How Lolo Pedro Swatted a Toratora and Died

While browsing the internet, I chanced on a science news article on the genetic susceptibility to schizophrenia among Han Chinese. The Nature article revealed  two independent studies that identified “sections of the human genome that, when deleted, can elevate the risk of developing schizophrenia by up to 15 times compared with the general population.” I won’t go into the details of the article because, aside from my lack of expertise on the subject matter, the popular version of the two articles is good enough for non-technical readers like myself.

This blog article however will share a cultural correlate to the science news article. While mental diseases are biological, these are expressed in specific cultural and historical circumstances. I take the medical anthropologist’s cue therefore of differentiating disease, which is biological, from illnesses, a cultural concept. It is within this light that I share my maternal relatives’ reckoning with pagkabuang (roughly translated as insanity). All behaviors or mental states that deviate from the “normal” is considered buang in Cebuano. Psychological illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, dementia, etc, are all subsumed under this general word category.

The family lore goes that at least one member, usually male, of every generation will succumb to a mental illness. I don’t know if there’s a biological basis to this story or whether a professional diagnosis was availed of (except for one), but as far as my mother is concerned, our “schizophrenia” simply runs in the blood–no need to question it, you just keep the grip on what’s real and what’s not and you won’t lose it. This story has been used as a warning to all my relatives to not overdo things or do drugs, because “we got craziness in our blood,” one slip and off we go to Lalaland.  Like us, my mother’s generation too had been told time and again to fear this supposed “genetic tendency” and thus must learn to negotiate life’s challenges with calm and ease. I believe this is not simply an old wives’ tale that older relatives concocted to keep us in check. Aside from the logical fact that they could’ve just scared us off with the usual monsters and the roasting pits of hell, my maternal relatives saw how a grandfather, an uncle, and two cousins were blighted by this illness.

The origin of the “schizophrenia” myth started with the unusual death of my mother’s maternal grandfather who was shot by Japanese soldiers in the dying days of World War II. When the villagers heard that the soldiers were on patrol, they fled to their mountain hideout except for Lolo Pedro. The soldiers spotted Lolo Pedro on top of a coconut tree cursing at toratora or zero fighter aircrafts flying overhead. He also brought with him a long stick to swat at these flying jetfighters, flaying at them everytime they passed by the coconut tree. He was an easy target for the patrolling soldiers. They trained their rifles towards Lolo Pedro, placed him in their rifles’ crosshairs, squeezed their triggers, and took the crazed man down from the tree.

You see, the tiny island of Po’o at that time was right smack in the middle of the largest naval battle in world history, The Battle of Leyte Gulf. This was the naval war when Allied forces first witnessed Japanese toratora planes diving straight at enemy warships and gunboats. The Allied Forces however routinely defeated the Japanese forces in less than a week. For older island residents, the impact of this war was such that time and history were only divided into three episodes: before the war (wala pay gera), during the war (panahon sa gera), and after the war (pistaym). Personal events, like birthdays, are remembered more along this organizing principle of time than the actual dates.

The war was a shock to many island residents. From a sleepy fishing village, the place had been converted into a battle zone. The villagers were rounded up and their movement monitored and restricted. Many were subjected to abuses. Rumors reached that children were flung to the air and then stabbed with bayonets. Some of those who escaped the encampment were pursued and killed. A relative of mine, who was then a child, escaped a gruesome death when she pretended to be dead after getting stabbed with a bayonet. With her guts spilling out of her abdomen, adult relatives sneaked the child out of the island on a canoe. They traveled a full day to the neighboring island of Leyte where she was nursed back to health.

Coconut Fiber Dress. My grandfather didn’t quite sew something as grandiose as this, but yes you got the point of him sewing clothes from coconut fibers.

Those who escaped the Japanese garrison fled to mountain hideouts. While there, they lived a semblance of a normal life, far from the reach of the occupying forces. My late maternal grandfather, a Chinese immigrant tailor (whose timberland-owning family scampered out of China because of the Nationalist Revolution of Sun Yat Sen–yet another interesting story to pursue!), remembered sewing clothes from coconut fibers for the refugees (see photo on the side to give you an idea). The violence spiraled that whenever there was a chance for retribution, the island residents grabbed every opportunity for revenge–Japanese soldiers, who survived the naval battle and found themselves beached on the island, were routinely attacked and killed.

