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Monday, April 13, 2009

Otto Scheerer's "On Baguio's Past" as a Postcolonial Text

[Note: This is an abridged version of a paper I presented during the Baguio Centennial Conference held at UP Baguio.  The full version is being reworked. Published in the April issue of the UP Baguio newsletter, Ti Similla - sms :) ]

from Benguet: A People's History

Postcolonialism is a diverse network of ideas and practices that seeks to make sense of, evaluate, critique, and rewrite a people's colonial experience. One of the best known postcolonial theorists is Edward Said who helped unveil the centuries-long essentializing project of the West in its dealings with the East, particularly the Muslim world in the Middle East.  He calderrida, foucault, gramsci, saidls this identity project "Orientalism," one which divided the world into the superior West (i.e., cultured, wealthy, masculine) and the inferior East (i.e., philistine, indigent, feminine).  Among the various theoretical constructs Said appropriated in his work are those of Jacques Derrida (Deconstruction), Michel Foucault (Discourse), and Antonio Gramsci (Hegemony).

Said's postcolonial thought is a useful tool in critiquing historical texts on the Philippines, as can be demonstrated in this textual analysis of On Baguio's Past: Chapters from Local History and Tradition, an ethnohistorical work of the German scholar Otto Johns  Scheerer (1858-1938).

A former cigar factory owner in Manila and later a coffee planter in Benguet, Scheerer emerged as an authority on Philippine culture after immersing most of his last 30 or more years studying and writing about the Philippines.  During the Philippine Revolution, he was associated with several local heroes like Juan "Ora Cariño, Mateo "Bahag" Carantes, and even Pedro Paterno. Among the positions he held in Philippine government and academe included being the first provincial secretary of Benguet, lieutenant governor of Batanes, and language professor and first department head of Oriental Languages at the University of the Philippines.

On Baguio's Past is divided into 12 parts, and records the missionary ventures and military expeditions of the Spaniards coming from the western side of Benguet, as well as the responses of the natives to these foreign incursions, with a special focus on events that transpired in the middle of the 18th century and toward the end of the 19th.  He also includes the Cariño clan's genealogical record dating back to the 14th century, covering 11 generations.

Baguio artist Jack Cariño opined that Scheerer stood up "for Indigenous People's rights almost a century before it became a popular advocacy to do so." This paper also argues that On Baguio's Past may be read as a postcolonial text almost half a century before postcolonialism became a buzzword among academics.

The Scheerer text balances two essential vantagepoints -- those of the Ibalois and the Spaniards -- from which a part of the colonial history of Benguet could be analyzed. Scheerer carefully combs through the Spanish records and faithfully recounts in written form some of the oral history and tradition of the Ibaloi.  In so doing, he precludes an essentialist interpretation of his work.

orientalismWhen referring to traditional culture, a typical orientalist text exoticizes it -- that is, it portrays the native as a curio, a source of amazement and amusement.  It usually makes a passing comment on native culture without really coming to a deeper appreciation of it.  In contrast, when Scheerer writes about the Ibaloi culture, he sketches not a caricature but a holistic picture of the native seen within the context of traditional culture. In this way, he does not show partiality toward the colonialist; in fact he offers a sympathetic view of the colonized.  Scheeer takes pains to understand indigenous tradition on its own terms, allowing the reader to understand a different but not necessarily inferior culture.

Scheerer showcases some of the Ibalois' admirable qualities: independent yet amiable spirit, proactive leadership, deep religiosity, and admirable morals.  However, he avoids one pitfall of some anti-orientalist texts called "nativism" (i.e., characterizing traditional culture as uncorrupted by western or modern influences).  He does this by not neglecting to reveal what may be regarded as negative characteristics of the native, especially when judged using ecclesiastical or contemporary standards. Some of these are certain disruptive behaviors (e.g., robbery, drunkenness, brawling, and heckling), and "othering" practices (e.g. plutocratic social organization, slavery, and ethnocentrism).

But Scheerer does not only mention unsavory facts about Ibaloi lifeways.  He goes further by providing context to or justifying some of these.  For example, he defends an isolated case of human sacrifice (i.e., slave-killing and blood-drinking) in the sealing of a covenant as something that pales compared to the many instances of barbarism committed by supposedly "civilized" people in the Medieval West.

On the other hand, Scheerer reproduces Spanish accounts of religious and military forays into Benguet but does not seek to legitimize imperialist policies.  Instead, he uses these texts to provide political context, even going to the extent of revealing ruptures among the colonizers themselves: politicians vs. politicians, politicians vs. priests, priests vs. priests.

But in baring some of the petty and serious rifts among the Spaniards, Scheerer does not paint all the Spaniards and their deeds in a bad light. For example, he speaks favorably of some Spanish missionaries and soldiers and recognizes the role of the Iberians in paving the way for the expansion of infrastructures by the American colonizers a few years later.  He thus avoids another pitfall of some anti-orientalist texts, what Marxist sociologist Bryan S. Turner terms as "prejudicial occidentalism" -- characterizing the West as essentially and totally evil.

Nevertheless, Scheerer reveals the Spanish version of "exceptionalism" veiled in what may be called the "discourse cross1of sanctification."  Within and through this discourse, certain individuals, groups or institutions are privileged with a form of divinely wrought authority to confer holiness on people, places, events, or objects.  Subsumed in this discourse are myriad practices ranging from spontaneous private meditative utterances to structured public worship acts, prayer postures to seating arrangements, donning clothes to designing curtains, wearing titles to writing decrees, beautifying relics to building edifices, entering a holy order to embarking on a pilgrimage, among others.  There is politics in all these of course, for rules govern each practice, sanctions are laid down for violation of rules, and power is wielded by those who make rules of propriety and truth.

