WILLIAM Henry Scott arrived in Sagada in 1953 as an Episcopalian minister. The only picture I found was of him wearing a plain white T-shirt. He was laughing at someone’s joke on his right. He was 32.
Before that, he was discharged from the Navy, shanghaied in Shanghai and decided to become an Episcopalian minister in mainland China.
He decided to be a Chinese scholar and was studying China Studies at a Beijing University when Mao’s Cultural Revolution commenced. He continued his studies in the States and graduated with a BA Chinese language and literature from Yale in 1951.
That is why he would stamp his Chinese seal on his books.
And then he was sent to the Mountain Province back when the MP was almost the whole region. He was sent to teach English and history at Saint Mary’s School.
His arrival in Sagada began the real cultural revolution for that quaint town.
He took a keen interest in this very Episcopalian town filled with Isinai or Western Kankanaeys littered with a few Japanese artisans, Ilocano merchants, and Spaniard mestizos, including the famous photographer Eduard Masferre.
Scotty studied and wrote about Sagada culture with Yale (and later Columbia) meticulousness. Back then, he still called the residents as pagans.
But he also made his students collect their folk tales and customs and they wrote about them.
University of California anthropology professor emeritus Stuart Schlegel who, like Scotty, also taught in the Cordilleras, described their first meeting:
“My first encounter with Scotty fully lived up to his almost mythical description. Immediately after dinner, he directed a group of St. Mary’s School students in a performance of King John. I don’t know what I expected, but it was not seeing a cast of Igorot kids put on a Shakespeare play! I stayed several days with Scotty, and was personally introduced to his wit and a rather acerbic manner.”
Scotty made the St. Mary’s school organ, The Sagada Postboy, the town’s newsletter.
He also wrote a column entitled “Cordillera Notebooks” for the Baguio Midland Courier. I just wished Midland would reprint his column collection.
Most of his essays were about the Kankanaey language and the material and spiritual culture of Sagada.
They came out in the Episcopal Overseas Missionary Review, International Review of Missions, Philippine Episcopalian, Forth, The Anglican Theological Review, The Christian Review, and The Northern Churchman.
He also delivered papers during the Baguio Acculturation Conferences including the now-classic, “Worship in Igorot Life” and “The Apo-Dios Concept in Northern Luzon.”
Some soon came out in the American Anthropologist, Asian Folklore Studies, Philippine Studies, Anthropological Quarterly, Journal of American Folklore, Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, Diliman Review and Practical Anthropology.
His first book was “On the Cordillera: A Look at the People and Culture of the Mountain Province” which came out in 1966.
It was his doctoral thesis that upended Philippine History, however, two years later.
Scotty warned Filipinos about him in his preface to the “Prehispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History,”: He is a professional missionary convinced that no people will take its full place in the common family of man without a sense of that destiny. And he is a history teacher whose classroom experience in another Oriental republic has persuaded him that the substitution of popular mythology for sound history will quickly bankrupt that sense of destiny.”
“What more could he ask than the opportunity to contribute his little mite to stay that bankruptcy?” Scotty asked.
Florentino Hornedo in his Philippine Studies essay said:
“His 1968 “Prehispanic Source Materials . . . ” was a superb work of historiographic sleuthing. After he unmasked some dozen documents and “codes” (including the famous Maragtas and Kalantiaw), no Philippine history textbook could remain unchanged, except by those who would prefer popular mythology to sound history”
That seminal (ha ha) book would make him a teacher of Philippine History not only at the University of Santo Tomas but also at the University of the Philippines in Diliman and Baguio.
An American teaching Philippine History in the premier Philippine university. Something unheard of in post-colonial times.
Of course, Scotty’s would become more interesting after that, taking into context that Chinese curse.
We will talk more about this in our next essay.
But a closure would not come to be in Sagada seventy years later.
I was informed by former L.A. Piluden that the marker for Scotty at the Saint Mary’s School which was supposed to be unveiled by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines on Scotty’s 100th Birthday on July 10 did not push through.
Someone from the NHCP questioned Scotty’s citizenship, LA said.
For an American who loved Filipinos more than most, this would have a sad ending.
But knowing Scotty and knowing how bankrupt our sense of destiny had become, he would just let this pass with his signature acerbic joke.
This article is part of a series on the Scotty Prize. Find the rest here: