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Wisdom from a Rainforest: The Spiritual Journey of an Anthropologist available in Paperback
In the early sixties, Stuart Schlegel went into a remote rainforest on the Philippine island of Mindanao as an anthropologist in search of material. What he found was a group of people whose tolerant, gentle way of life would transform his own values and beliefs profoundly. Wisdom from a Rainforest is Schlegel's testament to his experience and to the Teduray people of Figel, from whom he learned such vital, lasting lessons.
Schlegel's lively ethnography of the Teduray portrays how their behavior and traditions revolved around kindness and compassion for humans, animals, and the spirits sharing their worlds. Schlegel describes the Teduray's remarkable legal system and their strong story-telling tradition, their elaborate cosmology, and their ritual celebrations. At the same time, Schlegel recounts his own transformationhow his worldview as a member of an advanced, civilized society was shaken to the core by a so-called primitive people. He begins to realize how culturally determined his own values are and to see with great clarity how much the Teduray can teach him about gender equality, tolerance for difference, generosity, and cooperation.
By turns funny, tender, and gripping, Wisdom from a Rainforest honors the Teduray's legacy and helps us see how much we can learn from a way of life so different from our own.
|Publisher:||University of Georgia Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.76(d)|
Read an Excerpt
The Philippines is a nation made up entirely of islands, the exposed tops of a long range of undersea volcanoes lying south and east of China. There are two quite large Philippine islands and a whole array of medium-sized and little ones. Luzon is the big island in the north, where Manila is located, and Mindanao is the large southern island. The mists of prehistory hide the origins of the Teduray and of their neighbors, the Maguindanaon, but the ancestral home of both societies is the southwestern quarter of Mindanao. The Teduray live in the rainforest-covered mountains south of the Pulangi, a major river that empties into the Moro Gulf at Cotabato City and from there into the South China Sea. The Maguindanaon, who are Muslim, occupy the lowlands to the north and west of the mountains. The old myths of both people say they have been there since the beginning of time.
The Teduray people number some thirty thousand and are subdivided roughly into three main groups. Until the twentieth century, the majority were "forest people" who were relatively isolated from and unknown to the outside world and who lived by gardening and foraging for wild foods in the mountains of the Cotabato Cordillera. Egalitarian and peaceful, their primary contact with the world outside the rainforest was through trade pacts established with the Maguindanaon. A second type of Teduray was the "coastal people," a relatively small scattering of families along the beaches of the Moro Gulf who lived and thought much like the forest people but who, in addition, extensively fished in thesea. The third division comprised the Teduray of the Awang area, the northern foothills close to Cotabato City. The Awang people, some of whom lived as far into the hills as the Upi Valley, twenty-five miles south of Awang Village, were the closest neighbors to the Maguindanaon and, as we shall see, interacted with them in many important ways that other Teduray did not.
The Maguindanaon are a larger tribal group than the Teduray, numbering half a million, and their territory spreads widely through the lowlands surrounding the Cotabato Cordillera. Unlike the Teduray, who remained animists, the Maguindanaon adopted the faith of Islam some five hundred years ago. For centuries they have lived by wet-rice paddy farming. Maguindanaon society is hierarchical, with an aristocracy composed of datus, who fight fierce, bitter, and protracted dynastic wars with each other. Until recent times, the forest Teduray allowed a few Maguindanaon traders, representing powerful datus, into the mountains under the terms of strict trade pacts, but on the whole they feared and disliked their Muslim neighbors' propensity to look down upon them as primitive and ignorant. Indeed, the Maguindanaon treated most Teduray with contempt and occasionally took them as slaves.
The Awang/Upi Teduray, in contrast, came to terms with the Maguindanaon many centuries ago. Living as close to Cotabato City as they do, their long history of greater contact and interaction with the Muslim lowlanders gave their way of life a distinctive flavor. Even before the Maguindanaon converted to Islam, the Awang people were military allies of the "lower-valley" datus in their ancient and seemingly endless dynastic warfare with the more inland "upper-valley" datus. Many bits and pieces of both Awang Teduray and Maguindanaon oral tradition (and even some old Maguindanaon genealogical documents) make reference to Awang people fighting alongside the lowlanders.
Quite early on, Awang Teduray adopted many of the Maguindanaon social and cultural ways. Presumably dazzled by the larger group's comparative wealth and splendor, their political power, and their demonstrations of military valor, the Awang people must have decided the Maguindanaon made better friends than enemies. The Awang Teduray emulated them, creating chiefs with political titles and power who proceeded to coerce obedience from their followers. They developed concepts of personal ownership of property, including dry rice fields on land that they cleared and plowed in the Maguindanaon manner with draft animals. They learned to prize violence, and to be good at it. Like the datus, Awang Teduray men considered multiple wives to be a sign of high status. Some of the most wealthy and powerful even imitated the Maguindanaon custom of owning slaves.
Awang Teduray never converted to Islam, however; they preserved their animistic belief in a world of spirits. Nonetheless, like their Muslim Maguindanaon allies, they considered their more isolated forest sisters and brothers to be, if not infidels, at least rustic and unsophisticated.
The place of these Teduray and Maguindanaon peoples, the southwestern quarter of Mindanao, is to this day part of one of the world's great cultural fault lines, running between the Crescent of Islam and the Cross of Christianity.
In the middle of the sixteenth century, when Islam was just beginning to penetrate into the southern islands of the Philippine archipelago, Spanish conquistadors began pushing their way into the central and northern islands. So right from the beginning, the Catholic Spanish battled the Muslims of Mindanao. They named them Moros (Moors), as they had called North African Muslims, and the word persists to this day.
In spite of Spanish imperial claims, southern Mindanao did not become a recognized part of the Philippine nation for three centuries. Two Jesuit padres established a small mission in Cotabato in 1748, but were forced to evacuate just six months later by implacable Muslim hostility. The Spanish began to turn the tide in their three-hundred-year-long campaign against the Muslim peoples of the south only in the early 1860s, when, with the help of newly developed steam-powered gunboats, they were able to establish limited political control in Cotabato.
One of the first moves of Spanish rule in southern Mindanao was to invite the Jesuits to resume missionary work. In 1862 a group of Jesuits opened a mission and school in Tamantaka, between Cotabato City and Awang, and set about trying to convert both the Muslim Maguindanaon of the lowlands and the animist Teduray of the mountains. Awang people were therefore the first Teduray to encounter Christianity. The main Awang Teduray leader, who bore the Maguindanaon title of Datu Bandara, became a protégé of the Jesuits, and the Spanish government soon named him presidente of Awang municipality.
One of the Jesuit priests, Padre Guerrico Bennasar, took responsibility for the Teduray work. The first Teduray people to accept baptism were Bandara's family, supplied by the Spanish with the last name Tenorio. The baptismal ceremony took place at the Tamantaka Mission in 1863 and included a young man named Sigayan. Given the Christian name of José Tenorio, he became Padre Bennasar's prize pupil, and at the Jesuit's request dictated a little volume, which was published in Madrid with the missionary's rendering of Sigayan's Teduray on one page and his own Spanish translation on the facing page. The book, titled Costumbres de los indios Tirurayes (Customs of the Teduray People), was surely one of the first times the name of the Teduray people appeared in print, spelled as it must have sounded to a Spaniard, to whom a d sounded like an r and the closest sound to the Teduray e was the Spanish i. It is a fascinating document and, to my knowledge, the earliest "ethnography" to be written by a native Filipino of his own indigenous customs. The Teduray have since been known in Spanish and English as the Tiruray, a practice that at their recent request I no longer follow.
Sigayan's account of Teduray customs reveals some characteristics common to all Teduray: the same language, the same house styles, similar marriage patterns, many of the same names for spirits. But in matters that pertain to social ranking, political power, and a commitment to violence, Sigayan's description reflects the heavily Maguindanaon-influenced thinking about heirarchy and domination that was characteristic of the Awang people. Teduray men were portrayed by Sigayan in several places as dominant over women and as warlike raiders led by political headmen or chiefs.
In spite of Datu Bandara's influential family, Christianity did not take hold among the Awang Teduray, any more than the Islamic religion had centuries earlier, and when the American period began some two generations later few Teduray Catholics were to be found.