Spanish soldiers, politicians and priests operated within this discourse as religion was inextricably linked to the imperialist project of Spain in Asia, especially in the Philippines.  Missionaries brought with them the prevailing cultural sensibilities in their countries of origin which collectively took a condescending outlook on the people of the East.

The Spaniards of this period thus regarded themselves as exalted above other peoples they collectively being the sole, legitimate purveyor of "pure" culture, and harbinger of truth and salvation.  It is not surprising then to find similarity in the conferment of religious status and the bestowal of civil authority by the Spaniards on the native.

With this discourse, the Spaniards justified their fivefold oppression of the Ibaloi -- exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence.  These abusive and punitive practices could be seen in the Spanish imposition of  military rule, taxation, forced labor and conscription, trade restrictions, incarceration, "scorched-earth policy," hamleting, and others.

And with this discourse, the Spaniards penetrated tribal culture in Benguet and succeeded in creating a hegemonic relationship with the Ibalois whose leaders were somehow complicit in this political set-up. Ironically, the strengths of the Ibaloi culture mentioned earlier became the weakness which the Spaniards took advantage of with their discourse of sanctification.  The Ibaloi's sense of  awe, for instance, was a portal of the Spaniards to the natives' heart; their deep respect for authority and sense of awe conspired, as it were, to plunge them  into a relationship characterized by their consensual domination. Their much-praised hospitality was also an entry point for their domination for as the missionaries' gospel entered their homes, there also followed the gospel of taxation, forced labor, militarization, and destruction of culture.

scheerer-1On Baguio's Past as a postcolonial text offers a balanced perspective on the colonial experience of the Ibaloi Igorots during the Spanish regime in the Philippines. It attests to the author's indispensable contribution to the preservation and enrichment of Ibaloi culture and to the drama that was and is Baguio.  This 66-year old text may yet be serviceable to this generation and the next for the high value it places on returning to one's roots, indigenous people's rights, contextualized theology, and nationalist identity construction.

Works Cited:

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books, 1994.

Antolin, Francisco. Notices of the Pagan Igorots in the Interior of the Island of Manila. Trans. William Henry Scott. Manila: UST Publishing House, 1988.

Bagamaspad, Anaric & Zenaida Hamada-Pawid. A People's History of Benguet. Baguio City: Benguet Provincial Government, 1985.

Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. London: SAGE Publications Ltd., 2000.

Berreby, David. Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind.  New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2005.

Bertens, Hans. Literary Theory: The Basics.  New York: Routledge, 2001.

Cariño, Jack. "Otto Scheerer: True Friend to Baguio and the Ibalois." The Baguio City Yearbook 2008.

De los Reyes, Angelo J. & Aloma M. De los Reyes, eds. Igorot: A People Who Daily Touch the Earth and Sky. Vol. II. Baguio City: Cordillera Schools Groups, 1986.

Finin, Gerardo A. The Making of the Igorot: Contours of Cordillera Consciousness. Quezon City: ADMU Press, 2005.

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Hornedo, Florentino HThe Favor of the Gods: Essays in Filipino Religious Thought and Behavior. Manila: UST Publishing House, 2001.

Howard, David. The Last Filipino Headhunters. San Francisco: Last Gasp of San Francisco, 2000.

Lapiz, Ed. Paano Maging Pilipinong Kristiano [Becoming a Filipino Christian]. Makati City: Kaloob, 1996.

Latourette, Kenneth Scott. A Short History of the Far East. 4th ed. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1965.

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Nelson, Hilde LindemannDamaged Identities, Narrative Repair. New York: Cornell University Press, 2001.

Pagitt, Doug & Tony Jones, eds. An Emergent Manifesto of Hope. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007.

Pinchbeck, Daniel. 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2007.

Rivkin, Julie & Michael Ryan. Literary Theory: An Anthology. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. 3rd ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1978.

Scott, William Henry. Cracks in the Parchment Curtain and Other Essays in Philippine History. Manila: New Day Publishers, 1982.

_________________, ed. German Travellers on the Cordillera (1860-1890). Manila: Filipiniana Book Guild, 1975.

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_________________. The Discovery of the Igorots. Rev. ed. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1982.

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Richard Scheerer said...

I'm glad you noted that Otto Scheerer was both sympathetic to the Ibaloi cause while being as objective as possible in his writings. Kindly send me a copy of your final version of the "On Baguio's Past" dissertation. Thank you.

scott saboy said...

Doing a paper on a great scholar like Otto Scheerer has been an enriching experience for me. I'd be honored to give you a copy of the full text as soon as I could get it refined. Cheers! :)

LnddMiles said...

Pretty cool post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say
that I have really liked reading your blog posts. Anyway
I’ll be subscribing to your blog and I hope you post again soon!

yasmin emerson said...

I just stumbled upon your article and would like to thank you for writing about my great grand father Otto Scheerer. Is there a way you can send me a copy of your dissertation as I would like to send it on to the rest of my family.

ps: If you need more pictures of him, let me know and I will be happy to provide.

scott saboy said...

Hi Yasmin, I haven't actually finished polishing this particular work so kindly allow me to work on it over the next two weeks so I can finally send the final version to you and Richard. I sure would love to have a copy of whatever photo you may have of your great grandfather. I shall include the photo in the final text. Thank you! :)