Philippines: Un Pays au Pluriel (A Country of a Thousand Faces), 1987

When I first found the French-English book Philippines: Un Pays au Pluriel (1987) from the bottom shelf of the Embassy library, it seemed like just any other book about the Philippines with pictures of nature, tribes wearing their traditional garments, and Filipinos wearing beautiful smiles.

But when I read the description of the author Jean Cador (who is from Normandy France who “travelled to the remotest areas of our Archipelago” in 1977) on the book flap, I was intrigued. Written on the flap were these words:

He would not deny a promise made to those simple, endearing and hospitable people….

He could not not forget those people from another world tied to their lifestyle…

For that, Jean Cador has made this book for them, for himself, but also to inform everyone that, without a doubt, such a tranquil, joyful place still exists on this planet, even if only for a short time…

More than the history, the text and the images, Jean Cador wishes to pass on a message: he says, he shows that far from the rumours of this time and upheaval caused to people’s lives, the heart of the Orient beats undisturbed…

Yes, this first book has been conceived by Jean Cador because he is in love with the people, the sea and the sky of the Philippines.

Jean Cador took pictures of the city skyline, jeepneys, monuments, the never-ending coastline, the ordinary daily activities, the different faces of Filipinos, EDSA revolution, three famous tourist spots–the Mayon Volcano, the Banawe Rice Terraces, and the Taal Volcano, slum areas, Philippine dances, sunsets, tribes such as the Tao-Batos, Dumagats, Bataks, Mangyans, Ifugao, Kalingas, Maranaos, T’bolis, Bagobo, and Badjaos. These photos where presented side by side with texts. He likewise featured some words and illustrations by P. de la Gironiere in Vingt Annees Aux Philippines (translated as Adventures of a Frenchman in the Philippines).

What is noticeable is that the photos were taken and the texts were written without fanfare. As mentioned by Sonny Camarillo in the Introduction of the book, “Coloured pictures were done in a pleasant composition. Nothing sophisticated. His subject, the people and their “simple daily lives”, is one of my cherished dreams as a photographer.” I would agree with Camarillo on this regard as I too, believe that the lives of simple people are equally interesting with those of the rich, powerful and famous.

Let me share with you some of the photos from the book that I really liked:

Why the Philippines has a thousand faces

Different features but all sharing the same nationality

Images from daily life in the Philippines: Note how simple things like a visit to a parlor for a pedicure or a bicycle ride under the rain are enough reasons for simple folks to be happy. 🙂

A usual scene in some parts of the Philippines during the Lenten Season: Some Filipino men make it their yearly panata (devotion) to re-enact Jesus Christ’s suffering during the Holy Week, including being crucified on a makeshift cross.

Also, while reading the book, I thought of the following ideas. I would like to clarify that I am not an expert in these fields nor would I like to challenge commonly-believed information but I just would like to share them to you:

  • The Philippines as an archipelago is a maritime nation. It needs to ensure the robustness of livelihood and trade within, near and around bodies of water. It also needs to strengthen the protection of its territory as well as its maritime domain against groups who claim the territory as their own.

  • Having more than 7,000 islands can partly explain why the Philippines has so many various cultures and almost 200 languages in the entire country. In fact, according to the Summer Institute of Linguistics, there are 183 languages in the Philippines, 96 percent of which are indigenous. This wide expanse of culture is an endeniable proof of the richness of the Philippine culture as well as one of the challenges for attaining unity as a country.

  • I reacted when I read the part that the Spanish colonizers discovered the Archipelago in the 16th century. This information is nothing new when you read Philippine history but I was thinking, a country is not an object that is waiting for its keeper. It is an accepted fact too that the name of the country came from King Philip II (1527-1598) of Spain. However, a country is dynamic, breathing, alive and not an object that can be arbitrarily given a name especially by its “discoverers”. I wonder then what the locals or Philippine residents called our country even before the first colonizers came.

  • Looking at the photos of the different tribes in the Philippines, it seems to dispute the “Waves of Migration Theory” taught in history classes in Philippine schools about the country’s early history. As an elementary pupil then, I recalled seeing pictures of the “Dawn man”, Aetas or also called Negritos, and Malays in Philippine history books with fascination, then familiarity, then uncertainty. Certainly, it’s not only one group of people who will live on the thousands of islands of the Philippines, to be successively joined by another group and then another. I think, the story of migration in te Philippines is more complex and more interesting than that.

  • So many changes and developments have occurred in the Philippines since the photos were taken and since the book was published. On the one hand, there were prideworthy events that ought to be remembered and even taught to the younger generations. On the other, there were also occurrences that should rather be forgotten. But history is dynamic. The leaders of the land as well as its ordinary citizens all take part in shaping it. It should be emphasized however that having capable and competent leaders who sincerely care for the welfare of the people and the country will make a huge difference toward achieving national progress, prosperity and stability.

I love my country. There is not an ounce of doubt. It is also unsurprising because I am a Filipino.

When a foreigner who lived, grew up and studied elsewhere, however “falls in love” with another country’s culture and people, there might be a deeper reason. I do not present hypotheses for Cador’s favorable sentiments for the Philippines. I am just glad that one serendipitous afternoon, I chanced upon the book Philippines: Un Pays Au Pluriel and it made me want to rediscover, revisit and rethink things about my country.

It also made me ponder, if in the future, there is the slightest possibility of writing a book about France (which has been my home now for three years), what would I highlight?

France is a beautiful country. Aside from touring around Paris, I have been to Marseille, Nice, Normandy, Provins, Rambouillet, Saint-Germain-en-laye, Strasbourg, and Versailles but to the question I posed, I do not know the answer yet.

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