KAYUMANGGI: BROWN AND PROUD

The Brown Skin: Pride of the Malay RaceManila, July 6, 2003 By Dero Pedero (STAR) Every day we are bombarded by advertisements where the light-skinned girl gets the admiring stares, the fair mestiza lands the job, the fairer girl gets the man. Notice the billboards that literally gobble up the highway. Plastered on them is either some blond foreigner or the pale, smiling face of a local mestiza movie star. To be a model or an actor in this country, you have to be tisoyin or tisayin, meaning, on the fair side (never mind that you canít act!).

Whatever happened to the kayumanggi? Kayumanggi is the golden brown color of our Filipino Malay race. We used take pride in this Filipino attribute and even had our own legend of creation that went something like this: When God first created man and put him in an oven, man came out half-baked and too light. Unhappy, God tried again but this time, man came out over-baked and dark. Finally, He created the Filipino who came out golden brown, and God smiled and nodded, "Perfect!"

We hardly hear this legend anymore but whoever wrote it deserves the highest Philippine National Pride award. So far, it is the only material that purposely extols, exalts, ennobles, and dignifies the kayumanggi color our people have been blessed with. Whoever wrote or conceived it knew that pride in our color is needed to re-affirm and solidify our belief in ourselves.

Proud Stock

The first Filipinos were a mighty proud stock. Ingrained in their minds were the heroic plight of the adventurous rajahs and their families defying harsh winds and high seas in their balangays (in case you didnít know, the balangays were the sturdy boats used by our Malay forefathers to cross the southern seas to reach these pristine islands), the golden glory of the magnificent Majapahit era, and the noble dignity of the Code of Kalantiao. Gallant Lapu-Lapu and his bolo-wielding men were no match to the cannon-equipped Spanish conquistadores but successfully staged the first defiant "demo" against foreign invasion and killed Magellan on the shores of Mactan. Manila never gave in to Spanish dominance under the determined leadership of Rajah Lakandula. Our forefathers were proud of their race and fought hard to defend their right to these islands.

Then, as history had it, might subjugated pride. The Spaniards, with their superior military expertise and weaponry, finally conquered the Philippines. And they had something at their disposal that was mightier than any cannonball Ė Christianity. The best and easiest way to make a people subservient is through religion. And the newly Christianized Las Islas Filipinas became a bottleneck of confusion. Realize that the rajahs and their followers already had their own vibrant culture, music, dance, kulintangs, gongs and sequined royal umbrellas and were used to the wealth and luxuries of trade and commerce (yes, we already had flourishing economic relations with China and other neighboring countries then). What a culture shock it must have been for them to be taught the western concepts of sin, penance, living a "saintly" life of poverty and lowliness!

When you hold a manís soul, you hold his allegiance. Spain held our national soul and injected into our national psyche that Catholicism is the only way to salvation. So our poor ancestors had to burn their pagan images and statues of anitos and replaced them with images of saints or santos. Of course, most Jesus, Mary, and saint images were white-skinned and without realizing it, the natives began worshipping icons of a white race.

The Indios (that was what Filipinos were called then) eventually started idolizing white and would say, "Ang ganda niya! Maputi at matangos ang ilong parang Birhen!" Our standard of beauty has become the sweet, fair face of the Virgin Mary and our concept of handsome manliness became the kind, forgiving, smiling, bearded and blue-eyed white face of Jesus and the saints.

Even our concept of God has changed into the Christian personification of God the Father, a bearded white old man sitting on a cloud. For all we know, like in the movie Bruce Almighty, God could be an old, bearded black man! By the way, scientific researchers came out with a recent image of how Jesus Christ was supposed to have looked like and it isnít at all like the pretty boy picture we have of him. According to the study, Christ was most likely dark, stocky, wide-nosed and burly with almost kinky hair.

Fast Forward

Then the Americans conquered our islands. If the Spaniards had Christianity as their secret weapon, the Americans, too, had theirs. And it was even more exciting and interesting. Can you guess what it was? Hollywood, of course! Our new gods became Douglas Fairbanks, Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor, and a whole galaxy of never-ending glamorous white stars. The rule is: He who dominates the movie and entertainment business conquers the world and the minds of people around the globe!

As the American dominance continued, the poor Filipino started to lose pride in his color. How could he not when the worldís heroes were all white, the glamorous Hollywood kings and queens were white, even childrenís dolls like Barbie and Ken were white! And the characters we all grew up with Ė from Cinderella to Snow White, Superman to Spiderman Ė are all white. (The only black ones who made it to world prominence are Mickey and Minnie Mouse!)

It is then no wonder that we have a nation who puts a premium on fair skin and high-bridged noses. And even though we see a lot of badly done cases of cosmetic surgery (ridiculous-looking noses and perennially surprised eye folds that donít sit well on totally Asian faces), people still spend big money on anything and anyone who promises a Caucasian transformation.

Peroxide Beauties

We have become a nation of yuki this and yuki that, and it seems like everybody is sporting peroxide-lightened hair and hydroquinone-altered skin. We have entertainment, movie and basketball personalities with bleached hair. We have outrageous rockers trying to be white, rappers trying to be black, and no one trying to be brown. In the very condominium where I live, I am dismayed to see domestic helpers with faces so white and (irritatingly) pink while the rest of their bodies are dark and rough.

Light skin, high-bridged nose, and blond hair are all evolutionary results of physical adaptation to temperate or cold weather. Those who live in the tropics are usually brown; those who live in the hottest parts of Africa are black because of physical adaptation to the region. When you lighten your skin, you diminish the protective pigmentation that nature coated your skin with so you can withstand the intense Philippine sun and not be prone to skin cancer. Wake up, people. White isnít always right.

Caucasians spend millions of dollars on tanning lotions, creams and treatments. They want to look tanned and dark. For most white people, being tanned is a sign of health and wealth Ė that you have the time and money to soak up the sun in the Bahamas or the Mediterranean. (Thatís why jet-setting celebrities like Julio Iglesias and George Hamilton sport an all-year round tan!) Westerners find tanned skin sexy (remember the term "tall, dark and handsome" and the Ipanema girl who is delectably "tall and tan and young and lovely"?

The desire to cross the racial barrier by resorting to bleaching, dyeing and surgical processes is a betrayal of your DNA and racial heritage. This wanting to be something other than what nature bestowed or intended is clearly a mental aberration of a real high order.

Brown And Proud

I really wonder if Filipinos will ever be truly proud of being brown. With the way things are going, it would take a miracle and a whole national mental reprogramming before we can ever be truly proud of our lahing kayumanggi (brown race and heritage) again. History has confused us so and todayís advertisers are even confusing us more with promises of supposedly more attractive whiter, pinker, "noticeably fairer" skin.

We need to use more kayumanggis in our advertisements and movies. Instead of Barbies and Kens, we should have brown Naypi and Noypi dolls. Filipinos should be taught to clear up their pimples and skin discoloration but to keep and be proud of their national skin color. We have to teach our citizens, especially our young people, that you donít have to be white to make a difference in this world. If we keep at this, then maybe someday the typical dusky barrio lass would finally see and believe that she, too, is beautiful.

My good friend, Leah Navarro, who sports a fabulous golf-bronzed complexion sums it up so beautifully: "I am appalled at how women think being fairer makes you better. Itís racist. Weíre brown for Godís sake! The grass isnít necessarily greener on the other side. Manufacturers should call their products skin clarifying, not skin whitening. We should be celebrating our color, our kayumanggi-ness if you will. Itís another negation of who we are. Other folks tan like crazy!"


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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