Maguindanaon political factions have made war on each other since well before the late fifteenth century. The United States entered this scene militarily when it wrestled titular control of the Philippines from Spain in 1898 (part of the settlement of the Spanish-American War) and joined the ranks of nations with overseas territorial holdings. The Americans immediately found themselves engaged in a bloody and repressive war in the new colony. From the Filipino point of view, the desperate, losing struggle against the United States Army was merely the second phase of a revolution they had launched against colonial rule in 1896. American journalists and historians of the day, who viewed our military conquest as part of our "manifest destiny" to gain an overseas colony rich in natural resources, as well as an economic foothold in Asia, named the resistance against the United States "the Philippine Insurrection." The fighting was especially fierce in the Islamic areas of the southern Philippines, where the Spanish had been able to establish only tenuous control over the local Muslims, and even that for only about thirty-five years.
In 1903, just five years after their arrival, the Americans forced the Muslim regions, which they renamed the Moro Province, to become part of the Philippine nation. This threatened the ancient isolation of the forest Teduray as nothing ever had before, and that isolation soon began to break down around the edges. The Americans thus began a historical process that ultimately resulted in destruction of the rainforest and, as a consequence, the radical acculturation of Teduray society.
One of the American officers in the Moro campaigns around Cotabato City was Captain Irving Edwards. Staying on after pacification as a colonial administrator, Edwards became intensely interested in the Teduray people. In 1921 he married a young Teduray woman from the Tenorio family of Awang, a relative of Datu Bandara, the old friend of the Spanish. Edwards lived among the Teduray until his death in the late 1950s, serving in a number of official and unofficial capacities including head of the military constabulary, provincial chief justice, governor, and superintendent of schools. Captain Edwardsas everyone called him throughout his lifedevoted himself tirelessly to the furthering of what he considered "progress" among the Teduray: education, proper government, law and order, economic modernization, and religious conversion. In 1916 he established a public school at Awang, and in 1919 opened an agricultural school in the Upi Valley, linked by a winding road with the lowlands. By the 1920s he had established primary and elementary schools in dozens of Awang and Upi Teduray communities.
Encouraged by Captain Edwards, Christian homesteaders from other parts of the Philippines, particularly Cebuanos from the central Philippines and Ilocanos from the large northern island of Luzon, began to settle in the Upi Valley. Maguindanaon Muslim farmers as well, now protected by American rule, for the first time began to occupy and own land in the Teduray area. The number of Maguindanaon settlers in Upi increased greatly after World War II, and they took permanent political control of the area in the mid-1940s, holding it to this day.
Teduray in the rainforest beyond Upi employed a form of forest gardening that had served them well for untold centuries. The Upi agricultural school teachers and the lowlander homesteaders, however, all agreed that the forest Teduray way of cultivation was hopelessly primitive. "Why, they know nothing of plows," one earnest teacher told me in 1961, "and they don't even clear the forest. They just poke holes in the ground with pathetic little sharpened sticks!" So everywhere around Upi, and all along the road down through Awang to Cotabato City, the forest was zealously cleared, the fields plowed, and corn and sugar cane planted in neat Iowan rows. Teduray people in deforested places were issued titles to their land, but their unsophisticated grasp of the unfamiliar concept eventually resulted in the loss of almost every Teduray-owned farm to homesteaders.
Captain Edwards organized the villages outside the forest, Teduray and homesteader alike, into units of the Philippine government, with Upi as the main municipal center. There courts administered and police enforced Philippine national law. He wanted to "pacify" all the Teduray, but at that time he had little reach into the remaining rainforest. Although deforestation was proceeding steadily, it did not become intensive until the post-World War II years, when the independent Philippine government began giving franchises to lowlander timber companies to cut and haul away the trees.
In addition to all these drastic changes in local life, Captain Edwards was determined that his Teduray charges would be brought out of "pagan darkness" and made Christians. He asked several church groups, including the Roman Catholics and the Methodists, to establish missions among the Awang/Upi Teduray, but was told by each that there were no funds to support such a venture. In the mid-1920s the Episcopal Church responded to his invitation by sending an American missionary priest to open the Mission of St. Francis of Assisi. By 1960, when I arrived to be a priest at the mission, it had chapels in some fifty-four Teduray communities and a large parish church and medical clinic in Upi. After World War II Roman Catholics and several Protestant churches also began vigorous work among the Awang and Upi Teduray and the homesteader families.
Awang peoplewho made up most of the Teduray population not only of Awang but also of the Upi Valleytook to the new regime and way of life quite congenially. The changes, however, utterly transformed and bewildered the forest Teduray, who, as the rainforest was progressively cleared, were unwittingly caught up in them. Some responded by moving farther into the forest, in hopes of escaping all the change and confusion. But othersoften after several such retreats proved insufficient to keep them ahead of the relentless loggers and homesteaderssimply surrendered and joined the peasant world. Typically, in one great convulsion of change, Teduray families would begin to dress like the homesteaders, learn their languages, send their children to school, ask for Christian baptism, and join a mission congregation. Most essential of all, they sought a landlord who would provide them with a work animal and a field to plow. They still thought of themselves as Teduray, of course, but most of them knew that the peaceful, egalitarian life they had cherished so dearly in the forest was over.
The economic consequences of deforestation and the process of becoming peasants were devastating. In contrast to the rich variety of foods the forest people were accustomed to, the cleared and plowed fields of the Upi Valley specialized in just four crops: rice, corn, tomatoes, and onions. Hunting, fishing, and gathering, of course, played almost no role at all in the cleared regions; the forests were gone and the rivers and creeks all seriously depleted. Besides, the streams were now private property and fishing them was considered trespassing.
In place of the foraging that had always abundantly supplied forest Teduray, assuring them a good life even if their garden crops failed, now the market dominated their lives, with its unfamiliar cash and credit system and its very different values. This meant a far less assured, less varied, and less interesting natural diet. Moreover, it meant that the Teduray outside the forest were now full participants in the rural Philippine peasant market system, as much so as any immigrant or Maguindanaon homesteader in the Upi Valley. And that meant that they lost the significant independence the forest had allowed them. With it gone, they were only a tiny part of the world economy, and sharecroppers to boot, occupying the lowest possible status other than beggars or homeless.
There was, however, one way to rise above this status. Fostered by the school system, a whole new set of elite Teduray emerged, persons of high social standing and influence whose roles reflected not Teduray traditional life but the Filipino mainstream. By 1967 some forty-eight Teduray women and men had become schoolteachers, three men had been ordained Episcopal priests, two more were lawyers working with the national government, two Teduray women were nurses, and one young man had become a provincial agriculturist. But the old specialized roles of the forest folkas legal sages and shamans, skilled hunters and basket weavershad disappeared. Captain Edwards felt very proud of all that the Teduray people achieved, but traditional Teduray were far less enthusiastic.
In short, as a consequence of American rule a whole new distinction between Teduray came into being. There were now the "forest people," the traditional communities still living the old way in the ever-shrinking rainforest, and there were the profoundly acculturated "peasant Teduray" outside the forest. By the 1960s half the Teduray population, some fifteen thousand, had become this new ethnic version of Filipino peasantry and were largely out of touch with their forest counterparts.
My wife, Audrey, and I first arrived in Upi in June 1960, sent by the Episcopal Church in America to be missionaries on the staff of the Mission of St. Francis of Assisi. Our initial task was to found St. Francis High School, the first academic high school in the Teduray mountains. Not long after our arrival, even before the school was built, I was named priest-in-charge of the mission.
At that time, Upi was a frontier town. We often thought that life there must be similar to life in Dodge City in the 1880s. Many people carried guns. The buses plying the slow, rough road between Upi and Cotabato would occasionally be stopped and the passengers robbed. Maguindanaon bandits were common in the mountains, where they took refuge from the law in the lowlands, unofficially protected by the datus who were in control, and every so often gangs of these bandits would come into town, get drunk, and shoot the place up.
Despite this, our life at the mission was virtually idyllic and we always felt safe. Most of the inhabitants of the Upi Valley were either peasant Teduray farmers or Christian homesteaders from other parts of the Philippines. The political power was firmly in the hands of two strong Muslim Maguindanaon datus of the upper-valley faction; one was mayor and the other, his cousin, was police chief. The mission had excellent relations with them both, partly because they had residual respect for Americans and partly because I welcomed their children as students at St. Francis High School and, to their surprise, excused them from Christian worship and religious instruction. I offered to let the Muslim students receive Islamic instruction, if their families would send an instructor. So the Muslim authorities were friends and watched out for our safety. They discouraged the bandits (who were often their relatives) from hassling us and always sent a messenger to warn us if they heard about plans to rob the mission office safe. The police chief once told Audrey that, if anyone came to bother us, we should lock our house up tight and bang a washtub with a wooden mallet; they would hear and come right away. In a place without telephones or even electricity, this was an effective alarm system.
