Ang Hapag-Kainan Bilang Talinghaga sa Paglinang ng Pambansang Pagkakakilanlan

Noong nakaraang National Archives Congress (17-18 ng Nobyembre 2012) na isinagawa sa Pamantasan ng Ateneo de Davao, tinanong ni Paring Bert Alejo, SJ kung ano ang pambansang pagkain ng Pilipinas. Madali rin ang aking sagot, na kulang na lang binatong pasigaw sa naglelektyur na pari, na lechon (lechon!) ang pambansang pagkain. Bakit nga ba hindi lechon kung makikita mo ang inihaw na buong baboy sa karamihan ng ating piging, piyesta, salu-salo, sa bahay man ng mahirap o mayaman? Sa katunayan, tama naman ang sagot ko sa tanong ni Paring Bert. Lechon nga daw ang pambansang pagkain. Sa paglilinaw naman sa isang lathala ng Pambansang Komisyon para sa Kultura at mga Sining, hindi naman daw pambansang simbolo ang lechon kundi ay isang cultural icon na hindi isinabatas bilang isang pambansang simbolo bagkus ay nakagawian na nating mga Pilipino kasama na nang adobo, sinigang at pati na rin siguro ang pambasang kamao na si Manny Pacqiuao[1].

Ngunit may mga sumunod na tanong si Paring Bert na nagbukas sa mas malalim na pagpapakuhulugan dito. Bakit lechon kung hindi naman nito naisasaklaw ang mga kapatid na Muslim? Bakit lechon kung marami naman sa mga Pilipino ang hindi kumakain ng baboy gawa ng pagbabawal ng kanilang relihiyon? Bakit lechon (de leche o lechón na nangangahulugang batang baboy[2] sa wikang Kastila) kung tahasan naman itong dala ng mga mananakop?[3] At ano naman ang kinalaman ng pagkain sa pambansang pagkakakilanlan (national identity)?

Hindi ko masasagot sa ngayon ang mga tanong bukod sa pinakahuli. Sa pagtatangka kong sagutin ito, magsisilbing gabay natin si Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, isang antropologo na nag-aral sa papel ng mga galaw sa kasaysayan ng bansang Hapon sa paghubog ng kanilang pambansang pagkakilanlan na naka-sentro’t naka-ugat sa bigas, palay, at kanilang sakahan.

Pinamagatang “Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time” ang kanyang libro na nailimbag taong 1993. Sa librong ito ay binigyang diin ang paraang pangkasaysayan na gumagamit ng diachronic na lapit o ang pag-aaral ng isang penomena habang ito ay nagaganap sa tahas na haba ng panahon. Sa paraang ito ay binigyang tuon ni Ohnuki-Tierney ang bigas at kung papaano ang isang pangunahing pagkain ay naging isang makapangyarihan at makapukaw na simbolo ng kolektibong sarili[4] (collective self) ng mga Hapon. Sa kanyang paraan ng pag-aanalisa ay maaari ring masagot ang tanong natin na “ano ang kinalaman ng pagkain sa pambansang pagkakakilanlan (national identity)?” Sabi ni Ohnuki-Tierney malaki ang kinalaman ng pagkain sa pagtaguyod at paglinang ng pagkakakilanlan. Hinalimbawa niya ang oposisyon ng pangunahing pagkain o staple food ng mga Asyano at mga taga-Europa: ang pagkain ng bigas vs. tinapay[5].

Ang pagsasalungat na ito ng “tayo” at “sila” o ang “pagkain natin” at ang “pagkain nila” ay isa nang tahasang pagpapahayag ng pagkakakilanlan kung saan nabibigyang halaga ang pagkakaiba-iba, hindi lamang sa pagkain pati na rin sa kultura. Ngunit pinalagom rin ni Ohnuki-Tierney ang diskurso dito gamit ang kasaysayan ng Hapon. Sinabi niyang hindi naman biglang umusbong na lamang ang ganitong kamalayan at pagpapahalaga sa bigas/palay. Sa panahong ika-walong dantaon lang naman ani’ya nagsimulang maging simbolo ang bigas/palay at sakahan bilang pambansang pagkakakilanlan. Sa katunayan nga daw, noong panahong Edo sa Hapon, ay pagkain ng mga nasa mataas na posisyon sa lipunan (ang mga bagani at mga namumuno) lamang ito, at may malawak na “agwat sa pagitan ng mga magsasaka at ang mga kumakain nito na hindi nagsasaka”[6].

