Excerpt # 1: Albert Jenks’ General Impressions on the Bontoc Igorot

ALBERT JENKS: It seems not improper to say a word here regarding some of my commonest impressions of the Bontoc Igorot. Physically he is a clean-limbed, well-built, dark-brown man of medium stature, with no evidence of degeneracy. He belongs to that extensive stock of primitive people of which the Malay is the most commonly named. I do not believe he has received any of his characteristics, as a group, from either the Chinese or Japanese, though this theory has frequently been presented. The Bontoc man would be a savage if it were not that his geographic location compelled him to become an agriculturist; necessity drove him to this art of peace. In everyday life his actions are deliberate, but he is not lazy. He is remarkably industrious for a primitive man.

Me: This illustrates what I earlier said about the author’s love for the word primitive. We only have the first few sentences in the book and he already used it twice.

In his agricultural labors he has strength, determination, and endurance. On the trail, as a cargador or burden bearer for Americans, he is patient and uncomplaining, and earns his wage in the sweat of his brow. His social life is lowly, and before marriage is most primitive; but a man has only one wife, to whom he is usually faithful. The social group is decidedly democratic; there are no slaves. The people are neither drunkards, gamblers, nor “sportsmen.” There is little “color” in the life of the Igorot; he is not very inventive and seems to have little imagination. His chief recreation — certainly his most-enjoyed and highly prized recreation — is head-hunting. But head-hunting is not the passion with him that it is with many Malay peoples.

Me: Hmmm. On second thoughts, maybe I should re-visit and change my earlier blog entry. Mr. Jenks does seem to be condescending here. What exactly is a “lowly” social life? That the Igorot does not attend opera concerts? Geeze, Mr. Jenks aren’t we being uppity here with our gradations of social lives? Isn’t talking to one’s neighbor already considered a social life?

His religion is at base the most primitive religion known — animism, or spirit belief — but he has somewhere grasped the idea of one god, and has made this belief in a crude way a part of his life.

Me: There’s that word again. And he uses it again in the next paragraph. This author seriously needs a thesaurus he he.

He is a very likable man, and there is little about his primitiveness that is repulsive. He is of a kindly disposition, is not servile, and is generally trustworthy. He has a strong sense of humor. He is decidedly friendly to the American, whose superiority he recognizes and whose methods he desires to learn. The boys in school are quick and bright, and their teacher pronounces them superior to Indian and Mexican children he has taught in Mexico, Texas, and New Mexico.[1]

Me: Why do I have the feeling that this is somewhat flattering but at the same time supercilious?

Briefly, I believe in the future development of the Bontoc Igorot for the following reasons: He has an exceptionally fine physique for his stature and has no vices to destroy his body. He has courage which no one who knows him seems ever to think of questioning; he is industrious, has a bright mind, and is willing to learn.

Me: A bit “Oh the development of the world is the white man’s burden” aren’t we here Mr. Jenks?

His institutions — governmental, religious, and social — are not radically opposed to those of modern civilization — as, for instance, are many institutions of the Mohammedanized people of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago — but are such, it seems to me, as will quite readily yield to or associate themselves with modern institutions.

Me: Hey Mr. Jenks the correct term is Muslim not Mohammedanized. My brother and sister Muslims will be offended when you call them Mohammedans. They do not worship Mohammed in the same way that Christians worship Christ. I also don’t quite understand what your sentence mean, are you saying that Muslim institutions are radically opposed to modern institutions? If that is what you meant, then you are plainly wrong.

I recall with great pleasure the months spent in Bontoc pueblo, and I have a most sincere interest in and respect for the Bontoc Igorot as a man.

Me: Ha ha. Flattery. No wonder I was flattered. But as I said, I may have to revisit my earlier review.

BACK TO NORMAL PROGRAMMING 🙂 Okay folks, so that’s the first installment. I wonder if I am being disrespectful of a scholar by doing this commentary? But then, he was writing about my ancestors so I feel that I must do it. I also think that good scholars, like Mr. Jenks, are always prepared to be critiqued and would welcome it if someone does critique their work.

If you want to read the whole book without me getting in the way you can access an electronic copy here.

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