If you’ve been to the island of Po’o, you would not imagine that this place had once witnessed so much bloodshed. Your day starts with a rooster’s call and ends with the warmth of bahalina down your throat. Yet World War II was a crazy time. And, apparently, we still feel the insanity of war in our “genes.”


Impressions on a Visit to Guanica

This blog article can also be accessed at my other blog site, Anthropology Corner.

PhotobucketThe southern end of Puerto Rico is a place one could easily associate with old Western films because of its crusty and brown rolling hills. The mighty central cordilleras, a rugged spine of verdant forest across the island, trap the moisture that should have been reserved for these parts, rendering the terrain dry and desert-like.

The 2-hour drive from San Juan to Guanica is a good trip for understanding the impact of the central cordilleras on the Puerto Rican natural environment. Starting from Salinas, the surrounding topography turns yellow and brown, different from the usual tropical green valleys we associate with islands around the equator. Instead of trees dominating the landscape, what you see are grasses, shrubs, short scraggly trees, and cacti while a flock of migratory turkey vultures hovers above.

PhotobucketThe situation of being at the wrong end of the central cordilleras (with seasonal rainfall averaging only 860 mm annually) does not stop life from blossoming at this southwestern part of Puerto Rico. The unique topology and microclimatic conditions created a biome that has been described as the “best preserved and best example of a tropical dry forest in the Caribbean.” This United Nations Biosphere Reserve is home to nine of the fourteen endemic bird species of the island and a host of other flora and fauna.

This 4000 ha. forest reserve however is sandwiched in tourist, agricultural, and urban development zones. The main road leading to the Guanica State Forest shows a landscape bearing its story of human occupation. A cursory look by the roadside would show that certain portions of the land are devoted to cattle and horse grazing. The plains are turned into fields of banana, papaya, and vegetables–the primary cash crops of Puerto Rico. Back in the day, historians recorded that the southern area also had a thriving sugar industry like the rest of the island but was abandoned when the world prices of sugar dropped to record lows (Guanica ending it in 1981). Vestiges of that sugar culture can still be gleaned from the artisanal production of guarapo, a sugarcane juice drink, and ron cana, a toxic sugarcane rum that burns your insides.

PhotobucketThe seaward edge of the Guanica dry forest is a winding road that threads the series of hotels and beach spots along the coasts. Sightseers and tourists go to this area primarily because of the beach and Gilligan’s Island, an islet just across the forest. From the road, footpaths go deep into the forest reserve where hikers climb the rocky hills and explore the remarkable flora and fauna. Occasionally, a Santeria shrine of a saint could be found bearing offerings of fruits and flowers.

I don’t know how much of an impact human activities contributed to the Guanica Dry Forest. I tried searching through the literature and found that studies along this line have been wanting. What I saw instead was a comprehensive study of the influence of hurricane winds on the dry forest cycles. Apparently, dry forests are resilient enough to confront winds as strong as 152 knots. But droves of people? Who knows.

Bargain Books and Excerpts on Tarongan Magic and Witchcraft

I went yesterday to a bargain bookstore in the heart of Rio Piedras and found thirteen books for a dollar apiece. This bookshop is unattended and the books were strewn everywhere.  It was like going through a library after a heavy carpet bombing. Nonetheless, I found literary gems there and a few classic anthropology books by Geertz and Leach.

One of the things I do also when I am in bargain bookstores, especially in a foreign country, is to search for Filipiniana books.  I find it interesting to know what other people read about my country. After three hours and with palms blackened with dust and soot, I chanced on five books about the Philippines:

1. Notes on the New Society of the Philippines (1978) by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos

2. The Filipino Way of Life: The Pluralized Philosophy (1940) by Camilo Osias

3. Amok (1980) by George Fox

4. Tarong: An Ilocos Barrio in the Philippines (1963) by William F. Nydegger and Corinne Nydegger (one of the papers in Six Cultures: Studies of Child Rearing by Beatrice B. Whiting ed.)

5. How to Ask for a Drink in Subanun (1964) by Charles O. Frake (a book chapter in Language and Social Context by Pier Paolo Giglioli ed.)

