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Igorots at the 1904 Saint Louis World's Fair

The Igorots at the 1904 Saint Louis World's Fair were displayed in a mock-up tribal village and performed mock tribal ceremonies for visitors.

 |  7 min read

The Igorots were a group of people from the Philippines who were exhibited at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. They were displayed in a mock-up tribal village and performed mock tribal ceremonies for visitors.

I am convinced that at the 1904 Fair, my ancestors were coerced under duress, forced, to butcher dogs and ingest it on a daily basis in front of fair-goers to increase attendance, sensationalize it, and to validate the existence of Igorot 'savages' that must be saved by America's manifest destiny to civilize Filipino. -Lieutenant Commander Abeya, US Army, Descendant of the St. Louis Exposition Cordillera People Contingent

The aggregation of many nations in the 1904 Saint Louis World's Fair, was in principle, an extremely benevolent endeavor. However, by presenting Filipinos as antiquated and backward savages without culture but eating dogs; the United States was able to push an ulterior motive of depicting us next to animals that ultimately tarnished the image of the Filipino Race.

Unfortunate for the Americans, the Cordillera People built a world masterpiece no other race can replicate, the Rice Terraces of the Cordilleras and the Muyong Water Conservation System declared by UNESCO as World Heritage Site and the Hudhod as of one of the few Intangible World Heritage. 2000 years ago when we Filipinos could already comprehend to technology, USA have not yet existed as a savage and barbaric human rights violators in the face of the Earth. -Dr. Delmar T. Taclibon PhD. Development Administration

St. Louis Exposition of 1904 in Forcing Filipinos to Eat Dogs

According to William Henry Scott in his book Discovery of the Igorots, he mentioned animal slaughtered for offerings, which includes pigs, carabaos, and cows, but no mention about dog killing up north or ingestion of dog meat. They usually slaughter these animals as a ritual for them to foretold the outcome of battles, weddings, wake and funerals, and other relevant occasions.

Igorot men from the Philippines, wearing loincloths and carrying hand drums, danced at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, November 13, 1904.

According to a Filipino American Historical Society founding President Dr. Virgilio R. Pilapil, in his essay Dogtown USA: An Igorot Legacy in the Midwest, Igorots have known eating dog meat in St. Louis World's fair in 1904. The world fair was also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, a fair that commemorate USA's 100th anniversary purchase of Louisiana from France. During that time it was the biggest and longest world exposition that had been joined with representatives of 50 tribes who lived in 1,500 buildings built on 1,275 acres of land for six years. In Dr. Pilapil essay he said:

The head-hunting, dog-eating Igorots were the greatest attraction at the Philippine Exhibit, not only because of their novelty, the scanty dressing of the males and their daily dancing to the tom-tom beats, but also because of their appetite for dog meat which is a normal part of their diet.

Filipino tribes, invoked as representatives of the whole Filipino people, were exhibited as savages, headhunters, and dog eaters, a name that has stuck until today.

Being open to the public about their "dog appetite", the city of St. Louis provided them a supply of 20 dogs a week. Though there are people in the community who object the idea of eating dog meat, particularly the Louis Women's Humane Society, a lot of people sympathize too with the Igorot's need for dog meat. After the fair, the small village had come to be known as the Dogtown, after which it had been burned down, later on another place in St. Louis was renamed Dogtown.

As time passed by, Filipinos somewhat have this kind of questions in mind "Does all Igorots really eat dogs?" the answer is No, Igorots have tried eating dogs as a traditional cuisine in the olden times. In an article regarding Asocena, Bing Dawang, Igorot editor of The Junction, a newspaper in Mountain Province said that, "Igorots slaughter dogs for spiritual practices, usually done in solemn rituals." He also disclosed:

It is true that in ancient times some Igorot tribes butchered their dogs before going to war for ritual by not for human consumption. It was the belief of the Igorots that the spirits of the sacrificed dogs would guard them in battle. At times of tragedy, the family dog might also have been sacrificed to appease the spirits, and to assign the soul of the dog to guard the spirits of the living family members.

The living descendants of those Igorots (Cordillera People), who consist of five tribes from the mountains in the northern Philippines, are convinced (despite any potentially unannounced skepticism) that their ancestors were forced to perform their ritual dog feast daily. The descendants insist their ancestors were denied the variety all humans need in their diets.

Igorots butchering a dog. Circa 1904 St Louis World Fair, USA

The Igorots of the 1904 World's Fair days were most often labelled by the newspapers of the day as dog eating "head hunters". The tribes who travelled half the globe to the Fair on the same boat and train had allegedly left a constant state of intertribal rivalry and feuding for each other's heads. War was their sport, says the St. Louis Republic. The rival tribes were kept separate during the journey and on the fairgrounds in the Igorot Village in the Philippine Exposition.

On April 11, 1904, the Republic ran a prominent story on the front page headlined "Igorrotes Capture Dogs for a Feast." The reporter practiced good journalistic faith and put a mouth-watering spin on the article. The apparent joy the Igorots felt that a celebration soon would be had comprises the thrust of the story. However, the reporter, perhaps seeking only to fill out the story, gave a strange reason for such joy, faithfully keeping with the hype campaign. The causes of the commotion mentioned in the article read, in full "journalese" or reporter jargon:

It is said that at breakfast in the Cuartel yesterday morning three or four Igorrotes appeared supremely contented and begged to be excused when the waiter passed the beef." And the 1904 American workingman read and chuckled over his bacon at breakfast. But the media circus had only just begun. Over the course of the next week or so in 1904, says the Republic, two rural St. Louis men allegedly sent letters to Governor Hunt, then manager of the Fair Igorots, offering to send dogs to break this so-called "fast." Each of these empathetic men offered to send the magical number of 200 dogs to the Igorots at the Fair.

While the splendor and spectacle of the Fair certainly cast it in a positive light, there were very dark overtones in relation to the Filipino people. The 1904 World's Fair came about at a time in US history when the United States was rapidly expanding their territories outside the US mainland. Wanting to show its might as a nation and maybe even their advantage as a primarily white race, the United States made a huge presence in the Fair in part by showcasing what many now call a "human zoo" of dog eating savage indigenous peoples of Islas Filipinas as their recent territorial acquisitions.

Research: Savagery of the St. Louis Exposition of 1904 in Forcing Filipinos to Eat Dogs by Dr. Delmar T. Taclibon, PhD. Development Administration


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