'Living Exhibits' at 1904 World's Fair Revisited

Igorot Natives Recall Controversial Display of Their Ancestors

A group of Igorot villagers from the Philippines on display at the St. Louis World's Fair of 1904.

A group of Igorot villagers from the Philippines on display at the St. Louis World's Fair of 1904. © CORBIS hide caption

itoggle caption © CORBIS

In St. Louis this year, residents are commemorating the centennial of the 1904 World's Fair, an event originally held to mark America's progress. Among those returning to the city to mark the occasion are the descendants of tribal peoples put on display in so-called "living exhibits" that recreated their native villages.

The largest of these exhibits was the Philippine village, a 47-acre site that for seven months in 1904 became home to more than 1,000 Filipinos from at least 10 different ethnic groups. The biggest crowd-drawers were the so-called primitive tribes — especially the Igorots, whose appeal lay in their custom of eating dog.

Mia Abeya, a Maryland resident whose Igorot grandfather was among those on display, says Igorots ate dog only occasionally, for ceremonial purposes. During the fair, they were fed the animals on a daily basis. "They made them butcher dogs, which is really abusing the culture of the Igorots," Abeya tells NPR's Greg Allen.

But Abeya says the experience had a positive side, too. She notes that many Igorots attended school for the first time while in St. Louis. After returning to the Philippines, Abeya's grandfather made sure all of his children and grandchildren received an education.

Many Igorots plan to return to St. Louis in July to commemorate this controversial chapter in their history.

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