Of the five books, I bought the last two of the list. I was especially interested on Nydegger and Nydegger’s paper because of its rich description of the Iloko village of Tarong. The paper, which subscribes to the Culture and Personality school that was in vogue  in the 1960s, also provided an ethnographic account of magic and witchcraft. While reading this paper, it got me thinking about witchcraft and postcoloniality (e.g., when viewed through the lens of our colonial experience, witchcraft practices reveal a lot about our colonial encounters). Read this excerpt from Nydegger and Nydegger’s paper (1963:771-777) and you would see what I mean:

The principles basic to all Tarongan magic are first that similar events are believed to produce similar effects; and second, that certain objects and certain rituals are believed to ward off undesired events or to bring about desired ones. The power in the former lies in the similarity; the power in the latter resides in the object or ritual itself.

The basis by which events are recognized as similar often seems farfetched to persons unfamiliar with Tarongan culture. Thus to dream of catching fish foretells good luck in money matters, and many a Tarongan, after such a dream, will feel justified in borrowing money to bet on a cockfight; or, a dream of having one’s teeth pulled is believed to foretell the death of a member of the family. This latter omen can be counteracted by, immediately upon arising, breaking a pot in the doorway, or by biting the trunk of a tree to transfer the omen. As Tarongans, fond of a pun, explain: “You pull the teeth of the dream.”

The Tarongan list of omens is long and a few examples will suffice to indicate their flavor. If a kingfisher calls from a perch near a house, something serious–perhaps death–will affect someone in that house. A mound of white ants under the house brings money to the household; “Its luck will grow as the mound grows.” If a gekko lizard croaks outside the house, it foretells the arrival of a guest.

As has been suggested above, many of these omens can be negated by certain rituals or talismans. The talismans have much wider significance, however. They are of two kinds, the anib which protects against misfortune and the talibagot which brings good luck.

As one informant put it, “Anibs are our shield.” They protect their owners against not-humans, against illness, against witchcraft, lightning, robbers, and so on. There is a cluster of long established anibs basic to ritual and used by all Tarongans to ward off ill. These are salt, garlic or ginger, hot pepper, wine or vinegar, anglem (various kinds and mixtures of smoke), and the Christian cross. This by no means completes the list of anibs. There are many of less wide acceptance than the basic list either because they represent personal beliefs or because they are out of fashion.

The use of anibs is exemplified by the following practices. It is believed that if one eats outside this will make the envious not-humans cause inflammations of the neck and mouth or a toothache. This danger may be avoided by sprinkling salt about before eating. Similarly, a pregnant woman is likely to arouse envy of not-humans if she goes outside at night. She will be reasonably safe, however, if she loosens her hair, letting it fall over her face, and carries anibs of salt and garlic or ginger. Pepper anibs are believed to be especially effective against disease-carrying spirits and are hung outside the house during epidemics. For added protection a plate of salt is set at the top of the ladder. Another method of dealing with such spirits, was described as follows: “When you hear their footsteps and hear them bumping against the walls, open the shutter just enough and sprinkle vinegar or wine and a little salt out quickly. This will drive them away.”

The other two anibs in general use, smoke and the cross, are also effective against thunder and lightning. The smoke (anglem) is produced by burning a mixture of substances slowly on embers in a small container, to produce as much smoke as possible. Generally bits of the “kitchen rag” are burned and certain leaves–often garlic or ginger; church incense when it can be procured is considered especially effective.

These generally accepted anibs, with the exception of the cross, apparently owe their counteractive properties to their strong taste or smells, which repels not-humans. Since they are always available, they are in constant use. To hang pepper on the wall when sickness is about is as casual a gesture to a Tarongan as our taking aspirin when we feel a cold coming on and has no more or less awesome overtones–both are simply sensible precautions. The effectiveness of the cross as an anib derives its power from the Catholic church rather than from its natural properties. A cross of any sort, even the sign of the cross, is a good anib, but one fashioned out of palm leaves which have been blessed in church on Palm Sunday is particularly strong. It is believed to be effective against sickness and thunder and lightning if it is hung in the window of the house. The household shrine statues or pictures are also anibs against bad luck in general.

Far greater in number and variety are those anibs used by many but not all Tarongans, and their functions are also more varied although none are required for ritual practices. The largest group of these are unusual roots, seeds, and nuts most often bought from sirkanos or Igorot and Tinguian peddlers from the mountains. But almost any distinctively formed object may have anib qualities and is likely to be tried by its finder. For example, from Cagayan have come a number of roots which startingly resemble a human hand. Such a root, kept in a bottle of coconut oil, is very powerful and, when hung from the middle of the ridgepole, discourages all manner of bad luck, even robbers. The oil itself, in which the root is kept, becomes a strong counteractive agent to be used during the massage-cure of certain illnesses.

