Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, April 22, 1999

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Albert Ueligitone, right, is Balikas, a native Filipino
put on display by Andy Utech as Lakay.

A shameful
moment in
U.S. history

A new play examines the
1904 exploitation of
native peoples

By Tim Ryan


In 1904, at The Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Mo. -- otherwise known as the World's Fair -- 1,000 human beings were put on display.

It cost 25 cents to see Bontoc people from the Philippines, along with other native peoples. This event, which barely raised eyebrows at the time, is the subject of "Nikimalika," a new play by Chris Millado, which opens tomorrow at the University of Hawaii's Kennedy Theatre.

Roughly translated, "Nikimalika" means "those who participated in the conception of America."

Indigenous storytellers and colonial mythmakers will reenact their versions of what happened through ritual, legend and pseudo-scientific narratives.

"This story will appeal to all cultures," said Millado, 37, "because it talks about American independence at the turn of the century, and the way the United States was solidifying its profile in the world's eyes by displaying people from its expanding territories like the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico."


Bullet On stage: 8 p.m. April 23-24, 29-30, May 1; 2 p.m. May 2
Bullet Place: Kennedy Theatre, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Bullet Tickets: $12 adults; discounts for students, seniors, military, faculty, staff
Bullet Call: 956-7655

The Filipino exhibit was called "The Philippine Exposition," and Millado, a respected playwright of Filipino ancestry, described it as a theme park.

"For a quarter you walked around a sort of Disneyland-like display, ostensibly watching Filipinos carrying on in every day life," he said. "In one portion there were the civilized people; and in the other were the uncivilized ones who eat dog."

Millado, who has about 30 produced plays to his credit, studied at the University of the Philippines and New York University. For the last five years, his plays have dealt with the history of Filipinos in America.

"There's not much history written about Filipinos in America," he said. "The theater is a way for us to reclaim history accurately and a place to learn about history when it's not written about in books."

Millado believes the time is ripe for Asian-American stories. "Many of these stories have only been told within the respective (ethnic) communities, with no concerted efforts to step outside. The stories have always been there but the audience base has been limited."

"The community as a whole needs to see that these experiences don't only speak about one ethnic community but relate to all of us.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Bontoc dancers are placed on display in
a scene from "Nikimalika."

"There are second- and third-generation Filipinos who may consider themselves American but have come to the point in their lives where they want to recognize some kind of Philippine ethnicity and history."

Millado spent most of his life in Manila, where he worked as artistic director of the Philippine Educational Theater Association and as training director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

His first play was produced when he was 15. During the last two years of the Marcos regime -- roughly 1984-86, Millado and a group of other writers, actors and political activists in Manila enacted plays on the streets of the capital, where people gathered to demonstrate.

"Part of our scene always was being dispersed by water cannons and gunfire by government soldiers and police," he recalled.

While the Marcoses were living in Honolulu, Millado's anti-Marcos, sweeping political drama, "Oath to Freedom," was performed at Kennedy Theatre.

In the Philippines, Millado was exposed to constant festivals, parades and processions. It steered him to a life in the theater.

"Every day there was a festival. It's a very theatrical culture and that appealed to me very much. Early on I knew I wanted to make a career of this."

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