Romanticising Indigenous Identity

Khai Jhoei
Posted February 22, 2019 from Philippines
We are, who we are
We are, who we are (1/2)

One afternoon where a guided tour on understanding the  "Pathways to an Ata Cultural Village" Exhibition took place. It was an intentional endeavour to run an Architectural guided tour which our organization and partner organization working together with the Ata. The Ata Tribe mostly resides in the mountainous landscape, of the Paquibato District within the city of Davao, Philippines. I was in the venue as the over-all in charge of the exhibition. I observed a few people curious about the exhibition. I have this unexplainable interest to people, so I silently observed them on how they interact with the people around them especially with the Indigenous People.  There were people who gave unsolicited comments, side comments, and even life-changing advice. It would be too long if I listed it all, so, I just listed some to share those comments: "Are you real indigenous women? You're pretty, though.Who are 100% pure indigenous here?You should wear your traditional costume for you to be recognized as one. And etc."  I wonder how these misconceptions creates uncomfortable emotions to the Indigenous communities. Hearing those questions and opinions makes me feel sad. Why there are people thinks generally about the identity of the Indigenous Peoples are all the same, without realizing that in contrast there is a great diversity. That where there is commonality there are social, economic, and cultural unique practices and approaches present in each tribal community. I asked our partner, the beautiful, lovely and young indigenous leader on how such misconceptions impacted on her? She shared that "It's sad to know that people think of us as what was illustrated in the book, Indigenous People describe generally who have thick lips, curly hair and not educated. I always think why we have to contest our identity. I have a feeling, I need to validate my identity to them, to other people?". These concern me, why people, romanticize Indigenous Peoples identity. Walking along these communities, I can say they give high respect with their past, their ancestors' stories, their collective narrative. They can adapt to change too. I believe that the Indigenous People hold strong in their identity, no matter where they go their sense of tribal identity is well grounded.  Reaffirming their Creator-given identity is not somebody else tasks, that Indigenous peoples can do better with their own lives because through time they have proven that even they're struggling the loss of land, of rights, of resources, of lives, and still they kept fighting to stand firm and live their life faithfully. They were able to stand up and rebuilt their communities, despite the fact that there were lives lost because of force-displacement, less access on basic services and undefinable oppressions. Why we cannot be optimistic that the Indigenous People can do better. Romanticizing identity can be harmful if we are not aware of our words choices and thoughts. I believe that we all have good intention. It is better that we are sensitive through our words and actions. Sometimes it is good to pause and ask: How respectful my actions to one’s culture? Let's go beyond our own imaginations about Indigenous People, let us romanticize the idea of change and accept that it is not our role to confirm someone’s identity and that old and new is contemporary without sacrificing or comprising their own tribal identity.  

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Comments 11

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SIMON MUREU
Feb 23
Feb 23

yes---we all had come through the way because of being ourselves ,traditions,culture and all---good story thi is

Khai Jhoei
Feb 23
Feb 23

Thank you.

Jill Langhus
Feb 23
Feb 23

Hi Khai,

Thanks for sharing your post. It's a very good point that you make. I don't think we think, in general, enough about what we're saying around other people. It sort of seems okay to most people to say whatever they feel like, it seems sometimes. I don't think most people are taught to be sensitive, much less think about what they're saying or doing to others. It would seem that this is the responsibility of parents worldwide, and schools, to educate students on appropriate, and compassionate dialogue toward everyone. It would make such a difference if everyone learned this.

How do you think that this tribe could start to be viewed in a different, more respectful light?

Hope you're having a good day!

Khai Jhoei
Feb 23
Feb 23

Hi Jlanghus,
Good day! I know that we came from different backgrounds. We came from different contexts. I think it would be better if we see others without judgement, appreciate more for who they are. We should understand it is not our role to validate one's identity.
Thanks for dropping your thoughts here. I appreciate it.

Jill Langhus
Feb 24
Feb 24

Hello there:-)

Yes, that makes sense, and I agree about not judging others and appreciating who they are. Very true.

You're welcome. Hope you have a great day!

Hello, Khai,

Thank you for sharing this, Khai. Sad that our own countrymen stereotype Indigenous people by how they were written in our schoolbooks.

I would love to read stories written by different tribes of our country so their voices will be heard. I know they pass on their stories from one generation to another orally, but it would really be great that those who have access to technology could write their stories. That would revolutionize how they reclaim their stories from historians by being their own storytellers. :)

Khai Jhoei
Feb 24
Feb 24

Thanks Karen :)

Jacqueline Namutaawe

Indeed well put. Thank you.

Khai Jhoei
Feb 27
Feb 27

thanks

Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi

Hi Khai,
This is such a beautiful piece. I love the heading alone. I totally agree with you that we should respect the different cultures and impose our ideas or feelings on people. Thank you for that reaffirmation and am looking forward to many of your articles.
Have a lovely day

Khai Jhoei
Feb 28
Feb 28

Thank you. I will try to continue to write. It is really hard for me to articulate my experiences into writing.

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