A potted spiky cactus, rare in Tarong, is a deterrent to witches as are, one man avows, the string of honey-combs hung from his porch. Those anibs specifically against witches are called somang and frequently not only shield their owner but also force the evil back against the witch. One Tarongan woman had a powerful somang with her one day at a market when she met a famous witch in the the crowd. He glared at her, but her somang turned his evil glance back, and he fainted there in the market. His guilt was in this way clearly demonstrated, as was the efficacy of the somang.

There is probably no Tarongan who does not carry a somang, if not habitually, at least when leaving the barrio, and whose house is not protected by another somang and two or more anibs. Even animals are provided with anibs. Chickens are thus protected against epidemics, and when a pig disease is believed approaching, wooden crosses are sometimes placed beside the pic trough.

That class of talismans which is for rather than against specific events is called talibagot and presumed to bring goodluck. These may be hung in the house or carried on one’s person, as are anibs, and most Tarongans have one, but the variety is tremendous. There are a few generally recognized talibagot, such as the stone “lightning’s tooth,” which brings good luck. A man living near the mountains has one which he rubs over his dogs’ noses before deer hunting and which has proved very useful.

Any unusual thing is as likely to be talibagot as anib. For example, a tooth of a child born with teeth brings good luck, a caul saved after birth brings luck to the family’s financial dealings, and so on. If the unusual is not classifiable immediately, however, such as the birth of a child with one finger missing, the true meaning of the event may become clear with time. For example, a child in Ikan, the youngest of nine, was born with a large egglike swelling between his eyes. Shortly after his birth the family, which had been very poor, began to improve its economic status and is now doing well. The child, therefore, was considered a talibagot and the favorite of the family.

In addition to an acceptance of omens and talismans, Tarongans share in the widespread belief in exuvial magic. The first fingernail cuttings of a child placed in crevices of the house ladder will ensure that a child have a good grasp and not fall; a whisker pulled from a new puppy and buried under the house ladder will keep a dog from straying. Beliefs about exuviae are not associated with witchcraft, however: A person cannot be harmed through his hair cuttings or fingernail parings.

Harmful magic or witchcraft is, however, believed in by Tarongans. Typically a witch is a man or woman who has powers, presumably inherited, to do great harm to others. Although he may harm others unintentionally, he usually does so purposefully.

Witchcraft attacks produce illnesses ranging from chill or fever to death and are most often due to unprovoked malice on the part of the witch. Understandably, these people are feared and hated, but the pattern of coping with them is avoidance as far as is practicable and the use of somangs. To confront a witch with evidence of her treachery and demand retraction of her evil is unthinkable, for, angered, “Who knows what she might not do–she could kill us all!” * In effect witches are dealt with in much the same way as are malicious supernaturals–by avoidance, reliance on anibs, and if these fail, the arcane knowledge of the sirkano.

The specific methods of bewitching vary; some witches are thought to use mysterious and potent objects, others apparently do not. In either case it is the innate power of the witch that propels the evil force into the victim, the object providing the specific kind of illness or acting only as a reinforcement. If one is a witch, all the necessary power with which to do harm is present–magic objects and devices serve only to elaborate and refine.

If the evil is to be transmitted through the air, this may be accompanied by a “fierce look,” by a pushing gesture of the hand, or by a slight stamp of a pointing foot. Media other than air are also popular, and a bamboo slat of the floor between witch and victim may carry evil; drinking water or food can easily be contaminated; indeed, anything the witch may have handled is suspect as a transmitting device for his poisons. The only limit to a witch’s power is the necessity for at least initial contact with the victim or the transmitting object, and it is this essential factor that enables avoidance to function as a protective device.

Daya, adjacent eastern barrio, has previously been mentioned as a residence of many witches. And Maria, the only witch living in Tarong, is a daughter of a Dayan couple particularly notorious as “poisoners.” She has caused tremors and unpleasant, painful swellings about the neck, face, and arms of two Tarongan women, in both cases by “looking strangely.” The first occurrence was the result of a quarrel with a neighbor over some cloth, the second apparently for no particular reason.

