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HONORING MY MOTHER | Exotic ignorance

By Icoy San Pedro

THERE’S  this heartwarming tale about a particular tribe in Africa where each member has a special song made for them at birth, performed during various stages of their life, then finally sung at their deathbed. (One could access it at under the title “the sacred song of each child in the Himba tribe”.) Though widely-shared online by many credible wellbeing coaches and inspirational writers in workshops since it appeared in 2015, this indeed may come as both shock and huge spoiler alert for everyone: it’s supposedly fake.

The contention is that the original material is vague, full of generalizations, and then with failure to include sources, much less providing the name of the tribe (although in later versions, the Himba tribe was added). I for one, tried to search for the original writer (s) of the material, coming up with one fictional (meaning she doesn’t exist) and two English fellows (with one already dead). If indeed, one has read the piece online, the veracity of the narrative may not be at all be too important since its intent has clearly been just intended to inspire. 


Here’s the thing however, the perpetuation of false stories and anecdotes like these about indigenous cultures has always been the consistent templates for of its exotic appeal to non-indigenous people and city-folk readers (for lack of a catch-all term). Sadly, that is where the thin line between being derogatory and patronizing comes in. In the country, we have as many as 110 ethno-linguistic groups, not including our Muslim brothers and sisters, with distinctions of their own. Among these lumads (as indigenous people are referred to), 61 percent are in Mindanao. Through many years, the culture and arts of IPs have been promoted and celebrated worldwide and there have been countless documentations depicting the ways of the people.  As example, there’s nothing wrong if researchers document and narrate the intricate processes of T’boli or other indigenous peoples’ weaving, no matter how romantic and mystical they made it appear to be. This treatment for purposes of exotica does not at all betray the fact how richly these many cultures have thrived in diversity. However, in what appears to be an intended counterbalance, the portrayal of the same people as either largely uneducated hinterland dwellers, mendicants and worse, prone to lawlessness and banditry, painted under the same template of exotic tint to the frame still exists unchecked and that is our reality.

I am reminded of two Mindanaoan, an Agusan priest and a North Cotabato policeman. The clergy very sarcastically said that it’s very easy to request for a four-wheel vehicle in his far-flung diocese. Just send a picture of a lumad child, poor and dirty, and that’s enough to keep the funds going. Meanwhile, the policeman said, just report that rebels in your area are increasing and procurement for new armalites are sure to come. All these exquisitely depicted on our canvas and rendered with their own brand of exotic ignorance on the part of those outside looking in. What of that African birth song again?


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