Thursday, March 17, 2005

Op-Ed, ManilaStandardToday/
March 16, 2005

We live under one sky - and the sweep of a past painted from the palette of a bruise.

Until the 20th century, pale was the pigment of wealth and privilege. To be called blue-blooded was to be recognized as a member of the aristocracy: those who did no manual labor and as a consequence possessed skin pallid enough for blue-tinged veins to show through.

Work for the aristocracy occurs once in a blue moon, which is close to never, if ever. Why work when you can own the labor of others? Or own others.

"Economic Section: Sales of Animals," announces an ad in Havana, Cuba in 1839. For sale, for the sum of 500 pesos, "a Creole negro woman, young, healthy, and without blemishes" along with "a handsome horse of fine breeding, six spans and three inches."

"Leeches - superior quality, just arrived from the peninsula," a smaller advertisement goes under the heading "Domestic goods for hire." Preceding the announcement for segmented worms, another commodity is marketed: "Negro women for service . . . and for any work."[1]

Blue is the swelling limitless expanse - the ocean on which Tacuabe travels on his way to France. The year is 1834 and the cavalry of the Uruguayan General Fructuoso Rivera has just completed their civilizing operation with high efficiency - not one Indian remains alive in Uruguay.

With colored fates, four remaining Charrua Indians are transported to Europe and donated to the Natural Sciences Academy in Paris, including Tacuabe. "The French public pay admission to see the savages, rare specimens of a vanished race. The scientists note their gestures, clothing and anthropometric measurements."

Before two months are over, the Indians die. "Academicians fight over the cadavers. Only the warrior Tacuabe survives, and escapes with his newly born daughter, reaching the city of Lyons." From there they vanish; nothing more is heard of them, yet their story endures.[2]

Colored natural perspective: besides humans, black lemurs are the only primates with blue eyes. Colored human perspective: slavery is the White Man's primal black eye.[3]

Which country was the first to abolish slavery and when? Encyclopedias and textbooks attribute freedom to England, which decreed slavery's abolition in 1807. Yet history demurs - three years ahead, Blacks in Haiti had already accomplished the great deed in 1804.[4]

Sadness and madness, happiness and emptiness - from whose point of view? Good question. It's all about perspective. In the 19th century, blue-tinted spectacles were used to treat insanity and for depression the perceptive used pink lens, "hence the expression looking at the world through rose-colored glasses."

Lunacy is relative.

"The Filipinos have chosen a bloody way to demonstrate their incapacity for self-government . . . in the insane attack of these people on their liberators," snarled the New York Times in 1899, the year the United States annexed the Philippines - Asia's first republic.

The Times is horrified: having thrown off the yoke of Spanish rule after centuries of struggle, why are Filipinos resisting their new invader?

Memory is a bomb. Memory is a balm.

Said a soldier of the First Idaho Regiment during the Philippine-American War, "It kept leaking down from [our officers] that the Filipinos were 'niggers,' no better than Indians, and were to be treated as such."

"With an enemy like this to fight," wrote a US soldier with the Utah Battery of their Filipino adversaries, "it is not surprising that the boys should adopt 'no quarter' as a motto, and fill the blacks full of lead before finding out whether they are friends or enemies."

"I will rawhide these bullet-headed Asians until they yell for mercy," roared US Col. Frederick Funston as American troops slaughtered Filipino combatants and civilians alike. Savages are savages. After the war, huffed the fulminating Funston, "I'll warrant that the new generation of natives will know better than to get in the way of the band-wagon of Anglo-Saxon progress and decency."

Advancement and civility measured: armed resistance against America would go on for over ten years and yet as early as 1901, a US general had already projected the number of Filipinos killed or felled by disease as a result of America's occupation to be around 600,000.

Over the entire colored breadth of the Philippines, wrote the late poet Alfrredo Navarro Salanga, flowed the helix of the American dream of conquest: "Deep in its coiled death were more coils, more deaths to be sprung, from the brown coiled souls, from the brown coiled throats of brown men screaming brown screams snaking through streams."[5]


[1] Eduardo Galeano, Memory of Fire: Faces and Masks, W.W. Norton and Company, 1998. The work of Galeano just soars and soars and soars ...
[2] Eduardo Galeano, Memory of Fire.
[3] "The colour of heaven," Jane Szita, Holland Herald, November 2004.
[4] "The White Curse [Haiti]," Eduardo Galeano, The Progressive Magazine, June 2004.
[5] "4 February [1899]," Alfrredo Navarro Salanga, in Vestiges of War, The Philippine-American War and the Aftermath of an Imperial Dream 1899-1999, ed. Angela Velasco Shaw and Luis H. Francia, New York University Press, 2002.

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