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Wisdom from a Rainforest: The Spiritual Journey of an Anthropologist

Wisdom from a Rainforest: The Spiritual Journey of an Anthropologist
by Stuart A. Schlegel
Ateneo de Manila University Press

“This book is a love story,” begins Stuart A. Schlegel in Wisdom from a Rainforest: The Spiritual Journey of an Anthropologist. The prologue narrates how the Teduray gave the “gift of love” to Schlegel’s son, Lennie, who was struck ill in the jungles of Mindanao; and how, years later in California, Schlegel began to write this book after the Teduray were massacred “by a ragged band of outlaws” in 1972.

Wisdom from a Rainforest is not just an anthropological study of the Teduray in the rainforests south of the Pulangi River. It is also Schlegel’s memoir of the years he spent in the Philippines first as a priest, then as a cultural anthropologist who was also a husband, father, and friend. The love story extends to the years long after his education among the gentle “forest people.”

In clear prose, Schlegel recounts his day-to-day experiences as an anthropology student who lived with the Teduray of Figel, a small community in the mountains of Maguindanao, in the 1960s. Schlegel and his wife first came to the Philippines as Episcopalian missionaries but later converted to anthropology when they realized that they “wanted to be learners from these people, not teachers.” Schlegel writes about the Figel Teduray’s customs, but also their condition as indigenous people who suffered the effects of deforestation, land privatization, and Christianization.

Schlegel assumes both the emic and etic perspectives in his narration, telling as objectively as possible how the Teduray saw the world while comparing this to the American weltanschauung. For example, Schlegel shows how competitive American society is by describing Teduray society as “cooperative.”

Theirs [Teduray] was an ethics of care, not of rights. Sustenance and social justice were achieved not by everyone being able to assert personal rights in the struggle of daily competition, but by everyone looking after each other and working cooperatively.

Schlegel writes about the Figel Teduray’s language and worldview (which reflect each other); how, for example, the Teduray named fathers and mothers after their oldest child, male or female (Schlegel was called “Mo-Lini,” or “Father of Lennie”). He talks of the Teduray’s conception of time; being farmers, they used the night sky as an agricultural calendar. Schlegel describes how neither gender was deemed superior in the Teduray’s egalitarian society; a whole chapter is devoted to Ukà of Lange-Lange, “one-who-became-a-woman” who is known as the best of all Teduray zither players.

More than a social scientific study, Wisdom from a Rainforest is the story of a life.

My years in the rainforest turned out to be much more than a research project for me…. Figel deepened me. It helped me do what adults in every society must do—make sense of myself and my world and determine where meaning lies for me.

The book is a tribute to the Philippine forest people not only by an American scholar, but a friend whom they touched deeply. It is a gift of love, too: “The Teduray taught me how to live.”

Source: FHL Research Team


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