Sunday, November 18, 2007

Two tree houses

There was a tree house at the “Rancheria de los Igorrotes” ( Igorot Village) in the 1887 Madrid world fair; seventeen years later, in 1904, a “Lanao Moro Tree House’ perched on a tree at the “Moro Village” in the courtyard of the Ethnological Building of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition held in St. Louis “ The American world expositions from 1898 through 1916 were imperialistic fairs, reaching their full splendor in 1904 at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition,” wrote historian Jose D. Fermin in his book 1904 WORLD’S FAIR, THE FILIPINO EXPERIENCE (University of the Philippines Press,2004). “…Human exhibits became a regular fixture…The usual victims were the Native Americans, Blacks, Africans, Chinese, Filipinos and other nonwhite groups. “

To illustrate, Mr. Fermin said that at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition Dahomeyans of West Africa, Samoans, Javanese and Filipinos were exhibited in a manner that showed a “sliding scale of humanity.” In 1901, a showbiz company in Idaho offered to pay the US government 75 percent of their gross receipts to exhibit the newly-captured Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo at the Pan-American Exposition. Imagine, our first Chief Executive was in danger of being reduced to a fixture at fairs, like poor Geronimo the Apache chief captured by General Lawton (who ironically was killed by a Filipino general called Glicerio Geronimo).

At the St. Louis World Fair, which occupied 517 hectares, a “Philippine Reservation” was, significantly enough, located across an “Indian Reservation”. Undoubtedly, it was the principal lure of the St. Louis World Fair for it dramatically projected “extremes ” that glaringly contrasted “ savagery with civilization”; for example, juxtaposed with that Lanao tree house was a simulated American-style classroom where a Miss Pilar Zamora taught English. To quote Walter Steven, secretary of the fair: “…Igorot braves bow to the raising sun, kill a dog and dance …while on the other side, the neatly uniformed Scouts from the civilized tribes stand at attention as the American flag is raised...Contrasts are many and edifying in the Philippine Expositiion”

Two agencies --the Publicity Department and the very aptly called Exploitation Department-- were churning out edifying press releases to four hundred local newspapers ( specially Sunday and holiday issues) about the “Philippine Reservation ”, with thousands of pseudo-scientific photos, screen haltone cuts and zinc etchings. The Exploitation Department also printed and distributed millions of booklets, handbills, posters and special programs that publicized a variety of events at the “ Philippines Reservation”. As if that media hype were not intense enough, an umbrella publicity department orchestrated everything including foreign promotions in German, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese.

More than twenty million visitors were enticed by the Exploitation Department ; no wonder those tree house stories have lingered to this very

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