by Freda Changat
José Rizal was touring Europe in 1887 when Spain still ruled the Philippines. He was infuriated about the news that a group of Igorots was brought to Madrid for the Exposición de las Islas Filipinas, held in the city’s Zoological Garden.
For many years, he had worked towards a Philippine Exposition in Madrid which would attract Spain’s attention to the products and handicrafts of the Philippines- ¨but not on exposition of persons so the lazy inhabitants of Madrid might amuse themselves through this display of our country folk as curiosity.¨
Contemporary Spanish reacted in the same way as many Americans in Seattle did two decades later, with fascinated contempt. Rizal was outraged. In his letter exchange with Ferdinand Blumentritt, he expressed his great concern:
“I have worked hard against this degradation of my fellow Filipinos that they should not be exhibited among the animals and plants! But I was helpless. One woman has just died of pneumonia … and the newspaper El Resumen has made a smutty wisecrack about it! And La Correspondencia de España even says ‘The Filipino colony in Madrid is enjoying the most perfect health; up to the present, no more than two or three have fallen ill of colds and bronchitis.’ I need hardly comment on this.
“I would rather that they all got sick and died so they would suffer no more. Let the Philippines forget that her sons have been treated like this — to be exhibited and ridiculed.”
This was the first of all Igorot shows. It was condemned by Rizal but his persuasion had no more effect than many American voices, including Teddy Roosevelt’s, that protested Igorot shows. There was money to be made and a prejudiced public to be pandered to.
The Philippine colonial government did not succeed in banning Igorot shows until 1914, just in time to countermine American entrepreneurs’ plans for a major Igorot village at San Francisco’s 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition.
The Rizal quote is from William Henry Scott’s History on the Cordillera (Baguio, 1975, p 13).; data on the end of Igorot shows are from Patricia Afable, Journeys from Bontoc 1904-1915 in Philippine Studies, 2004, pp 445-474; the image of Rizal is from Wikipedia Commons