Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Philippines: Cowboys and Indians Ride Again

In penning my last blog, my brain stumbled across a great visual. I said something like: "The Philippines is a lawless land. Those with power are cowboys and those without power are Indians".

Striving for example, I said the Indians were the victims of massacres and the bodies floating down the Cagayan de Oro river with all the logs. You know, the people at the wrong end of a six-shooter or chain saw.

Weapons is one area where the Philippines is thoroughly up-to-date. The modern Philippine equivalent of a six-shooter is a black automatic rifle acquired from the military in some slick way or another. The name of the weapon is irrelevant. AK-47, M-16, whatever. They all look alike from the Indian perspective at the front of the barrel. It's a big black ominous circle.

I'm going to ride with this image for a few blogs, or eternity, which ever pays most.

What is fascinating is that every Filipino is an Indian half the time. You see, every interpersonal transaction in the Philippines, under JoeAm's special "can't hide no more" social microscope, can be seen as a binary power play, a winner and a loser. Sometimes the power position is overt, explicit, loud and clear. A teacher is a cowboy, a student is an Indian. A government worker is a cowboy, a citizen needing government help is an Indian. A driver of a big black SUV is a cowboy, the pedaler of a tricycle is an Indian. A Senator is a cowboy, a voter is an Indian. Immigration is a cowboy, a traveler is an Indian. Customs is a cowboy, a trader is an Indian. A guy with a gun is a cowboy, a guy with no gun is an Indian.

Sometimes the power position is more difficult to see. The friend who ridicules another friend is a cowboy; the person being ridiculed is the Indian. The lady with the pastel white skin is the cowboy of style; the sun-baked rice worker lady is the Indian squaw of style. The shop clerk is the cowboy; the shopper is the Indian, except at Jollibee, which has managed to reverse the pattern in its single-minded drive to provide a good customer experience and make a bazillion pesos doing it.

The scene is rather humorous as people switch hats liberally. The white-skinned lady has to put away her 10 gallon Stetson and whip on a band of feathers when she goes into Social Security to stand subserviently in line to make her annual payment. The teacher, who rides to and from school on a motorcycle, must hold onto his feathers so they don't blow off when the big black Expedition blasts by. But he keeps his cowboy had pressed dearly to his chest in case he passes a student walking home and needs to whip it on to look authoritative. Everyone in line at the ATM is an Indian; the guy at the machine is a cowboy.

The generals get to wear their cowboy hats most of the time, except when meeting a general with more stars. If they are meeting the President, they wear their cowboy outfit with leather chaps and boots, silver spurs clattering away as they stride their perfect stride, 30 inches long. They do this to remind the President of all the past Army coups. But under the hat is a ring of squashed feathers.

Yes indeedy. I've watched a lot of cowboy movies in my time. Hopalong Cassaday, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, the Lone Ranger (ahahaha, and his trusty Indian sidekick Tonto; "How, Kemo Sabe!"), Zorro (the Mexican Lone Ranger), Butch Cassady and the Sundance Kid (God, Redford and Newman are handsome), "Gunsmoke"(with handsome Marshall Matt Dillon and that hot barchick starring Amanda Blake), Wyatt Earp, Maverick, Brisco County. Oh, "The Rifleman", can't forget that square-jawed dude, whatever his name is. "High Noon" on the big screen. Some guy on TV with a sawed off shotgun whose name I forgot, but he starred in "The Great Escape". And that classic, "Shane" with Alan Ladd. I'm sure I missed a Charlton Heston cowboy film in the mix, but for sure he would somewhere along the line assume the pose of Christ on the Cross. "Ben Hur", "Soyent Green"," Planet of the Apes" . . . he spreads on all of them.

OMG, and JOHN WAYNE. Juices, how could I miss that 6' 5" brother from the University of Southern California. Or was that John Lucas?

It's all a little fuzzy, you understand. Seen through the very long lens of time.

The only movie where Indians star that I recall was written by Mel Brooks: "Blazing Saddles". Ah, and Dustin Hoffman in the one where the Indian rides his horse backward. You see, Indians are the subject of ridicule everywhere. That is my point. They get the wrong end of the rifle, as does the loser in any interpersonal engagement between Filipinos. The rifle may be verbal or real.

That's why courtesy is not popular in the Philippines. It is a weakness. It makes you an Indian. Your face feels best if you are a cowboy.

And every engagement, even among friends, is a contest of power. You almost never see two cowboys together at the same time. That would suggest strong self esteem and no head gear required. Most of the time Filipinos fight mightily over the one cowboy hat available to them all.

It's as surreal as the surfing scene in "Apocalypse Now".

Hi Yo Silver, away!

By the way, who rode a horse named Champion? And what baseball team did he own for a while?


  1. My Big Black SUV has a bumper sticker that reads "Honk if you love Indians."

    Joe, did you have a terrible day with the natives today?

    1. ahaha, perceptive. The cowboys keep insisting that I be an Indian.

    2. You can agree to be the Indian. Just be the Indian with the shotgun.

  2. "...Those with power are cowboys and those without power are Indians" - JOE

    So true ! In the Philippiens the cowboys are the tisoys, tisays, intsik and non-Filipino looking, where as, the Indians are the native brown-skin-punk'd nose locals.

    The tisoys and tisays and non-Filipino looking hunts down Filipinos that has a value roughly $2,000 per head basing on third party liability insurance - Bodily Injury.

    These cowboys can shoot these locals and get away with it for blocking their way.

    So True ! The tisoys and tisays demand courtesy from the Indios. Oh, Joe, Spanish conquistadores calls Filipinos then Indios. So are the the current breeds of Spanish speaking industrialists.

    ... and the indios love to patronize these tisoys and tisays oligarchies.

    1. I'm fascinated by the "roots" of the Philippines but have not really studied it. Moros, conquistadores, thug Americans. Feudal. Royal. Dictatorial. I'm going to root around in the textbook section of National Bookstore next time I visit.

  3. My favorite western movies are:

    The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
    How the West was Won
    and the best, to me, was The Silverado

    1. Ah, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. How could I forget that classic Eastwood flick. It defined the genre of Spaghetti Western. Clint Eastwood and Marlon Brando are the best of the best, somehow conveying "macho" with a stare.

    2. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly...makes me want to smoke Camels.

      No note for Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch"?

    3. Hmmm, I missed the Wild Bunch. Must have been in Nam, or out protesting afterward.

    4. "...courtesy is not popular in the Philippines. It is a weakness. It makes you an Indian."

      Courtesy and...
      give me a list Joe!

    5. Lists don't have a sharp point, so I take one or two at a time. Stay tuned . . .


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