Sa kanyang pananaliksik, nahinuha ni Ohnuki-Tierney na nagsimula lamang na maging simbolo ng pagkakakilanlan ang bigas/palay at ang mga sakahan noong panahon na lumalaganap at nanghihimasok ang kulturang Tang ng Tsina sa Hapon. Mapatutunayan ang paglaganap ng kulturang ito sa kanji o ang sistema ng pagsulat na Hapon na gumagamit ng mga karakter na galing sa Tsina. Sa panahong ito minabuti ng emperador na si Tenmu[7] ang pag-komisyon at pagpalaganap sa mga sari-saring kwento, alamat at mitolohiya na magtatatag ng pagkakakilanlang Hapon na naiiba sa Tsina. Karamihan sa mga kwentong ito ay bumabanggit sa “bigas/palay bilang mga diwata[8][9]. Isa sa mga kwentong ito ay ang alamat ng unang emperador na si Jinmu, anak ng diwata ng tangkay ng palay at apo ni Amaterasu (diwata ng araw). Binigyan si Jinmu ni Amaterasu ng mga binhi ng palay at binigyan ng sugo na baguhin ang mga isla ng Hapon mula sa pagiging ilang at magubat hanggang ang mga islang ito ay mapuno ng mga ginintuang palay.

Samakatuwid, mula sa mga kwentong ito ay nabuo ang kamalayan na ang mga bigas/palay ay mga diwatang-nangatawan at ang pagkain nito ay nangangahulugang pag-iisa ng banal at ng katawang-lupa ng mga tao. Dugtong pa ni Ohnuki-Tierney:

Since human lives wane unless the positive principle replenishes their energies, humans and their communities must rejuvenate themselves by harnessing the positive power of deities (nigimitama).[10]

Pinakita ni Ohnuki-Tierney sa Rice as Self na ang bigas/palay, kaluluwa, diwata at nigimitama ay magkakapantay na simbolo, at dahil dito, ang pagbabahagi ng bigas/palay at mga produkto mula dito ay isang akto ng commensality sa pagitan ng mga tao at diwata[11], pati na sa mga kapwa-tao. Mula sa ganitong pagpapakabuluhan ng mga mito at alamat ay umusbong naman ang mga iba’t-ibang ritwal na naka-sentro sa bigas/palay.

Sa isang banda naman, binigyan rin ng hulugan ni Ohnuki-Tierney ang sakahan bilang panlipunang katumbas ng mas indibidwal na bigas/palay. Ang simbolo ng mga sakahan at palayan ay nabigyang kabuluhan at kahulugan bilang katumbas ng grupong kinapapalooban, halimbawa ang pamilya, ang nayon o ang bansa. Maraming binigay na halimbawa si Ohnuki-Tierney dito. Isa na ang ang mga inukit na woodblocks na kadalasa’y nagpapakita ng agraryong kanayunan at pati na rin ang mga tula at sanaysay na may mga tagpo sa sakahan o ‘di kaya’y mga gawang-biswal na nagpapakita ng nayon sa panahon ng pagtatanim o anihan. Sa gayun, ang sakahan din ay naging talinghaga ng pambansang pagiging-Hapon.

Ang pagkakakilanlan ng sarili, samakatuwid, ay isang proseso ng pagyari at pagbibigay-kahulugan na nagmumula sa kagustuhang mapa-iba at mapa-lawak ang agwat ng sariling “akin” at “sayo”. Makikita ito sa kasaysayan ng bansang Hapon kung saan minarapat nilang (marahil ang ‘nila’ ay tumutukoy lamang sa mga ilang nasa ‘itaas’ ng lipunan) maging iba at kakaiba laban sa patuloy na pagdagsa ng kulturang Tsina at pati na nang mga kanluraning kultura.

Ngunit, kumakain rin naman tayo ng kaning bigas, hindi po ba? Ano ang pagkakaiba nating mga Pilipino at ang iba pang Asyano na kumakain ng bigas sa mga Hapon? Paano ito na-solusyunan ng mga Hapon?

Ang sagot ay ang klase ng bigas/palay na tinatawag na Oryza japonica. Ang mataba, maliit at maputing bigas na ito ang isa rin sa nagpalawak ng agwat sa “bigas namin” at “bigas ninyo”. Kung ihahalintulad sa mahaba at payat na Oryza sativa at Oryza indica na nagmula sa kalakhang Asya, ang japonica ang mas pinapahalagahang klase ng bigas ng mga Hapon. Sa sanaysay ni Ohnuki-Tierney, binanggit niya ang diskriminasyon ng mga Hapon noong panahon ng Meiji sa pagitan ng ginmai (silver rice) na tanim sa bansang Hapon at ang nankinmai (bigas na galing sa Tsina) na mas mababa daw ang kalidad. Pati noong Pangalawang Digmaang Pandaigdig, ang bigas na japonica, na nangangahulugan ding “pagkadalisay ng sarili”[12], ay isinasantabi para sa mga sundalo. Ngunit hindi lamang basta Oryza japonica ang bigas. Kinakailangang tinanim ito sa bansang Hapon. Sinalaysay pa ni Ohnuki-Tierney na noong taong 1993 ay nagkaroon ng mga panukalang mag-angkat ng bigas mula sa California. Binatikos ito ng nakararami kahit pa nga ba magkamukha lang naman ang bigas na aangkatin at ang bigas na tinatanim nila. Kwento pa ni Ohnuki-Tierney:

