Well into the first week of March, we’re all waiting for summertime to arrive. Even for a Norwegian, even a Norwegian from the southernmost part of Norway, the weather is devastatingly cold. At nighttime, the temperature creeps down towards 10 degrees Celsius, and even during the day, it barely surpasses 15. This is certainly not the climate one associates with the tropical Southeast Asia. How could they survive here in the olden days when men wore only a loincloth and a blanket and the women left their upper body uncovered?
Apparently this time of the year should be warmer and dryer. But the rain just can’t stop pouring down. However, as anywhere else in the world climate change is frequently mentioned. Even one of my Pentecostal informants commented upon it the other day when we talked about how cold it was: “Everything is changing these days. Only the love of God stays the same!” In a world where things really seem to be changing quite fast, perhaps the massive turn to God is a turn towards stability?
Having regained a little motivation again by making a home visit to Norway during Christmas, I headed to Baguio to attend the 1st International Conference on Cordillera Studies at the University of the Philippines, Baguio. Except for having written and prepared a paper for presentation at a conference session on religion and indigenous people, I was quite unprepared for what waited me in terms of conference audience behavior. What could be more different from a usually quiet and/or drowsy (usually both) audience at Norwegian anthropological conferences than this mostly Filipino crowd that, in good Filipino style, found it absolutely necessary to arrive through the squeaking doors five minutes into the speak, read out loudly the keywords on the Powerpoint presentation and found it so very much more convenient to chat loudly with others as the speaker gave his presentation than wait till he’d finished. And without surprise, the session “Music and literature” which was heavily based on playing music examples from a CD was held in an auditorium where the microphone had a constant feedback, where the loudspeakers could hardly produce a clear sound and, well, the CD-player didn’t work… But aside for such minute problems, I found the conference very interesting. A lot of interesting people to talk to, a lot of interesting papers presented, and a very nice introduction to the Filipino anthropological expertise working in the different university departments around the country. I think that it’s often easy to forget that the countries in which we conduct our fieldworks in many cases possess a significant anthropological expertise that can be an important resource in our work. All credit to the Cordillera Studies Centre at the University of the Philippines, Baguio, for arranging the conference.
During my various research periods in Ifugao I have never experienced any situation where ethnic identity has been a disputed subject. But here at the conference in Baguio, where many of the participants were representatives from the various “indigenous” people of the Cordillera mountain region, ethnic identity, or perhaps better, disputes about ethnic identity came to the fore. A relatively uncontroversial paper on two folk songs sung by people in the Ilokos-Apayao border area spurred a heated debate among the audience about the use of such terms as “Apayao”, “Lepanto”, “Ifugao”, and “Cordillerans”. The debate finally calmed down, and an Australian anthropologist commented that this was indeed “a remarkable session”. I have never seen a clearer example of Barth’s boundary centered ethnicity in practice.
Finally, some good news: since an incident where a young man was shot and killed during a quarrel outside one of the videoke (the Filipino version of karaoke) bars, the mayor has now released an ordinance prohibiting the operation of videoke bars in a certain part of the town as these allegedly “destroys and ruins the future life of the youth, create noise/disturbance within the community and quarrel among customers resulting to injury and death”. Unfortunately for us, in the part of town where we live, videoke bars are still permitted. We still have to bear with the never ending out-of-tune singing of such charming songs as “Hotel California”, “Living on love”, “Wind of change” and the more up-to-date “Suicidal”. If there are any ethnomusicologists or music interested anthropologists out there who want to study something bizarre, I suggest you take a closer look at videoke singing in the Cordilleras!
One of the main impressions I had of my previous fieldwork was that this type of research is very inefficient; despite the comparatively much amount of time being spent in the field, not much data is produced (I speak of my own experiences here, of course, other anthropologists might have produced more in the same period of time). Today I had such an experience again, not surprising perhaps since I after all am in the Philippines, a country notorious (along with most other countries in the world, perhaps?) for its relaxed attitude to time.
One of the Pentecostal churches in Banaue, the small town where I at the moment is spending time (a suitable expression, it feels), would this Sunday celebrate its 20th anniversary. During last Sunday service the pastor made a point about changing the schedule for the anniversary service from 10am to 9am so they could have time for all the extra numbers, the extra worship songs, and based on my previous experiences from these churches, I guess also an extra long and perhaps even extra tedious sermon. Barely managing to pressure myself to get out of bed at 8am Sunday morning (the lack of motivation I wrote about earlier is still there), I headed down to the large iron sheet house that is the church of the Banaue Christian Fellowship. It was perhaps the long, sleepless night before, sleepless partly because the town’s dogs keep barking raucously at each other all night, sometimes competing with the crowing roosters (that roosters only crow at sunrise must be myth!), that made me a bit drowsy and therefore surprised by the lack of people who had turned up for the early service. Not a single soul was in sight, expect a young boy who sat chewing betel nut on the wall outside the church. He gladly announced that service was to begin at 9am, in five minutes that was. I kept on waiting, sat down on the hard wooden benches (regretting that I didn’t instead go to another church, the Chris is the Answer Church, where they at least have some comfortable plastic chairs) and waited. And waited. When the time had passed 10:30 am, enough people (and a dog!) had arrived so the pastor decided that they perhaps should think about getting started. Striding as confidently as a self-confident Filipino Pentecostal pastor can towards the podium, he grabbed the microphone, exclaimed a loud “amen!”, but realized that the microphone did not at all respond to his praises, and followed up with a disappointed “ay, no electricity.” This created a minute or two (Filipino minutes, that is; they are a bit longer than ours) of confusion in the congregation. They decided that a short prayer was appropriate and thus the service slowly commenced, over one and a half ours later than announced, and this was when I realized that I had almost forgotten about the occasional inefficiency of anthropological fieldwork.
