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Semi-CivilizedThe Moro Village at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition$
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Michael C. Hawkins

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781501748219

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501748219.001.0001

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Sensational Savages

Sensational Savages

(p.22) 1 Sensational Savages

Michael C. Hawkins

Cornell University Press

This chapter recounts how, from the outset, the Moro display was plagued with a number of competing tensions. In report after report, exposition officials readily acknowledged the potentially sensational nature of the displays but immediately grounded them in “scientific value.” This tension between sensationalism and scientific value was even more complex for colonial officials in the Philippines. Highlighting savagery, violence, and oddities were anathema to attracting potential American investment and settlement, particularly in Mindanao and Sulu. Sensational savagery was also distinctly repugnant to Filipino nationalists who were struggling to convince US policy makers and the American public of their modernity and capacity for self-rule. The chapter then looks at how the initial marketing efforts of the directors of the Moro exhibit were characterized by tales of violence, savagery, heathenism, cannibalism, and depravity, all of which the local press was eager to disseminate in daily columns. However, following this initial phase of sensational fearmongering, exposition officials and the Moros themselves found that the public was drawn to their exhibit for other, unforeseen reasons. The liminal space of the “semi-civilized” Moros allowed Americans a way in and a way back to places they sought, while simultaneously providing Moros with access to sources and habitations of power in the always malleable discourse of American empire.

Keywords:   Moro exhibit, sensationalism, scientific value, colonial officials, Philippines, savagery, violence, Filipino nationalists, cannibalism, American empire

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