Nonetheless, not just the government and farmers but also some consumers came to the defense of domestic rice and Japanese rice agriculture, arguing that rice paddies are essential for Japanese land, functioning as flood control by serving as dams, soil conservation, preservation of underground water, purification of air and water, and beautification of the land. We see the recurrence here of the spatial metaphor of rice paddies as our land.[13]

Pinalalim naman ni Ohnuki-Tierney ang diskurso sa kaganapang ito noong 1993. Sinabi niya na ang reaksyon na ito ay nagpapatotoo lamang sa mas malalim na pagpapakabuhulan, hindi lamang sa pagkadalisay ng bigas na tanim sa bansang Hapon, kundi pati na rin sa pinaniniwalaan nilang pagkadalisay ng kanilang pagkakakilanlan at ng kanilang pagiging-Hapon.

Marahil dito ang akmang guang para balikan natin ang sarili nating hapag-kainan.

Kapag piyesta sa amin sa Naga, Bikol, karaniwan nang makikita ang mga sumusunod sa hapag-kainan: caldereta, pancit (canton o guisado), spaghetti, adobo, piniritong manok, higado, gulay na laing, gulay na sili (o mas popular na Bikol express), mechado, chiffon cake, fruit cocktail at leche flan. Sa unang tingin natin ay tunay na piyestang Pinoy ang handa, ngunit kung susuriin karamihan dito ay mga lutong Kastila (caldereta, adobo, higado, leche flan, mechado), Intsik (pancit), Italyano (spaghetti) at Amerikano (cake, fruit cocktail, at fried chicken). Ano nga ba ang pagkaing Pilipino na makaka-representa at magiging talinghaga sa pagiging Bikolano? Maaari nating sabihin na ang gulay na laing (natong sa salitang Bikol) at ang gulay na sili ang tunay na lutong Bikolano. Maihahambing din dito ang ugaling ‘purist’ ng mga Hapon sa libro ni Ohnuki-Tierney sa ugali ng mga Bikolano na magsasabing “bako man yan natong[14]” o “bako man arog kayan an pagluto ning ginulay na lada[15]” kapag nakakakita o nakakatikim ng luto ng hindi Bikolano. Kung aalalahanin nga ang komersyal sa TV ng Maggi Magic Meals Bicol Express, ay maraming Bikolano ang nagalit sa paraan ng pagluto na pinakita sa nasabing komersyal. Hindi naman daw ganoong nilalagay lang sa supot ng plastic ang karne, sili, gata at Maggi “Bicol Express” powder ang pagluto nito. Nakakainsulto daw sabi pa ng isa kong kaibigan. Samakatuwid, isa ring tahakang pag-insulto sa pagkakakilanlang Bikolano ang ganoong pag-“commercialize” ng isang lutong Bikolano. Marahil ito rin ay bunga ng sinasabi ni Ohnuki-Tierney na “food.. as a powerful and evocative symbol of the collective self of the people.

Makikita at mararamdaman din sa iba pang lutong ‘Pilipino’ ang daang taong kasaysayan ng ating lahi. Sa mga lutong calderera, adobo at mechado, halimbawa, ay nanunuot ang impluwensiya ng mga nanakop na Kastila. Ang naiiba lang, at marahil dito tayo mahusay, ay ang pag-aangkin natin sa mga lutong ito bilang tunay na Pinoy. Kunin nating halimbawa ang adobo. Mula sa lutong Kastila at Mehikano, ay kung anu-anong inobasyon ang ginawa natin dito: ang Bikolano ay pinapatuyo sa sariling mantika ang karne, ang mga Ilokano naman ay binababad ito sa bawang at marami pang iba.

Tunay nga sigurong sa paglikha natin ng pagkakakilanlan ay kinukuha at pinapaghusay natin ang pira-pirasong maganda, makabuluhan, at malinamnam sa ating kolektibong kasaysayan upang angkinin at tunay na gawing “atin” – bukod tangi at hitik na hitik sa talinghaga.

Pinagsanggunian:

“The ‘Pambansang Kamao’ as Told in His Own Words,” Manila Bulletin, Pebrero 2, 2011.