I was coming along the lane, bringing faggots home, when I met Maria coming toward me. I moved as close to the other edge of the lane as possible and we passed without speaking. But she looked at me strangely, as if I were her enemy. By the time I reached home my neck was so sore I could barely talk or eat, and it was very swollen and painful for three days. She is evil, that one–just like her father and mother.*

Toward the end of the field period another Tarongan woman became very ill, her body painfully swollen. A number of sirkanos were called in turn, each giving a different diagnosis but little relief. In desperation, the family, which was relatively poor, called in a famous sirkano from the provincial capitol who immediately diagnosed witchcraft. He proved the allegation by rubbing the side of a new water jar until a picture of a witch appeared, recognizable to the patient and three other Tarongans present as a woman in adjacent barrio with whom the patient had been familiar.

No reason was ever offered for the witchcraft attack, but the time was easily determined–the last time the patient had used the then-unrecognized witch’s sewing machine, about five days prior to noticeable swellings and pains. That this woman was trying to kill the Tarongan woman was clear, for the latter was very weak and obviously critically ill. The sirkano’s series of treatments (and tremendously expensive) did provide relief, however, and the patient was walking unaided within three weeks. Asked what she would do if, walking along a path, she should meet the witch who had nearly succeeded in killing her, the Tarongan woman answereed, “If I met her, I will talk naturally, but I will try to avoid her.”

There is one other class of harmful persons who, although using no magical aids, are nevertheless a source of dread to Tarongans. These are the agtoyo, men of great strength and cunning, who, during the dry season, ride on horseback along the roads, lassoing and kidnapping the unwary. Their purpose is to provide victims for the bridgebuilders who reputedly drop the body or blood of one person into each foundation post, thus giving the bridge extra strength to withstand floods.

Some local customs give plausability to such a practice: when a new house is built, a 10- or 20-centavo piece and a little wine are usually placed in at least one corner post hole, and often in all; and within memory of middle-aged Tarongans, when a government flood control dam was built on the Tarong-boundary creek, the blood of the pig was used in its foundation.

Although a large number of Tarongans doubt the existence of agtoyo, the largest number of adults fear them, and if news circulates that a bridge is to be rebuilt, Tarongans are not often met walking alone on the paths, even during daylight hours. The feeling in the provincial capitol during one such period was also strong: high school students refused to walk to or from school alone and rumors of kidnappings circulated constantly. Fear of these kidnappers is strong enough to have made the following account of the attempt on the life of an Ikan man thoroughly credible: The elderly man, walking along the national highway at noon with his grandson, came to a part of the road which cut through a brushy hill. With no warning both felt ropes cast about them, pulling them towards the trees. The old man managed to draw his bolo and slash the ropes. He and the boy fled along the road to the nearest sari-sari store, where they collapsed, terror-stricken and exhausted. Neighbors hearing their story nodded gravely and said: “You were very lucky to escape the agtoyo.”



*The courts of law apparently allay this fear in the cities. During the field period of the trial of an alleged witch provided an engrossing spectacle to residents of the provincial capitol (defendant and plaintiff both were teachers in the city high school).

*It should be mentioned here that, to the field team’s eyes, Maria was one of the most attractive, pleasant, and intelligent women in Tarong. Nor did any other individual pointed out as a witch have any noticeable peculiarities of appearance or behavior.

Animal Lores: Myths, Disasters, and Animals

The post on monkeys and hurricanes made me think about myths and calamities. So, here’s the continuation of that blog post:

In rural Philippines where I grew up, animals are one of the central conversation topics in any street corner. We would huddle and strain our necks to hear the stories adults tell each other of fantastic creatures that fly in the night or about the mythical sigbin that stole a squash from a neighbor’s garden. The sigbin is said to be kangaroo-like, about a foot long, and eats with its bottom raised up in the air. These creatures only come out at night and move very fast that the only evidence of its presence is a smashed up squash, bits and pieces of its yellow and orange flesh littered all over the garden floor. The sigbin, they say, also prefers the warmth of the hearth and, at times, eats charcoal to sustain itself. In fact, if these adults were to be believed, the sigbin, when caught and tamed, is faster than anything else in the world because it can transport the owner in a blink of an eye. As a kid, it wasn’t much of a stretch  to think that Aladdin’s magic carpet was hewn from the fleece of the sigbin.

