Tuesday, October 04, 2005
: . Book of the Month
The Samahán of Papa God:
Tradition and Conversion in a Tagalog Peasant Religious Movement
by Robert S. Love
Pasig City: Anvil Publishing Inc., 2004
Softcover; xxvi, 243 p.;
14 x 21.5 cm.
PHP 395.00/USD 7.90-19.50
Philippines -- Libros Filipinos, PHP 395.00/USD 7.90, Contact seller for shipping info.
India -- Mary Martin Booksellers, USD 19.50, Shipping USD 8.33 (International Air Mail -- 3-4 weeks)
The study of the religion of Christian Filipinos has fallen prey to the notion that religion and the church are one. In this view, religion becomes an institution in the process of being undermined by other institutions in a modernizing society, and social movements which are religious in character can only be seen as reactions against "secularization."Author Info:
The Christianity of the poorest strata of Tagalog society in Eastern Laguna province is discovered to have little to do with the Roman Catholic church as an institution, however. Rather, the locus of religious experience is the home in the village or on the peripheries of the town, the inspiration is both tradition and "that which is Tagalog," and the carrier par excellence of that tradition is the religious samahán: cults, brotherhoods or social movements, led by traditional curers, which at once embody and interpret or make meaningful a more generalized religious sentiment.
Within the context of one small samahán, the practical experience of the members -- experiences of illness, chaos in social relations, personal problems -- is reinterpreted by the leaders-curers and the spirits who speak through them. An attempt is made to give a "new meaning" to everyday reality but if the leaders are to obtain assent from the followers, they must be guided by the same notion of tradition that has brought the followers to them. And thus any attempts at coercion or manipulation, common as they are in such samahán, will work to undermine the unity of the group.
The samahán thus becomes an arena wherein ideas about unity and coercion, about the meaning of tradition and religion, and about the oppression of those Tagalogs who call themselves oppressed are debated, thought about, and enacted. The grammar whereby assent is given or withheld is analyzed in detail; the ideas, expressed through action within the samahán, are interpreted on the assumption that this is what the religion of these Tagalogs is -- the social acts of a single class of people working together to symbolize their everyday experience.
After completing his doctorate in Cultural Anthropology and Southeast Asian Studies at Cornell University in 1977, Robert S. Love decided to take a break from life in the academic world. After several months in New York City working with Friends of the Filipino People and other anti-Marcos and anti-imperialist groups, he returned to Ithaca, New York, home of Cornell, to live.Series Info:
There he joined a theater group, found work at the world-famous Moosewood Restaurant, a collectively-run business, and started a family. Within a few months, he was a full-fledged member of the collective and a cook at the restaurant. Always with the thought that some day he would surely return to academia, he ended up staying and working happily at the restaurant for fifteen years.
When his body began to tell him it was time to get out of restaurant work, he, along with his wife Sarah Wessels and son Tony, moved to Brattleboro, Vermont where both Sarah and Robert studied for masters degrees in arts and teaching at the School for International Training. Now trained in teaching English as a second or foreign language, they returned to Ithaca and took positions as adult-education language teachers with the New York State Board of Cooperative Educational Services. Ms. Wessels directs the program and Mr. Love has by now taught many hundred adult visitors, refugees and immigrants who need to improve their English while living in the United States.
He now cooks for fun rather than for profit and gardens just for pleasure at his home in a housing cooperative located on one of the hills overlooking Ithaca. His two adopted children and one grandchild live nearby.
The Anvil Vintage Series re-issues out-of-print books recognized by the scholarly and broader intellectual communities for contributing significantly to Filipinos' knowledge and understanding of our life as a nation and a people. It also publishes original works which have not yet seen print but which may be considered worthy additions to the growing literature on Philippine history, politics, literature, and culture. By (re)publishing these period pieces, we hope to provide the contemporary reader with narratives that shaped scholarship on the Philippines.Contents:
The series is competently refereed by a pool of editors from across discipline -- scholars on the Philippines based here and abroad.
