Enchantments of Cell Phones and Idolatry among the Bugkalot (Ilongot) of Northern Luzon, Philippines
Shu-Yuan Yang (Academia Sinica)
Paper short abstract:
This paper aims to understand what kinds of enchantments are produced by the introduction of digital technology among the Bugkalot, and how this was regarded by the missionaries as a form of idolatry.
Paper long abstract:
This paper aims to understand what kinds of enchantments are produced by the introduction of digital technology among the Bugkalot. The Bugkalot demonstrate an intense desire for modern things such as televisions and cell phones even when electricity current and cellular signals are lacking in the area they live, and they are willing to sell their land to the settlers, to squander their hard-earned money or to embezzle barangay fund to obtain these things. The missionaries of the New Tribes Mission do not only condemn such desires and practices as economic irrationalities but also regard them as a form of "idolatry". The Protestant missionaries find the power modern things seem to exercise on the Bugkalot disturbing because it challenges their attempt at removing fetishes and idols and inserting iconoclasm among the Bugkalot through their proselytizing efforts. In their opinions, modern things motivate "backsliding" and lead to corruption of faith by enticing the Bugkalot to indulge in worldly pleasures and dangerous fantasies. Cell phones are particularly charged with abetting infidelity. This article seeks to understand how this technological innovation is experienced by the Bugkalot and how their agencies unsettle the Protestant configuration of the relationship between spirituality and materiality. It suggests that cell phones come to possess agency among the Bugkalot through the unique combination of three things: the convergence of multi-level media, the elicitation of a new self-reflexivity, and the capacity to free actors from spatial and temporal constraints. As such, they are the ultimate symbols and expressions of modernity.
Mobile materials and technologies of enchantment