Some real things I know directly from field research with Indigenous peoples in the Philippines -- Part 2 of my already mind-numbingly long thread on why it's wrong to claim Indigenous identity when you're not Indigenous. This time focusing on the direct harm caused by fake IP's.
I'm an anthropologist, and a Visayan from Mindanao, & Mindanawon because my strongest ancestral roots are in Mindanao. But I'm not an IP. Not from a Lumad ethnic group. But I work with/for a Lumad group, called the Higaunon. I've written a lot about them.
For me, Higaunons are some of the funniest people I've ever met, & also the most complicated. Some, I've known since they were small children. Some, I have loved from the start, some I've had to learn to love. There are a few I detest, but I'm sure there's some who detest me too.
I mention that because I want to make the point that I care about the people I work with and for. Some of them are real friends. I am obligated to them for the rest of my life for many things. They allowed me into their lives. Some gave me major support me when my life was low.
I've also seen with my own eyes how hard they struggle to achieve their goals, as well as how they experience marginalization. I've watched them process episodes of public humiliation & discrimination, & express feelings abt their culture/identity being appropriated by outsiders.
There are so many things I can say. But the focus today is on non-IPs who pretend to be IPs. I'm going to talk about 2 Filipino men, neither of them IPs, who each claimed to be a Higaunon datu, or male traditional leader (their female equivalent is called bae, pronounced BA-e).
I've written a bit about the trials & tribulations of Higaunon datus and baes before. Here's a 2017 chapter I wrote called "Custom & Citizenship in the Philippine Uplands"(free/open access on But I wrote a more recent piece mentioning the 2 fake datus.
From p. 98 of "Preserving tradition: the business of Indigeneity in the modern Philippine context", Journal of Southeast Asian Studies (2019):
Page 99 of the same article talks about the 2nd guy:
The first guy, Baguiz, still causes trouble after his death, as the non-IPs among his family & followers have tried to hold on to the stolen Higaunon land as Baguiz land. Every Higaunon I know who met him described to me a rather Trump-like man who acted like he was a god.
The second guy, Mandipensa, is more difficult for me to write about, because my relatives & I knew him personally. I spent considerable time talking to him abt how we as outsiders could help the Higaunons be more empowered & help save their land from predatory hands. In a way,
I've always felt partly responsible for giving him some ideas (incl. fundraising appeals to foreigners by emphasizing ecological themes), and for not catching on sooner that he was a pathological liar & a sociopath.
He's still alive, still keeping up his fake datu persona, but at least he seems to have kept himself busy in rural Australia, teaching music to little kids.
What I don't mention in the article is other stuff that points to other ripple effects that were driven in part by this guy's shenanigans. Things that signaled much deeper damage to the Higaunons.
So, in the case of Mandipensa, what began as "harmless" cosplaying -- to uplift & empower the tribe -- ended uptearing it apart. And mind you, if you met him, you would have been convinced he was sincere & selfless, with only the best intentions. He also fooled/swindled several
foundations, & some US & Australian universities (incl. UCLA!), & the venerable Cultural Survival itself, which even featured him in an article in Cultural Survival Quarterly (see link - the orig, had his photo & a project map).…
He was able to do this, because he could speak English but the Higaunons he conned could not. So foreign visitors (incl. the author of the CS piece) could come & "interview" anyone & he would "translate" whatever he wanted. AFAIK, nothing in the CS article was actually true.
The TAFT project mentioned in the CS article was complete fiction. The map that was included in the original print version showed that he claimed as his land ALL the Higaunon territories, covering all possible ancestral domains, across 4 provinces & 2 regions. A complete fantasy.
Now, during this whole time, there was something else going on in Higaunon territory, which is not & never has been under the control of one person. Even small communities have many datus & baes, in a system that pushes consensus-building & discourages the accumulation of power.
During that whole time, the 2000s, there were a lot of datus started to get murdered. It still happens, but not as often. No one was or is ever caught, but these are all believed to be hits ordered by those wanting to facilitate the taking of tribal land for plantations, etc.
This situation both fed into & resulted from the instability & destruction wreaked on Higaunon society by impostors like Baguiz & Manidpensa, who were slowly tearing Higaunon communities apart from the inside through deceit & manipulation. All to maintain their fake IP personas.
I should mention here that some of Mandipensa's strongest foreign supporters were women, several of whom were distinctly enamored by the idea of a young, exotic, ecologically conscious "Indigenous tribal chief" who could speak English & peddled all sorts of noble savage claptrap.
He knew exactly what he was doing. Some of them were Filipino-Americans, who mostly didn't have much pertinent knowledge about IP's to know any better. He fed into the nostalgia I talked about in the previous too-long thread. It was romantic for them, and fun.
This man deluded them into thinking he would reconnect them with an authentic ancestral/tribal precolonial past and that they were helping poor, benighted "untouched" forest people by supporting this noble "tribal prince". He seemed totally sincere, and totally serious.
The truth is, he was a regular mainstream Filipino who decided he wanted to be an Indigenous person, for self-enrichment. Even when the truth was revealed some of them refused to believe it, & though I think they all eventually accepted he had played them for years,
some may still think he was actually sincere but just misguided. But no, he knew exactly what he was doing. I know, because when I knew him, before his fakery, he joked about doing the sorts of things he ended up doing. I didn't realize he was actually serious.
Looking at the web blurb about "Datu Mandipensa" now, entertaining toddlers in Australia, it seems so harmless. So what if he's not really Indigenous? I mean, all Filipinos are "indigenous" technically anyway, right? Who does it really hurt? It's not like people died, right? LOL
I almost forgot -- what happened to that $50,000 he collected thru the various fundraisers in the US & Australia, & that several foundations gave Mandipensa? Who knows?! There was lots of speculation, including that he spent it on supplying firearms to form a private army.
And the datus he was supposedly helping but actually conned? In his wake, their reputations were torn to shreds, leading to power vacuums and more internal instability after he absconded to Australia to escape consequences & continue coplaying Indigenous.
So, when it comes Indigenous impostors... I have some pretty strong feelings, and this is why. They may seem harmless, especially if they're able to convince you of their sincerity. But it's straight up fraud. It's harmless until one day it's not.
Let me be clear - nothing I wrote here should stop any non-Indigenous person from collaborating with, helping, supporting, building relationships with, etc., actual Indigenous people. Just don't lie & pretend you're something you are not. And the adoption question?
My late husband, anthropologist Reed Wadley, was ritually adopted by an Iban community in Borneo. He was officially incorporated into their kinship system & genealogy. But he NEVER called himself an Iban. Or played Indigenous. He knew there was a difference.
Obviously I can go on and on and on about this stuff. I apologize if it all gave you a headache. I know I developed one while writing this out. Okay I've got to stop already, for my own good and yours. THE END!

