Jeffrey Cohen, an anthropology professor at the Ohio State University, updated in a published article on February 12 an earlier blog post describing the ways the Zapotec have been coping with the pandemic. That post was summarized here on August 21, 2020. His update further amplifies his observations of last year.

Future Zapotec leaders on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (Photo by Avi Dolgin on Flickr, Creative Commons license)
Future Zapotec leaders on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec (Photo by Avi Dolgin on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Cohen observes that when he and his co-author of a  recent journal article were doing their original research during the early stage of the pandemic, the small size  of the indigenous communities and their relative isolation had kept them away from the spread of the virus. Two-thirds of the 500 communities in Oaxaca had not had any cases of COVID-19. Even now, about one-third of the villages have still not reported any cases.

As cases of the virus have slowly seeped into some of their villages, the Zapotec have devised ways of coping. One of their strategies is physical isolation: they erect blockades on roads leading into their villages to keep out visitors—potential carriers of the virus. Also, the leaders of the communities promote safe practices. “The village leaders are generally respected by the people and they are listened to when they promote health measures like wearing a mask and social distancing,” Cohen said.

Another measure the Zapotec are using to slow the spread of the virus is eating less commercially-produced foods. Instead of buying meats from the markets, many are harvesting wild grasshoppers, “chapulines,” and toasting them over fires to eat as their ancestors did. In that spirit, they are also gathering and consuming wild honey.

A participant dances during the 2015 Guelaguetza celebration in Oaxaca (Screen capture from the video Guelaguetza 2015 Producciones MVM Televisión on YouTube, Creative Commons license)
A participant dances during the 2015 Guelaguetza celebration in Oaxaca (Screen capture from the video Guelaguetza 2015 Producciones MVM Televisión on YouTube, Creative Commons license)

Cohen argues that probably the most important strategy used by the Zapotec communities to cope with the threat of the pandemic is to follow their tradition of reciprocity. The practice of guelaguetza, as they call it, is more than just helping out neighbors when they need assistance. When someone gets sick, from the COVID-19 virus or anything else, the neighbors will take care of everything. They will care for crops, share water and food, and do whatever is needed. People are never left to care for themselves.

The scholar concludes his paper by arguing that the most important service the Zapotec communities could get from the normally unresponsive government agencies would be access to clean, safe drinking water. Their use of polluted water increases the incidence of debilitating illnesses such as cholera, which magnify the effects of the COVID-19 virus.

 

The Yanadi of coastal Andhra Pradesh are increasingly dependent for their income on fish raised in cages along the Krishna River estuary. A brief report in The Hindu on February 8 described the actions by agencies and scientists involved in fostering this novel way for the poor, landless people to secure a better living.

Fish culture in cages in Chandpur, coastal Bangladesh (Photo by AsikBinRahim in Wikimedia, Creative Commons License)
Fish culture in cages in Chandpur, coastal Bangladesh (Photo by AsikBinRahim in Wikimedia, Creative Commons License)

Raising Asian sea bass and Indian pompano in cages, in a process called “mariculture,” another term for fish farming, provides a living for a number of Yanadi, many of whom used to be dependent on fishing alone. Several agencies have given scientific and technical assistance—and financial help. The Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI-Visakhapatnam), the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF-Chennai), and the National Fisheries Development Board (NABARD) are among the supporters.

About ten years ago, the CMFRI began experimenting with cage fish farming at the behest of a progressive farmer in the Krishna area, Mr. T. Raghu Sekhar. As a result of their successes, about 80 floating fish cages have been installed in the estuary for the use of the Yanadi and other tribal people, with the costs supported by CMFRI. “Mariculture is a lifeline for the landless poor,” said Raghu Sekhar.

A Yanadi fisherman paddling a log boat (Photo by Only the Best that was on NationMaster.com and copyrighted, but released for all uses without reservation)
A Yanadi fisherman paddling a log boat (Photo by Only the Best that was on NationMaster.com and copyrighted, but released for all uses without reservation)

The Hindu quoted R. Ramasubramanyan, a researcher with MSSRF, who said that the support by the agencies for the new venture, by providing supplies and training, “will yield more results in mariculture, apart from uplifting the landless families.”

A news story posted on December 4 covered the Yanadi efforts to help protect the nesting olive ridley sea turtles that swim ashore to lay their eggs along the coast of the state. It appears as if the Yanadi commitment to effectively managing their coastal environment extends to their harvesting of fish as well.

Some Hutterite colonies in Manitoba are repaying the supportive kindness toward them displayed by the Jewish community in the province nearly 75 years ago. The details of this long-standing positive relationship were described on January 30 by the Winnipeg Free Press.

 Young Hutterite women hanging out on a Winnipeg street (Photo by Dave Shaver on Flickr, Creative Commons license)
Young Hutterite women hanging out on a Winnipeg street (Photo by Dave Shaver on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

On April 21, 1947, a group of Jewish businesspeople testified at a hearing in the Manitoba legislature against a discriminatory measure being considered. If enacted, it would have limited the rights of Hutterites to buy land in the province. The Jews argued that the proposed law would affect other minority people as well.

Ian Kleinsasser, a Hutterite historian and teacher from the Crystal Springs colony, treasured a newspaper clipping from 1947 about the incident. He wanted to continue the reciprocal kindnesses offered by the two groups. When he learned that a 200-bed Jewish personal care center in Winnipeg was making an appeal for help, he led a group of Hutterites to respond.

The logo of the Simkin Centre in Winnipeg (From their website)
The logo of the Simkin Centre in Winnipeg (From their website)

At first, when the group met with Cindy Greenlay, the manager of support services at the Saul and Claribel Simkin Centre, they discussed the immediate need of the center. It was seeking help in coping with the pandemic. It had suffered from an outbreak of the disease. The staff had to change into fresh, clean isolation gowns every time they entered the room of a different resident infected with COVID-19. The staff was seeking help from volunteers with the task of folding the gowns after they were washed.

The conversation quickly expanded. The Hutterites offered to start making more of the yellow polyester gowns to supplement their supply. The Simkin Centre paid for the supplies, which included 1,400 meters of fabric, and the Hutterites would set aside their own sewing projects back at the colony and devote their time for a while to making the isolation gowns.

The Crystal Springs Colony school in Manitoba (Photo by Stefan Kuhn on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)
The Crystal Springs Colony school in Manitoba (Photo by Stefan Kuhn on Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

Lillian Kleinsasser, a cousin by marriage of Ian Kleinsasser, who also lived and worked at Crystal Springs, by the end of December had cut out hundreds of gowns for others at her colony to sew. In a couple weeks, dozens of people at the colony had fabricated hundreds of gowns for the Simkin Centre. Ms. Kleinsasser, who has five children, expressed the feelings of the group: “It gives you a very nice warm feeling inside if you can help somebody else.” Some other colonies contributed new gowns as well.

By the middle of January, Mr. Kleinsasser, who acted as the delivery person for the colony, had given 500 isolation gowns to the Jewish care facility. He also shared with Ms. Greenlay the 1947 press clipping about the Jewish gesture on behalf of the Hutterites. He said that except for historians, the story is not very well known.

After he delivered the gowns, Kleinsasser concluded, “This is an opportunity to give back some loving kindness to strangers and just reach out and make a difference.”

 

A news story in the Daily News from Tanzania on January 24 analyzed the sexual health and reproductive rights of women and girls in Tanzania with a special focus on the Fipa people. While the Fipa are not identified as such, the opening example narrates the traumas of a girl who recently had an abortion and continues to live with her parents in the Lake Rukwa basin of the Rukwa Region, which is part of the traditional Fipa territory.

A woman waiting with her baby at the Mtowisa Health Center in the Rukwa Region (Photo by Katy Woods for The White Ribbon Alliance was on Flickr with a Creative Commons license)++
A woman waiting with her baby at the Mtowisa Health Center in the Rukwa Region (Photo by Katy Woods for The White Ribbon Alliance was on Flickr with a Creative Commons license)

The story that 16-year old Hawa, a pseudonym, shares with the journalist is that she was dating a middle-aged, married man and she was not using any contraceptives. She didn’t have access to them. When she realized she was four months pregnant, she told her boyfriend, but he became quite angry.

He insisted that she have an abortion and she refused. He increased the pressure on her to abort the fetus until she finally gave in to his demands. She experienced terrible pains; after she had the abortion, she was ill for about a month. She thought she was going to die.

When she was asked if she used any family planning methods, she replied that she was still dating the same married man and having unprotected sex with him. She went on to say that she had visited a friend of hers who had ended a pregnancy at 7 months, and the friend gave her some unknown tablets. It turned out they had been given to her by the boyfriend.

The article takes off from that story to explore the access to health care available for women and girls in Tanzania today. The statistics cited are sad. Less than 10 percent of sexually active teens use contraceptives to avoid pregnancies. Among girls 15 to 19 years of age, 22.8 percent are either pregnant or they are already mothers. These figures and the ineffective measures that different agencies and officials are using to address the problem clearly apply to the Fipa as well as to the rest of the girls and young women in Tanzania.

The available ethnographic literature on the Fipa doesn’t provide much useful background information. The most interesting work is Smythe’s book Fipa Families (2006), which provides some interesting clues about attitudes toward girls in the last century.