Foreword [by Benedict Anderson] -- viiiExcerpts:
Preface -- xv
Introduction -- xxii
Introduction: The Town of Majayjay -- 1
The Principal Activities of the Samahán of Papa God -- 46
Curing and Conversion Within the Samahán of Papa God -- 84
The Myth of Impinito Dios -- 148
Panahón: God's Time and Man's Time -- 190
Kapangyarihan: God's Power and Man's Power -- 213
Conclusion -- 237
Bibliography -- 239
One of the big ironies of the history of "Southeast Asian Studies" in the United States is that it flourished as never before -- 0r since -- during the American war against Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Faculty positions suddenly opened up in various disciplines in almost all the major universities of the United States; money, public and private, flowed in like water for student fellowships, field research projects, libraries, language teaching, and dictionary production, as well as what is still euphemistically called "outreach activity." The stimulus in part came from the American state, which wanted to promote war-related research, and also recognized that ignorance of Southeast Asia was widespread, while the volume of works on the region published in English was as yet pitifully small. But at least as important was massive new student interest in a part of the world where, if they were male, they stood to lose life or limb under general military conscription. For selfish as well as unselfish reasons, students studying Southeast Asia were overwhelmingly against "The War," as they called it, especially after the massive American buildup in Vietnam in the second half of 1965. This hostility was by no means confined to Americans. It was shared by graduate students from Europe, Australia, and Japan, as well as some from Southeast Asia itself. If Indonesian students were too cowed by the anticommunist massacres of 1965-66 to open their mouths, this was not the case with students from Thailand and the Philippines. In Bangkok reigned a constitutionless military dictatorship closely allied with Washington; in Manila, Marcos, even closer to the American political leadership, was already showing his dictatorial ambitions. Both the Thai and Philippine regimes were also sending mercenary military units into Vietnam and Laos, and intriguing with the Americans in Cambodia. From about 1967, a good number of these various "foreign students" were joining their American classmates in teachings, demonstrations, marches on Washington, and the spreading of antiwar writings to their home countries (often running real risks in so doing).
One other factor affected the character of the student body. In the 1950s, it was the rare student who had any previous close connections with the countries of Southeast Asia that they proposed to study. But John Kennedy's Peace Corps started to send thousands of young Americans to work and study in dozens of Third World countries, and made every effort
to prepare them linguistically for this mission. By 1967, universities found themselves admitting students who were already pretty proficient in a Southeast Asian language, knew "their" country firsthand and were emotionally attached to it, and were furthermore eager to deepen their knowledge in an academic environment. Of course, there were major differences from country to country. Already in the 1950s, students wishing to go to ex-Dutch colonial Indonesia or uncolonized Thailand could not rely on English for their work, and pioneered "Southeast Asia" research in the indigenous vernaculars. For Burma, Malaya/Malaysia, and especially the Philippines, colonized by Anglo-Saxon powers, and with English-language elites and universities, this "indigenization" occurred much more slowly.
Enter Bob Love, Cornell University Southeast Asia Program Class of 1968. Having spent three years as a linguistically-gifted Peace Corps volunteer in Sorsogon, he was the first American student the Program had ever had who was fluent in a Philippine language -- and very possibly among the very first nationwide (aside from a few professional linguists). But Bob did not come to Cornell alone: he was part of what in retrospect seems to me the largest, most diverse, and most gifted class the Program ever had. The Philippines was represented by Belinda Aquino, Thomas Nowak and his wife Kay Snyder (who produced the first incisive studies of the social, political, and economic forces leading to the Marcos dictatorship), as well as historian of Cebu, the late Bruce Fenner. In the same class were: Tsuyoshi Kato, now Japan's leading Anthropologist of Indonesia; Thak Chaloemtiarana, currently Director of the Cornell SEAP and author of the founding study of the Sarit dictatorship in Thailand; David Elliott, compiler of the largest and most commanding study of the Vietnam War; Barbara Harvey, author of an illuminating study of regional rebellions in Indonesia, and later a very senior diplomat in the US Foreign Service, and so on. And as their mentors of the Class of 1967, there were Reynaldo Ileto, who needs no introduction, Carl Trocki, Peace Corps volunteer in Sabah and historian of the 18th and 19th century imperial drugtrade in Southeast Asia, Charnvit Kasetsiri, who eventually became Rector of Thammasat University and a distinguished, progressive public intellectual in Thailand; and the ill-fated Boonsanong Punyodyana, who, having returned to Thailand and helped form its infant Socialist Party, was assassinated by rightwing fanatics in the spring of 1976.
