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Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Commercialized "Anito"

[caption id="attachment_2697" align="aligncenter" width="463" caption="Anito @ SM Baguio - smsphoto"]Anito @ SM Baguio - smsphoto[/caption]

In a report on the Panagbenga early this year, writer Cye Reyes quotes Innabuyog head Vernie Yocogan-Diano as saying, “The traditional dances are capitalized on and used for attraction, even stylizing it to fit the current fashion."

As most of you readers know, the Baguio Flower Festival is not the only show window of a commodified Igorot culture, nor are traditional dances the only aspects of this culture that are exploited for profit.  Many cultural artifacts have long been mass produced to cater to the demands of enterprising merchants and curio-loving tourists.

In the photo above, the two anito carvings displayed at the entrance of a restaurant on the third floor of SM Baguio make for an intriguing semiotical reading.  Let us appropriate what cultural critics Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon have written about the semiotics of American buying pattern:

"...a cultural sign gets its meaning from the system in which it appears.  Its significance does not lie in its usefulness but rather in its symbolism, in the image it projects, and that image is socially constructed." ["The Culture of American Consumption," Sonia Maasic & Jack Solomon, eds., Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers (Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000), 45-46]

The anito displays may be read as cultural items that dramatize how native culture has adapted to (or survived despite the onslaught of) modernity.  Or as sculptures that proclaim Gerry's Grill's pride in or identification with indigenous culture.

On the other hand, seeing these cultural artifacts within the system (i.e., SM Baguio/Malls, in general) it is in, this picture may also be read as actually portraying exploitation, not adaptation: the anito couple are displayed as a come-on to would-be diners, proclaiming the uprooting of native symbols from their original  cultural contexts.  Just like the antique-looking chairs and counter flanking them, the eatery anitos may be seen as entrepreneurial tools artificially reflecting what is old and native (or reflecting a superficial or hollow understanding of the indigenous.)  Seen this way, the anitos are thus symbols of  an innovative -- though not necessarily culturally sensitive -- marketing strategy.

Perhaps the symbolism would be interpreted differently if the owners of Gerry's Grill placed tags and explanatory notes on the anito carvings, explaining what these actually mean to and how these reflect the worldview of the Igorots. In this way, dining experience at Gerry's Grill for both locals and foreigners could become not only a taste of fine cooking but also an educational experience on Cordillera culture.  :)

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