Correct Story, Wrong Interpretation: Applying ‘Orientalism’ in the Ballad of Magellan

Wonder if they really learn that pre-Hispanic Filipinos don’t look like cavemen & only wore vests or sleeveless jackets & g-strings (men), and baros and sayas (Filipinas) back then…

Animaniacs featured the story of the first circumnavigation of the world, through the eyes of Ferdinand Magellan, in a form of a ballad. However, near the end of the song, the last segment depicted a bad image of pre-Hispanic Filipinos as stereotypical savages. For this application, the author will use some aspects of Edward Said‘s ‘Orientalism‘. While Said uses his personal life as the main basis for the essay, it is safe to say that it can be also applied to any country (even Asian nations).

As all is concerned, Spain used to rule over the Philippines for 333 years, ending with the Philippine Revolution, Philippine Independence, & the coming of the new enemy: The United States of America. Now prior to the formal colonization of the country in 1565, the Spanish have went through at least 4 to 5 explorations. Magellan started his voyage on August 10, 1519 in Spain. With him are five ships, only one returned after almost 3 years of sailing.

While it is unknown if the animators and writers of the Steven Spielberg-sponsored animated cartoon show had done their research, it’s undeniable that they unintentionally exoticied the Philippines’ pre-Hispanic times very horribly. Tragic, isn’t it? They looked like cavemen in cartoons these days (not counting the Flintstones and their spin-offs). Back then, Filipinos weren’t like this. Men then wore a collarless, sleeveless vest or jacket that reach down to the waist and a cloth-like g-string called the bahag. Women, on other hand, had sleeved jackets called baros and long skirts sayas, accompanied by a waist cloth called a tapis. The color and/ or pattern of the cloth around a man’s forehead (putong) and jacket indicate their status and/ or deed(s), e.g. a red putong states that this man killed someone in war. Also noteworthy is their penchant for accessories and jewelry. They were adorned with necklaces, bracelets, etc. Even the men wore these during the pre-colonial times in the Philippines.

Said mentions about the concept of the Other. East and West are made by the latter to separate one from other, like labels in a can. In this case, the people behind this segment has just done that, despite the fact the Filipinos back then are not savages: they were as highly-civilized, though not as prominent as China, India, Egypt, Greece or Rome in those days. And also very ironic due to the fact that the Philippines had been free from Spain after more than a century, with sudden interruptions from the US and Japan respectively. That could have tarnished the Philippines’ image as a country, and its history in jeopardy.

Now if only they had hired a historian specialized in Philippine History in the first place of how the pre-colonial Filipinos were like or how they look like, it didn’t have so horrible. Worse, however, is how Magellan died. The cartoon claimed he was speared to death; but according to one of the men who participated the Battle of Mactan, Antonio Pigafetta, it is more unfamily friendly than what the Warners have observed: He died in the hands of the country’s first hero against foreign intruders: Datu Lapu-Lapu of Mactan, though it was shown as a bothersome for him since he had a feud with another Chieftain at the time. This is from the excerpt of his account of the circumnavigation of the world on the Battle of Mactan:

“When morning came, forty-nine of us leaped into the water up to our thighs, and walked through water for more than two cross-bow flights before we could reach the shore. The boats could not approach nearer because of certain rocks in the water. The other eleven men remained behind to guard the boats. When we reached land, those men had formed in three divisions to the number of more than one thousand five hundred persons. When they saw us, they charged down upon us with exceeding loud cries, two divisions on our flanks and the other on our front.

When the captain saw that, he formed us into two divisions, and thus did we begin to fight. The musketeers and crossbow-men shot from a distance for about a half-hour, but uselessly; for the shots only passed through the shields which were made of thin wood and the arms [of the bearers]. The captain cried to them, “Cease firing cease firing!” but his order was not at all heeded. When the natives saw that we were shooting our muskets to no purpose, crying out they determined to stand firm, but they redoubled their shouts. When our muskets were discharged, the natives would never stand still, but leaped hither and thither, covering themselves with their shields. They shot so many arrows at us and hurled so many bamboo spears (some of them tipped with iron) at the captain-general, besides pointed stakes hardened with fire, stones, and mud, that we could scarcely defend ourselves.

Seeing that, the captain-general sent some men to burn their houses in order to terrify them. When they saw their houses burning, they were roused to greater fury. Two of our men were killed near the houses, while we burned twenty or thirty houses. So many of them charged down upon us that they shot the captain through the right leg with a poisoned arrow. On that account, he ordered us to retire slowly, but the men took to fight, except six or eight of us who remained with the captain.

The natives shot only at our legs, for the latter were bare; and so many were the spears and stones that they hurled at us, that we could offer no resistance. The mortars in the boats could not aid us as they were too far away.

