the Apo Whang-Od Conversation
Needed To Happen
By Tim Henares
In this rapidly globalizing world where nothing and everything is sacred, and nothing and everything can be cause for offense at the same time, the recently concluded visit of National Artist Apo Whang-Od to Manila has engendered a lot of debate: was she exploited or was she not?
Perhaps, while that is an important discussion to be had, that is simply not the right question to ask in hopes of building an important dialogue on the very tricky topic of cultural appropriation. With all attempts at not assuming the worst in anyone, here are 8 reasons why we’re glad this discussion finally entered the mainstream.
8. The words “cultural appropriation” can finally be offered a Philippine context.
Exactly what is the problem with “cultural appropriation?” To the average Filipino, the concept of a white person wearing a Native American headdress is so foreign to us, and not something we can imagine us doing on a similar scale.
And now, we have what is a nuanced discussion about why commodifying Apo Whang-Od’s art the way it was commodified the past weekend was something worthy of discussion.
7. Outrage without dialogue would have resulted in nothing.
Now that we know that yes, some people simply wanted the best for Apo Whang-Od, and wanted to protect her from being exploited, it becomes important for us to understand where exactly this outrage was coming from.
From displaced indigenous people in favor of mining firms to a dying tradition that was, for one weekend, turned into a hot commodity, the dialogue this incident turned up was far more important than the outrage, simply because not enough Filipinos knew enough about the issue to care.
6. So what exactly is the big deal?
Apo Whang-Od is a (supposed) centenarian who is one of the last remaining “mambabatoks,” a form of tattooing practiced in the Cordillera region (not people who hit you in the back of your head). Some people insisted she was abused and made to do hundreds of tattoos, while further reports said that not only was she fairly compensated, she also had a grand old time, especially when she met her celebrity crush and lodi, Coco Martin.
The problem here lies in what happened to the art and tradition of the mambabatok, as it was airlifted from the Cordillera region and brought to Manila. In commercializing her, did we lose something? Did we trivialize something? While some people would say yes, some would obviously not see it that way.
The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle, which is what necessitates this dialogue in the first place.
5. Was she really abused?
Abused? Not in the least. She was treated like a rock star, airlifted, given proper compensation as previously agreed upon, met Coco Martin, and by all indications had a great time. As far as that goes, FAME Manila should pat itself on the back, because how many of us right now can say we know how to show a 100-year old lady a good time?