In those days, the study of the Philippines at Cornell was primarily under the direction of the rather conservative, but straight-shooting economist Frank Golay, and the rural sociologist Robert Polson. Most of
our Filipino students were studying in these rather technical fields. This meant that Filipinos and would-be Filipinists, working in history, anthropology, and political science, were a small group and supervised by professors who might have been interested in the Philippines, but had little detailed knowledge of it. (This situation had its advantages as well as disadvantages). Thus Bob's immediate circle was "dominated," if this is not the wrong word, by Lindy Aquino, Joel Rocamora (Class of 1964, my own first graduate student and close friend), and Rey Ileto and Aurora Lim. At the same time, a fair number of the anti-War faculty were, in different ways, in the grip of a conception first formalized by my senior classmate, the late John Smail, of the "Autonomous History of Southeast Asia." This viewpoint developed in reaction to Eurocentric colonial-style history, sociology, and art history, and privileged indigenous world-views, "native vernaculars" and literatures, and the study of the "masses" (variously understood) as against postcolonial elites. The War atmosphere only deepened this tendency. Given this atmosphere (campus, national-US, and even "backhome"), it is not a complete surprise that Bob Love and Rey Ileto, when they came to decide on their thesis topics, opted to work on "the oppressed" in the Philippines.
Yet mention should, I think, be made of one other, even if less majestic, factor. It so happened that the first full-scale historical study of popular "social movements" -- millenarian and otherwise -- in Southeast Asia was done on the Philippines: David Sturtevant's pioneering doctoral dissertation of 1958, which was not matched elsewhere till Sartono Kartodirdjo's 1966 book on the great Banten revolt of 1888 in the Netherlands Indies. Sturtevant's thesis did not become a published book, titled Popular Uprisings in the Philippines, 1840-1940, till 1976, but it was widely read in thesis format. In the late 1960s, Sturtevant had also published in Solidarity (with the help of Frankie Jose), two famous, electrifying interviews with former rural radicals, Pedro Calosa of the Tayug rebellion, and Salud Algabre of the circle of the heroic Felipe Salvador. In the late 1960s, these two interviews were required reading for all our undergraduate and graduate students. Rey and Bob would inevitably rebel against the older Sturtevant, with his primary focus on the social and economic causes of these uprisings, but there is no doubt that he pioneered a certain trajectory for them.
* * *
February 1972. On my way to pursue a fruitless research project in Indonesia (I was expelled in April, and stayed "banned" for the next 27
years), I stopped by Manila for the first time in my life. I went primarily to see Joel Rocamora, but also other Cornell students then doing thesis research. I did not have much time, but in line with the prevailing zeitgeist, I wanted to see a bit of what was going on outside Manila and below the dreadful elite. The "big adventure" was being sent by Joel's cousin, Dodong Nemenzo, to pay a visit to the rural environs of Gapan, in order to meet with old-time Huks, and radical, semilegal peasant leaders. I went under cover of night, escorted by two charming young followers of Dodong, and experienced the embarrassment of being forced to give an impromptu village speech on the "Lessons of the Suharto Dictatorship for the Philippines." It was by then obvious that Martial Law was not far off. (Some of these old Huks were Pampangueños, and I was delighted to find that kapampangan and Indonesian had quite a few words in common).
The "small adventure" was being invited by Bob to visit him at his first fieldsite in Calamba. Rey Ileto went with me, and, if I remember right, Bruce Fenner. It was a wonderful and also comical experience. Bob was a terrific guide, taking us around the various Rizalista shrines, and explaining what was going on. By then he was fluent in his second or third Filipino language, Tagalog, and was obviously completely at home and accepted. He was also so sunburnt that he could have been taken for a Spaniard or an Egyptian. Bruce and I were the standard gawking white-guy semi-tourists, happy and uncomfortable at the same time. It was Rey, however, who struck me most. He was charming and thoughtful as always, but with his Manila upperclass pallor, and his highly-educated manner of speaking, he seemed not much less like the proverbial sore-thumb than I. It was really good to see Bob and Rey so close to each other, and so wrapped up in discussions of their respective work. There is no doubt, in retrospect, that they influenced each other, and learned from each other, in the way that good historians and anthropologists should always do.
