Of Culture and Dances

This would probably my last post about the UAAP CDC 2014. I rarely ever make lengthy political commentaries about things and my snipes are usually at a 250 character limit but since I’m waiting for a project to finish rendering, I thought I’d post one here. This “rant” is partially a product of my interest in Anthropology.

I’m not bitter about UP losing to NU. On the technical side, NU dominated the competition but the thing is, I don’t like their routine and it’s not because I’m loyal to my University nor because I’m a vocal advocate of gender rights.The main reason why I can’t appreciate the routine of NU is because of glaring cultural appropriation. Of course, UE, FEU, and UST had done it too, with UST’s performance being the most forgivable for this (even my 2nd younger brother called foul on FEU’s routine for presenting too many Chinese stereotypes). Whilst UE did a Maranao-themed routine with the kappa malong malong dance, NU seems to have desecrated the most number of cultural symbols out of all the squads who did a culture-themed routine.

I’m not an extremist on this matter (unlike a lot of people on tumblr) but the thing is, it was too much. There is one main difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation: respect. From what it looks like, NU did nothing of that. From the costumes, makeup, to the props, dance moves, the this-is-war face and the music, it was a whole mess of stereotypes and misuse of cultural symbols. Now, I’m not actually in the position to argue for the Native Americans but honestly, prominently having “here comes the Indians (?)” in the music track whilst street dancing with “generic tribal moves”, i.e. stomping one whilst doing the arm-chopping-dance thing, not only reinforces dominant colonial/imperialist views on a marginalised sector, but also fails to promote another culture as it is. What actually is the most infuriating thing about their presentation is the aesthetics, especially the use of war paint and the war bonnet. The latter, as I’ve learned from an Anthropology prof, is something supposed to be earned by doing noble deeds. It’s supposed to be a sacred symbol but it has been trivialised. Just like that.

It’s hard to accept the “it’s just a theme” statement when you are at least aware of how Indigenous peoples were treated in different countries. Defenders of the theme would argue with double standards. Say, for example, if a foreign squad did an Ifugao-themed performance full of stereotypes, I believe many people will cry foul over it. Just because it’s foreign to us, it doesn’t make it right to reduce it to a “theme”. If it’s pop culture, it might be okay to adapt it as a theme (as most of pop culture is syncretised) but indigenous culture is an entirely different issue. Cultural appropriation of indigenous culture seems to be alive and kicking, and with many people not recognising why it is wrong and even defending what happened gives little hope that cultural relativism will finally reach most people and that institutionalised prejudice will end any time soon.

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