January 3, 2015

Igorots In Their Traditional Attire Welcoming Pope John Paul II In Baguio City In 1981

Pope Francis, the current Pope of the Catholic Church is set to arrive in the Philippines this coming January 15. From January 16 to 18, he will embark on a series of events that will include paying the Philippine President in Malacanang a visit, holding a mass at the Manila Cathedral, and having lunch with the poor and survivors of natural calamities in Palo, Leyte. Francis is scheduled to leave the Philippines on January 19.

Francis isn't the first Pope to visit the Philippines. Pope Paul VI visited the country in 1970 which nearly turned into a tragedy because of an assassination attempt on his life by a Bolivian artist named Benjamin Mendoza.

Pope John Paul II also visited the country not only once but twice. He came in 1981 and in 1995. In his first visit which was in 1981, part of his itinerary was a trip to Baguio City. Among the thousands of people who welcomed him into the city are the native Igorots of the Cordilleras. Clad in their traditional attires and dancing to the tune of the beating gongs, they welcomed the Pope into the city.

Below are a couple of photos from the affair. Photos by Baguio-based journalist and artist Arthur Tibaldo.
Photo by Art Tibaldo.
Photo by Art Tibaldo.

January 1, 2015

Did Igorots Practice Cannibalism In The Past?

Was there a time in the storied history of the Igorots wherein they consumed the flesh of their fellow human beings? This is a query that is often asked during conversations about the past of the original settlers and inhabitants of the mountainous Cordillera region. Unfortunately, this is a query that can NOT be answered with a definitive yes or no.

When making observations and conclusions about what our ancestors did or did not do,  we have to go through a knowledge-accumulation process that involves combing over sources that tell us what our ancestors did. We look into books and papers written by historians. We listen to stories handed down by the tribes from one generation to another. We look into surviving written works that have references on the Igorots.

In the case of Igorot history, it's sad to say that we have very little materials and sources to work with. Only a handful of historians dedicated their time to studying Igorot history. Making matters worse, majority of these historians operated at a time when Igorots were in the process of fully embracing the type of civilization being offered by the West.

Igorots were also mentioned a lot of times in written accounts left by the Spaniards who colonized the archipelago for over three centuries. Many Igorots today subscribe to the myth that the Spaniards were never able to conquer the Cordilleras. In fact, they were able to but not as complete as the way they subdued the peoples of the lowlands.

The Spaniards had left some of their marks in the Cordillera region, some of which are easily discernible today. For instance, La Trinidad, the capital town of Benguet has a Spanish name. It was named after the wife of a Spanish conquistador.

The problem with the Igorot mentions in the accounts left by the Spaniards is that these were often exaggerated. The Spaniards had to paint a grimmer picture of the Igorots in order to give them more reasons to carry their Bibles and guns into the Cordillera mountains.

Back to the question of cannibalism being practiced by Igorots in the past, there is very little evidence to make it a viable conclusion. It is an established fact that Igorots practiced headhunting but this doesn't always include consuming. Many people have the misconception that Igorots hunted people to eat them. This is not true based on recorded history of the Igorots.

Below is an old photo that has recently spread online with a caption which implied that Igorots practiced cannibalism. The photo shows mummified remains somewhere in the Cordillera region. The fact that the remains were mummified is a sign of respect to the dead. This alone blows the cannibalism argument out of the water.
A big part of the reason why Igorots are often tagged as cannibals are the misleading information spread by writers and historians. They often throw the term "cannibals" around without presenting evidence or accounts that these indeed transpired. Here's an example:

"The Igorrotes have the reputation of being cannibals, and in the baggage car are some of their trophies in the shape of human heads." - From an article on the Republic dated 1904.

"Many hill tribes in northeastern India, especially in Assam, as well as several tribal groups in Burma, in the Malay Archipelago, and in Indonesia in general, still devoted themselves to all kinds of human sacrifices, combined nearly always with decapitation and frequently with cannibalism. The Igorots and Tagalogs of Luzon, Philippines, abandoned such practices in the middle of the twentieth century." - from the book Mummies, Disease, and Ancient Cultures

In short, the proposition that Igorots practiced cannibalism is a product of over-fascination. As far as recorded history is concerned, there's not enough evidence to confirm the proposition.

