THE IGOROTS IN ST. LOUIS FAIR 1904
On the occasion of the Community Dialogue with the Igorots from LA and Maryland at Wydown Middle School, Clayton, Missouri May 26, 2000.
Looking back on the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair from our vantage point in the year 2000, we are struck by a variety of things: The beauty, pageantry and spectacle of the Fair; the formative role it played in St. Louis's conception of itself; and the nostalgia and romance it has engendered in our collective community memory. We are also struck by the remarkable: A two hundred and sixty foot high Ferris wheel; an enormous floral clock; a pavilion made entirely out of corn, and the "dog-eating Igorots" from the Philippines. It is one of these "remarkable" elements that has brought us here tonight.
| In practice, however, these lofty goals were corrupted by
a competing agenda:
by the need to attract visitorship to the World's Fair, by the human tendency to gape at that which is different, and by the inequities inherent in ensconcing human beings
in a human zoo.
In 1904, a group of Igorot men and women, members of a Filipino tribe, were exhibited on the grounds of the St. Louis World's Fairalmost where we stand tonightas a human exhibit to justify the new American program of overseas Imperialism. Exhibited in a manner that was supposed to recreate the Igorots' circumstances and conditions of life in the Philippines, this display, along with that of other Filipino peoples at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, was intended as an educational display that would illustrate the important role that America could play in the Philippines.
The architects of the Igorot display had good intentions. They were interested in the new science of anthropology, which they understood to be "man's study of man," and hoped that an examination of the people of the Philippines might teach something of value. They were promoting a political and social agenda, which included not only furthering of American Imperial-interests, but also disseminating the American values of education, economic prosperity, democracy, and progress. In practice, however, these lofty goals were corrupted by a competing agenda: by the need to attract visitorship to the World's Fair, by the human tendency to gape at that which is different, and by the inequities inherent in ensconcing human beings in a human zoo.
I speak tonight as a St. Louisan, as an American of European extraction, and as an historian alive at the dawn of the 21st century. The questions I ask and the conclusions I draw are defined, in part, by who and what I am and by the concerns of the place and age in which I live. The men who planned and developed the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, and the Philippine Exhibit at the Fair, and the people who visited it were likewise products of their time and place.
Tonight, I want to talk briefly about that time and place.
The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair was one of a series of European and American world's fairs that took place between 1850 and the advent of the American entry into WWI in 1917. These fairs were a cultural construct of the modern industrial and expansionist national-state. They were forums where the host country could show off its prowess and progress in any and all fields and compare it to that of other participating nations for the benefit of their increasingly affluent and educated middle class fair visitors. The St. Louis World's Fair was the largest of all of them, occupying 1292 acres. With 12 million paid visitors, and 20 million visitors total, its attendance was huge, though not quite equal to that of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.
| The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair was an opportunity for the advocates of the American presence in the Philippines to make their case.
At the turn of the century, World's Fair planning almost became a profession. The same people showed up in key administrative roles at the various World's Fairs. These men (almost all of them were men) believed they had a responsibility, not only to stage an exotic and exciting event, but to educate the fair visitor as well. As World's Fairs grew in size and in significance, the role of education grew in importance and helped justify the event. Fair planners saw the audience, the mass of Fair visitors, as an important participant in world's fairs. As the world entered the 20th century, science, technology, prosperity and peace (in the Western world, if not elsewhere), seemed to offer limitless possibilities for progress, if only the mass of people, not just the wealthy and privileged, had access to knowledge, could improve their lot, and contribute to progress.
The St. Louis Fair of 1904 took place on the heels of the Spanish American War of 1898, as a result of which the United State acquired its first overseas colonies, including the Philippine Islands. The entry of the United States into the European competition for colonies in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and elsewhere was quite controversial. Some thought that America was supposed to be above this kind of competition which always seemed to be engaging the European countries in conflicts that threatened or led to war. Others argued that a democratic and free America had something different to offer to the conquered peoples in its colonies than did the autocratic and imperial European powers. The 1904 St. Louis World's Fair was an opportunity for the advocates of the American presence in the Philippines to make their case.
The American colonial administration of the Philippine Islands, led by a future president, William Howard Taft, proposed what became the "United States Philippine Exposition," on the grounds of the St. Louis World's Fair. The United States Congress provided the funding. Located on the western part of the Fairgrounds, on land where this school now stands, the Philippine Exposition, occupying 47 acres, was a virtual "fair within a fair." It contained a series of exhibit buildings that functionally paralleled the great exhibit palaces of the Fair as a whole and included a reproduction of the walled city of Manila, which housed an exhibit based on the military history of the Philippine Islands from the time of first Western contact (Ferdinand Magellan), while separate buildings contained exhibits on commerce, government in the Philippines, education, agriculture, ethnology, fisheries, and forestry. On the periphery of the grounds were encampments of the Philippine Scouts and Constabulary and several small "villages" that housed the various Filipino tribal peoples, including the Igorots, in circumstances that attempted to replicate their native environments.
| They deemed that peoples and races
that lacked evidence
of significant technical advancement, at least as measured against
the West, were not only less "civilized"
This part of the Philippine Exposition, the display of native Filipino peoples, presented the same message that the Department of Anthropology did for the Fair as a whole: that through the display of more "primitive" peoples, Fair visitors could be educated about the new science of Anthropology, its applications, and its implications for the "future progress of man." The Director of Exhibits at the World's Fair, Frederick Skiff, argued that the human displays at the Fair helped illustrate "the record of the social conditions of mankind, registering not only the culture of the world at this time, but indicating the particular plans along which different races and different peoples may safely proceed, or in fact, have begun to proceed towards a still higher development." And this particular plan required educationeducation of non-white subject peoples in a manner deemed appropriate by the West.
