Now More Than Ever, It’s Important That We Be The Ones To Tell Our Own Stories

We should be paying more attention to our own storytellers.

In a society where cultural exploitation mixes with foreign validation to determine whether something is worth paying attention to or not, maybe it’s time that we ourselves tell our own stories from our own point-of-view.

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If you haven’t been living under a rock in the last week, then you most likely have heard of the storm of a drama that has surrounded Nas Daily recently. Last week, Nas Academy launched an online course to teach the indigenous practice of Kalinga tattooing for 750 pesos. The course (Learn the Ancient Art of Tattooing) would be taught by Apo Whang-Od, the revered and respected indigenous tattoo artist from the Butbut Tribe of Kalinga.

While the course alone should have raised eyebrows, things went into overdrive when Garcia Palicas, grandniece of the artist, posted on Facebook that it was a scam and Whang-Od did not know what she signed up for. A firestorm of controversy ensued online about the course that soon turned into dozens of people accusing each other of doing bad things. At the end of the day, the course was pulled (only after Garcia deleted her posts), and Nas Daily has currently suspended operations in the Philippines until they sort out this mess.

CULTURAL EXPLOITATION BY FOREIGNERS

There’s a lot to unpack with what happened here, especially since a lot of people have been saying a lot, but one thing is for certain, it sparked an important conversation on cultural exploitation by foreigners and are our dependency on foreign validation. The knowledge and skills Whang-Od knows were passed down onto her from generations of ancestors before her. It’s a sacred art of tattooing that’s embedded in the culture of the Kalingas. This isn’t simply something that you can teach to people on an online course. However, that is exactly what Nas Daily tried to do. He turned what is culture and tradition into a commodity that you can just learn for less than 1000 pesos.

As pointed out by experts, Whang-Od is a member of the Butbut Tribe of Kalinga and her tattooing skills are based on indigenous knowledge of generations of Kalinga ancestors. It’s collectively owned therefore would need the consent of the community for it to be acceptable. It’s actually questionable to teach something that is so complex and nuanced virtually because you won’t be able to fully understand the history and culture behind the art. There’s no appreciation for it and instead, just see it as yet another skill to learn.

PINOY BAITING

But that is what happens when you let foreigners who don’t hold Philippine culture in high regard tell our stories. You have people who don’t appreciate but appropriate our culture. They take advantage of Pinoy hospitality for commercial gain. And this isn’t a new phenomenon that has been happening just now, because it has been going on for years and has been coined the term Pinoy-baiting. This basically means that foreign content creators put out material that makes Filipinos feel good about themselves. But in reality, that strategy is just meant to get views, clicks, followers, and shares.

Just go on YouTube and it won’t take long to spot a Pinoy-baiting video. They usually have exaggerated reactions, over-the-top titles, and feature things that are normal for us Filipinos for clout. These videos may look like they share or promote our culture, but in reality, they are meant to make money and profit and exploit our culture and art. While there are foreigners who truly try to understand Philippine culture and make things better, there are way more who just see dollar signs in their eyes.

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To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with foreigners recognizing our culture or it being respected globally. It brings more exposure to the different sides of the Philippines that deserve to be championed. But—and that’s a big but—the problem lies when that appreciation is actually exploitation when they try to talk about something without even understanding what they are talking about. If Nas Daily really respected the culture of the Philippines, he would have done his due diligence and saw that maybe having an online course teaching Kalinga tattooing wasn’t the best idea.

DON’T MISTAKE PINOY PRIDE FOR EXPLOITATION

While it is sad to see foreigners be the ones to tell our own stories, and horribly at it, it’s unfortunate when a lot of Filipinos fall for it. Whether we like to admit it or not, this is what happens when you have a society that is almost always online and gravitates towards foreign validation. Our Western-centric society deems things good or bad whether or not it gets foreign attention, but that shouldn’t be the way. The value of something shouldn’t be determined solely on whether or not it is being talked about around the world.

We shouldn’t let our Pinoy pride cloud our judgment so that we can recognize cultural exploitation. We shouldn’t base our worth solely on the opinions of others, especially foreigners. And while that is a challenge to unlearn, that is possible and that starts with us ourselves telling our own stories.

WE SHOULD BE THE ONES TO TELL OUR OWN STORIES

There are a lot of local content creators who are doing great work to promote, understand, and appreciate local culture, but they don’t get the attention they deserve. We shouldn’t let foreigners be the ones to tell our stories because it’s not theirs to discover. The Philippines has so much to offer, and we shouldn’t wait for a foreign content creator to come in and show it to us. We should be the ones to take charge of our own story from our point-of-view because we understand it the best.

And if you think that is hard to do because you don’t know where to go, then that’s exactly the problem. We give millions of views to foreign creators but ignore local talent. From movies to music, animation, poetry, books, art, and more, our society is filled with local storytellers that tell the stories that need to be appreciated. We as a society should move away from putting foreigners who talk about the Philippines on a pedestal when their intentions are less than good and instead reclaim what is rightfully ours.

You don’t have to wait for a foreigner to tell you that something is worth paying attention to in the Philippines. While it’s nice when something from our culture is recognized and appreciated (keyword: appreciated), the lack of global recognition shouldn’t stop you from enjoying something. Go out yourself and be the one to discover and explore our own stories and culture. So, the next time a foreigner pops up and talks about Palawan, Filipino singers hitting the high notes, or any of the sort, ask yourself, is this person worth a view, or is it just for clout?

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