National Commission for Culture and the Arts. “The Philippine Fact Sheet”, Balanghay, paglalathala bilang 3, Mayo-Hunyo 2012, nakuha noong Hulyo 25, 2013, http://www.ncca.gov.ph/downloads/balanghay.pdf.

Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko. Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time, “Education About Asia 9, bilang 3 (Winter 2004).

Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko. Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993).

Wikipedia. “Lechon,” nakuha noong Hulyo 25, 2013, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lechon.

Wikipedia. “Suckling Pig,” nakuha noong Hulyo 25, 2013, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suckling_pig.


[1] Manila Bulletin, The ‘Pambansang Kamao’ as Told in His Own Words.”

[2] Wikipedia, Suckling Pig.”

[3] Wikipedia, Lechon.” Maaari ring tingnan ang: National Commission for Culture and the Arts, “The Philippine Fact Sheet”, Balanghay, paglalathala bilang 3, Mayo-Hunyo 2012.

[4] Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time, “Education About Asia 9, bilang 3 (Winter 2004): 4.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ika-apatnapung emperador ng bansang Hapon, taong 673-686 B.C.E.

[8] Ginamit ang salitang diwata sa kabuuan ng sulatin na tumutukoy sa salitang Ingles na deities.

[9] Ohnuki-Tierney: 4.

[10] Ibid. 5.

[11] Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993), 44-62.

[12] Ohnuki-Tierney, 2004: 8.

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Hindi naman yan laing”

[15] “Hindi naman ganyan ang pagluto ng Bikol express”

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Exploring “Experience and Expressions” in Climate Change Anthropology

Lake Sebu at dusk

 

The truth is, I have never heard of Wilhelm Dilthey until I’ve read “The Anthropology of Experience” edited by Victor Turner and Edward Bruner – and I am a Philosophy major. In his introduction to the book, Bruner presented him as a German thinker when Kantianism was the trend in Philosophy.  This is palpable in the way he critiqued the philosophy of a priori principles, meaning-complexes and absolute value norms, in his theory that assumes that all thought processes arise out of experience (erlebnis – what has been “lived through”) and derive their meaning from their relation into experience, and therefore critiquing the Kantian a priori.  For Dilthey, “reality only exists for us in the facts of consciousness given by inner experience” (as cited in Bruner, 1986: 4).

Dilthey asserted that experience is the ”foundation of the whole edifice of knowledge” going on further to say that it is “only by reference to experience that we can define what we mean by saying that anything ‘exists’” (Hodges, 1952). Bruner worked on Dilthey’s notion of experience to expound on an “Anthropology of Experience” where lived experience, “as thought and desire, as word and image, is the primary reality” (Bruner, 1986: 5).  As lived and embodied, experience becomes a critical focus of anthropology because it is a causal point for personal and community action which directly affects persons, outcomes and therefore cultures.

Reading Bruner talk about Dilthey’s notion of experience brings me back to my proposed study of climate change in the T’boli community of Klubi; a study on “experience and expressions of climate change”. Climate change, as a reality in the sense of something actually existing outside of the knowing self and in opposition to a notional idea, demands that social scientists turn their focus on how it is experienced and expressed especially in indigenous communities who are considered most vulnerable to climate perturbations. How is it represented in the language of our research partners? How is it told? What are the emerging expressions of this global phenomenon in the local communities that are the traditional partners of anthropologists? Are expressions related to climate perturbations becoming part of the dominant narratives? And as the peoples’ “articulations, formulations, and representations of their own experience” (1986: 9) how is climate change adaptation or response appropriated in those articulations?

Bruner expanded the concept of experience by including “feelings and expectations” (4), “images and impressions”, (5) as sources of experience. It comes to us not just verbally but also from the richer sphere of images and feelings, which goes beyond languages. We may say that given the ‘reality’ of climate change – of existing perturbations in the weather and unreliable traditional agricultural calendars as in the case of the T’boli – feelings, expectations, thoughts, images and impressions are also actively imprinted in the mind, which in turn are expressed, articulated in different modes.

Bruner accepted the idea that experience is “self-referential” – reality is experienced only by the person and that we can never completely know the experiences of another. Basically a study of the other, this then became the problematic in the anthropological study of experience. How can the anthropologist study another’s experience? He states:

 How, then, do we overcome the limitations of individual experience? Dilthey’s (1976: 230) answer was that we “transcend the narrow sphere of experience by interpreting expressions.” By “interpreting” Dilthey meant understanding, interpretation, and the methodology of hermeneutics; by “expressions” he meant representations, performances, objectifications, or texts. (1986: 5)

In my study of climate change experience and expressions among the T’boli S’bu, I start with the different experiences, but these can only be culled out from their own articulations of the changing weather patterns, inconsistencies with the agricultural calendar, their ‘feelings’ in the changing temperature, and the images that comes to mind given these perturbations. These expressions that include Bruner’s “representations, performances, objectifications or texts” encapsulate the experiences of the T’boli S’bu.

