I’ve sat in front of my computer for the better part of an hour trying to think of a clever way to preface this latest bit of astonishing idiocy from the Philippines’ Department of Tourism, but I think I’ll let Dexter See’s article from yesterday’s Manila Bulletin speak for itself:
Cordillerans told to tone down presentation of war dances
BAGUIO CITY – The tourism department has called on Cordillerans to tone down the presentation of war dances to avoid imparting the wrong impression that some tribes still practice tribal wars giving the impression that the region is not a safe place to visit, thus affecting the growth of the local tourism industry.
Several local officials have already informed tourism stakeholders that the showcasing of war dances will not be good for the tourism industry because tourists may have a wrong impression that because of such tribal dance, the places are not peaceful and are no longer safe to visit.
Because of such concern, the regional office of the Department of Tourism (DoT) advised cultural groups to refrain from performing war dances, especially in front of visitors.
Tourism officials said Cordillera-inspired dances must depict that Igorots are peace-loving people and that the places comprising the region are peaceful and are potential tourist destinations because of their distinct scenic spots worthy of visiting.
Earlier, Kalinga Gov. Jocel C. Baac pointed out that while the famous war dance may be part of the rich history of some Cordillera provinces, tribal wars are now a long gone practice, thus, Cordillerans must now accept the paradigm shift so that the impression that the region is filled with conflicts will be erased in the minds of foreign and domestic tourists.
Baac challenged other barangay, municipal, city and provincial officials regionwide to convince their constituents to accept the changing times and forego the portrayal of the war dance in order to give the region a new image that will help improve its economy.
At the same time, the tourism department is also looking into the possibility of discouraging the performance of the monkey dance, especially in places outside the region because it gives a wrong impression on the morale of the dancers and the Cordillerans.
In a recent performance of a cultural dance group from the region that showcased the monkey dance in Metro Manila, viewers were heard to have said that the image portrayed by the dancers puts down the standing of Igorots.
Since mid-November the DOT and its partners have given us the abortive “Pilipinas, Kay Ganda!” marketing campaign, the dubious white paper on “Branding the Philippines”, and now this utter bit of lunacy. If we follow the line of reasoning expressed by the tourism officials (and, most disturbingly, Governor Baac, who obviously has a less-than-keen understanding of his own constituents) then this example of a traditional war dance – which has, it should be noted, been performed all over the world in front of millions of people – ought to be enough to scare tourists away from its country of origin.
New Zealand, with a population about 1/20th the size of the Philippines’, attracts roughly the same number of visitors each year, between 2.5 and 3 million people. Call me crazy, but I think the cautionary implications of native dance might be a bit overstated here.
The whole notion that “tribal wars no longer occur, therefore, war dances are no longer culturally relevant or acceptable” is deeply offensive on a number of levels. The people of the Cordillera are as entitled to their own appreciation of their cultural heritage as anyone else, and like most indigenous people throughout the entire country, they are not just dancing for the hell of it; each of their many dances are deeply symbolic. Telling them they “must accept the paradigm shift” demeans them as a culture and as individuals – the attitude of the DOT and Governor Baac, not to put too fine a point on it, is institutional racism. The idea is offensive to prospective tourists as well, and unlike the possible misunderstanding of the meaning of traditional dances, sends a clear message to potential visitors that “We think you’re too stupid to understand what you see.” And the idea is offensive to other Pinoys who are not part of the Cordilleran culture but can appreciate it as a part of a shared Philippine heritage, as one of my Facebook friends commented:
“That is the most retarded bullshit I ever heard. I would rather have war dances that portray my people as strong and courageous rather than dancing “a doo doo doo a daa da daa”, “ocho ocho”, “point to the east and point to the west”, “igiling giling”, “ispagheting pababa” and sexbomb moves.”
The common thread that connects the recent gaffes of the DOT (apart from a stunning failure to grasp basic concepts in marketing) is the Philippines’ desperate, irrelevant search for a “national identity.” Faced with trying to find something in common among all the disparate cultures that make up this country, the champions of “Pinoy identity” are obliged to settle for the lowest common denominators. As a consequence, what “symbolizes” the Philippines is either trite – tarsiers and Boracay’s ‘famous’ white sand – or puerile. Since the empty symbolism is all the country’s promoters can provide, they come to believe that’s what the “outsider” wants to see.
And then they wonder why they have to pad tourism numbers with ‘returning Filipinos’ to show any progress, and why most tourism capital inflows seem to end up in SM or Jollibee.