By the time the pair returned to Ithaca, Rey first, Bob a good bit later, Martial Law was in full swing, and this certainly affected them both deeply. Bob had been a radical of sorts before Rey had begun to move to the left, but in the early 1970s, they were not far apart, even if Rey's personal style was less flamboyant than Bob's. (I remember Bob from one of the big demonstrations in Nixon's Washington shouting gleefully "Gai Fong! Gai Fong!" which I understood to be the Vietnamese for something like La Luta Continua, or Victory to the Revolution!) Then something seems to have happened which is very often characteristic of graduate school life, especially when two thesis-writers are working parallel to one another: they keep to themselves what they are doing. Bob tells me that he was afraid of
being too early influenced by what Rey was writing in a nearby office, and probably this sentiment was reciprocated. In fact, and in retrospect, this separation was probably good for both. It allowed each to develop his own voice and approach, without too much cross-bleeding. In the event, Rey finished first, in very good time, while Bob, who was already worrying whether what he was writing might "help the enemy," and whether he could in all conscience pursue a professional career as an anthropologist, took much longer. In the end, he decided he could not, and abandoned academia, leaving behind him a really remarkable and pioneering book-in-waiting. I fully respected his decision, but from the day he completed the dissertation, I often bemoaned the fact that his study was never published, and therefore circulated in such limited circles. I had always hoped that his and Rey's books would come out more or less together. (Now this moaning has fortunately come to an end).
Why do I believe that Bob's study is so important? The answer comes in two pieces. The first piece has to do with its relation to Rey's superlative book. Pasyón and Revolution has the grand diachronic range that is the province of the historian, but it does not, and cannot have the synchronic depth of a first-class anthropological work. The Samahán of Papa God has very little historical reach, but it shows close-up and in unmatched detail how some very poor traditional Tagalogs understand their world. In this sense, each work complements the other and fills in the other's lack. Rey's Tagalog peasants are resurrected fragmentarily over decades through documents that have managed to survive, while Bob's can be seen arguing, persuading, failing to persuade, doubting, believing, in all the complexity of everyday life in 1973-74. Historical time also plays a crucial role. In Rey's account, the pasyón is all-important, as well as what might be called, not very aptly, folk-Catholicism, as the basic idiom of Tagalog resistance to colonialism. But this framing has its origins in the 1840s Cofradia of Apolinario de la Cruz and appears to become" attenuated or complicated over the subsequent decades.
In Bob's study of his Majayjay samahán, the pasyón is there only marginally and Bob himself observes in passing that it was (then) on the verge of dying out. Rey's work emphasizes the abiding importance of the exemplarity of the passion of Jesus Christ, while non-Catholic beliefs, such as in anting-anting, play only a minor, subsidiary role. In Bob's text, what is so striking is the relative unimportance of Jesus Christ, whose panahón, "the present," is one of decay from the "old time (noóng una)." Instead, a central figure is the mysterious Impinito Dios, the hidden Father before the Father who is completely absent from Pasyón and Revolution. Indeed,
Roman Christianity itself is strikingly marginal, while the idioms of the Samahán of Papa God strike the reader as in many respects "pre-Christian," and analogous to ancient religious traditions one can find in other parts of the old Malayo-Polynesian world. It is also interesting to see what happens to mabigat Tagalog terms that one can find in both texts: panahón, loób, paninindigan, liwanag, lakás, kapangyarihan, and so on. Sometimes the meanings coincide perfectly, but just as often they shear off in rather different directions. Rey's peasants are mostly "resisters," in one way or another, or at least risk-takers. But Bob's are politically passive, preparing themselves for death or the end of the world. This does not mean that Rey is wrong in thinking that there was and perhaps still is a pasyón-inflected tradition of resistance, but Bob's work shows that any tradition is multistrained, and therefore big generalizations about "the Tagalogs" (let alone, "Filipinos") need to be cautiously read. (Here also, Sturtevant's account of the strongly conservative Guardia de Honor social movement against the Revolution, makes valuable, if partial, comparative reading.) Probably, in the end, there is a contrast in stance. Bob, who as a young boy was so Catholicly pious that he was thought destined for the priesthood, had meantime shed much of this, and went to the Philippines without any religious parti pris or large political aim; he wanted to see how far the prevailing "American" orthodoxies -- of Carl Lande, David Wurfel, Jean Grossholtz, Mary Hollnsteiner, Frank Lynch, et al. -- reflected on-the-ground reality. He was, if you like, rebelling against prevailing American writing about the Philippines.
