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The Filipino media’s relationship with the colonials is best understood through a closer look at the Igorot media. In this video essay, we look at media texts for and by the Igorots to understand concepts of resistance, post-colonialism, and media representation. Also, we touch on the subject of Philippine cinema history as we look at how the birth and development of cine in the country tie with the issues of representation faced by the Igorots.

The history of Philippine cinema is tied with the colonial narrative. Our first understanding of sine comes from the zarzuela of the Spaniards. The medium of film is brought to the country by the Americans. And the notion of national cinema is a legacy left by the Japanese. It was the Japanese who first envisioned that there must be virtues and principles that tie together Filipino films.

The Filipino media’s relationship with the colonials is best understood through a closer look at the Igorot media. While the Igorots have been spared from the Spanish invasion, they failed to escape the coming of the Americans. It is them who, until today, continue to experience American colonialism through their food, fashion, and media.

In this discussion, we heavily rely on postcolonial theorists, particularly on Homi Bhabha and his concept of the three spaces.

Othering

One of the first subjects of early films in the country was the Igorot culture.

They were shown in the films shot by archaeologist slash American propagandist Dean Worcester. His films portraying the “Filipino life” cemented the colonial mission of the Americans. In his film reels, he successfully persuaded the American public that Filipinos need their colonial masters. He showed that Filipinos are savage and lazy, who need the rule and guidance of White Men.

This colonial notion of the Igorot was carried out even after the American occupation. The popular cinema in the country continued to portray the Igorot as an “other.” The obsession of the producers and filmmakers to depict the Manileno life somehow meant the assertion of stereotypes and generalizations on the Igorots.

Here, Igorots are depicted as the contrast of the prevailing Western or colonial standards. While the colonizers are progressive and developed, the indigenous are painted as lazy and impoverished.

There is a binary opposition between the colonized and the colonizers. Colonizers are attached with positive attributes, while the colonized are seen in a negative manner.

Mimicry

In an effort to blur the opposition between the colonized and the colonizer, mimicry happens. Here, the colonized mimic the colonizer’s identity. Take fashion and music, for example. The Cordillerans try to imitate the country music of the Americans. To create this cowboy sub-culture, the Igorots would wear boots, denim jeans, and cowboy vests. (music video plays) This Igorot music video shows the Ibaloy appropriating the American country music genre.

They are performed in pub-like settings, similar to American pubs, with the singer’s look completed by his guitar.

The Igorots mimic the identity through using the cultural artifacts of the colonizers in a bid to be like them, to share the power possessed by the Americans.

It is important to recognize, though, that the practice of mimicry is a flawed effort to define identity. Copying the colonizer does not put the Igorots in the same position of power as the colonizers.

Hybridity

In a way, the Igorots understand that imitation alone will not make them equal with the Americans. Hence, they have to renegotiate their identity by mixing their own identity with that of the colonizers. This renegotiation then results in a hybrid form of Igorot-ness. One that combines together the colonizer and the colonized cultures.

In this new and hybrid Igorot identity, the two opposing identities are celebrated. There is no us and them. Rather, there’s only is.

Hybridity is often showcased in Igorot-made music videos and short films. In the Cordilleras, technological developments allowed independent producers to cast local actors and actresses. Through independent small-scale production houses, the Igorots were able to portray stories and narratives that resonate with their own experiences as Igorots.

With this, misrepresentation is less likely to happen as the Igorots themselves create their own media that they consume.
The recording and re-recording of the Igorot experience offers us a view on how media mediates the formation and reformation of our identities.

The Americans, being the colonizers, have painted the Igorots as savage and barbaric. Such understanding is copied by the mainstream Philippine media decades after the Americans are gone. Early media that showcase Igorot culture followed the same format. They described the Igorots and their way of life as an “other,” lowly, and uneducated. It is noteworthy that the first independent media producers in the Cordillera are foreign Caucasian pastors and church workers.

Later on, Igorots made an effort to be like the colonizers through copying their fashion, music, and language. It is no longer the White men who wear a Stetson hat, who rides a horse and plays guitar. The Igorot man is capable of wearing these too. But surely, this system of mimicry is not sustainable because it puts the Igorots in an awkward state. They may be wearing American clothing, but they surely are not the same as the Americans.

Hence, the Igorots choose to transform the American culture into their own. In doing so, they created a new definition of Igorot-ness. One that is a product of the cultures of the colonizer and the colonized.

Media reflect the way that societies see and understand cultural identities. For decades, the Igorots have been misrepresented by the lowlanders, as seen in media texts the latter create. In the advent of democratized technology and means of production, we see shifts in how Igorot-ness is formed and mediated.

We have defined Igorot-ness as a hybrid of American and Igorot identities. Yet cultural identity, as well as ethnicity, is fluid. In this ever-changing environment, the definition of Igorot-ness is also changing, unstable, and not fixed. It is up to the Igorot to find empowerment in being Igorot, and in defining himself. To be empowered is for the Igorot to claim his own identity, and not to rely on the identity that others ascribe to him. To be empowered is for the Igorot to consider himself not as a poor copy of the west, but as creatively appropriated elements of cultures to which he has been exposed.

Do you wish to know more about how the Igorots negotiate their identity by and through media? The University of the Philippines Baguio has plenty of resources dedicated to understanding Cordillera and its people. We wrote our thesis on hybridity, the Igorots, and their music videos, which can be found at the UPB library. Or leave your comments below to get an e copy. Thank you for watching and please consider subscribing. We would like to continue making video essays on Philippine media.