Willing Captives: American Doctors and Leprosy in the Philippines

Thursday, January 3, 2013: 4:30 PM
Bayside Ballroom C (Sheraton New Orleans)
J. Emmanuel Raymundo, Tulane University
Using the Culion Leper Colony in the Philippines, which was the largest of its kind in the early 20th century with over 5,000 patient residents, this paper is about Dr. Herbert Windsor Wade, Culion’s Chief Pathologist and a central, though underwritten figure, in the history of colonial medicine in the Philippines. From primary archival research in Culion’s repositories, Dr. Wade’s unpublished journals from a “round-the-world” research trip in 1935 are juxtaposed against two competing narratives. First, Dr. Wade’s journals are transposed against the Philippine Senate’s Bill No. 101 or the 1935 “Nolasco Bill” that would repeal the “Leper Law” of 1907 that forced the mandatory segregation of lepers to Culion. While Culion was always a contentious political issue between colonists and nationalists, what degree of independence did Dr. Wade and other scientists have based on objective claims to scientific and medical research? Second, and explicitly deploying Holloway’s cultural ethics by using autobiographical narratives to map the colonial landscape, Dr. Wade’s journals are juxtaposed against published books of more famous white American doctors who spent time in Culion, namely Dr. Victor Heiser who wrote An American Doctor’s Odyssey (1936) and Dr. Perry Burgess, author of the best-selling Who Walk Alone (1940). If Kauanui (2008) has made a distinction between “island” and “off-island” identities, while Dash (1998) finds particular sites of “self-definition” and Benitez-Rojo (1993) finds an emerging “repeating” island in the discontinuous archipelago of the Caribbean that consolidates itself into what Glissant (1989) has called “our irruption into modernity” (1989, 100) what kind of equatorial, tropical island modernity emerged from Culion through the biomedical investments of these doctors? What is island subjectivity and how was this embodied not only by lepers who were forced onto Culion but by its willing and returning captives like Dr. Wade?
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