pangangan (naming)

easter sunday in a’tolan showed me that sometimes geertz (and before that, benedict) was right about reoccurring cultural structures. much like other rituals around a’tolan, the easter sunday mass was followed by a meeting with speeches and then a time of play. because i was among the youngest people present, the group of elders at the easter celebration assigned me a typical task for young men, patikid. patikid is the work of serving drinks to everyone assembled around a large circle, but it is also, in keeping with ‘amis bodily aesthetics, a kind of dance: holding the cup in the right hand, one stomps and lunges with the right foot, rotating the hips and bringing the cup close to the ground and then upward toward the person who will drink. depending on the status of the recipient, one might run from a distance and greatly exaggerate the movement or just slightly dip one’s arm. because there is a general shortage of young people around a’tolan, i’m used to performing patikid and other such tasks–and accustomed to the antics of the senior men when they start drinking. the men will often fake a reach for the cup and grab the crotch of the young man performing patikid, it’s a joke that falls somewhere between hazing and teasing. this time, however, one of the men stood up, grabbed my ear, and shouted

o ci caraw kiso! o ci caraw kiso! o ci caraw kiso! does that name sound good to you?

caraw. it’s a common ‘amis man’s name and fits one of the categories of men’s names: it names a kind of wild creature or presence. caraw (or calaw) names a kind of forest gremlin that plays tricks on people who enter the forest; or, i should say that it is a name that closely resembles the name of this creature (saraw) and that is associated with it


saraw live in the forest. they may mislead travelers or at times come to visit them when the travelers are about to sleep. just as the travelers are about to close their eyes, the saraw comes and wakes them; in that moment, the saraw might take them on a journey to haunts in the forest. if the traveler is not careful, he will find himself somewhere unfamiliar, with no idea how he arrived. when that happens,one knows that the saraw has played one of its tricks. although it has been many years since anyone has seen a saraw, most people in their sixties and above have experience with them and other forest sprites, such as faronohan. one elderly man even had a running contest with one of them. fortunately, he won. others saw a faronohan resting on the rocks of the stream it lived in, where it waited for children to swim–it would pull them down to the bottom of the stream with its long hair, which spread out on the stream bed around its body. mountain forests, streams, and even every small irrigation channel had its own set of gremlins, sprites, and other creatures that belonged, broadly, to kawas, gods or spirits. subsistence activities, such as fishing or gathering, all required rituals to placate or ask assistance from these presences. however, as a former village headman told me, these spirits have disappeared since the villagers joined one of the three christian churches that came to a’tolan. sometimes, he says, he misses them

disenchantment and distance

interestingly, this process of disenchantment accompanied a transformation in a’tolan from a relatively localized community to a diaspora and the rebuilding of the village into its present form. these transformations, including the introduction of christianity, were ones in which a enchanted landscape, populated with mysterious and powerful forces that required ritual placation, became a relatively utilitarian or disenchanted one. interestingly, one metaphor of this disenchantment is distance: during the time that village elders describe, the travel distance from home to fields or gathering places in the mountains was large, and it was customary to spend entire days or nights in one’s taloan (work shelter) in the fields or mountains; likewise, people would often set nets at night and sleep in a taloan on the beach. thus the house (loma’) contrasted with taloan and other types of dwellings where one worked or rested outside the confines of the village. particularly the paths between houses and places of work were dangerous. in some ways, this danger of the road connects with the notion of the path (lalan) as a spiritual environment. transformations of the village–including other forms of travel and corresponding notions of alterity–led to the gradual disenchantment of these places. besides, one hardly spends the night in a taloan today: one can easily drive or ride a motorcycle back to the village

what does this have to do with men’s names, and perhaps masculinity? men’s names often refer to useful plants or wild creatures with whom ‘amis have interactions; and men, in general, have the task of bringing value from outside the village. relative disenchantment of the landscape surrounding the village did not change this outside orientation as much as it shifted it to other fields of far ocean fishing and construction work. although both of these fields were highly rationalized industrial work, they maintain an outside orientation. and so, some means of working through or displaying alterity remains a male strategy for producing a life history. i’ll post some more about these narratives in subsequent posts. for now, i’ll try not to wonder too much why of all names, the elderly men who know me best chose the name of a forest gremlin. they say it’s because i am clever and work hard. that should be enough