Yet one can not doubt that his early Catholic upbringing made the idiom of his samahán more accessible than it might have been for a Protestant. Rey, as a Filipino, Atenista Catholic and radical critic of Philippine orthodoxies, was, on the other hand, highly political in a self-conscious sense. He intended to re-read the Revolution, past Agoncillo and many others, and to connect it with something to which Filipino intellectuals had not previously paid serious attention. Initially vilified from the Left, Rey's work has had a long, admired second life, which is not unconnected with the post-1970s passion among Filipino intellectuals for authenticity, originality, and identity. Very few people have read Bob's work, so its second life is still to come.
The second piece is the intrinsic value of The Samahán of Papa God, is quite aside from its relationship to Pasyón and Revolution. One could start with its sheer modesty. From the start, Bob underscores the non-generalizability of what he observed. Remote Majayjay has no haciendas, and its old principalia have long abandoned it for the big provincial cities,
and Manila. "Patron-client" ties still exist, but only weakly and tangentially. The place sits high on the slopes of the Tagalog Magic Mountain, and thus is a tiny minority among the hundreds of towns and thousands of barrios in which poor Tagalogs live. There the Catholic church is essentially moribund to a degree that is surely not normal for most of the Tagalog territory. Its colossal church is mouldering away -- and, since Bob finished his writing -- has been robbed repeatedly of its treasures. Furthermore, in the story he tells, Bob is too honest an anthropologist not to situate himself, nor to notice the difference his presence makes; but he appears as simply a sympathetic observer, and often confused seeker of knowledge. This tack is enormously valuable and attractive.
Bob has told me that one of his supervisors said to him: "You have done a great theology. But where is the ethnography?" One can see the supervisor's point. The Samahán of Papa God does not give the reader detailed analyses of household incomes, patron-client dependencies, non-religion related aspects of everyday life, demographic trends, and so on. (This is how most leftleaning anthropologists of Southeast Asia in those days went about their work). But he has done something better and more important, which is to consider how his "people" deal bravely with the tragedies of their lives, illness, poverty, powerlessness, rotten and crippled kids, crazy wives, cheating husbands, anxiety, fear, and doubt. He asks a question anthropology rarely asks: How do such people seek and maybe find a "place" on which to stand, how does culture actually help, how is religion made, from time to time, meaningful. He does this in the best way possible, by letting his readers see how "his people" quarrel, submit, evade, trust, distrust, hope, lie, tell the truth, hurt or help each other, in a chaotic world where yet their language and traditions still afford them some solid ground. One can read this book, like few others about the Philippines, with grief, laughter, bewilderment, and admiration. This is a high achievement.
It is now the year 2003, and I am a language teacher in the United States. It has been many years since I have had the pleasure of learning, thinking and writing about aspects of contemporary Tagalog culture as an anthropologist; many years since the research for this thesis was completed. I have never stopped dreaming about the Philippines and in fact I have never stopped dreaming in Tagalog, but I can't call myself a Filipinist any more. Along come Professors Ben Anderson and Jojo (Patricio) Abinales to rouse me from my slumbers, flattering me by insisting that the work I did so long ago must be shared by a wider, especially Filipino, audience. Reynaldo Ileto, an old and dear friend, chimes in by saying that he's always urged students of the Philippines to read this work, always insisted that the thesis should become a book. I am a sucker for flattery.
But how did this rather peculiar work of mine come into being?