Questions on expressions and articulations of climate change may be asked: How are their mythologies appropriated in these perceived weather patterns? What rituals are employed to ‘fix’ these inconsistencies in the agricultural calendar vis-à-vis the weather? What are their impressions and desires in the midst of these uncertainties? What structures and episodes in their narratives of folk heroes and heroines help them in decisions related to agriculture and weather perturbations?

Bruner further clarified the relationship between experience and expressions:

 The relationship is clearly dialogic and dialectical, for experience structures expressions, in that we understand other people and their expressions on the basis of our own experience and understanding. But expressions also structure experience, in that dominant narratives of a historical era, important rituals and festivals, and classic works of art define and illuminate inner experience. (1986: 6)

One example, to further understand this experience-expressions relationship, is the k’mohung and seselong connection. K’mohung is the T’boli term for the “fish kills” that regularly happen in Lake Sebu. Several perspectives on the k’mohung are evidenced in the narratives related to it.

One narrative suggests that it is a curse. In this story, a T’boli cursed the Ilonggo fishermen, saying that the T’boli are the guardians of the Lake and that their fishes will die, unless they give the fish to the T’boli. Indeed, according to an informant, whenever there is a fish kill, the fish pen owners will give the dead fish to the T’boli or sell them at a much lower price.

Another perspective views it as a gift from Fu S’bu, owner/spirit of the lake. My informant described a time before the Ilonggo settlers put up their fish pens and when the lake was still covered by water lilies and lotus plants. She shared that whenever there is a k’mohung , people would see fish and shrimps floating in the surface, but not quite dead, “as if they were dizzy”. They can easily “pick these fish and shrimps with their bare hands,” she said. Indeed, outside Western, Modern Science, one will view this as a gift from the lake, almost congruent to the biblical “manna from heaven”. This idea of a gift clearly opposes that notion of a “disaster” and in fact, it only became widely-known as a “disaster” when the Ilonggos came and put up their fishery industry in the lake. The disaster-gift dichotomy clearly delineates not only economic valuations of the lake, but also belief or supernatural categorizations of the natural world.

Here, the experience of the k’mohung is expressed in different narratives that show polar notions between the curse-gift discourse based on different circumstances and point of views – differing but still constituting peoples’ articulations, formulations and representations of the experience. On one hand the experience is akin to sacredness, as a gift from the spirits, while the other as curse to their livelihood. Expressions are indeed “rooted in a social situation with real persons in a particular culture in a given historical era” (1986: 7).  Bruner manifested this rich array of expressions, saying “every telling is an arbitrary imposition of meaning on the flow of memory, in that we highlight some causes and discount other; that is, every telling is interpretive.” (7)

These narrative expressions of a singular ‘reality’ but of plural experiences, continue on to shape a particular cultural action – that of the seselong.

The Focus Group Discussion I conducted in Brgy. Klubi on March 30, 2013 described the k’mohung and seselong in this way: after a leme-et, a type of weather defined by occasional strong rains and wind coming from the north, and then suddenly clearing (my informant likened the leme-et to an impending typhoon), T’boli in the uplands would then gather their rootcrops and other produce from their gardens to prepare for a seselong, a system of barter trading between the upland-living T’boli and the lake-side dwelling T’boli. During the leme-et, people surrounding the lake would also prepare for the seselong by observing the lake for the telltale signs of the k’mohung. My informants shared that there are no celebrations or rituals conducted during the seselong, something that I didn’t foresee especially in the case of an event that may be deemed supernatural or an event that gathers people from the upland and lakeside. The seselong becomes an opportunity for the lakeside dwellers to trade their gathered fish in exchange for the rootcrops of the upland T’boli.

This pattern in the activities and interaction of the upland and lakeside T’boli, provided by the seselong, may be viewed as a distribution of resources and exchanges of protein and carbohydrates-rich food between the two groups of T’boli. This intertwining of the natural world and the cultural aspect of the T’boli seselong may be viewed as one of the solutions to what I assume is an imbalance in the protein and carbohydrate diet of the two groups. In the old days when the T’boli were still exclusively hunters and gatherers, this system of exchange provides an easy source of protein for the upland T’boli whose main protein source are the animals that they hunt in the forest, in exchange for their carbohydrates-rich rootcrops. In turn, the lakeside T’boli whose diet consists mainly of protein from the fish caught in the lake, exchange their fish for the upland T’boli’s rootcrops.

