READING A COLONIAL BUREAU: THE POLITICS OF CULTURAL INVESTIGATION OF THE NON-CHRISTIAN FILIPINOS

Mary Jane B Rodriguez

Abstract


Ethnography, as a scientific method of describing people, played a significant role in the policy of integration undertaken by the newly established American colonial government as regards the non-Christian population of the Philippines in the early 1900s.  Such an assertion requires an interrogation of the colonial institution, the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes, which was tasked, among other things, to conduct “special investigation” of the different ethnic groups (“pagans” and “Mohammedans”) living in the far-flung areas of the archipelago. This paper underscores the politics of ethnological research of the Bureau, and critiques its methodology using David Prescott Barrows’ guidelines for fieldworkers as a lens through which to examine the conduct of research. It analyzes the implications of the racialized methodology for the colonial policy of the United States towards the Philippines, and attempts to explore how such investigation, with the colonial knowledge that it produced, was translated into the native discourse.


In its dual capacity as an agent of science and advocate of change, the Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes stands in history as the precursor of the Philippine government agencies that established a highly contested policy of integration of the so-called “ethnic minorities” into the main body politic.  The ‘expert knowledge’ that it produced was deemed instrumental in the material and moral uplift of colonial subjects, particularly the non-Christians. The “scientific expeditions” of the bureau generated data which eventually formed the corpus of knowledge for state legislation concerning the newly colonized peoples. However, the bureau advanced notions of racial typologies derived from the assumption of Western civilization as a standard for cultural evolution. Far from its professed agenda, the bureau also created artificial and heightened ethnic differences among Filipinos that easily translated into institutionalized dichotomies.


Keywords


Ethnography, Ethnicity, Colonialism

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