Scott: Belongs More to the Filipino

Posted on 10 July 2021
By National Quincentennial Committee Secretariat with contributions from Erlyn Ruth Alcantara

Despite his nationality, William Henry Scott belongs more to the Filipino… He has lived with Filipinos for many years and has been assiduous in unraveling many strands of our past. Moreover, he has done so not from the vantage point of Spanish colonialism or American imperialism but from that of the Flipinos’ struggle to emancipation… They demonstrate the author’s abiding mission in helping Filipinos think as Filipinos.” -An excerpt from Renato Constantino’s Foreword to Scott’s Cracks in the Parchment Curtain and Other Essays in Philippine History (New Day Publishers, 1982).

Scott at Sagada, 1989. From Wikimedia Commons
On this day, 100 years ago, Philippine historian William Henry Scott was born in Detroit, Michigan (baptized as Henry King Ahrens). A World War II and Korean War veteran, he was appointed lay missionary of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. He obtained a BA in Chinese Language and Literature from Yale University and a master’s degree in Church History from Columbia University.

Assigned to the Philippine Cordilleras, he arrived in the town of Sagada in January 1954 to teach English and History at the St. Mary’s School. Thus began his lifelong mission to unearth the Filipino pre-colonial past through the thorough historical research and the discovery and analysis of critical sources. This was clearly evident in his Ph.D. dissertation that centered on questioning the authenticity of presumed pre-Hispanic sources, the Codes of Kalantiaw and the Maragtas–two foundational narratives of Philippine pre-colonial history since their introduction to Philippine historiography in the early American period. In 1968, he successfully defended his dissertation, earning his Ph.D. in History from the University of Santo Tomas, before the giants of Philippine History: National Historical Commission (forerunner of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines) commissioners Teodoro Agoncillo and Fr. Horacio de la Costa, SJ, and Philippine Historical Association Board Members Marcelino Foronda, Nicholas Zafra, and Gregorio Zaide.

It was his research, published in Pre-hispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History (University of Santo Tomas Press, 1968), which prompted the National Historical Institute to declare Kalantiaw as having no historical basis. This confirmation led to the delisting of the Kalantiaw Shrine in Aklan as a National Shrine, the removal of the Order of Kalantiaw from the Honors List, and the correction of countless textbooks and academic materials on Philippine history. Amid the praises and accolades for his dissertation, Scott reminded his readers that it was not actually his original idea but of a Filipino and a friend–the bibliophile Mauro Garcia, who, according to him, was belittled by his peers in the discipline of History because he was not a historian. (Garcia was also the unsung personality behind Filipinos’ knowledge on the existence of the Boxer Codex, which Carlos Quirino later introduced to the Philippines; and the discovery of a document rectifying the error on the martyr-hero of the 1571 Battle of Bangkusay to be an unnamed Macabebe commander and not Rajah Soliman of Manila, later introduced to the academe by Nicolas Zafra.)

He followed this with The Discovery of the Igorots: Spanish Contacts with the Pagans of Northern Luzon (New Day Publishers, 1974), a synthesis of 18 years of in-depth research on the peoples of the Cordillera Region of Northern Luzon which utilized a multidisciplinary approach including anthropological investigation, archival research, and historical analysis of extant sources. This work raised the Igorot People from the fringes of Philippine historiography as an integral part of Philippine history.

His duty as a Christian corresponded with his defense of young activists during Martial Law. This profound respect for the idealism and bravery of his students prompted him to defend and issue his own responses to the prevailing socio-political issues. In 1973, he was arrested and detained by the Marcos regime accused of being an undesirable alien. This jeopardized his status as a permanent resident, which was granted to him in the 1960s. However, he placed his trust in the Philippine justice system and declined the intervention of the US Embassy on his behalf, choosing instead to defend himself before a public hearing. After the hearing, the Commission on Immigration and Deportation ordered his immediate release after it found that the prosecution failed to prove its allegations against Scott. He went home to Sagada thereafter.

Scott at the launch of Of Igorots and Independence at UP Baguio, 1993. From Erlyn Ruth Alcantara

He continued his scholarly work with Cracks in the Parchment Curtain and Other Essays in Philippine History (New Day Publishers, 1982), Ilocano Responses to American Aggression (New Day Publishers, 1984), and Union Obrera Democratica: First Filipino Labor Union (New Day Publishers, 1992); each of which explored a different aspect of Philippine history and culture. He returned to the pre-colonial past with Looking for the Prehispanic Filipino and Other Essays in the Philippine History (New Day Publishers, 1992) and culminated with Barangay: Sixteenth Century Philippine Culture and Society (Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1994) which was published posthumously. Barangay is considered as quintessential reading for the study of Philippine pre-colonial history because of its wide scope and Filipino centric perspective that highlighted the rich and dynamic cultures of the Philippine archipelago prior to Spanish colonization.

He died on 4 October 1993 at the age of 72 and is survived by fifteen foster children, all students whom he raised as his own. He was buried at Sagada in a humble tomb, together with the people he loved and had lived with–the Kankaneys.

The Boards of the NHCP and the National Quincentennial Committee, jointly approved the inclusion of Scott’s birth centenary among the activities for the 2021 Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines. On 7 July 2021, the Technical Working Group for the Year of Filipino Pre-Colonial Ancestors (YFPCA) chaired by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts approved the motion to include the milestone in the calendar of YFPCA. A State historical marker courtesy of the NHCP will be unveiled at the St. Mary’s School in Sagada, while a commemorative conference will be hosted by the University of the Philippines Baguio in Scott’s honor.

Alcantara, Erlyn Ruth. 1993. “Biographical Note on William Henry Scott” in Of Igorots and Independence. Baguio City: A-Seven Publishing.
Peralta, Jesus T., ed. 2001. Reflections on Philippine Culture and Society: Festschrift for William Henry Scott. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.
Scott, William Henry. 1994. Barangay: Sixteenth Century Philippine Culture and Society. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.
__________________. 1982. Cracks in the Parchment Curtain and Other Essays in Philippine History. Quezon City: New Day Publishers.
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Seeing this post? Curious what this is about? 2021 is the Year of Filipino Pre-Colonial Ancestors by virtue of Proclamation No. 1128, s. 2021. Also in this year, we commemorate the Philippine part in the achievement of science and humankind in circumnavigating the planet for the first time. Central in this commemoration is the 500th anniversary of the Victory at Mactan on 27 April 2021. These and more are collectively known as the 2021 Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines by virtue of Executive Order No. 103 (2020). Know more about the event here: ?

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