The T’boli’s experience of the  k’mohung also turns our attention to indigenous meaning-generation. By studying the different expressions of narratives and the system of seselong that springs from the experience, I can engage with Bruner’s method of starting with expressions to understand the experience because the “basic units of analysis are established by the people we study rather by the anthropologist as alien observer” (9). Anthropological understanding of climate change adaptations and responses of the T’boli S’bu may also use this approach.

Bruner’s interpretive approach of the experience-expression relations operates on two levels:

 The people we study interpret their own experiences in expressive forms, and we, in turn, through our fieldwork, interpret these expressions for a home audience of other anthropologists. Our anthropological productions are our stories about their stories; we are interpreting the people as they are interpreting themselves. (10)

Although I disagree with Bruner when he says that anthropological studies are intended for a “home audience of other anthropologists”, believing that the ultimate audience of the anthropologist are his/her community partners, I still agree in this bi-level operation of cognition where people interpret their own experience while the anthropologist interprets those expressions to gain access to the original experience. In once instance, for example, I was invited to attend a tutul (chants) performance of several master-chanters of Klubi, Lamdalag and Lamcade. Several times, community members listening to the stories would cut the singing and comment on the story’s episodes relating them to contemporary issues, such as mining in T’boli municipality or treasure hunting in Lake Holon, yet the story itself (of the hero Tudbulul) is of mythological time, a story outside time, indeed serving as “meaning-generating devices which frame the present within a hypothetical past and an anticipated future” (1986: 18). Their own interpretations of the age-old stories, relating them to contemporary problems and issues give me adequate hope that among those stories and tutul performances, I may perhaps glean the hows, and whys of the T’boli S’bu mind in the ‘reality’ of climate change and from these expressions – of performed texts and dormant meanings in folk narratives – I may catch, even for a brief moment, a T’boli S’bu ‘experience’ of climate change.

 

References:

 

Hodges, H. A. The Philosophy of Wilhelm Dilthey. Routledge & Kegan Paul (1952).

Bruner, Edward and Turner, Victor eds. The Anthropology of Experience. Chicago: University of Illinois Press (1986).

Emotions in their Cultural Contexts: the Case of Lila Abu-Lughod’s Analysis of Bedouin Ghinnawa

 The night of the beloved’s parting

Cloudcover, no stars and no moon…

(A ghinnawa in Abu-Lughod, 1985)

Before I was introduced to the anthropological study of emotions, I have always thought of my feelings, may it be of love, annoyance, anxiety, anger, or grief, as something that exclusively resides in the realm of my person – somewhere, as the poem alludes to, hidden in the cloudcover, no stars and no moon. It is, for me, something that is personal, private and secluded from the prying eyes of the public. For one, this may be because I was raised in a family that is never totally honest and transparent with our emotions. There seems to be (at least this is how I feel it) an unspoken rule in our family to settle, cope or appropriate our own individual emotions, until of course to the point of breakdown when one simply needs to talk it out to our parents or my sisters. Secondly, added to this pervading family attitude, is my adoption of ‘western’ values and mindset that glorifies privacy of emotions and individual freedom, something that may be attributed to my exposure to American media and ‘white’ literature.

It is quite interesting then to read Lila Abu-Lughod talk about emotions and how its study is “essentialized, relativized” (Abu-Lughod and Lutz, 1990, 3) and given focus as an important ‘psychobiological process’ that reverberates in a movement from within and then occasionally (but ultimately) shared by a community – emotions that becomes social and public. Her study focuses on emotions as cultural products reproduced in individuals as an embodied experience. Abu-Lughod argues that we must ask not just what the cultural meanings of various emotions are and how emotional configurations might be related to social life, but “how emotional discourses are implicated in the play of power and the operation of a historically changing system of social hierarchy” (Abu-Lughod and Lutz, 1990).

Lila Abu-Lughod is an Egyptian-American anthropologist who did much of her fieldwork among the Bedouins in Egypt, especially in the community of the Awlad ‘Ali. She is internationally recognized for her contributions to feminist anthropology, to studies of power and resistance (inspired by Foucault) and to the politics of gender in the Middle East (www.anthrobase.com). She explores these and other issues in her monograph “Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society (1986)” and in “Shifting Politics in Bedouin Love Poetry” as part of a collection in “Language and the Politics of Emotion”. She further explored the dynamics of emotions and the politics of sentiments in a feminist perspective in “Modest Women, Subversive Poems: The Politics of Love in an Egyptian Bedouin Society”.

