HomeThe Journal of Historyvol. 55 no. 1 (2009)

Writing Ethnohistory in the Philippines: Narrating and Theorizing Culture

Raymundo D. Rovillos

Discipline: History, Ethnography



This paper explores the "poetics and politics" (Clifford and Marcus 1986) of writing ethnohistory in the Philippines. This is achieved by scrutinizing selected ethnohistories from different ethnographic regions in the Philippines: Cordillera, Central and South Luzon, and Mindanao.


These texts are discursively analyzed using the framework proposed by Clifford and Marcus, that is, "ethnographic writing is determined in at least six ways:


(1) contextually—it draws from and creates meaningful social milieux; (2) rhetorically—it uses and is used by expressive conventions; (3) institutionally—one writes within, and against, specific traditions, disciplines, audiences; (4) generically—an ethnography is usually  distinguishable from a novel or a travel account; (5) politically—the authority to represent cultural realities is unequally shared and at times contested; (6) historically—all the above conventions and constraints are changing. These conventions govern the inscription of coherent ethnographic inscriptions" (Ibid., 6).


The paper does not claim to present the "truths" about the past and culture of the Igorots, Mangyans, Bagobos, Tausugs, etc. Rather, it reveals how these "truths" are inscribed and re-inscribed in the ethnohistorical texts. It shall demonstrate that cultures are indeed produced historically, and are actively contested.