Cultural appropriation isn’t a new concept, but the Man of the World Pageant seems to have taken it to a new level. On June 11, a local men’s pageant included a “bahag swimwear” portion in their program. The contestants had to strut down the runway wearing a refashioned “bahag” (which is in quotation marks since the traditional garment was visibly altered to—ehem—enhance the physique of the contestants).
As evidenced in the photos, the traditional Cordilleran garment was not worn properly. Takder, an Indigenous rights group organization, has called out the misuse of the garment, stating that it was “done in bad taste.”
People appearing to represent the organizers of the pageant have claimed it was properly represented. Though these comments can no longer be found on Facebook, the National Commision on Indigenous Peoples Cordillera Administrative Region (NCIP-CAR) have included it in their official press release.
The press release included the claims that there was an expert on board to ensure that the garment was worn correctly and its use was cleared prior to the contest. The alleged organizers also claimed that this style of the bahag was accurate and used in swimming activities.
All of these claims were refuted by the representatives of the NCIP-CAR. In its statement, it asked for the side of the organizers and their cultural expert, including proof that the bahag was ever used underwater. “The Bahag (G-string) just like any other traditional garments should be accorded the highest respect by wearing them properly and for the purpose they were made,” it noted.
Former senatorial candidate and Indigenous groups advocate Teddy Baguilat has also spoken out on the pageant. Baguilat, who is also the former governor of Ifugao, says that it was worn incorrectly and made into a “sex toy.”
Beauty pageants have become an avenue to showcase the craftsmanship of our Indigenous people. Take Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, for example, who consulted with the T’boli women to use their T’nalak cloth. Reaching out to a group to make use of their designs and attires takes effort but goes a long way in respecting their cultural identity. It also sets that boundary of staying within the line of cultural appreciation and avoids insulting others through appropriation.
If the intention is to give more representation to our Indigenous siblings, bringing attention to their plight can be done in a more tasteful manner and bring about more tangible results. For example, there are MSMEs who work with Indigenous weavers and craftspeople to create products that are marketable and still respect Indigenous culture.
While there is always room for cultural appreciation, this was definitely not the case. Displaying traditional Cordilleran and Ifugao culture is great, but fighting for their rights is even better.