Plenary Power and the Exceptionality of Igorots: Settler Imperialism and the Lewis and Clark Exposition

Published In

Amerasia Journal

Document Type


Publication Date



In lieu of an abstract, here is an excerpt from the introduction:

After the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition came to a close, The Oregonian, the local Portland paper, featured a photograph of a group of Igorots from the exposition, with the caption: “Igorrotes are packing to leave Portland.”1 In the wake of the wildly popular Philippine Reservation at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, which introduced to white Americans their “little brown brothers” from their newly acquired territory, the organizers of the Portland, Oregon exposition decided to mount a similar exhibition.2 While the St. Louis Fair included different groups from the varied regions of the Philippine Islands, a scaled-down version featuring only Igorots was erected for the one in Portland. Organizational difficulties delayed its opening, yet the Igorot village was a financial success as fairgoers thronged to see the savage “dog-eaters” from the Philippines.3 While images of Filipino primitivism had already become embedded within the national narrative of civilizational uplift to justify colonization, the figure of the Igorot as an icon of the Philippines was due in no small part to the “Igorot craze” fueled by the St. Louis Fair and the emergence of photography as an instrument of imperial ethnography.4 However, unlike the many ethnographic studies and staged photos of the savage half-naked Igorots, this photo of Igorots packing reveals a very different imperial encounter. The exposition is over and in the early stages of being dismantled. No longer performing or on display, the women are all dressed, and their range of expressions, from amusement to annoyance to curiosity to surprise, suggests that the photographer has trespassed “backstage.”


© 2021 Informa UK Limited, Taylor & Francis

Locate the Document

Persistent Identifier