There were other mythic animals that inhabited our imagination. Going on long treks on the hills of my town, I sometimes find myself lost in the thick of the forest. Of course, there was always a ready explanation as to why the once familiar footpaths were leading nowhere and the gigantic trees, signposts to finding the way back home, were not the same or were just not there anymore. Shouting for help was useless because the only answer that one got was an eerie silence, so eerie that even the cicadas were hushed up. Then, I realized that the supernaturals were playing tricks again, putting roads where there was none, confusing me in the middle of a labyrinthine forest. We call this lamat, a condition of being lost, even in once familiar paths.

For the Tagalogs, the tikbalang, a centaur-like creature, is blamed for the lamat. Unlike a similar character in Western mythology, the Filipino tikbalang is an inversion of the centaur. They are represented as having the head and torso of the horse while its lower body is human–a bipedal bronco. According to Reynaldo Ileto in his seminal work, Pasyon and Revolution, the tikbalang is the “king of the San Mateo mountains…and a brother of Marya of Mount Makiling” (a goddess popular in Filipino folklore).

It is not surprising then that disaster events are often interpreted in mythic terms. Harold Olofson, one of the giants of Visayan anthropology, noted how animals have been incorporated in religious rituals of a small island community in Central Visayas. The animals occupy a central place in the fiesta celebration of St. Vincent Ferrer, the island’s patron saint. To avert disasters, the residents dress cats and dogs as humans. The inversion doesn’t stop there: women and men switch clothes and coconut trees are planted on the sea. It was “sacrilegious” that the designated parish priest once banned the celebration on religious grounds. The island residents however blamed him when disaster struck the island once again, forcing the parish priest to retract the sanction and allow the celebration of the binaliw. Olofson believes that this binaliw ritual exhibits a syncretic fusion of a prehispanic principle or belief in a thunder-god and the Spanish-introduced saint, San Vicente Ferrer.

The belief in the supernatural character of animals is widespread in the Visayas area. According to William Henry Scott‘s retelling of 16th century Visayas, the presence of animals, especially birds, was used to divine the success of a hunt or harvest. Until the present, some rural villagers in Eastern Visayas fear the Philippine coucal because it forewarns them of a bad day. A cryptic and nocturnal bird species, kikik, is also believed to be a harbinger of the witch’s coming.

Further north, the Tinguians of Abra Province put birds in a different light. The Tinguians do not start the planting season unless a particular bird appears before the sky. For modernist economists, stories such as these are dismissed as mere superstition, stumbling block in the road towards progress. Closer inspection however reveals that this bird is migratory, signaling the onset of the monsoon season. Anthropologists remarked that the Tinguian‘s agricultural cycle is more attuned to the nuances of their local environment than modern agricultural practices.

The representation of animals in the local belief systems comes in handy in disaster situations. In the place I grew up in, villagers admonish children to be extra watchful for sudden changes in animal behavior, say for example the early roosting of the chicken or the complete silence of the forest, because these forebode a disastrous event. In other cases, like the 2006 Guinsaugon mudslide and the many earthquakes in the Philippines, eyewitnesses remember the unusual behavior exhibited by the animals before the event. Lita C. Malicdem, in a comment on animals and earthquakes in the Philippines, said that, “I had observed my dogs howling at no cause and the fowls in the poultry cackling and making uneasy noises. I would learn later that there was an earthquake. It was so weak that it wasn’t felt by us humans, but the animals did.”

Anthropologists have also documented similar incidents elsewhere. After noticing unusual behavioral changes in the birds, dolphins and lizards, tribes in the Nicobar and Andaman islands headed to higher ground and were saved from the devastation. Similarly in 1975, Chinese officials, using animal cues, “ordered the evacuation of Haicheng, a city with one million people, just days before a 7.3-magnitude quake. Only a small portion of the population was hurt or killed. If the city had not been evacuated, it is estimated that the number of fatalities and injuries could have exceeded 150,000.” The 2004 tsunami that hit India and Sri Lanka is the oft-cited incident of animals fleeing the disaster before it struck. According to a National Geographic report, before the tsunami hit land, “elephants screamed and ran for higher ground, dogs refused to go outdoors, flamingos abandoned their low-lying breeding areas, and zoo animals rushed into their shelters and could not be enticed to come back out.”

