Moshe Ladanga

1 W 9- Return of the Native

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The image “https://i2.wp.com/www.1worldfilms.com/PHILIPPINES/perfum3.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. There is this filmmaker in the Philippines named “Kidlat Tahimik” (Silent Lightning). His filmmaking practice is something unique, but personally I am not so keen on it. His story is an interesting one though, and his first film, featured in the poster above, is a critique of the modern western world, or rather, a pseudo-documentary vision of the Filipino’s experience of the Western world.

In one scene, he shows a jeepney (a frankenstein Filipino concoction of an American GI jeep, passenger vehicle and cultural icon) in the Champs Elysees. This juxtaposition strikes at several fronts; for many of us Filipinos, it represents the quintessential national identity, and the image of it being in the cultural capital of Europe jars the senses. But there is something problematic in this, and it is that of exoticism. Edward Said‘s Orientalism explains it as the concept of the Other, where anything foreign, unknown, undefined, was given the value of treasure, of something to be acquired- and on the other hand, Occidentalism, the conceptual equivalent of the former, was a hand of power, of definition, giving “substance” to the unknown, making it known, naming it to render it usable, to be “of value”.

When I peruse through the web pages from the Philippines, I see him, still promoting his cause of returning the Filipino to the “native”, meaning the cultural identity of our pre-colonial days. But I cringe at the cultural mechanism of donning traditional clothes to promote an “idea” of my country, and yet I love the ikat, the barong, the jeepney- not only because it is part of my culture, but because these things were made by hand, toiled in time, crafted with care.

In my personal experience, I’ve had the privilege of living with the so-called “lost culture” of the Philippines, and there, I’ve found a home. We only stayed there for a year, but that year changed my life, or to put it bluntly, saved my life. The place is beautiful, yes, the food, the air- all exquisite, a Shangri-la, Foucault’s Heterotopia- but it is the family that we got to know, the lives that we got to share with, the shelter of another kind of life that changed me. I was 25, still in search of something outside of me to solidify what I knew instinctively- in a changing world, can there still be a home for what we feel as truth, dignity, integrity?

The hours there lost their function; time was not a thick psychological fog, it was like a river that would course through the body and inform you not of loss, but of possibility. The family that took us in restored our belief in our beliefs, gave us space to be in solitude, shared their lives as we opened ours. It is not so much as the experience of discovering something in a place, but an experience of letting the self discover itself.

These past months have been quite interesting. Been on the typical routes, the experience of the tube, the weather, the astringent efficacy of First World life. Living with cameras around induces psychological vertigo, and you balance on a tightrope: learn what you can, but be who you are. A few weeks ago I had to prepare for a bank thing, and I rummaged for documents. On my passport are the marks of my passage, the formalities of territory, politics, economy; on my skin are the marks of genealogy, culture, demography. I looked for a coat, smelled it and inspected it (gotta smell like money to get some money). I took a hold of that moment, looked at myself in the mirror and saw only a reflection.

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Written by mosheladanga

November 16, 2007 at 10:49 PM

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