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Is It Too Late to Demand the Return of an Igorot Woman's Remains Exhibited at the St. Louis Fair?

Her brain was reportedly sent to the Smithsonian Institution for 'anthropological research.'

 |  3 min read

Not Maura, but Lub-eg/Sendican, who is said to be related to Maura. I Photo lifted from J.A. Langholz IG.
Not Maura, but Lub-eg/Sendican, who is said to be related to Maura. I Photo lifted from J.A. Langholz IG.

Filipinos' fascination with the Marcos family's intrigues and the allegations of historical revisionism aside, I'd say that if there's anything more important that has to be brought to our attention as Cordillerans, it's the desecration of the corpse of a young Igorot (Suyoc) woman who took part in the 1904 St. Louis Fair. As if the thought of a "human zoo" was not degrading enough, finding out that her brain was removed soon after her death and without her consent or that of the other Igorots she was with was an insult of the highest kind.

I wouldn't have known about that despicable act if I hadn't stumbled across an article in the River Front Times published on September 8, 2021, titled "The World's Fair and the Lost Dead of St. Louis' Human Zoo." This, by the way, is owing to the efforts of Ms. Janna A. Langholz, a kababayan in Missouri. She had been painstakingly researching and writing down the lives and deaths of people from the Philippines who went to the 1904 World's Fair. You can read more about her work here.

The part about Maura broke my heart the most.

"Maura was a young Igorot woman from Suyoc, Benguet who traveled with her relatives to St. Louis for the 1904 World's Fair. She was estimated to be 18 years old, but was likely older. She came down with pneumonia shortly after arriving. She died after 10 days in the hospital. It was noted that her wish was to be buried in the land of her birth. However, after her death, her brain was removed without consent and sent to the present-day Smithsonian institution for anthropological research. The rest of her body was kept in view in St. Louis at the undertaker with two young Igorot men who had also died, Mariano and Suyon, even after the fair had already ended. I don't believe they made it home." (Lifted from Langholz's IG post.)

Langholz said she found Maura's "accessions listing" in the archives, and so verified that she is still in the collections.

Of course, there were other Filipinos whose stories are also worth telling, but in this post, I'm advocating for Maura since her final request was to be buried in her motherland. No matter how many years have gone, it is only ethical to respect her wish by retrieving her brain from the Smithsonian collections and bringing her other remains home to Benguet. This brings me to the purpose of this post: to humbly solicit advice from fellow Cordillerans on what we can do from our end to assist Langholz in trying to retrieve Maura's remains, as well as those other Filipinos who may still have living descendants and are willing to make claims over the bodies of their deceased ancestors. (I contacted Langholz to inquire about the steps that have been taken so far and to see where we might assist. I have yet to hear back from her).

Starting a petition or sending letters to concerned government offices are potential options. If Maura's descendant or close family may perhaps have further information, that would also be quite helpful.For now, I'm inviting other Cordillerans who are likewise disturbed about what happened to Maura to join the discussion and decide what we can do to help.

I'll close with a direct quote from Langholz, "The 1904 World's Fair will never truly be over until all the promises that were made are fulfilled. I demand the rematriation of bodies to the Philippines and the return of our everyday and sacred objects to their rightful owners. I want monuments, memorials, grave markers, signs, plaques, and buildings in commemoration of our people and everything St. Louis took from us. I want all 1200 of our kababayans who were here 118 years ago named and remembered. I want us, their descendants, to reclaim everything that now belongs to us."

Ibaloi-Kankana-ey hybrid.

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