Sunday, November 15, 2009


I am attracted to anything ethnic. Garments, trinkets, musical instruments, baskets, hairstyles, makeup... For me, these--not designer shoes, clothes, perfume, jewelry, etc.-- are the closest to what can be called my fancy.

I still have bamboo flutes and other native instruments that I've collected since my teens. The nose flute and mouth harp are my favourite. When Kontra-Gapi, an ethnic music and dance ensemble at the University of the Philippines, was just being started by Edru Abraham in 1989, I was excited to join along with several college students. But because I was already working at that time, married with two babies, and taking graduate studies on the side, I quit after a few practices.

I also collected some malongs, or tubular skirts, from my field work or my father's trips to Palawan or Mindanao. I wore them at home quite a lot those days. Here, I used them mostly for display at cultural events until I wore them again during my trip in Sierra Leone last summer. Speaking of Sierra Leone, I was attracted to the native skirts women wore on the streets, at home or in the farm. I brought home a couple of couple of those bright African wraparounds.

I think this cloth is made from pina (pineapple).

I liked ethnic bags, trays and baskets too. Unfortunately, most were too bulky to bring to Canada when we moved here. I was only able to bring the smaller items. These, and some other things we bought afterward, are now part of our home decor that has a touch of ethnic. Just a touch. Hubby doesn't want to overdo it.

Hey, that's my basket!

My affinity to the ethnic goes beyond things. When I learned about Philippine tribes in Social Studies in elementary or high school, I used to imagine how it was to be part of an ethnic tribe. I fantasized about being a T'boli girl wearing colourful trinkets and thick makeup. Or an Igorota, especially after watching the movie of the same title starring Christopher de Leon. I wished I were playing the role of Nora Aunor.

How would I look in this?

Even years later, I imagined living in the mountains, carrying baskets on my head or a child on my back, walking barefoot on trails, harvesting rice on terraces...

I used to hear family say that my maternal grandmother, whose ancestors came from the island of Mindoro, might actually have Mangyan blood, which could explain her dark skin. My grandmother was tall, dark and had lovely deep-set eyes. I would be proud to have Mangyan ancestry even if city folks sort of think less of native peoples.

The only thing that snapped me out of my tribal imaginings was the reality that living in remote areas could mean living without a normal city toilet. I'm okay to fetch water, but I may not last without a commode, sorry...

But I am not completely detached from the ethnic. I love ethnic people. My current job connects me with tribes in Africa, Latin America and the Philippines. What I do at my desk is impacting people groups in the Congo, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Nigeria, Mexico, Peru, Paraguay, and a host of other countries.

Occasionally, I still want to wear something ethnic, and I don't mean just Filipino.

"I want to look exotic," I thought aloud one day. Ethnic-exotic, not dancer-exotic.

"Mom, you are in Canada. You ARE exotic!" one of my boys quickly pointed out.

Why, of course! Here Canada, I am as ethnic as pork adobo or fresh lumpia. In fact, I belong to what is called "visible minority". My face alone has ethnic written all over it.

I'm exotic!

(Photos above were conceptualized and art-directed by hubby for Shell's calendar. They are stylized, rather than real ethnic look).

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