Looking back at those missionary days, I realize that I never felt much fire in my belly to convert anyone. I wanted to care for and serve our parishioners and our communityand the mission did a lot of eachbut I was little concerned with people's beliefs. This was not because I perceived that Teduray traditional spirituality was arguably a finer expression of what Jesus proclaimed as the Kingdom of God than what we were up to at the mission; I had not discovered that yet. It was because, like many other Episcopal missionaries in the Philippines, I was mainly concerned to keep the institution growing and to provide regular services, attractive liturgies, and interesting sermons. Transforming Teduray people's cosmology or moral sensibilitieswhich I didn't know anything about anywaywas not part of my sense of the job. What got me excited were the ministries of care and service, such as the high school, the clinic, the farm project, and the complex of cooperatives I helped put together to enable Teduray newly out of the forest to ease more gently into a cash-and-credit economy.
I remember that time now with nostalgia. It was a heady period in my life. I was just in my late twenties, but thanks to residual patterns that can only be termed neocolonial, I was in charge of a vast complex of people and institutions, and my creative juices were able to go wild. I had been trusted to found the first academic high school in the region. And since I spent half of each week hiking up and down hilly trails visiting the chapels in the outlying peasant Teduray communities, I had never been in better health (and never have been again). My family was growing; both of my sons, Len and Will, were born in those mission years. I had good friends in the missionary and local communities, and I was blissfully ignorant of how unintelligible much of what we were doing must have seemed to the people we tended.
Happy as my life was during my three years at the Mission of St. Francis, however, I grew increasingly restless and dissatisfied. In planning St. Francis High School, which I knew should not be simply a replica of the schools I was acquainted with in America, I sought the assistance of several anthropologists in Manila, who helped me make it fit the special needs of the remote rural area and people it would serve. They put me on to some marvelous studies of Filipino life and culture, and the more anthropology I read, the more the field attracted me. By my last year at the mission I was convinced that I was in the right part of the world but, at least for me, had the wrong relationship to it. Audrey felt the same way. We wanted to be learners from these people, not teachers.
In the summer of 1963 my family and I moved back to the United States, to the University of Chicago, where I affiliated with the Philippine Studies Program and began working on a doctorate in anthropology.
After two years of rigorous course work at Chicago and six months of special studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, I returned with Audrey and our two sons (then age four and three) to the Upi Valley to launch my dissertation research.
Hamilton Edwards, a good friend from mission days, invited us to his farm in Mirab, just four miles north of Upi along the road to Cotabato City. "Hammy" was in his mid-thirties, as was I. He had been a close friend and invaluable source of information when I was at the mission in Upi. He was also the son of the formidable Captain Irving Edwards, who had played such an important role during colonization and was famous beyond words among the Teduray people. With his dad, Hammy spent most of the World War II years in a Japanese prison, where he learned his high school lessons under interned Catholic and Protestant missionary school teachers, receiving probably the finest education available in Mindanao in the early 1940s. After liberation from the Japanese occupation he went to the United States for college, but soon after graduating came home and took over the family farm in Mirab. Half American and half Teduray, Hammy lived a thoroughly Filipino-style life. People respected him greatly as a patron and a leader. His knowledge of the Tedurayat least those outside the rainforestwas immense.
Hammy helped clarify my research plans as soon as we arrived in Mirab. I had never actually been into the forest, and I arrived on the scene with no inkling that the community of Figel existed or that I would do my fieldwork there. I only knew that I wanted to live for two years among the people in the forest, among those Teduray who still followed "the old life."
I was even less sure just what aspect of Teduray life I would primarily study. I had proposed to investigate the traditional forest Teduray legal system for my dissertation research, but, truth be told, I didn't know for certain that they even had a legal system! A few comments I had heard at the mission suggested that they settled disputes in an unusual way, so I figured there would be something for me to study. Hammy confirmed my guess the first night we were in Mirab. Over a bottle of scotch, he told me that the forest people indeed had an elaborate system for mending disputes.
