Sunday, November 18, 2007

Not once but twice!

First it was the 1887 “La Exposicion General de las Islas Filipinas” Madrid exhibit, then the “Philippine Reservation” at the 1904 St. Louis World Fair, but, not only once nor twice were Filipinos put on display and exhibited as “savage” and “uncivilized”. Spain and the United States of America made a spectacle of us many times over. In the 19th century, international fairs were the rage among European colonial powers. The avowed objective of these expensive and elaborate undertakings was to foment trade and commerce, to project the modernizing effects of colonialism, but, the real messages were Darwinian and undeniably racist. They were image-booster for the Empire, at the expense of the colonized natives.

In pavilions that were architectural and engineering marvels, Empires flaunted their colonial treasure troves-- samples of precious minerals and metals, flora and fauna of value, uniquely crafted products and warm bodies, in tribal rags. Photographs of natives ( if not the natives themselves) were taken somewhat ethnographically at all angles, pretending to be scientific, but, maliciously choreographed to perpetuate prejudice, stoke ignorance and provoke awe and disdain. The impact of those “savages” on display, on the 19th century American and European viewers must have been so incredibly profound, it penetrated their DNA.

Spain put Filipinos on display in many international expositions—London (1851), París (1855 y 1867), Vienna (1873), Philadelfia , USA (1876) and Ámsterdam 1883 and in Chicago (1893) as a special “region” in the Spanish Pavillon. The 1887 Madrid exhibit was by far the most widely publicized in three contenents by the “La Ilustracion Europea y Americana”. No less than the Ministro de Ultramar ( Overseas Minister) headed the Exposition committee; a counterpart “Comision Central” was established in Manila; Governor-General and the Archbishop of Manila, Fray Pedro Payno, were appointed chairman and vice-chairman, respectively

More than fifty Filipinos were shipped to Spain for the 1887 Madrid Exposition. A fabulous Crystal Palace was constructed as a green house for Philippine flora; on the placid artificial lagoon in front of it, there were all kinds of bangkas, traditional fishing equipment and carabaos bathing by the shore. Around the exhibit pavilions, there were ‘construcciones etnograficas”, that is, various types of nipa huts, in clusters, simulating idyllic pastoral villages. There were ‘casas de tejedores’ or weavers’ huts, of embroiderers, of metalcraft makers and abaca strippers. The tobacco company in Manila built a “bahay” complete with “cigarreras” rolling the famous Philippine cigar.

While the Spanish government was determined to portray the progress and modernization brought about by colonization, the Archbishop of Manila was still obsessed with the Patronato Real (Christianization being the sole reason for conquest). He had taken over the selection of exhibition materials and argued that the “ethnic diversity” of the archipelago had to be projected. Evidently, he wanted to guarantee the sociopolitical position and clout of the religious orders vis-à-vis the Governor-General and the lay government.

As a result, a“Rancheria de los Igorrotes” was set up with real ‘igorots’ who were made to sacrifice pigs ( not dogs) to the horror of visitors. For dramatic effect, a tree house was also constructed in the “rancheria de los igorrotes”. That is probably why, to this day, foreigners ask us if we live on trees. According to some historians, Jose Rizal, Antonio and Juan Luna and other Filipino studying and clamoring for reforms in Spain were absolutely enraged by the 1887 Madrid Exposition. #

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