In Modest Women, Subversive Poems and Shifting Politics, Lila Abu-Lughod describes a genre of poetry known among the Egyptian Bedouins as ghinnawa:

[… ] known in Egypt as the ghinnawa (little song) and in Libya as ‘alam or sob. Reminiscent of Japanese haiku in its brevity and condensation of language, but the American blues in emotional tone, the ghinnawa could be considered the poetry of personal life. (Abu-Lughod, 1986)

The ghinnawa, added Abu-Lughod, are “recited in the midst of ordinary conversations between intimates although they are also sung when people are alone working” (1986) and often “special weight is attached to the messages conveyed in this medium and people are moved, often to tears by the sentiments expressed.” (1985). As recited poetry, often in weddings and other gatherings, they are private expressions of emotions that come to inhabit the public sphere. One description gives us the cultural and personal significance of the ghinnawa:

It is one of the most cherished types of Bedouin poetry, and people find it very moving. One woman said, ‘Beautiful poetry makes you cry.’ The poems carry sentiments, especially about people’s personal situations and their intimate relationship about people’s personal situations and their intimate relationships to others. One of the most common themes of the ghinnawa is love. (1986)

The title of her essay “Modest Women, Subversive Poems” (1986) already captures the essence of the dynamics happening in the ghinnawa poetry and the Bedouins.  Abu-Lughod talks about how hasham, or modesty defines the Awlad ‘Ali women, an “internal state of shyness, embarrassment or shame” and in her analysis, marked by a strong feminist stance, “the denial of sexuality” (1986). Hasham defines the good woman, while gawya (willful) and ghaba (slut) describes a bad girl or woman. She mentions several cases of these traits but it is clear from her articles that a woman ought to be distant and passive, no excesses for desire or love, showing no public affection to her husband, or veiled in the sense of self-effacement mandated by the community. Yet Abu-Lughod is careful not to sweepingly target Islam for this attitude:

“Rather than looking at Islam, we need to look at Bedouin social structure, based on the priority of social relationships of consanguinity and organization in terms of patrilineal descent, to understand why expressing sexuality or romantic love might be defiant. “ (1986)

But here the interesting question was raised: why are the ghinnawa poems full of romantic, sometimes implicitly sexual, and just generally un-hasham content? One example she cites is the case of Safiyya who was divorced from the man she had been married to for almost twenty years and who “showed an aggressive nonchalance that was fairly typical of the way Bedouin women speak of their husbands, trying to appear uninterested”, an attitude that fairly speaks of hasham. Yet Abu-Lughod describes a scene between Safiyya and several other women in which Safiyya suddenly recited a poem “that everyone knew was about her husband” (1986). Here appears a different Safiyya, a woman full of loss and love:

Memories stirred of the beloved

Should I release, I’m flooded by them…

Oh eyes of mine be strong;

You cherish people, and then they’re gone…

Abu-Lughod further emphasized that “modest women regularly expressed ‘immodest’ feelings in ghinnawas”.  This seemingly polar attitude and sentiment was analyzed by Abu-Lughod in the context of the social structure of the Awlad ‘Ali Bedouins. She considers the semi-nomadic, agnatic, patriarchal and patrilineal characteristic of the Awlad ‘Ali as important causes of this disjunction between hasham attitude and the subversive nature of the ghinnawa. She explains that “love and the bonds it might establish between individuals are not just threats to the framework that orders social relations, but are also talked about as threats to the solidarity of the paternal kin group” (1990) and that “through their poetry [they declare their] experience more than what their modest actions reveal” (1986). As a group based on an agnatic political system and a cultural preference for “patrilateral parallel cousin marriage”, love and marriage are considered as threats to this system and hence subsumed in the code of the hasham under the “prior and more legitimate bond of kinship.” (1990) She explains further:

The threat marriage represents to the solidarity of the agnatic group and its challenge to the authority and control of the group’s elders is counteracted at every point by social and ideological strategies. (1986)

Abu-Lughod calls the ghinnawa as “the Bedouin discourse of defiance” (1990). Emotions stifled by hasham and the exacting social structure opens up like a dam in the freedom of poetry. We must note that the Bedouins are nomadic desert people before the Egyptian state imposed structures external to their customs and traditions and that they are proud of their noble past as politically independent, hence sentiments “that challenge the social system and the authority of the elders, are not just tolerated or not disapproved of but actually admired” (1990). The ghinnawa then are celebrated as distinctively Bedouin and that the defiance that it embodies captures the very essence of how they see (or saw) themselves as autonomous and free. She also shows how this emotional discourse in the form of the ghinnawa come to have new social meaning and a different social basis as the Bedouin political economy is being transformed. She concludes with the use of discourse as the object of analysis in the study of emotions, “inseparable from and interpenetrated with changing power relations in social life” (1990) and emotions as “something worth analyzing critically rather than universalizing”(1990).

