Eva Collins : Photographs and Writing


by Eva Collins [The Age]

Photographer, specializing in social documentary photo essays.
Came to Australia from the Philippines in 1979.
Has exhibited internationally and is represented in the major collections in Australia and overseas.
Has recently attended The March of the Living in Auschwitz, Poland where nearly 18,000 people from all over the world gathered to commemorate the 60th anniversary of The Holocaust.

When Emmanuel Santos meets people he wishes to photograph, he likes to become ‘invisible’. By being unobtrusive, he comes close to his subjects, rendering their emotionally intimate spaces tenderly visible.

Born in the Philippines and brought up in a tribal, animist mountain village, Santos completed his education with Belgian missionaries.

At age nineteen Emmanuel befriended a young Israeli couple travelling through his village. They were struck by the similarity of some his tribal customs to theirs and wondered if there were some connection between the two.

He concluded that either “…there is a universal, common thread among the ancient religions or the practices in my village were introduced from outside.”

He knew that many foreign traders had passed through his country; however the traditions of his village tribe did not reflect any of these cultures.
He learned that the Muranos (Spanish and Portuguese Jews) who fled the Spanish Inquisition in the 1500s dispersed worldwide. Many came to the Philippines, at that time a Spanish colony. There a number of their religious practices were adopted by some indigenous Filipinos, such as the members of his tribe.

There are 87 tribes in the Philippines. Some have Islamic influences, some Buddhist, some Christian and some animist. His tribe was different, making it unique and intriguing.

“I am not claiming to be Jewish, “ he stresses, “ no one from my tribe is likely to go to Israel, but there are certain similarities between Jewish practices and those of various tribes in different parts of the world which are fascinating. I simply note these links”.

At Passover (Pesach), his grandmother always prepared a special meal She was also a healer and chanted in a language that not even she understood. And yet, in that sacred incantation, there was a phrase which Emmanuel remembers well. It was : “ai. ai, salidumai, adonai” and curiously, in Hebrew Adonai means My Lord…….

In his village, when boys turned thirteen, they were ready for initiation into manhood. First, they were submerged in a river, which originates from a local spring, as a ritual cleansing bath. After cleansing, the boys were given the laws of their tribe. These tenets are the virtues to which the whole community aspires. Comparably in Judaism, at thirteen, Barmitzvah boys receive the law of the Torah (the Old Testament) and assume responsibilities as members of their community. When Santos reached thirteen, he was initiated into adulthood by additionally being given a spear and having his chest scarred by a traditional cut.

The practice of sacrifice which is common to many societies may perhaps in some places have originated from ancient Israel. When Abraham was about to sacrifice his son Isaac, as proof of his total love of God, an angel appeared and satisfied with Abraham’s expression of devotion gave him a lamb to sacrifice instead.

In ancient Israel, the temples had a sacrificial altar especially set aside for this purpose. In Emmanuel’s village, the people sacrificed fowl or water buffalo at a specially appointed place as a way of seeking permission from the Higher Powers to plant the first seed of rice or to start the harvest. “A sacrifice is like a contract between people and God,” says Santos, ‘they’ll be rewarded for performing their duty.”

Whereas it is known that some practices such as in Islam, are derived from Judaism, it is not so clear about similar practices in tribal societies, where there are no written texts offering explanation.

Talking to his tribe proved fruitless as since tradition is passed on orally there were no documents to throw light on its origins. Furthermore, the people in his village did not question the origins of their practices, because it is taboo to question one’s elders.
This left Emmanuel with only one method of decoding the mystery.
He knew the effect of foreign acculturation; now he had to guess the cause.
Only by searching for similar practices in other communities did he arrive by deduction as to the possible source of his own.

As a child, during WW II, Emmanuel witnessed members of his family being tortured by the Japanese. As a result, he has always empathised with other victims of tyrannical governments, such as the East Timorese and the Holocaust survivors.
When he moved to Melbourne, he settled in East St. Kilda, home to a large Jewish Orthodox community . Fascinated by their cohesiveness and adherence to tradition, he wished to get to know them better. In 1985, after meeting Rabbi Groner, Emmanuel was welcomed to pursue his interest, , becoming the first photographer to document this community in Melbourne. “I try to pay homage to Humanity by showing their various traditional practices. I have chosen to do it by showing the Jewish world and that of some of the tribes of the world,” he says.
This led to a multitude of exhibitions and travelling shows within Australia and overseas, depicting rites of passage from birth to death in the Jewish Diaspora (dispersion) in Western countries and remote corners of the earth, where remnants of Jewish society live more isolated lives.

“I’m attracted to traditions, because they’re vanishing from our world. Even the ritual of preparing food is disappearing from our fast-food modern society.” Santos doesn’t wish to document these modern practices : they offer no link to the past, no other meaning beyond their obvious purpose.

In Matarua, New Zealand, he met the Maori Ringatu tribe who call themselves “Hurai” - ‘The Children of Israel’. It is interesting to note that ‘rua’ in Maori and ‘ruah ‘ in Hebrew both mean ‘soul’.
Their leader invited Emmanuel to join them for Sabat (Sabbath), which is a meal prepared only by men, consumed on the seventh day of the week. After cooking for a whole day, the tribe gets together to pray and eat. The celebration takes place in a ‘marae’ or ‘ traditional Maori communal place. As a visitor Santos had, in true Maori fashion, to stay outside the fence until his name was sung, stepping forward when invited to join them for supper.

