Igorots Arrive in San Francisco in 1905

Historical Essay

by Elaine Elinson

A headline in the San Francisco Chronicle on November 3, 1905 declares “Head-Hunting Igorrotes Here.” The article states that under the auspices of Richard Schneidewind, 25 Igorrotes – “that wild tribe of the Philippines whose ruling passion is the cutting off of human heads…have established a village after the manner of their native habitations at Central Park, on Market Street.”

The group consisted of 18 men and 7 women, including Domingo, the “venerable old savage with white hair, who is the chief of the group” and 18-year-old Watana, who now dresses in a calico skirt and an old military coat “which was probably worn by one of Uncle Sam’s soldiers while on some foray thorough her native village.

According to the Chronicle, Schneidewind “secured the sanction of the Government to bring these barbarians to America for exhibition purposes.”

And exhibit them he did. On November 4, a display ad in the Chronicle proclaims in capital letters: Opens Today: Igorrotes – Head-Hunting, Dog-Eating Wild People from the Philippine Islands. Illustrating tribal life, manners, customs, costumes and industries during a limited engagement at Central Park, Market and Eighth, Three Gold Medals at Portland Exposition. Similar ads appeared in further editions of both the Chronicle and the Call.

The visit of the Igorots to San Francisco served another purpose as well. In the 1906 edition of the American Anthropologist there is a short article by leading U.C. Berkeley anthropologist A.L. Kroeber, considered one of the founding fathers of the field of anthropology. He explains that “through the courtesy of Mr. Schneidewind” the U.C. Department of Anthropology had the opportunity to take the measurements of 18 men and 7 women from Bontoc, Tacucan and several other Igorot villages. He also made observations on the color of their skin, noting “the women gave the impression of being darker then the men.”

In the San Francisco Call on November 5 there is a disturbingly racist headline: Igorrotes Devastate Canine Population and Nobody’s Towser is Shown Mercy. In a pathetic attempt at humor, the unsigned column states that “Fido, Towser, Jack and Bruno have taken to the pines…since the Igorrote Village erected its nipa huts in our midst.” The article includes a putative menu of the Igorrote Village, with a variety of dishes made from Skye terrier, water spaniel and Great Dane.

The last article about the Igorots in San Francisco was printed in the Chronicle on November 22 and is headlined “Handsomest Igorrote Ill with Tonsillitis.” It reports that Uguoy was admitted to the Central Emergency Hospital, accompanied by Schneidewind and Ontaro, an English speaker. The article notes that the cold weather has brought illness to the villagers and that they are planning to leave for “sunny Southern California.”

By January 14, ads begin to appear in the Los Angeles Herald for Igorrote Village at Chutes Park in Los Angeles, appearing with Chiaffarelli’s Italian Band and Professor Bilyck’s troupe of educated sea lions.

Schneidewind had signed contracts for Los Angeles Chutes Park for an exhibition advertised on handbills as “The Call of the Wild: Head-Hunting, Dog-Eating, Wild People from the Philippines.” The ads appeared in the Herald on a daily basis for several weeks. (There was a Chutes Park in San Francisco but no evidences of any performances there in the programs from any of its locations in the Haight, the Avenues or Playland.)

Schneidewind’s contract with the 25 Igorots provided monthly salaries of $10 to older members, and lower rates to the younger members; all transportation, lodging and food. Three of the members Ontero, Felingao and Bugti signed their names to the contract, the rest were marked with an X. While in Los Angeles, three of boys, Antero, Bugti and Felingao, were enrolled in the 16th Street School. They hoped to be able to continue their studies, but by the spring they were out of school and en route to Chicago.

Other San Francisco Clues

Though the FEC group left for Los Angeles, there were a few more interesting – mentions in the San Francisco papers, each relevant in their own way. A very small item in the June 16, 1905 edition of the Chronicle, entitled “Soldiers Beat Filipinos,” is about a baseball game played on the Presidio between the “regular nine” of the Presidio and members of the Twenty-third infantry who had just returned from the Philippines and called themselves “Tagalogs.”

On May 20, 1907 the San Francisco Chronicle reports “Forty One Savages from Bontoc Province Will Give Exhibitions at the Exposition.” The exhibition they are referring to is the one across the country at Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition in Virginia [another article says no Igorrotes there – so something must have happened to them along the way].

The article reports that the group, again sponsored by Schneidewind, arrived on the Japanese steamer Nippon Maru and “despite the cold air that blew, the Igorrotes, almost naked stood about on the steerage deck of the liner and gazed with awe upon surrounding evidence civilization.”

There was also a rumor, the article notes, that the group “had been imported by Calhoun for purpose of breaking the car strike – but this was denied by R. Schneidewind. (There was a bitter street car strike in San Francisco inn 1907 – the strikers were met with violence.)

Interestingly, the article states that Schneidewind was given permission to bring the Igorots here by Governor Smith but that “various missionaries and many prominent Filipinos strongly objected to the proposition…”

Finally, there is a story in The Call on December 26, 1906 headlined “Filipinos Condemn Igorrote Show.” The protest came from Filipino students at U.C. Berkeley objecting to the “exhibit of the weird Igorrotes” at the coming Jamestown Exposition. Their protest highlights the continuing link to the U.S. government. They directed their protest to W. A. Sutherland, who was the supervisor of the students in the U.S. However, Sutherland took a leave of absence to return to the Philippines to “secure a party of the islands’ aborigines.” The editorial stance of the paper supported the students, and condemned the “contemptible traffic in human flesh” and to ask why Sutherland does not exhibit the 175 Filipino students now in America instead of making “a few dollars by exhibiting naked Igorrotes.”

There were also protests in the Philippines. Many Filipinos considered these carnival “Wild Men” shows as a national embarrassment. By 1911, people in the Bontoc region did not want to send any more people with Schneidewind’s FEC although Governor Forbes said they could enter into contracts. The Lepanto-Bontoc leadership used many methods to keep their people from leaving: instituting a quarantine, charging they had to pay a tax, and even telling the French that the putative travelers had trachoma.

According to historian Vaughan, “For the US government, Igorot exhibitions had gone from hot product to hot potato…”

After 1909, there was no more government sponsorship and the U.S. tightened immigration controls to prevent more Igorrote Village shows. The FEC could only place the Igorrote sideshow in commercial venues (as opposed to quasi-governmental expositions). Schneidewind took a group to Europe in 1911. There he got into financial trouble in Europe. In Ghent, the several Igorots were found wandering the streets, starving. They told the U.S. Consul that Schneidewind had abandoned them

In 1914 legislation was passed by US government in Philippines to put an end to the Igorot shows. By the time of the 1915 Pan Pacific Exposition held on the Presidio, the Philippine exhibit was of a very different nature than the St. Louis World’s Fair.