Several insights can be gleaned from the case presented to us in the Shifting Politics and Modest Women, Subversive Poems. One is the method of analysis used by Abu-Lughod in explicating the play of the cultural and personal spheres using verbal art and another is the local application of her conclusions.

Abu-Lughod’s use of oft-considered ‘non-documents’ such as oral narratives, songs, poetry or folklore genre adds to the growing body of studies that reclaims fragmented voices in order to assert these non-documents’ force in the world. Cyril Conde’s “A Theory of Kadungung in Ibalon and Osipon”, Reynaldo Ileto’s “Pasyon and Revolution”, Herminia Coben’s “Verbal Arts in Philippine Indigenous Communities” and Rosario Cruz-Lucero’s “Ang Bayan sa Labas ng Maynila” are indeed fine specimens of this kind methodology. Conde, for example, uses the osipon genre of Bikolano literature to stitch together the lost fragments of the epic Ibalon, while Ileto uses the narratives in the Pasyon to provide a “history from below” and an alternative view of Philippine History from 1840-1910. These non-traditional sources of information rest on interpretive approaches to make (more) sense of mainstream academic areas thereby representing other contexts and forces that shape a community.  Coben writes that these performances of verbal art are “situated in a social context” and it is “precisely that social interaction that enables verbal art performance to transform, not simply reflect, social life” (2009, 1).

Abu-Lughod was aware of these social interactions when she interpreted the dynamics of ghinnawa within the social structure of the Awlad ‘Awli Bedouins. The spoken word then, may it be in the form of poetry, riddles, sawikain or osipon, forms an important part in the methods of anthropological inquiry because it exists within the cultural ideal and subsists in the psychic energies of the individual within a culture. Cognitive and Psychological Anthropology will find a treasure trove of information within these forms verbal arts waiting to be explicated and ultimately to help us, as Geertz claimed, “understand the other’s understanding”.

Several local applications of her method can be relevant to a wide variety of subject matters. One example is the folk narratives (e.g. the tutul of the T’boli) of Indigenous Peoples regarding climate change, issues they are currently facing (i.e. land acquisition, indigenous peoples rights) or even to a study of the sentiments towards politics and politicians expressed implicitly or explicitly in the Bikolano tigsik. Abu-Lughod’s conclusion that emotions also reside in the public sphere, often hidden in verbal arts, yet articulating hidden tensions in the social life of the individuals, is also applicable in the study of different cultural groups in the Philippines. In this Sama Dilaut riddle, for instances, the sentiments of the sea-gypsy comes alive:

Music from the sea, dancing ashore.

(Waves and coconut palms)

[Magtangunngu,

mendalaut

Angigal mandea.]

(Goyak maka selok)

(Coben, 2009, 356)

Here, the Sama Dilaut paints using a commonplace genre, the tension in which he is in, of being a “flotsam” as the Tausug would pejoratively refer to them, of being geopolitically marginalized, and then one can also sense the intimate “conjunction of the land sea” embedded in his worldview. All this in one riddle of the Sama Dilaut. How much more in a compendium of Philippine verbal arts?

In the ghinnawa, Abu-Lughod found a veritable source of information that opens up a community’s ideals, structure and the individual’s appropriation of her emotions within a very exacting, even stifling social structure. She showed the pragmatic force of poetry (and other verbal arts) in the anthropological understanding of emotions that is both personal but sometimes (relative to the culture) acquiring a social dimension.

Indeed, the ghinnawa speaks of love, loss, partings and joy, and  at the same time revealing a people’s soul – hiding, in a cloudcover, no stars, no moon…

Sources Cited:

Abu-Lughod, Lila and Lutz, Catherine A. Language and the Politics of Emotion (Studies in Emotion and Social Interaction). University of Cambridge: Press Syndicate (1990).

Abu-Lughod, Lila. Shifting Politics in Bedouin Love Poetry. In Language and the Politics of Emotion (Studies in Emotion and Social Interaction). University of Cambridge: Press Syndicate (1990). 24-45.

___________________. Honor and the Sentiments of Loss in a Bedouin Society. In American Ethnologist, Vol. 12, No. 2. (May, 1985). 245-261.

___________________. Modest Women, Subversive Poems: the Politics of Love in an Egyptian Bedouin Society. In Bulletin (British Society for Middle Eastern Studies), Vol. 13, No. 2. (1986). 159-168.

Coben, Herminia M. Verbal Arts in Philippine Indigenous Communities (Poetics, Society, and History). Manila: Ateneo de Manila Press (2009).

www.anthrobase.com. Abu-Lughod, Lila (b. 1952). Retrieved on July 10, 2013.