Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Igorots at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904

The participation - some would describe it as a forced participation - of Igorots at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 was a very important event in Cordillera history that many Igorots still don't know about.

In 1904, Igorots were among the hundreds of tribesmen from various indigenous groups in the Philippines that were brought to the St. Louis World's Fair, an international exposition that was held in the state of Missouri in the United States. Villages were built inside the exposition grounds to mimic the daily lives of the tribesmen from their home countries.

The Igorots were among the more popular exhibits at the "human zoo". To drum up interest, the Igorots were promoted and described as "primitive" and voracious "dog-eating savages". The ensuing media coverage of Igorots butchering and consuming dogs painted a picture that has lasted to this very day. Some of the Igorots at the fair died during their stay in America. It was while researching about these Igorots who perished that I stumbled upon the work of Janna Anonuevo Langholz. Janna, who describes herself as an "interdisciplinary artist" has and continues to do great work in bringing attention to the injustices that occurred in 1904.

I urge anyone interested in Igorot history and Philippine history in general to become acquainted with her work. Just Google her name. Her website will come up. I highly recommend her Instagram page as well. Not only is it rich with historical content and context, the comments sections are also alive with eye-opening conversations and healthy debates.

A book that I would highly recommend for further reading is The Lost Tribe of Coney Island (2014) by Claire Prentice. Unfortunately, Prentice's book is not available in Philippine bookstores. You have to source a copy online. Your best bet would be Amazon.

The exhibition brochure for the Philippine Exposition in 1904. Photo credit: Janna Anonuevo Langholz via Instagram.

This is a copper coin distributed as a souvenir either at the fair in 1904 or the one in 1909. Photo credit: Janna Anonuevo Langholz via Instagram.

The back of the coin. Photo credit: Janna Anonuevo Langholz via Instagram.

Seriously, this should be required reading in the Cordilleras. Every library in the region, public or private, should carry copies of this book.