Based on the work of Lewis Henry Morgan, the science of anthropology had, at that time, defined four stages of human progress: barbarism, savagery, civilization, and enlightenment. Each of these terms had very specific meanings within the discipline. Some anthropologists like Franz Boas, were very humanistic and inclusive, and saw anthropology as a science for the study of the community of man as a whole. Boas warned of the dangers of "an exaggerated valuation of the standpoint of our own period, which we are only too liable to consider the ultimate goal of human evolution, thus depriving ourselves of the benefits to be gained from the teachings of other cultures." Unfortunately, the Fair planners and the planners of the Philippine Exposition fell into the trap Boas warned about. The result, at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, was to create anthropological exhibits of peoples that reinforced pre-existing popular prejudices about race and progress. For example, fair planners and publicists, instead of talking about the community of man as a whole, measured other peoples against white Americans of European origins. They deemed that peoples and races that lacked evidence of significant technical advancement, at least as measured against the West, were not only less "civilized" but "inferior." One popularizer argued that "broadness of sympathy and thoroughness of honesty are peculiar to civilized men," thus implying an inherent immorality on the part of non-white, non-western people.
| The greatest recognition, however, was accorded the Philippine Constabulary ...serving as "a fair representation of what can be done with the native when properly handled by competent American officers."
In the Philippine Exposition, the human exhibits communicated the same kind of message. Groups of native Filipino peoples were arranged so as to demonstrate levels of progress or degrees of civilization, from the Negritos, who were described as "the lowest type humans in the Islands" to the Christianized Visayan, described as "a high type of native peoples." The Igorots were placed just above the Negritos on the continuum, and the Muslim Filipino peoples were placed between the Igorots and the Visayan. It was then argued, that the American presence in the Philippines contributed to the technical and moral progress of the various Filipino peoples through education. To promote the concept of America as educator of its alien wards, a model school sat on the grounds of the Philippine Reservation and was attended by the children of all but the Negritos and was even staffed by a Visayan teacher. The greatest recognition, however, was accorded the Philippine Constabulary, regular army units of Philippine troops officered by grounds of the Fair, serving as "a fair representation of what can be done with the native when properly handled by competent American officers."
The message of the United States Philippine Exposition as a whole was this: With the acquisition of the Philippine Islands, the United States was beginning to export its civilization overseas and challenge that of Europe, not only militarily, but culturally. The creators of the Philippine exhibit believed that America was extending its values, its culture, and above all its progress beyond North American out into the world at large. The United States, they held, had joined the ranks of colonial powers, not as a mere exploiter like the Spanish, but as a standard bearer of civilization and progress, as a model for the rest of the world to emulate.
The exhibition of tribal peoples within this context, however, failed to reinforce this message. There are a variety of reasons for this. One was that the World's Fair had to make money and attract visitors, and the "purity" of the educational message collapsed in the face of that need. In order to stimulate interest in the Philippine exhibits, Fair planners undermined their authenticity. For example, in order to attract press coverage and hence visitors, Fair planners required the Igorots to perform the dog feast on a daily basis. In reality (if I understand correctly) the dog feast was a rare and infrequently performed ceremonial event at home in the Philippines.
| By putting people on exhibit, Fair planners effectively turned them into objects, to be inspected, to be studied, to be stared at and peered at, and inevitably to be denigrated, pitied and despised.
At the Fair, the dog feast, and the efforts of Fair planners to procure dogs for the Igorots, became great fodder for the popular press. Today, this is what we remember about the Igorot. The messages that Fair planners were trying to communicate about the Philippines were lost in the sensationalism.
The other reason the Philippine exhibit failed is that the exhibition of people, as if in a human zoo, is inherently inequitable and is an invitation to gape and stare. By putting people on exhibit, Fair planners effectively turned them into objects, to be inspected, to be studied, to be stared at and peered at, and inevitably to be denigrated, pitied and despised. In an age before the Internet, a group of people such as the Igorots, who looked different, who dressed in traditional fashion, and who were required to kill, cook and eat dogs on a daily basis were an exotic curiosity. Under these circumstances, it was very difficult for Fair planners to keep the Philippine Exhibit from effectively degenerating into a sideshow. Fair visitors came to gape and stare and, for the most part, failed to look beyond what they saw in order to try to understand abstract concepts of the American role in the Philippines, or to understand the Igorots as a people.
Today, it is interesting to take a quick look at the legacy of the Philippine Exhibition. The thing we generally remember most is the exhibition of the Igorot people; in particular we remember the dog feast. That's what led to the question "What's an Igorot." We do not remember that this exhibit took place as a result of the Spanish American War and the public debate surrounding the American role in the Philippines; we do not know that the name Igorot means "people of the mountains"; we do not understand that the dog feast was a rarely performed ceremony rather than a daily event; we do not know about the fine weavings that Igorot artists create.
Tonight, we meet againSt. Louisan to Igoroton the very site where St. Louisan and Igorot met 96 years ago. This time we meet as equals, with mutual respect for the richness of each other's culture and history. We are critical of that earlier meeting, in which one people objectified and denigrated another. But lest we sit here tonight, being too smug about our openness, too confident about the egalitarian nature of tonight's cultural exchange, I challenge us all to ask ourselves: how will people evaluate tonight's cultural exchange one hundred years from now? Keep in mind, we here are every bit as much a product of our age, just as our predecessors were a product of their age 96 years ago. We too harbor prejudices. We too have blind spots. How will the future assess us? Will the next generations see us as smug, self-righteous individuals who could not see our own limitations? Or will they see us as people who looked into ourselves and made a good faith effort to overcome our prejudices and remove our blinders?
© 2000, Missouri Historical Society. Reprinted with permission.
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