I needed to find housing for my family, and Hammy helped with that too. When I told him the first night we were in Mirab that I wanted to stay somewhere deep in the forest for a couple of years, coming out only every six or eight weeks to visit my family, he suggested that we build a house there on his farm for Audrey and the boys.
We put up a little house near Hammy's house. There, Audrey, Len, and Will would be within reach of medical services, and the Edwards family would be close by to help out if needed. It was nothing fancy; we just sketched a rough design on the back of an envelope and hired Ramón, a local carpenter, to build it with lumber we brought up from Cotabato City in Hammy's truck. There were three small bedrooms, one for Len and Will, one for Audrey and me, and one for a live-in helper, as well as an office, a living room, a large kitchen, and a small porch. Mirab, like Upi itself, had no electricity or running water, but Ramón built a little privy in the back, a dip-from-a-bucket bathing room beside the house, and a small tank to catch rainwater from our plaited-leaf roof. There was no glass in the windows, and we could see outside through knotholes in the walls, but our new house took just two weeks to build and the total cost for all materials, labor, and furnishings was a little under five hundred dollars.
The boys soon met other youngsters on the farm and began acquiring dogs, chickens, and various other small pets. Audrey and I split our time between settling into the new house and preparing me to go into the interior. For Len and Will, Mirab was the Philippine equivalent of Tom Sawyer's Mississippi. They swam naked with the other kids in the rice paddies and water buffalo wallows, they ran around chasing their chickens, they learned a whole raft of rural skills, and they turned brown in the tropical sun.
Not all aspects of our arrangements were completely positive. Audrey said nothing at the time, but years later she told me that she felt abandoned by her fledgling anthropologist husband who planned to camp out so far from her and the little boys for such a long period of time. Still, staying near the Edwards was some consolation. Audrey had grown up in a small rural town in Wisconsin so looked forward to farm life, and she had long felt close to the Edwards family. Although Captain Edwards had died in the 1950s, his extended family still lived on the property. I felt confident about leaving her and my boys there; I knew that Hammy would be like a brother to Audrey and an uncle and surrogate father for Len and Will during the long stretches of time I would be in the forest.
Where exactly I would do my work remained an unresolved question. I asked many people in the Mirab/Upi area where I might find the old way of life in full swing, and most of them didn't have any idea. These Teduray were all from families who had left forest life more than a generation ago and they had remarkably little real idea what it had been like. They were, in fact, fascinated that I actually wanted to live there and expressed eagerness to hear about the old-style Teduray from me.
There was one man who knew quite a bit: Fr. Simeon Beling, one of the mission priests. Simeon was then about forty years old. Although he had gone to the Episcopal seminary near Manila a number of years before, unlike most of his fellow Filipino priests he had a compelling interest in his roots and maintained contact with people in the interior. He even went into the rainforest from time to time. Simeon came up to Upi every few weeks from his post at Nalkan along the coast, so I passed the word that I wanted to see him, and before long he showed up at Hammy's farm. I had always been fond of Simeon, and it was good to see him again. He had a great sense of humor and a hardy frontiersman-like quality.
Simeon assured me that Hammy was right in thinking that a lively practice of traditional law went on among the forest people and that certain women and men were renowned for their ability to restore justice. He suggested several possible fieldwork sites, but thought the best might be the community of Figel, where Balaud, one of the most skillful legal specialists, lived.
"It is far into the interior. Is that okay for you?" he asked, during an early conversation.
"That's exactly what I want."
"It's along the Tran Grande Riverthe Dakel Teran, we call it in Teduraya day's walk into the forest. So there aren't many changes from the old ways."
"Do you think they would let me and a couple of assistants live and study there?" I asked. I was excited, but feared they might not be open to the idea of strangers observing them.
"Of course," he said. "They will want to help you out in any way they can."
Little did I know how true this was! But Simeon said it with such confidence that we made a plan, right then and there, that in a couple of weeks we would go to Figel, with Simeon acting as guide and entrée to this forest community.
There was much to prepare. I bought numerous boxes of batteries for my tape recorder, assembled a medicine kit, purchased film, and had a tinsmith make me a watertight metal box for my valuables. The list went on and on, but provisioning was the least of my challenges. I needed to find a couple of Teduray men to work with me in the forest. The forest Teduray were virtually unknown in the anthropological world, so, if possible, I planned to learn the outlines of their general cultural and social ways, in addition to their legal system. I also hoped that I could do some systematic analysis of their virtually unstudied language, which I would need to learn to speak. Attempting so much within a two-year stay meant I needed help in gathering information.
