It’s Not Uncivilised!

Writer: Claire O’Loughlin
Editor: Jess Holly Bates

it’s not uncivilised” is the fourth in our CrossPollination series where writers respond creatively to the performances during PAWA. Claire O’Loughlin is a theatre-maker and producer based in Wellington, who co-founded contemporary performance collective “Binge Culture.” She is an artistic octopus, with an infectious drive to increase compassion and awareness both through, for and from the arts. Her most recent creative work is a memoir of her childhood growing up on a boat, written for her MA at Victoria University’s IIML. She responds here to Louis Bretana’s performance dinner “Eat My Rice.”

Eat my rice it’s nice
With chicken and aubergine
But wash your hands first.

I never knew how
To eat cleanly with my hands
It’s all in the thumb.

The Spanish were wrong
But shame is an easy way
To kill a culture.


On the second level up on Tory Street, thirty people sat on the floor around a flax mat covered in food, sharing a traditional Filipino meal of rice, vegetables, egg and chicken. The food was laid out on long banana leaves and we each eat off a small square of banana leaf as a plate. Before sitting down to eat we had each removed our shoes, washed our hands and given thanks and a donation to the small deity statues that stood on a pedestal presiding over the meal. The entire point of the exercise was to introduce us, the eaters and the audience, to the food and meal etiquette of the Philippines.

Our host, Louis, sat at one end of the mat and talked us through how to eat – with just one hand so the other is left to hold the drink or lean back on, scooping rice with just the tips of the fingers and pushing the rice into the mouth by sliding the thumb along the fingers to avoid putting the fingers in the mouth. He told us of the Spanish invasion and how these traditional eating practices were deemed by the Spanish to be uncivilised and unclean, and as such, through that shaming process, had been phased out. We learnt about his own personal journey, growing up as a kid eating at a table with a knife and fork and only now, as an adult, reclaiming the traditional ways as part of his own reclamation of self and identity.

Louis wanted to show us and prove to us that such ways of eating are not uncivilised. He kept insisting on this as we ate – “you see, it’s not uncivilised! It’s not uncivilised!” I didn’t need to be convinced of anything. But I did think about how uncivilised I would have felt had I not known how to slide the rice into my mouth or had I used my floor-hand by accident. It was Louis’ warmth and generosity in sharing his culture and knowledge that made this particular meal civilised. Peace is civilised, kindness is civilised, community is civilised, gifts are civilised and honesty is civilised. How terrible for the Spanish to have shamed the Filipino people about their way of eating, something so quintessential to their culture. Although it looked like a casual, friendly meal, Eat My Rice was a protest piece, a simple and utterly dignified action from Louis Bretana to reclaim the traditions and say no to any shame. And the food was flipping delicious.


Writer: Claire O’Loughlin

Editor: Jess Holly Bates

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