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Tuesday, December 12, 2023

That colonizer from within

“In the fervor to purge the colonizers’ machinations – in the act of decolonializing as the purging of the evils of colonialization – the country chose to render as the Other the other languages of the country and entitled only one as the backbone of its national language”

My participation in the International Conference on Cultures, Languages, and Histories at Kalinga State University in Tabuk City on November 24-25 had led me to thinking through my being a basic education teacher and an iKalinga.

It was my first-ever international conference, one where I was given a chance to share what I have found out in my research on the issues of education, climate change, and sustainability.

I have been a teacher for decades, but I had never been given the chance to rub elbows with academics and other researchers and listen to the presentation of keynote speakers.

There pricked my brain: the colonizer from within.

In his keynote address, Dr. Aurelio Solver Agcaoili of the University of Hawaii tossed the concept of “endogenous colonialization” to make us understand that the perspective the colonizer is always an outsider is factually wrong and that the colonizer could be from within.

I thought the context of his talk, “Endogenous Colonialism and the ‘Postdecolonialization’ Project: The Ethics of More Democracy in Languages, Cultures, and Histories,” offered me clarity.

He said: “The histories of nations and nation-states have given us a picture of power wielded among those that are not deemed part of the center. In victories against the colonizer, the victor has always imposed – and dictated – the “officialized” plot in which a nation’s history has been fixed on the page.”

He added “in this social drama of power, the ‘imperial’ political, economic, and cultural social structures have decreed as ‘national’ all expressions of collective life from that center, anointing symbols as national.”

The problem, he said, is this: the Philippines is a country of many languages, of many ethnolinguistic groups, and groups that are away from the center of power is not only unjust and unfair, but is a case of homogenization, a one-size-fits-all understanding of our collective and diverse experiences.

The fact is the country speaks more that 180 languages per the Ethnologue account of 2005.

In the fervor to purge the colonizers’ machinations – in the act of decolonializing as the purging of the evils of colonialization – the country chose to render as the Other the other languages of the country and entitled only one as the backbone of its national language.

“The othered Others have been muted, silenced, pushed to the margins, systemically peripheralized,” Agcaoili said.

He added “we have now epistemicide, linguicide, culturicide, lettericide, and historicide. And we have regarded these are natural because these have been effectively naturalized.”

The only way out of this unjust and unfair state-of-affairs is a critically conscious “postdecolonialization,” that act of questioning and criticizing what happened in that act of purging our consciousness from the vestiges of colonization.

He argued that the colonizer, in that uncritical act of building a nation or a nation-state, could be from within and the evil of colonization, that act of subjugating people, could come in a disguised, benevolent form.

I was troubled by that premise, and that trouble comes from my own recognition that, indeed, that iKalinga like myself have to be persuaded to speak a language from the center of power, Tagalog, that, by the force of institutions, agencies, and structures put together by the state, has been renamed, among others, as Pilipino, the old nomenclature as single-handedly proclaimed by an Education Secretary Jose Romero.

Romero’s reasoning was tactically wrong as it was a case of blanket manipulation.

He said that if Tagalog is renamed Pilipino, the other language groups of the country would no longer cry foul in the continuing and systemic deployment of Tagalog as a language foreign to a Negrense like him.

Romero, of course, was wrong.

And he was mistaken big time.

The Romero act, through an executive order, misled the people. Agcaoili said this was plain and simple machination.

The imposition, for instance, of the dialect of Paris after the French Revolution to account a fetishistic obsession of a “national language” had led to the marginalization of the other languages of an otherwise linguistically diverse country like France.

I think of these facts presented by Agcaoili, and I think of his formulation of “endogenous colonialization,” that colonization from within.

I think of those external colonizers that the people have driven away from the shores of the country—the Spaniards, the Americans, and the Japanese—and I think of James Fallows’ sense of a damaged culture, one that is applicable in the country.

But I think, too, of the systemic because it is institutionalized, colonization from within, with our learners in all levels forced to learn concepts and theories and skills in other languages other than their own.

We have gone past the “exogenous colonizers,” Agcaoili said.

“But we continue to be mesmerized by our colonizers from within, with all of us believing that only in having but one and only language could we begin to talk to each other.

Clearly, we have normalized that idea that countries need by one and only one language to make sense of their nation.

But this is all wrong.

Among the Ilokano people, for instance, they have fought their oppressors using both the languages of their colonizers and their own language, not the Tagalog language.

Isabelo delos Reyes, one of the ladino – proficient and accomplished — Ilokano writers and revolutionaries, plumbed the language of his people, Ilokano, as well as the language of the colonizers, Spanish.

I think of my fellow iKalinga.

I think of how we have all been deprived of our right to our language.

I think of the many children in our schools, children effectively made to parrot the languages of the school system, languages that are never their own nor their ancestors’.

I think of endogenous colonialization and the purging of our iKalinga mind.

I think of the “postdelonialization” as a strategy to perhaps effect the beginning of our systemic act of reclaiming sense of self.

Perhaps this is one of the ways to our redemption as a people.

(Cynthia Addawan is a public-school teacher from Tabuk City, Kalinga. She received her master’s in education and has begun to work for her doctor’s degree in development education. She is interested in her people’s language and culture and on the issue of sustainability and the indigenous peoples.)

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