The parable of the photograFee Igorots-A A +A
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
I PASS by Leonard Wood Road and where a stonewall screams “Botanical Garden,” I see tourists huddling around our alapus in our most valued garb and material culture for a pose. Tourists say the pics are for a fee.
On the net, you’ll read: “You will be welcomed by a bas relief sculpture made of cement and stone depicting the different rituals of the Cordillera tribes, with real live Igorots who will be more than willing to pose for photos for a small fee.”
The Baguio websites say the pics are for a minimal fee. At the nearby Mines View Park, I see a horse with fancily-dyed mane hair and you can have a photo with it for a fee too. The fees to have a picture with a real life Igorot and a real horse aren’t “statistically significantly different.” So what’s the difference between my beloved Igorot race and the ponies?
In the first place, I am a proud Igorot and I have never thought of treating my image as a commodity.
Also, for other humans to patronize this practice and pay a price for a photo with another human being of curiosity or exoticism or whatever, is downright downgrading of humanity.
I’ve been to six continents and gladly met indigenous peoples (IP) there. But I’ve never encountered a fellow IP who would sell his image for a fee. In the streets of Brazil, the indigenous peoples were selling their souvenir pots and wares and I aimed my camera at them and the mother said no and balked at the camera. Even if I asked permission. The indigenous peoples of Kenya run after me and persuade me to buy their iridescent beads and crafts, but not buy a photo with them. Buy some tickets to see Australian aborigines play their didgeridoo, but not buy photos with them.
So I am disheartened. In most IP areas that I’ve experienced here and around the world, poverty is rife. Cordillera even is economically better off. “PhotograFee” as I say to refer to having photos with someone for a fee should not be an indigenous livelihood and recourse. Least of all, for a people known to be a bulwark of hard work, mastery and dedication that carved terraces, tilled lands for green gold, brandished their skills in panning and mining gold, shunned dominant colonial powers, and continues to assert their proud heritage and meaningful being. And photograFee? Isn’t there a respectable, innovative and dignified means of earning based on our identity and culture?
I am upset with this practice that when friends come to Baguio, I don’t recommend the Botanical Garden. My fellow Igorots are in a photograFee-spree there. The sabong shi Bahong bloom more selflessly. They’ll learn more at the Tamawan Village. The ornate botanicals for photos or sale are in the orchidarium in Baguio and Trinidad. But you say you’re looking for an Igorot? Don’t fret. In all these areas, the Igorots are the lovely people there. Everywhere you walk here, you walk alongside beautiful Igorots. On the road even you’ll encounter men near signs pleading you to slow down because they, “good-looking Igorots are at work”.
Devcom friend and fellow Igorot Paul Nuval similarly laments, “Naku. Commercialization of images, our elders in the Botanical...their wrinkled skin and widest smile of missing teeth as subjects of enjoyment for tourists rather than Igorot culture and our proud history.”
Nothing gained but images. And what do these images create? You tell me. There go the stereotypes proven true for milling tourists and hordes more to come. We complain about pictures in school textbooks, ads, magazines, and postcards that misrepresent Igorots and fan the stereotypes about us. I wish they’ll know more about Igorot culture and identity and pride in those pictures. Not simply “pictures for a fee with Igorots (and this is how they all look like).” Knowledge from images of the heart and spirit, not of physical assemblance.
Forlornly, what our national hero despised a century ago is tolerated today by us. William Henry Scott in his book The Discovery of the Igorots wrote of the Madrid-Spain Exposition of 1887,” Dr. Jose Rizal for several years- he had been looking forward to an exhibition that would attract Spanish attention to Filipino products and potential -- “but not an exhibition of human beings so the indolent inhabitants of Madrid might amuse themselves with this display of our country folk as a curiosity!” Dr Jose Rizal added: “I worked hard against this degradation of my fellow Filipinos that they should not be exhibited among the animals and plants!”
And here we are exhibiting Igorots for a fee alongside plants in the garden and liking our treatment of ourselves as ponies and animals. Oh, ramblings of us, the young generation who’d like to uplift an image that some of our elders may be pejoratively portraying! We have much to share to others for them to know and appreciate our people and ifeways.
Our mambunong Lola Bugan shunned cameras when she was still alive. Lolo Rufino reasoned something in her is lost with each shot. I pondered if it’s about her obscurity and divinity fading with each picture. But to witness our elders in a photografee is appalling - it’s losing something outrightly - respect for humanity with each click. It’s photographic prostitution.
The current multi-million rehabilitation of the park which is being done should include plans to do away with the practice.
Let’s help our elders find a better way (of livelihood) than photografee and not do this. In so doing, we’ll be helping ourselves as a proud Igorot people. For now, Botanical Garden is Boo-tanical Garden. To me, the entrance scene is a big boo!
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on February 05, 2013.