The Missionary Ethnographer’s Indigenous Interviewees: Colonial Knowledge Production, the Inquisition, and Tagalog Elites, 1686

Nicholas Sy, University of the Philippines Diliman

Within the Spanish Empire, the voices of indigenous elites are usually heard in petitions, litigations, and revolts surrounding temporal privileges and needs. I explore these voices within a distinct if tangent dimension of life: the production of colonial knowledge about the spiritual world. In 1686, an indigenous woman named Ana Geronima confessed. She revealed that her neighbors from the foothills of Mount Makiling in the island of Luzon, Philippines were “idolaters.” They remained avid adherents of animism five generations after evangelization. In reaction, the church mounted an inquisition. Using a single questionnaire it interviewed nine respondents about (1) the locals’ practices, (2) how they had managed to hide these practices, and (3) how they saw Christianity. These interviewees described processions under the full moon into caves within ravines; catalonan (priestesses), dancing, convulsing, and speaking to pythons; fears that believers would be burned alive if the Spaniards heard about their practices; and hybridized Catholic and animistic beliefs. The transcriptions of these interviews represent a rare and largely untapped opportunity to listen-in on the interaction between ethnographer and interviewee during the data gathering process of knowledge production at the empire’s Asian frontier. Interestingly, none of the interviewees were catalonan. All but one were principalia—indigenous leaders at the municipal level of the colonial order. Why were these nine respondents chosen? Why did they choose to cooperate? What were the individual vantage points from which they saw their community’s beliefs? What was their role vis-à-vis the missionary ethnographer in the creation of colonial knowledge? I read between the lines of the inquisitor’s questions and his respondents’ answers. I also contextualize the inquisitor’s biographical notes on his respondents within their early modern socio-economic realities and ties (mapped using parish registers). I aim to contribute to a broader investigation into the status group’s colonial-era intellectual history.

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 Presented in Session 241. Knowledge Production and Culture in Historical Context