by Rose Cruz Churma
The United States took control of the Philippines following the Spanish-American War of 1898. The first American Governor-General of the Philippines was William Howard Taft who uttered the infamous phrase describing the Filipinos as America’s “little brown brothers” and set the tone for subsequent Filipino-American encounters. Thus, this is an appropriate book review to usher in October’s Filipino American month.
The indigenous highlanders living in the Cordilleras, called Igorots, were fiercely independent and had minimal interaction with the Spanish colonizers. To some extent, the Cordillera region’s detachment from the lowland Philippines continued during the American colonial period.
One of the influential American officials during the first two decades of American rule was Dean Conant Worcester who “despised Filipino lowland officials,” and kept Igorots from being “contaminated by Filipino Christians.”
He used a system of intimidation and bullying to implement his method of governance, until he appointed an obscure teacher, John C. Early, to serve as lieutenant governor to one of the Cordillera’s sub-provinces.
This book not only chronicles John C. Early’s life but also “unveils hidden truths about Igorot-American interactions.” As a teacher, Early volunteered to teach at the most dangerous region of the Cordilleras which led to his appointment as lieutenant governor in 1909. He used his influence to mitigate the igorots’ abuses from their American colonizers, and for this, he was fired in 1911.
For the next decade, he taught in obscurity in the Philippines until the appointment of Governor Leonard Wood–when the Igorots were given a voice in their governance.
The igorots requested that John C. Early return as governor for the Cordillera. But the Philippine Senate delayed Early’s appointment, and it would be in 1927, at the death of Leonard Wood (who had a negative rapport with the Philippine Senate) when Early was confirmed.
Compared to previous administrators of the colony, Governor-General Henry L. Stimson (who replaced Leonard Wood) cared for the highlanders, just like John Early and probably explained the deep friendship between the two.
Early’s appointment was viewed as a vindication from his previous firing, but unfortunately, he passed away in January 1932, and was buried two days after his death at the Baguio Municipal Cemetery.
Almost a century after Early’s death, he is almost forgotten in the Philippines and the United States. His grave in Baguio can’t be found. Archival documents show his protection of the cargadorers, Igorot property rights, human rights and his care for the environment. It is not surprising that the Igorots gave him their trust and affection.
Ironically, Baguio’s main roadways are named after a governor-general “who reportedly loathed Igorots” (Harrison Road); a governor “who regularly referred to Igorots as savages” (Governor Pack Road); and a governor-general “who refused to meet alone with Filipino officials because of his deep-seated racism” (Leonard Wood Road). However, John C. Early’s name is not found at all in the entire Cordillera area—the only one who believed in the equality of all races and people, no matter the color of one’s skin. Instead, he was persecuted for his beliefs.
In today’s social climate, this book is very timely—a biography and colonial history combined, but reads like a well-researched story where good triumphs! It describes Filipino-American encounters during the colonial period that are vaguely known or studied.
One interesting chapter was on how the headhunting practices of the Kalinga sub-province were eliminated (by brutalizing the local population) or the descriptions of how the Igorots were enticed to be exhibited at several fairs, not only in the US continent but in Europe—both practices that Early tried to stop.
In the preface, the author notes—“I spent my first eighteen years in the City of Baguio, learning the English language at home but speaking Ilocano with my closest friends and learning the national language of Tagalog in school. My deepest friendships were with people of the mountains—theirs was my culture and they shaped my ugali (character).”
The son of American missionaries to the Cordillera, the author’s love and affection for the region—its people, culture and history is palpable in the book’s pages.
As Associate Dean of the Honors College and Professor of East/Southeast Asian History at Boise State University, Shelton Woods has half a dozen books to his name, in addition to scores or academic articles he has authored, but notes that this book is “what I have longed for people to read.”
This book is not only about John C. Early, whose life of service was a bright light during America’s colonial period, a life that all Americans should be proud of, but also of the greatness and dignity of the people of the Cordillera, that Filipinos (hyphenated or not), should know and appreciate.
For Philippine history enthusiasts or scholars of America’s colonial past—this is a must-read.
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ROSE CRUZ CHURMA established Kalamansi Books & Things three decades ago. It has evolved from a mail-order bookstore into an online advocacy with the intent of helping global Pinoys discover their heritage by promoting books of value from the Philippines and those written by Filipinos in the Diaspora. We can be reached at email@example.com.
by Rose Cruz Churma