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More from @oona_paredes

16 Oct
If you don't understand why it's wrong to claim Indigenous identity when you are not Indigenous, here's my 2 centavos. An unbelievably long thread.
If you're in the USA, it's easy to understand WHY it's bad to cosplay Native American if you are not one. Whether you are white or brown or black. Not only is it in bad taste, but you also occupy and exploit spaces, resources, intellectual property, etc. that don't belong to you.
If you're a white person posing as Native American, it doesn't matter how pure your intentions are. There's no way it's okay. Well, same thing applies if you're brown, black, or other non-white. FTR, the same thing applies even if you're authentic Indigenous from another country.
Read 26 tweets
14 Oct
All Filipinos (x/o) should read this recent FB post by @RHIANAYAZZIE regarding someone named Rulan Tangen, who claims to be Indigenous. We should all be disgusted by a fellow Pinoy perpetuating this kind of fraud, appropriation, and erasure. Nakakahiya!…
FTR, so there's no ambiguity: While almost all Filipinos' ancestors are native (as in, not immigrants) to the Philippines, the category of "Indigenous Peoples" there is reserved for particular marginalized minority communities. Kapampangan is NOT one of them, & never has been.
For a half-Kapampangan who (from her bio) has not lived in the Philippines to NOT ONLY claim Indigenous status there, BUT ALSO who has for 30 yeas passed herself off as Native American by attachment, association, or not correcting mistaken impressions...all I can say is WTAF??
Read 5 tweets

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