So we continued to retire for more than a good crossbow flight from the shore always fighting up to our knees in the water. The natives continued to pursue us, and picking up the same spear four or six times, hurled it at us again and again. Recognizing the captain, so many turned upon him that they knocked his helmet off his head twice, but he always stood firmly like a good knight, together with some others. Thus did we fight for more than one hour, refusing to retire farther. An Indian hurled a bamboo spear into the captain’s face, but the latter immediately killed him with his lance, which he left in the Indian’s body. Then, trying to lay hand on sword, he could draw it out but halfway, because he had been wounded in the arm with a bamboo spear. When the natives saw that, they all hurled themselves upon him. One of them wounded him on the left leg with a large cutlass, which resembles a scimitar, only being larger. That caused the captain to fall face downward, when immediately they rushed upon him with iron and bamboo spears and with their cutlasses, until they killed our mirror, our light, our comfort, and our true guide. When they wounded him, he turned back many times to see whether we were all in the boats. Thereupon, beholding him dead, we, wounded, retreated, as best we could, to the boats, which were already pulling off.”

Too bad, for the lack of full research that was done. If only they knew better then…

Here is the cartoon of mention: Animaniacs – The Ballad of Magellan


Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York City, New York, United States of America: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

Cake Under Pressure: Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics in a MasterChef US Pressure Test

In every MasterChef (in any part of the world) episode that involves a team challenge, there’s a pressure test at the end of the challenge for the losing team. For much such episode of any version, it’s either guess this, guess that or try to recreate this one type of test. For this application, the author will use one episode of the third season of MasterChef US, where in four of the losing team had to make a molten lava chocolate cake in 45 minutes. Two of four were of good standing; one was too floury & bland, while the last collapsed & looked very messy. Like a chocolate mess. In the said episode, the person who made the collapsed cake gave up his apron to the judges after one of them decided the one who made the worst cake then to step in & give up their apron with integrity.

For this one, she will use the concepts of Ferdinand de Saussure‘s Course in General Linguistics, even though that a reality TV show, cooking (or even baking in the episode) & literary theory don’t seem to match up. Saussure’s essay tries to explore the nature of signification. Some people said that sometimes the food is a reflection of the one who made it. In this case, that application can prove that.

Saussure explains about the nature of signs that words are not ready-made for anyone from the beginning, that language is the very necessary matrix that without any meaningful thought cannot exist without. He went on to say that a sign is the basic element that is involved in creating meaning & that they don’t just simply label or refer everything to a prior reality or referent. The essay also mentions that language is arbitrary since some signifiers are attached to the signifieds by conventions alone, than necessity.  It also explains that a particular sign only means to something because it is a part of the sign-system; the difference is the cornerstone of the functioning of any sign-system. It also explores the terms Langue and Parole (not a prison or judicial term). Langue is an abstract system within or the basic rules by which all signs mean, while a parole is the concrete applications or instances of such rules.

Let’s turn the attention to the molten lava cake. The one of the judges explains that it combines elements found in a cake (it’s a cake after all) & a souffle in one, & it is one of the desserts that many people, even professional chefs, cannot master well in the world, often baked in ramekins. The four main ingredients are butter, chocolate, eggs & sugar; both butter & chocolate should be melted & whipped together and the eggs can be whipped with sugar for  a thick paste, or can be separated with it so the egg whites can be mixed into an egg foam for more lift, hence a lighter cake. Anyone can make the cake more appetizing in any way: add some coffee for an intense chocolate flavor; put a sprig of mint; put some powder on top, etc.; any way will do. Timing is crucial to this: if placed in the oven too long, it is reduced to a brownie; take it out too soon, it will look messy.

Now back to the episode mentioned. Let’s say that the molten lava cake is the Parole, the contestants left to do the pressure test in that episode are the Langue, & they have to appropriate any certain elements of that cake to stay in the competition. The ingredients are the signifieds and signifiers they need to make a good sign for them to pass (or in this case, a cake). They have to understand the cake well in precision & with good measurements. The results were varied, as mentioned in a few paragraphs back. While one cake was too bland & possibly had too much gluten, it was the person who made a not impressive cake didn’t get the elements properly &, as a result, not only he got kicked out, he also murdered the integrity & idea of a perfect molten lava cake. He messed up the cake in a Structuralist view. The foundations were torn up. Maybe, time & the pressure can get the best of people sometimes. Who knows…

Watch the said episode starting at 26:30: MasterChef US S3 Episode 7: Top 14 Compete

Twisted Tales: Applying Hermeneutics & Rashomon in Once Upon an Ed

Ed, Edd n Eddy

It sounds so ironic that an Ed, Edd n Eddy episode can teach one a lot on Hermeneutics…   (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the Ed, Edd n Eddy episode ‘Once Upon an Ed’, the title named trio got trapped in a wall of an acquaintance’s room, and they told very different stories of how did they got stuck in the first place: Eddy’s tale has him as a very popular fellow who runs a Jawbreaker bank & his pals work there with the neighborhood kids nearly worshiping him like a god; Edd’s is more sensible and in the real world as well, with the trio running a ‘bank’ & Ed and Eddy scaring their first customer, while Ed’s is the most fictional (with their worst nightmare the Kanker Sisters turning into giantesses from eating radioactive-dosed mashed potatoes and chasing after them) and yet explains how did they got stuck there in the first place. Sounds familiar?
This is a case of the Rashomon effect: named after the Japanese film Rashomon which was discussed a few Literary Theory entries ago. This will also involve with the use & application of Hermeneutics & the film in applying concepts there.