Amongst the Ringatu is a group of men who live separately, like hermits, in the nearby caves. Their chests are tattooed with secret letters and like the religious Jews, they grow their hair and beards long. They believe that God forbade his people to cut hair from the corners of their heads and that this command applies to them.

Another mysterious group is found in Japan. Within the Shinto religion there is a group called The Yamabushi. There is some speculation as to whether during the time of Assyrian dispersion, Jews who fled far and wide may have come to ancient Japan. If that is the case, the Yamabushis may in fact be the descendants of some of the Lost Tribes of Israel.

As in Judaism, the Shinto shrines display no idols and upon completing their studies, Yamabushi monks are given a scroll (written in Japanese) which they call the Tora-no-maki, the Scroll of the Torah. It is kept in a shrine at Mount Moriya
( Moriya-san) which sounds very similar to Mount Moriah (where Abraham offered his son in sacrifice to God) in Jerusalem. They also keep a seven pronged candlestick there, which resembles the Jewish Menorah, one of the oldest symbols of Jewish faith.

The Omikoshi ark of Japan resembles the Torah Ark . Both communities carry it on their shoulders with two poles. Both sing and dance in front of it.

Furthermore, the Yamabushi priests are known to blow a ram’s horn, (a shofar), in their ceremonies. In Israel they use a ram’s horn, but in Japan as there are no lambs, they use a sea shell.

The Yamabushi priests wear linen robes with fringes (tassels) at the edges as do the Jews when praying. They also tie circular leather plates to their foreheads, just as the Jews in prayer do when they don phylacteries, leather cubes containing scriptural passages of the Torah. However, some people believe that in the ancient times (somewhere around 720 BC) the High Priests in Israel also wore circular plates and not cubes.

The use of salt symbolised purification in ancient Israel. Similarly, in Japan it is used for the same purposes. The Sumo wrestlers,(who were once considered to be holy men) before the start of the match sprinkle themselves with salt as a sign that they are well intentioned towards their opponent.

A number of Yamabushi monks have visited Israel. Some have converted to Judaism and live in Mea Sherim (an Orthodox suburb of Jerusalem) . In their view, they have returned to the land of their forefathers.

In contrast, the Jews of the Amazon who live amongst the Indians in the jungle, know they are Jewish. They are not ‘lost’. They fled from Morocco some 200 years ago, retain their Jewish traditions, dress Moroccan style and speak Ladino. To find them, Santos went first to the local cemetery in Santa Re seeking Jewish graves. Noting the name of the most recently-buried person he asked the townsfolk to direct him to the dead person’s family.
“ I visit the dead to find the living!” he chuckles.

Emmanuel’s overall project is to ‘shine some light’ on the mystery of people who often live in remote areas of the world and ‘keep the faith’. Some of these people may well be the descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. By comparing the similarities of some of their rituals we may learn more of their origins. He is committed to follow these Judaic trails which cover the areas of Ethiopia, Afghanistan, India, Burma, China, Mali, Pakistan, South America, Japan, and the Philippines

And yet, he himself does not lead a traditional life. Satisfied to expose his children to his tribal traditions and comfortable to partake in various dinners and celebrations held by his Jewish friends, he does not want to impose any customs on his sons.
“It’s enough for them to see these practices. They can decide later if they want to incorporate them into their life,” he says. Nor does he need to convert. “At the end of the day, when you’re facing the Master of the Universe, it is not what you became that matters but who you are. In the face of God, we are all naked. The costumes that people wear are only window dressings,” he adds.

By being sensitive to people, Emmanuel manages not only to access but also to enter and stay as a welcomed guest in communities which often do not have a common language with him, and which are culturally foreign. It doesn’t seem to matter. What matters and works every time is Emmanuel’s ability to blend in and to translate foreign meanings into universal precepts.


The Patriarch Abraham’s grandson, Jacob (who was later renamed Israel when God appeared to him) produced twelve sons, each of whom became the father of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. During the reign of Saul, David and Solomon, the people of Israel formed a single nation. After the death of King Solomon, the tribes separated into two independent states. Ten tribes went to live in the northern region of Israel and two tribes (Benjamin and Judah) settled in the southern region of Judah. The tribes of Judah are considered to be the historical forebears of most of the Jewish people today.
Over 2,700 years ago, the Assyrians conquered Israel and exiled the ten northern tribes to the neighbouring lands. These Ten (Lost) Tribes of Israel have never been seen since.

In many remote corners of the world, there are people who claim/or are claimed to be the descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. There are people with ‘Judaic’ practices in Japan, Persia, Armenia, Kenya, Nigeria, West Africa, Peru and New Zealand, among others. The world’s largest tribe, the Pathans, who live on the border of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kashmir, perform circumcision on the child’s eighth day of life, wear a fringed garment similar to the Jewish tzizit, light candles on Friday nights and observe food taboos similar to the Jewish Kosher laws.
While there is much doubt and speculation, the Jewish elements in these tribal cultures fascinate scholars and laymen alike

In June 2005, at The City Tiler, 15 Chessel Street, South Melbourne, Emmanuel will hold an exhibition titled ‘Humanity’ which will portray a celebration of life in different corners of the world. The object is to raise funds for the ‘Engineers Without Borders’ organization whose task is to help developing nations become self sufficient.

In September this year, after travelling to Paris and Buenos Aires, his show ‘Observances’ will open at The Jewish Museum in Melbourne. This is a collection of 17 years’ work on the subjects of Death, Burial and Beyond in the Jewish Diaspora.