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Archive for July, 2009

I’ve been thinking of a comment bfp left here a few weeks ago

…because of borders, I became “mexican” rather than indigenous…

and reflecting on how maps and borders classify people, instead of the other way around.

In Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson studied how cultural instruments such as maps, the census, and museums were not only a result of colonization, but in fact served and furthered colonial interests. These regulatory instruments illuminated “the late colonial state’s style of thinking about its domain” (184). The grid of maps allowed for serialization in the colonies. The Netherlands could therefore be reproduced in the Netherlands Indies and New Amsterdam. Mother Spain is reproduced in the Philippines, in the encomienda system and in the surnames people had to take for classification.

People’s lives were molded and organized around these classification tools, these imposed borders. Classification and technology made peoples, groups, and territories visible to the colonial powers, allowing them to reproduce themselves through empire and colonization.

And what of those people who do not fit the set classifications? They’re the ones who get categorized as not statistically significant.  The ones that we turn into Others, into Outliers. It’s okay for them to be the collateral damage of what gets called progress.

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In 2002, Elena Garcdoce Francisco, a 102-year-old Tumandok woman, journeyed to Iloilo City from her mountain home in Panay. She sang an ambahan, protesting the destruction wrought by militarization in her ancestral lands. These military incursions date back to at least 1962, under then President Diosdado Macapagal.

This practice of telling stories through poetry and chants remains an intrinsic part of the communal life of many indigenous villages. However, notes writer and poet Gelacio Guillermo, the traditional content of these poetic expressions have been giving way to expressing new ideas, feelings, and aspirations—ones related to militarization, logging, mining, land-grabbing, the destruction of forests. Indigenous women continue the practice of ulallems, agayams, and salidum-ay. These poetic expressions are intended as a collective experience, with no barrier between the performer and her audience.

Gardoce Francisco’s chant could have been a galvanizing moment, bringing a common understanding of how communities are being imperiled and immiserated by a confluence of multinational and local elite interests.

But we—urban and lowland dwellers, schooled in Western-style universities—are painfully unequipped to understand her words. We are unable to see ambahan, agayam, salidum-ay, ullalem, as knowledge production.

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