A species of nationalism is being preached in the Philippines that ought to be scrutinized more closely for the dangerous fallacies it contains. The people are being enjoined to beware of “foreign influences” and to stick to the cultivation of “native traditions and virtues”. Because the warning has been voiced by men who are recognized as typical representatives of the adulterated culture which we are being urged to shun, their views carry weight and must, therefore, be carefully examined.
The burden of the charge against the present state of our culture is that the Filipinos of the younger generation have repudiated their glorious inheritance of tradition. They have imbibed innumerable foreign influences indiscriminately. The existing education system has failed miserably to make “real Filipinos” out of the youth. And what is the remedy proposed for this deplorable condition? This: that the Filipino people, especially the youth, contemplate more avidly the “glorious past” of their country; steep themselves in the beauty of the ancient folkways, beliefs, and precepts of their ancestors; and learn anew the social graces and amenities the their forefathers found so necessary if no so pleasing in their time. The folk songs, folk dances, and folklore of the ancient Filipinos must be given a place of honor in the curriculum of the schools.
It is common place to say that nationalism is one of the most potent factors in the cultural development of people. Love of one’
s own is essential in the equipment of all truly civilized human beings; it is the only safe and sensible basis for the appreciation of things that pertain to others. Only those who truly love their own country and people – their tradition, history, and destiny – can develop a sincere interest in, and admiration for, tradition, history, and destiny of other countries and people. Only they can become genuine cosmopolites, “citizens of the world.”
There can be no objection to any movement which seeks to show that the Filipinos had a high level of indigenous culture even before the coming of the Spaniards, to acquaint the youth with the history of their country, with the nobble struggles of their people for liberty, and with the lives of those men and women whose sacrifices have made possible the freedom and enlightenment they now enjoy. Nor, above all, can there be any objection to the efforts of many sincere lovers of the ancient Filipino folk arts to retrieve these where they lie neglected or forgotten, in order that an intelligent and enduring interest in them may be revived.
Successive waves of physical and cultural invasion have destroyed valuable monuments of native culture and civilization. In the feverish haste of the invaders to impose their own ways of thinking and living upon the conquered race, it was inevitable that the ingredients and vessels of the latter’s culture were often utterly destroyed. Existing folklore and folkways had to be uprooted, as weeds might be uprooted, as weeds might be uprooted, to permit the growth of the new planting. Obviously, any movement deserves to be encouraged which attempts to restore, in the eyes of the people, the faded but still fascinating colors of their past. Such a movement would not only serve the ends of historical curiosity; it would confirm the Filipino people in their pride of race and nationality; it would give continuity to the inspiration of their history and provide them with a vital sense of tradition.
But here we must draw the line. We must make sure that in urging the people to look backward, our only desire is to place before their eyes the continuous thread of their history as a nation, so that from here onward they may move without hesitancy, fearless for the future because they are certain of the past. This is the only valid reason for the backward glance. For it may not be used also as an excuse for urging the people to assume attitudes towards living that may have served our fathers well but which are no longer adequate to meet the demands of the world we inhabit. Certainly it would be dangerous to urge the doctrine that was good enough for our fathers is good enough for us. A far more salutary doctrine is, that nothing is too good for our people, and that they are entitled to the best that the world has fashioned for man’s more gracious and more abundant living. The world keeps moving, and we must move-with it or we are lost. The wife of lot in the biblical story took one backward glance and was turned into statue of salt.
By all means, the Filipino people ought to know that they have a past of which they can be proud and therefore also a future which shall be a worthy flowering of that past. The young people must be told that even before the coming of the Spaniards, the Filipinos had a culture of their own which compared favorably with the culture of those arrogant nations that now pretend to be the “civilizers “ of the world. But such an effort should at the same time recognize the danger of inculcating a nationalism which is born of a suspicion or a hatred of things foreign and which takes such fanatical pride and the country’s past that it tend to magnify what great things have already been done at the expense of what needful things yet remain to be accomplished. A healthy of the people’s debt to the past must be develop but only in order they may recognized more avidly still there tremendous obligation to the future.
The danger above that must be avoided is the tendency to make a movement an instrument of reaction in primitivism. For after all, the validity of any given culture lies, not in its peculiar charm (which is usually born of a sense of strangeness or romanticism of the memory), but in it fitness and utility as an instrument of the people’s security and happiness.
Every age creates instruments by which the livelihood and social relationships of the people are promoted and enriched. It stands to reason that any instrument which no longer serves this purpose must be fashioned anew or be replaced. Such an instrument may be a fit object for a historical museum, there to be treasured as a curiosity or as an object of art, but to suggest that we use it still for no other reason than that it served the purposes of our fathers well, is absurd. We must admit, in all humility, that our whole strength derives from the past; at the same time, we must clearly understand that this strength is to be used in creating a better world to live in for ourselves and our children. In short, we should beware of any invitation to return to ways of thinking and living that are “truly our own,” lest we led also into abandoning those ways of thinking and living that may not have been ours three centuries back but which have since become part and parcel of our social inheritance. We may not throw these things away merely because we did not start, discover or invent them, any more than we should throw electricity away because Benjamin Franklin and Michael Faraday were not Filipinos. Nor should we return to the ancient ways because they were the ways of our ancestors, any more than we ought to revive head-hunting because this used to be the one of the most exhilarating pastimes of our fathers.
The Philippines today is not merely what Filipinos have made it in the past; it is also what innumerable factors working inward from without have made it through centuries of commerce with the rest of the world, not only in things material but in things intellectual and spiritual. To talk of a “native Filipino culture” that is exclusively of our own invention and fashioning, is to refer to something that is wholly without objective content, something unreal and imaginary. It is to indulge in fantasy.
What, by the way, are those things and ways of life that are truly our own? Does not the history of the pre-Spanish period give abundant evidences of the fact that our culture was even then highly heterogeneous, deriving from various “foreign” elements, absorbing generous doses of Chinese, Hindu, and Mahammedan influences. And what, to take a parallel instances, are those things and ways of life that are truly English, French, German, or American? To ask these question is to be confronted by the fact that there is no country in the world that possesses a culture which is exclusively the product of its own genius. If race language and religion are basic elements of culture anywhere, which country among those that are considered as the most progressive in the world today, has not experienced an alien infusion in one or more of these culture elements.
The Filipinos pride themselves in two things more than in all others: their Christian civilization and their democratic system of government. Yet neither is indigenous; both have come to them from the outside. Should they go back to the worship of anitos and to the tribal system of government because these are truly their own?
The historical process is moving slowly but surely towards the more complete internalization of culture. The triumphs of humanity in the arts and sciences, in the physical world as well as in the intellectual and spiritual, soon project themselves beyond the frontiers of the particular countries that first produced them, to become the common property of all civilized nations.
Cultural isolation is fatal. The Filipino people must learn from the fate of those countries that have raised mighty walls of prejudice against” foreign cultural influences “ and have consequently suffered from the depredations of those imperialist powers that cloak their greed in the sanctimonious guise of “civilizing” the benighted portions of the globe.