The stories here therefore point at the importance of local environmental knowledges. Disaster stories are part of a complex  belief system that elaborates the people’s relationship with their natural world. To end this blogpost, let me quote the World Commission for Environment and Development:

Tribal and indigenous peoples’…lifestyles can offer modern societies many lessons in the management of resources in complex forest, mountain, and dryland ecosystems…These communities are the repositories of vast accumulations of traditional knowledge and experience that link humanity with its ancient origins. Their disappearance is a loss for the larger society, which could learn a great deal from their traditional skills in sustainably managing very complex ecological systems.


Harold Olofson (2002). St. Vincent and the thunder-god: Narratives of play and Apocalypse in relation to a Central Visayan island fiesta Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society

Fikret Berkes (1999). Sacred ecology: traditional ecological knowledge and resource management Nature

William Henry Scott (1994). Barangay: Sixteenth Century Philippine Culture and Society Ateneo de Manila University Press

Reynaldo Clemena Ileto (1982). Pasyon and Revolution: Popular Movements in the Philippines, 1840-1910 Ateneo de Manila University Press

Four Stone Hearth Vol. 101 is up!

Hear ye time travellers! Head over to Sapien Games for the 101st edition of the FSH anthropology blog carnival. While doing this, click the youtube video below of Gustavo Cerati‘s Ciudad de la Furia for a cool and soothing background sound. Since this FSH volume is dubbed as the Phoenix edition, here’s Time Travelling wishing that Cerati too will arise from his deep slumber and showcase his genius once again.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

staring at them resting

Image courtesy of if in meditation, she sat on that gnarled mangrove branch with her head bowed, the chin almost reaching the top of her infant’s head. A sudden twitch and she pulled the baby closer to her chest, perhaps hoping that the throbbing of the heart would keep her from waking up. But, she was still sleeping. Or, at least, her eyes were closed. Then, the infant grasped the skin of her left breast, mouth closing in on the nipple, milking even more every square inch of the flesh that nursed an infant almost every year since her menarche.

About a foot away from the mother’s curved back, a juvenile curled on a horizontal branch made shiny by the constant rubbing of skin on bark. He looked comfortable: his head rested on crossed arms, legs hung limp, and the mouth slightly opened. He blended well with the earth-colored branches. It was a perfect resting spot–the branches descended to the ground like overgrown athritic fingers and the leaves were green, sometimes yellow, refracting the sun’s rays as stained glasses would.

The mother must be around 12, in her middle years if she was human. A few weeks from now, she will be pregnant again. Her face got the mask of estrous–swollen with blotches of crimson, like an embossed Cold War-era map. The back of her legs and the buttocks were swollen and deep red too, obvious signals for sexual receptivity. The males at this time hover around her–stalking and observing who she is with. Many times, higher ranking males chase her around if seen mating or in proximity with a low-ranking male. She would try to escape, shrieking and running; and if she is slower, the male’s inch-long canines would dig into her skin, sometimes ripping through her flesh. If she has enough females close to her (i.e., friends and relatives), then she has a better chance of escaping–the females in a series of feints and dashes will try to intimidate the attacking male, giving her space for a getaway.

Despite all the guarding that high-ranking males do however, researchers have found out that “male dominance rank was not associated with reproductive success” (Berard et al 1993). The study by Berard et al revealed that,

High-ranking resident males (N=5) sired 27% of the infants born during a one-year study. Four of the 11 infants of known paternity were sired by males of other social groups. The four infants of unknown paternity were sired either by males not observed mating with the females or the low-ranking male who was not fingerprinted.

Rhesus females also prefer novel males for mating. This female mate selection is thought to be one of the primary factors why males migrate out of their natal group. The migrating males, who are at the very bottom of the hierarchy, have to be in constant high alert, especially so during the mating season when high ranking males are on guard (i.e., those who are on top are particularly protective of their position on this period).

Only a few survive the ordeal and get accepted to the receiving group. Many of these migrating males prefer to hang out with the other males (an all-boys gang, so to speak), living on the fringes of macaque society (e.g., they only get to eat when the established groups are done and gone). They occasionally sneak into the group for a quick rump with the females but, if found, they get chased by everyone and quite a few have been seen jumping off from cliffs or to the water for dear life.

So, I sat there thinking about these while staring at the sleeping monkeys. These brood of three, motionless except for an occasional scratch or the movement of their bellies as they breathe, will wake up soon. In a little while, a male monkey will sneak in. And again, all hell will break loose.