In the beginning of this article, I said that the question of cannibalism in the Cordillera region is not answerable by a yes or a no. We don't know what was happening in the mists before the Spaniards came. It's possible that our ancestors, who are so far back in history that we cannot decipher what they did or did not eat, ate their own kind. After all, the Philippines is rather close to places and islands wherein cannibalism were previously practiced.

December 9, 2014

Kathryn Bigelow Shows The Connection Between Elephant Poaching And Terrorism In Animated Short Film

Director Kathryn Bigelow of Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty fame has helmed a short and animated public service ad (PSA) that will make you think twice before purchasing anything that's made of ivory. Called Last Days, the short film shows in reverse chronology how ivory products make their way to a marketplace in Asia. The film queries the viewer, "When you buy something made of ivory, where does the money go?"

Last Days not only tells the viewer where the money goes, it also tells rather graphically how and where the ivories come from. Bigelow collaborated with Annapurna Pictures and the environment organization WildAid in making the film. WildAid is an organization whose main focus is in reducing the demand for wildlife products.

Last Days claims that an elephant is murdered every 15 minutes, over 30,000 of them are gunned down every year, and if this continues, elephants in the wild can go extinct in just a span of 11 years.

There's an unmistakable connection between elephant poaching and global terrorism. Al-Shabaab, an extremist and jihadist terrorist group in Somalia makes about US$600,000 every month from ivory sales. The group has achieved notoriety in 2013 for murdering 67 people and wounding 175 others at the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya.

Other terrorist groups like The Lord's Resistance Army and Boko Haram also engage in ivory operations and they use the money they get from these operations to carry out their terrorism acts.  For more information about the Last Days, visit its official website here.

December 2, 2014

A Short Documentary On The Saddening Plight Of The Agta And Dumagat Tribes In Aurora

Development is a double-edged sword. In almost all scenarios, it improves the lives of one party while it tramples upon the other. This is the quandary that Agta and Dumagat tribes in certain areas of Aurora have found themselves in.

A major development project by the government is threatening to turn their lives upside down. In fact the project has already started and so far it has eaten millions upon millions of pesos. But because of corruption, negligence, and ineptitude (among others), the project has been more of a bane than a boon to the indigenous people of Aurora.

Who doesn't want development right? But at what cost? The government is offering the people 50,000 pesos per hectare. They are telling them that once the project is completed, they'll be given jobs like guiding people in the yet-to-be-built parks.

This is not betterment of life. At least on the side of the Agta and Dumagats. Right now, they are living rather freely. From this to guiding tourists around is not improvement, it's demotion. The project has to offer something else other than "tourist-guiding" jobs for it to be really pro-people not one to benefit only the elite.

And it's sad, frightening even to see the buildings and structures that the project already started putting up. They are in states of various ruin. They can't even get the thing started right. The project is turning out to be a huge money leak.

Kudos to the students of St. Scholastica's College Manila for producing this short documentary and shedding some light about what's happening there in Aurora.

Wadi Productions

November 20, 2014

Bill Nye's Book "Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation" Is Now Out

Last February of this year, Bill Nye traveled to Petersburg, Kentucky to debate Ken Ham who is arguably the most well-known proponent of young earth creationism (YEC). In a nutshell, the affair was a battle between Nye's belief in the theory of evolution and Ham's faith in the account of creation as found in the Christian Bible.

For over two hours, the two men took to the pulpit to defend their positions. Who won? It depends on who you ask. If you ask people from the scientific community, they would say Nye won by a landslide. If you ask believers of a higher power, many of them would say Ham took home the bacon.

As someone who can't ignore the mountain of evidence supporting the theory of evolution, Nye had all my support when he went to Kentucky and locked horns with a well-known creationist in his home turf. The encounter happened at no other than the Creation Museum, a sprawling institution that teaches people that humans and dinosaurs co-existed less than 10,000 years ago.

The debate sparked a lot of controversy. It was also heavily covered by the media. Controversial or not, there's one undeniable good thing that came out of it. And that is Nye was inspired to write a full-length book to address the issues and questions raised during the debate.

The book has been released this November and it quickly climbed the bestseller lists. Titled Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, the book was published by St. Martin's Press.
Bill Nye (left) debating Ken Ham (right) in February 2014. Photo: screen-grab from a YouTube video of the debate.