenahete. The king didn’t like this so he sent the princess away. However, the princess was kidnapped, but Jeoly followed her and even managed to rescue her from being assaulted by her captor. The “mysterious writer” later made money from the fantastic tale of Prince Giolo. A book had actually been printed about it.

There was a lot of “Prince Giolo” merchandise.
Source: Published by Andrew Layton, image possibly by John Savage (via The British Museum)

Jeoly’s fate wasn’t so fantastic. Despite his claims that he cared about the Filipino slave, Dampier later sold Jeoly to other opportunists. He was literally put on display like a zoo animal at the Blue Boar Inn in Fleet Street. There were also advertisements about him printed on playbills or flyers. It was even said that the reigning English monarch of that time, King William III, requested that Jeoly be brought before him. Alas, after just three months in England, Jeoly got smallpox and died.

Oxford University got hold of Jeoly’s remains. The university announced that they wanted to preserve Jeoly’s skin in the name of science. Jeoly’s skin was publicized as the “first documented instance of the collection and preservation of tattooed human skin as an anatomical curiosity in England.” Theophilus Poynter, the Oxford University’s most successful surgeon, tasked to remove Jeoly’s skin.

In a way, Oxford University is Jeoly’s final resting place.
Source:University of Oxford

Jeoly’s tattooed skin was displayed at the Anatomy School (later on the Medical School) of Oxford University. Unfortunately, the skin didn’t survive. It presumably deteriorated over time. Oxford documented it as “lost” in the early 20th century. Perhaps, the preservation techniques and chemicals used when it was put on display weren’t very effective.

Dampier himself published his travel diaries. His book was titled A New Voyage Around the World. It came out in 1697. Of course, his encounter with Jeoly was one of the highlights in the book. In fact, Dampier describes his former slave’s tattoos in detail. He also noted that he knew the body was done by “by pricking the skin, and rubbing in a pigment.”

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