The rest of the service followed in the same fashion. A part of the anniversary celebrations was contributions from the different groups in the church. The young adults played (when the electricity finally came back) songs of worship that seemed to never end (or perhaps they were competing in a how-many-times-can-one-repeat-this-verse-competition). When the children should perform their special number, they had first to be called in from their playing outside, before they were dressed up in yellow paper hats and were supposed to jiggle their heads while one of the elderly women sang “I want to be your sunbeam” (I guess the kids were supposed to sing as well, but no-one did). Anyway, every contribution was preceded by a long wait while the contributors prepared themselves. This turned out to actually be quite fortunate, as the pastor suddenly announced that their visitor, Brother Jon, had to come to the stage and give a special number. I sat there, almost petrified, not knowing what to do. I was asked to sing a song, which I of course did not want to do. Instead, I took my time, the appropriate waiting time, and eventually headed for the stage, where I grabbed the microphone, did not (!) exclaim “amen”, but thanked them for receiving me in their church. After that, I just wanted to run out of there, but rested a few minutes on the wooden bench, before sneaking out during their worship songs.
Back in Ifugao, the first thing that struck me was that I was already tired of being here. That this feeling would occur as early as during the first days of my second fieldwork here should of course not have been a great surprise to me as I do recall now that my previous field diary was filled with complains about how utterly boring I found the place and about how little sympathy I had for my research objects (yes, I did and still call them that since I never got to develop any relations resembling friendship with them).
Well, I guess I should have read my diary better before deciding to devote four more years to study these people. I also guess that starting off with a deeply felt antipathy towards my research objects is not exactly a very nice point of departure for a research project based on the method of participant observation. In addition to the field site related frustrations I am experiencing at the moment, I also find myself in a state that best could be described as anthropology-fed-up-ness. I am just tired of reading monography after monography and article after article without finding anything much of interest in them (this certainly also goes for my own writings, I must add). I assume, no, I actually know, that this is not because the books and articles actually are uninteresting (if this was the case, contemporary anthropology would be in a very sorry state), but rather due to my own lack of enthusiasm.
One should perhaps think that some motivation would re-emerge when one finally comes to the field again, but as far as I am concerned, this did not happen, actually quite the contrary. If this is related to the fact that my fascination for the field is limited to its theoretical and analytical potentiality, I do not know, but my antipathy for the field does indeed not pair very well with my general lack of motivation. And it is not the case that I during my previous fieldwork was more sympathetic towards the field; I then lasted through the nine months by relying on my motivation. I wanted to go through with it; I wanted to endure the stress and discomfort. Now, alas, I have no such motivation. I am just fed up with Ifugao and, sadly, with anthropology. I hope and think that the latter will again attract my interest, but I am pretty sure that the former will forever remain a depressing and not very sympathetic people to me. And I still have to work three years with this project…! I really do not know what to do.
Another problem that has surfaced in my new project is how I should relate to my new informants. To put it short, my new project is about the Pentecostal Christians in Ifugao, while I in the previous project concentrated on the practitioners of the traditional Ifugao religion. In almost every conversation I have with the Pentecostals I am asked if I am a Christian and if so to what denomination I belong. This question is of course quite easy to answer; I am not a Christian. As such the question should not cause any problems at all.
However, during these conversations I actually do feel a need to emphasize that I am not a Christian. It seems that I really need to distance myself from their beliefs. I guess this has something to do with how I relate to similar groups back home, it also got me thinking about how a similar problem did not occur during my previous interactions with the priests of the traditional religion. During a preacher held at the Evangelical Church (I went there first but found it to be “too solemn”, to quote one of my Pentecostal informants), I thought about how I would react if I were asked to be baptised or go through any other kind of Christian rites-de-passage, and I must admit that I dreaded the thought. I would certainly not be comfortable going through with that; I guess I would feel a hypocrite and that I betray my informants.
However, during my previous fieldwork I did not hesitate to participate as much as possible in the sacrificial rituals and spirit possessions. Then, I did certainly not feel a need to distance myself from them or their beliefs, actually I think I did the contrary and almost hinted about accepting their claims about the activities of the spirits, which was of course as much (and considering my Christian background) hypocritical than what would be the case in this Christian context.
I partly think that there are at least two points to be made here (and I am sure that one could find more). First, I now experience some kind of moral continuity with my informants. In my previous fieldwork I felt more at a distance from them, although I was much more involved with them then I am now. Second, I think that this has something to do with ‘belief’, a concept that was barely mentioned in the traditional context but which plays one of the leading characters in the Christian one. This concept has some sort of continuity with my own moral universe and I therefore am challenged when I have to relate to it in this particular way. Well, these thoughts are just preliminary of course, but they keep popping up whenever I sit quietly through the tedious services of the Evangelical church or stand still during the noisy Pentecostal prayers.