* * *
In 1963, my idol, John F. Kennedy, was president of the United States. I wanted to do something for my country and for others because of him. I joined the Peace Corps and was trained at San Francisco State College where I excelled in my Cebuano language classes. Bureaucracies being what they are, the Peace Corps rewarded my proficiency in Cebuano by assigning me to be a teacher-trainer and high school English teacher in the town or Gubat, Sorsogon where, of course, Cebuano is not spoken. I had never been outside of the United States and would have been hard pressed to name another Philippine city outside of Manila. Well, I dove right in. I taught English language and literature all day and never spoke it outside of the school grounds. I insisted that people teach me and speak to me in their language, a dialect of Samar-Leyte Visayan. Thanks to all the love I received from my high school students, I spent three of the happiest years of my life in Gubat from 1963 to 1966.
Those years also saw the start of my political radicalization. Kennedy's assassination, the social and economic inequities I saw in Sorsogon, and the misplaced adulation of America and all things American got me started. And then, during Easter Week of 1965, I suffered a painful back injury on Roxas Boulevard in Manila, and was sent to recuperate at the American hospital at Clark Air Force Base. My recovery was slow, but after three
or four days, I was able to wander around the wards. I spent the last week there appalled, mystified and sometimes regaled by fellow-patients who had been shot up or shot down in Vietnam. There were thousands of them -- more in this one hospital, I think, than President Johnson admitted were fighting in all of Vietnam. It was a rude awakening for a bright-eyed, idealistic young Peace Corps volunteer to be told horror stories by jaded, even cynical eighteen-year old GIs who had been maimed and brutalized for life in a land they had never heard of a year before, and which many of them still couldn't have found on a map. Soon before leaving the Philippines, I was hauled in before the Peace Corps country director and reprimanded for participating in an anti-war protest in front of the Philam Life building in Manila. It didn't stop me.
After two years in Washington, D. C. as an anti-war activist, I enrolled as a graduate student in Cornell University's Anthropology Department and Southeast Asia Program in 1968. I wanted to go back to the Philippines and learn more, and more deeply, about things I had only glanced the first time around. But I was ambivalent because I had immediately become involved in radical politics on the Cornell campus. At the time that I was ready to leave for fieldwork in the Philippines, I felt myself in turmoil. Should I really be leaving the US at a time when there was so much work to be done here in the US to undermine American imperial designs in the developing world?
Was it right for me, an American who was culturally if not politically a representative of the imperial United States, to go to the Philippines? Hadn't the Philippines been subjected to enough scrutiny by America and Americans? Could the work I was going to do there be used by the CIA, the U. S. military, or others who might seek to harm the very people I hoped to learn about?
But by now it was 1971, not 1968, and my disillusionment with American military, foreign and domestic policy was beginning to be matched by disillusionment of another kind. I was starting to see that the American anti-war and anti-imperialism movements were becoming fractious and self-absorbed. For the U. S. military, policy-makers and law-makers, the war in Vietnam was always about us, not about the Vietnamese. The movement against it was likewise becoming more and more about our consciousness, our wounded national psyche, not about putting an end to the murder of innocent people in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. The revolution I had been fighting for was evidently not right around the corner.
* * *
These concerns greatly influenced what I did once I got to Laguna Province in, I think, September of 1971, where I would conduct all of my dissertation fieldwork. Certainly I was going to learn everything in and through Tagalog. Certainly my informants were going to be able to read and critique what I wrote as I wrote it and hear the recordings I made of them. Certainly too, I was going to live, work and hang out with peasants and landless laborers -- marginalized people who seemed to me to make up the vast majority of Filipinos. I had read about patron-client relationships in the American scholarly literature on the Philippines, but if such things were important, I was certainly out of the loop and didn't know how to use them. Besides, I was a radical American and didn't want to be beholden to any patrons; I didn't even particularly want to know any. This means that I hardly knew any elected politicians, priests and landlords. If I did, I have no memory of ever having interviewed one.
Also, I was going to have to find a way of translating from Tagalog to English without losing what was originally intended. I remember saying to myself that I wanted interpretation without penetration. If anything, I wanted the Tagalog way of organizing experience that I was learning about to penetrate into English rather than the other way around. (This makes for some awkwardness for the reader, for which I apologize; but I can't say that I regret the attempt.)