Remember Stanley Fish & Wolfgang Iser. Their concepts will explain how these interpretation can go in this previous entry: Rashomon Analysis with Fish & Iser. Now to the basic parts: According to them, there are different interpretations people gained from looking at certain literary work (or in this case, a cartoon TV show). They also talked about interpretative communities as integral in analyzing any work of art. Fish also note that one will get different interpretations from reading different works, while many will have the same look at reading at the same work.

Kurosawa‘s Rashomon is the finest example of Hermeneutics: the witnesses & the people have different views of the incident (rape & murder) with them being the ‘innocent one’ & the others guilty, yet all of these (as well as the viewers’ own interpretations) are neither right or wrong. It’s possible that any can be correct, regardless of how one explains in so many ways.  Surprisingly, that episode is an ode to the film itself.

Let’s have these unlikely teachers’ tales being the examples.  All of them have different looks of how they got stuck into the wall. All of these can be correct, but these stories are not right, nor are they right. Fish is also right that the readers play an important role in making meaning to a text, instead of the author. In this analogy, the Eds are the Readers, regardless of their education per se; the hole incident is the text; their strange stories are THEIR interpretation.  Yet, these are open-ended and anyone can guess what happened or happens next after these are told.

Needless to say, Once Upon an Ed is a critical application of how does the reader look at anything can affect how the audience should see the work or event as what it should be see or told. As the first lines in Rashomon once explain, ‘I don’t understand…’


* Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York City, New York, United States of America: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

* Rashomon. Dir. Akira Kurosawa. Perf. Toshiro Mifune, et al. 1950.

Same Song, Different Renditions: The Application of Roland Barthes’ ‘The Death of the Author’ on the Voice of the Philippines Pilot episode

In the pilot episode of the Voice of the Philippines, one of the first contestants who made it into the competition is Darryl Shy who sang ‘Tatsulok‘, a song from a local Philippine band Bamboo. This is a surprise to one of the 4 coaches/ judges Bamboo Manalac, although Darryl went with Lea Salonga as his mentor.
In line of this, the author will use elements of Roland Barthes‘ essay ‘The Death of the Author‘ with the comparison of Darryl & Bamboo’s renditions of the song in mention. The essay is a proof of the essayist’s shift from Structuralism (his original background) to Post-Structuralism, which the essay of mention falls under.
Barthes once said that the author is a product of a culture, a reflection of a capitalist society concerned with the ownership & prestige of a certain individual. In this case, the author will name Bamboo as the author since he co-wrote the song, Darryl as the reader, the song as the text. He went on to say that the author doesn’t do the speaking, rather it’s the language that does the job. In other words, Bamboo doesn’t speak out, the lyrics stands as its own & speaks for itself for this matter.
Also, Barthes said that when analyzing a text, one must need to explore the writing & its structure, not finding the speaking voice. In this case, potential singing competition contestants should not focus on who’s singing the sing, rather they should analyze, or in this case, sing their chosen song as if they’re the ones singing them in the first place. In Darryl’s case, he sang Tatsulok as if he performed it many times.
Barthes went on to say that when a reader detaches a text from a specific source, this set the Text free from a ‘anchor’. Writing then turns into the very destruction of every voice and point of view. Therefore, the author dies in the moment of writing & ceases to exist. Amazingly, Darryl’s performance is far different from Bamboo’s rendition. Bamboo’s background on alternative and rock gave the song a rock tone everyone expects from a rock band, Darryl’s rendition gave it a softer, acoustic tone. Given this note, Bamboo dies a figurative death the moment Darryl sang his (Bamboo’s) masterpiece.
Barthes added that when the author dies, real writing begins, hence leading to the birth of real reading. He also said writing is a performance, not a documentation. The example here is a literal example of Barthes’ theory. He said that the birth of the Reader begins with the death of the Author. Here, Bamboo has to die a figurative death for him to listen Darryl’s own reading/ performance of one of his own songs (he mentions that at the beginning of the performance that ‘That’s mine’ in a sarcastic & joking tone) to see if he makes the final cut. The author of this is a witness of this, hence, her claim is true.
If a reader want to analyze the text, s/he must remove the author from the text for awhile, hence, a figurative death. Darryl had taken Bamboo from Tatsulok for awhile, therefore Bamboo die out figuratively for once. The author doesn’t mean that someone who made a piece of art or text dies the moment the reader takes him or her out of their masterpiece doesn’t really mean they die literally, it’s temporary. Hopefully, this application isn’t taken too literally to be understood. And hopefully, the two of them will agree with her with this article.

Both versions of the song:
* Bamboo version

* Darryl version


Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York City, New York, United States of America: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

The Voice of the Philippines Pilot Episode (06-15-2013), ABS-CBN