I decided to ask Fr. George Harris, my successor at the mission, whether I could co-opt the services of Mamerto, one of his several full-time lay assistants. I knew Mer (as everyone called him) well. The two of us were roughly the same age and we had spent many hours and days together on trails up and down the hills around Upi, hiking to outstation chapels for Mass. I knew Mer was good company, cheerful and bright. George, Mer, and I agreed that for 1966 and 1967 I would pay Mer's regular salary, that the mission would continue his benefits, and that he would work as my field assistant.
I asked Mer if he had any suggestions for another fieldwork helper. He thought about it for several days and then showed up at the Mirab house with Aliman Francisco, a man I had not met before. Like Mer, he had a great interest in learning about the old ways. Though only a few years older than Mer and me, Aliman looked much older. His face and body showed the strain of chronic malaria and of recurring pain from a serious accident he had been involved in on the Upi road. But Aliman had been farming in the last couple of years, which was harder physical work than I would be asking of him. He was a gregarious fellow, and I soon decided he would be a good companion to Mer and me.
My little team began at once to discuss our stay in the forest. That night after dinner we all sat in front of the house listening to the sounds of the night, watching bats feed from the fruit of a nearby tree. My older son, Len, grew tired of adult conversation and asked, "Why do bats only come at night?" In my best dutiful-parent manner I explained that bats are "nocturnal creatures" (graduate students talk that way), but Aliman quickly launched into the first of many stories from his rich memory of Teduray fables.
"Once the birds and the animals had a terrible war because a bird severely offended a wild pig, and the animals were unable to contain their anger," he said. "Bats, of course, are birds because they fly through the air." He made a slight flapping motion with his hands. "But they were afraid that the birds, mostly small, would have no real chance against the animals, who were much larger." At this point Aliman seemed first to shrink, then to grow, which got the boys and then the rest of us laughing.
"So the bats, who are tricky, went to the animals and said, 'Let us fight on your side. After all, we have hair, not feathers.' After some discussion, the animals agreed to have the bats on their side, thinking that they might be of some help.
"The birds, when they saw what those sneaky bats had done, tried a little sneakiness of their own. Bees are also creatures who fly, even though they are not really birds, so the birds went to them and said, 'We are just small and the boars and the monkeys are much bigger than we are. Please help us that we don't perish and we can set things straight.'
"The bees thought for a while and, not wanting to hurt the birds' feelings, decided that they would help them. So in the first battle they zoomed in and stung all the animals so badly that they ran away. When the bats saw that, they went right to the birds and said, 'Actually, we were mistaken. We are really birds! As you well know, we fly through the air.'
"The birds said to the bats, 'What you really are is cowards! You should forever hide yourself with shame from both birds and animals.' The bats were horribly shamed, and from then on they have always come out only at night."
Aliman was less educated than Mer, but I soon developed an admiration for his love of detail, and I felt I could trust the information he would record.
Finally I knew I had done all the preparing I could and was ready to go. I felt considerable anxiety about the unknown world that lay ahead of meI would, after all, be entering a strange community deep within a totally unfamiliar rainforestbut I was satisfied that I had gathered a workable research team and I was excited to start the great adventure.
Table of Contents
|2||Trekking to Figel||21|
|3||Animals That Fly Are Birds||43|
|4||Mirab Interlude I||71|
|5||We Were Created to Care for the Forest||78|
|6||Mirab Interlude II||101|
|7||Everyone Needs to Be in a Pot||107|
|8||Mirab Interlude III||130|
|9||The Woman Who Was Born a Boy||137|
|11||Justice without Domination||149|
|12||Mirab Interlude IV||173|
|13||Shamans and Sacred Meals||182|
|14||Mirab Interlude V||195|
|15||The People You Cannot See||201|
|16||Mirab Interlude VI||225|
|17||Catastrophe at Figel||231|
|18||Visions We Live By||236|
What People are Saying About This
Destined to take its place among the great works of ethnography leading to personal enlightenment and catharsis.