Consciousness-raising was a catch phrase during the radical days of the late '60s and early '70s in the U. S. How far had my consciousness been raised? I had examined and even rejected a lot of the bourgeois values that I had been raised to believe in. But I had also been made aware that my habits and categories of thought were not so easy to shed. For example, my education and background taught me that politics was one thing and religion quite another. My experience during what we now call the Sixties convinced me that what I or, for that matter, Americans thought about things was not necessarily so understood elsewhere. So, if I was going to go to the Philippines to study politics and religion, I was going to have to try to let my informants tell me where the line is drawn, if at all, between the two, and, even more broadly, what indeed politics and religion are. I hoped to do anthropology from the inside out and from the bottom up.
All of this means that, like many scholars long before me, I was vexed by the Big Question: "How can an outsider understand what's going on in another culture?" But I was even more vexed by a corollary: "How can I as a member of a militarily, culturally, and politically dominant country hope
to say anything fair or even meaningful about members of a society that my country had so long and so brutally dominated?"
The simple and sadly unsatisfactory answer is that it wasn't very easy and, as you can see, I didn't make it easy on myself. I have been away from Philippine studies for too long to say how well I succeeded. I know that at the time it seemed to me a great disadvantage not to have been born Filipino. I also know that, having never solved this problem to my own satisfaction, I withdrew from the fields of anthropology and Southeast Asian studies.
I realize now, however, that my outsider status afforded me some amazing advantages as well -- advantages I can't remember having appreciated at the time. As I said before, I wasn't a patron and wasn't a client (whatever that was supposed to mean); I was just weird. Perhaps as a result, I was taken in really as a sort of apprentice by very many people. To everyone I was an apprentice in Tagalog, of course -- the tiniest children had it over of me there and they knew it. My ignorance and foolishness were excused because, after all, as a foreigner, how was I to know? I was a naif, a child, but what else could I have been? Fishermen in Calamba didn't expect me to know anything about fishing, so they taught me about their livelihood. The manggagamot (healers) around Majayjay and in the Banahaw region had to teach me everything, because they knew of course that I knew nothing. They didn't expect me, they didn't even want me, to become one of them; they just wanted to make sure that I got them represented right and say things from their point of view. I had a lot of trouble doing that, but I may have hit the mark better even than some Filipinos might have, precisely because I was so unconnected, precisely because I was such putty in the hands of my generous mentors and informants.
On the other hand, my neighbors and host families and not a few Catholic priests and Protestant ministers in Majayjay and Calamba wanted me to understand in no uncertain terms that they certainly did not believe all the stuff I was learning from the leaders and adherents in the various samahán who took me in during those years, and so they labored to set me straight.
These skeptics -- educated members of the Cursillo movement, to take one example; students at the Ateneo de Manila, to take another -- are not going to find themselves in these pages. I was an American radical. I had come to the Philippines with the express purpose of giving voice to the poor and the dispossessed. Were all of the members of the samahán poor and dispossessed? Not all by any means, but only a few had been well educated in good schools, while many were landless laborers. With all the talk of land reform before and during the Martial Law period, little was
said in the media and in academia about, or for, the landless, who themselves were forced to be silent. Could I, in some small way, be a voice for them?
How did I come to the Samahán of Papa God? By a series of happy and unhappy accidents. I knew I wanted to locate myself in Laguna province because Calamba was the birthplace of Dr. Jose Rizal and the barrio of Lichiria was the home of the most well-known Rizalista church, the Iglesia Watawat ng Lahi. The Sakdal movement had been active in the 1930s in the adjacent town of Cabuyao. Calamba, therefore, seemed a good place from which to learn from the people who had once been or were still active in these movements. Prospero Covar, Professor of Anthropology at the University of the Philippines, brought me to Lichiria and helped me to settle quite happily in Calamba. He warned me that I might not be able to get past the leadership of the Iglesia Watawat ng Lahi and this proved to be very much the case. While I was intrigued by the barrio and by the paintings of Mabini, Antonio Luna, Andres Bonifacio and other leaders from the time of the Philippine revolution which lined the walls of their house of worship in the place where the Stations of the Cross are to be found in Roman Catholic churches, I could get no one other than the leaders to tell me anything about what it all might mean.
