Friday, September 21, 2012

HOW LIFE EFFECTS ART
A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

The Philippines 1972-75 
Journey to the Rice Terraces of Banaue 
Igorot Tribal Territory
Head hunters still active

I was a young art teacher working on Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines in the 1970's. I lived in the city of Olongapo off base with another teacher sharing a house on the side of a mountain.  I chose to live off base to live in the community and to get to know the Filipino people and culture better.  My friends and I were mostly in our twenties and some older, but all curious and open to learning about the world and other cultures.  I say that, because many Americans that were in the military, chose to stay on base as if it were an Island isolated from the world they lived in..never leaving, never interacting with the people or country they resided in.  Our group traveled widely and experienced all with open arms and with great delight.  
Halsema Highway to Banaue  google image
Bus on narrow dirt Halsema highway google image
On this one trip we went to Baguio in Northern Luzon.  There was an American R&R for the military personnel, but it was also a beautiful cool mountain city with fantastic open markets with fresh vegetables and exquisite crafts.  From there we booked a trip to the rice terraces of Banaue.  We were told the trip was arduous and long on the Halsema road ( Halsema must be one of the worst highways in the world. I must say that I agree with him. Quote: “There are many accidents and overturned buses on a yearly basis. Often there are sheer drop offs of over 1000 feet without a guard rail. During the rainy season it is nearly impassable.”) and that we would be driving through head hunting territories ( warning, graphic picture in link) that were still active....but we were told it was our good luck it was not the right time of year to take heads! As we drove through the country side the mountain roads twisted more and the elevation got higher and higher.  At one point the road was so narrow it only allowed for one way traffic.  We were stopped at the base of the mountain in a small village where they radioed ahead to stop the cars at the top.  It took over an hour of waiting for the last automobiles to come through. While we were waiting I decided to take some photo's of the people and village from the car (as we asked not to get out).  It was not a popular decision, as the locals decided the camera would steal their souls.  The people began throwing rocks at car. In the nick of time the gates lifted and we were off.  The road was narrow, dirt and hugged the mountain. At one point huge rocks blocked our path and we all got out to help our driver push the bolder's over the edge. Later we encounter a bus full of nuns that were on their way down the mountain that had gotten stuck..they blocked out path and there was no getting around.  So the driver of our car got out and begin to try to help...with lots of effort from many people standing precariously near the edge on the steep slippery cliff of the mountain...the bus was unstuck and the Nuns were on their way again.


Banaue Rice Terraces                                                  google image

We finally arrived in the very remote village of Banaue. The first day was market day, where the most awesome of weavings were sold.  My goal as a twenty year old American had been to go to the most remote areas untouched by western civilization and see indigenous cultures.  I was so pleased, I thought I had achieved that in this head hunter village as I was being stared at by a barefoot
Ifugao man with the barest of covering, and wearing his human vertebrate necklace! And 


Ifugao Man  google image

then I looked up, and on the side of the mountain was the largest Coke sign I had ever seen!  I was stunned...there was no other signs anywhere, no advertising, but here was this red huge Madison Avenue affront.  So began the first conceptual art piece I ever did....Pervasiveness Of Culture.  It was a montage of Coke ads and photo's of the Igorot peoples.

Ifugao Weavers                 google
There was much discussion during the time I lived in the Philippines about the influence of Western culture that was obliterating the culture and belief system of Filipino's...and not for the good.  As there has been world wide also, and the discussion continues.  When does one culture have the right to dominate others?  
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