Unhappily for me and for the older members of the Sakdal movement and tragically for the people of the Philippines, Marcos and the military "Suhartoized" the country, which had already been suffering under the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, by declaring martial law. They may not have cared what Sakdalistas could tell me about their now defunct movement. The Sakdalistas' memories, however, were longer and they, like so many other people under the Marcos dictatorship, clammed up. Why should people trust an outsider who wanted to ask questions about politics and religion? I could be a Communist or a CIA agent or, as some in Calamba had it, both in one breath. Better not to take a chance.
And so I found myself happily settled in the fishing village of Linga, but with no real way of getting at the questions I most wanted to have answered. The time was not wasted, however, because of the many times that I was able to stay up until dawn shooting the breeze with the fishermen or going out with them in their boats into Laguna de Bay. If anyone can be credited with what proficiency in Tagalog I have gained, it is these men. Lots of teasing and joking, lots of talk about sex and work and the hard life of a fisherman, lots of puns and plays on words and even pranks and, eventually, even some guarded talk about national politics as I gained their trust. What remained hidden from me, what none of the fisherfolk ever alluded to even in passing was that just outside of this barrio, on both sides
of it in fact, there were small groupings of Rizalistas. One constituted a tiny citio of displaced Ilocanos who were squatting on the lake shore; the other was an extremely large, raised wooden house which usually sat empty, but which opened on the days surrounding important events in the life of Dr. Rizal. I am not sure I would ever have been told about these people -- in part because they were considered marginal; in part because no one thought I could possibly be interested in such things -- were it not for my best friend Alberto, himself a member of the Iglesia ni Kristo and an outsider to this village. He merely mentioned in passing one day that he wanted to take me to see something he thought I might find interesting.
What I saw, but had little opportunity to learn much about, was spirit possession on a grand scale. In the large house, someone, usually the lead of a small group, was being taken over by the spirit of Dr. Rizal in every room. There were eight or nine "Rizals" advising, preaching to or consulting with small bands of followers all at the same time. I confess to having been a little appalled at first and wondered if indeed this was the kind of "people's religion" I really wanted to know any more about.
As it happens, fate intervened. A terrible typhoon devastated the barrio. Laguna de Bay rose and, thanks I believe to regional deforestation, took months to recede. The barrio in essence disappeared for a while. Many were forced to sleep on the floors of public schools in the town center. I was without a home and a family. During this time, I went to Manila and became involved with other Americans in opposing the U. S. war in Vietnam. This activity overlapped in curious and difficult ways with the anti-dictatorship movement, to which I was, of course, very sympathetic, but I tried to steer clear of any direct involvement with Kabataang Makabayan, SDK, and other groups because they certainly didn't need me and also because I knew that while Filipinos could lose their lives in the movement, all I could lose was my visa.
After the dust settled and martial law became an unfortunate routine in all of our lives, and still unable to return to Calamba, I once again turned to Poping Covar for help. This time, he took me to visit the samahán of Tatlong Persona, Solo Dios in the "tierra santa" on the slopes of Mount Banahaw, located in barrio Kinabuhayan above the town of Dolores, Quezon, and then to his home town of Majayjay, also on Banahaw, where I took up residence for the duration. I lived with a warm and welcoming family near the gitna or center of town, but Mount Banahaw has been, for a long period, almost by definition sa labas, or of the outside. Soon enough I became aware that in outlying barrios of the towns of Majayjay, Magdalena and Santa Cruz there were numerous small religious groups, one of which
was the Samahán of Papa God, whose leaders and members were equally happy to have a Tagalog-speaking foreigner in their midst and who had no problem at all with having me settle right in and ask anyone and everyone all sorts of impertinent and silly questions.
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However far landless laborers and poor peasants were (and presumably still are) from the consciousness of literate students of the Philippines, the world view that they taught me about is deeply rooted in Philippine history (as the work of Reynaldo C. Ileto shows) and continues to resonate within Philippine society even today. I cannot imagine a student of Philippine politics having anything very interesting to say without knowing, for example, how kalakasan and kapangyarihan articulate as ideas with one another and how these ideas are used by political actors within the Philippine political scene at all levels of political life.