Some families sent their daughters to a Catholic boarding school at Karema, near Lake Tanganyika, so they could get some formal education. One official complained that the girls were using their ability to read and write to send “affectionate notes” (p.76). This was at least 100 years ago, long before unprotected sex with partners who were married to others became acceptable.

Concerned about the pandemic, my wife and I waited until this last July before driving out to a nearby valley, known as “Sinking Valley,” to shop for fresh fruits and vegetables in the Amish markets we normally patronize. Over the years, we have become quite familiar with the proprietors—we address each other with our first names, discuss our families, and share stories. Small talk. And they sell great food. But we were nervous about venturing among them this summer—we had heard they don’t wear masks.

Ohio Amish farmer (Photo by Scott Griffith on Flickr, Creative Commons license)
Ohio Amish farmer (Photo by Scott Griffith on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

And the rumors were correct. None of the Amish we saw wore face masks. Why not? We kept asking each other this question as we drove home, vowing to avoid shopping at their markets again until things changed and they started accepting government directives about social distancing and the use of masks.

We wondered if the answer might be that they had accepted the prevailing conservative mindset of Blair County to dismiss the directives of the Pennsylvania government about the health crisis. But we were off target. The Amish have a more complex set of objections to wearing face masks, as explained by a news story published on January 17.

The in-depth report was published by the Coshocton Tribune, a paper based in central Ohio where questions about the large Amish settlements around Holmes County come up frequently. The journalist focused her article primarily on the work of Prof. Cory Anderson, a faculty member at the Pennsylvania State University who does a lot of research on the Ohio Amish communities.

According to Dr. Anderson, the Amish objection to wearing face masks is partly based on a strong suspicion about what others, particularly people from government agencies, tell them. They associate wearing masks with fear and, he said, “as a people, they have a value orientation toward minimizing problems. They try to portray that all is at peace and rest. They’re willing to make masks—they’re not necessarily willing to wear them.”

An Ohio Amish roadside salesman (Photo by Tara Herberger on Flickr, Creative Commons license)
An Ohio Amish roadside salesman (Photo by Tara Herberger on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Furthermore, he said that in Holmes and Wayne Counties, which are heavily Amish, the culture is strongly oriented toward business, with an emphasis on autonomy from government and an absence of regulations. He characterized it as a local attitude rather than a political concern.

Part of the reason for their attitude derives from their theology and history. He described the Amish history of persecution in Europe which promoted a culture of suspicion about the intentions of outsiders who come into their communities and try to tell them what to do.

Anderson said that another reason the Ohio Amish reject directives from outsiders is the local economy. They feel that the reason their strong tourism industry functions well is that it is self-regulating, which argues against government interference.

Their suspicion about masking in Ohio was fostered by what they felt was unevenness of public policies right from the outset of the pandemic. Last spring they were, in fact, willing to comply with social distancing guidelines, even to closing their businesses and curtailing their worship services. He said it was quite amazing that they did that willingly.

Anderson added that the Amish cherish the fact that they have their own ways of doing things. They are afraid that if they accept the ways outsiders do things, their own power structures and pecking orders will be disrupted.

Bucolic Ohio Amish country (Photo by Mike Sharp in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)
Bucolic Ohio Amish country (Photo by Mike Sharp in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

This article quotes other experts on issues relating to the Ohio Amish but the major focus is on the expertise of Dr. Anderson. He argues that the Amish are opposed to people getting individual attention, so they resist making any modifications in their appearance. They all want to look alike. This resistance to looking different prompts their opposition to wearing masks.

Another factor that plays a role in hindering the acceptance of masks is the Amish belief in spiritual healing. They believe in yielding their health to what God wants for them. For that reason, many also resist getting vaccinated.

Not all of these factors would apply to the Amish in Sinking Valley, however. One family we know took their seriously ill child to a major medical research hospital in Pennsylvania for the advanced care that was available. But my wife and I did not feel comfortable in approaching the Amish proprietors about the reasons they don’t wear masks. Better to wait for an article such as this one and the analysis of an expert on the subject.

 

A disturbing news story was published in Tahiti Infos on Tuesday last week about the existence of sexual violence against Tahitian children on the major islands of Tahiti and Moorea. The article included analyses by experts and remedies for the scourge of pedophilia.

A young Tahitian girl (Photo by MAES Gabriel on Flickr, Creative Commons license)
A young Tahitian girl (Photo by MAES Gabriel on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Two Tahitian organizations—the Compagnie du Caméléon and the Colosse aux Pieds d’Argile—have established on Moorea and Tahiti awareness programs about pedophilia designed for professionals who are active with young people. The objective of the programs is to foster awareness of the existence of sexual violence against children and to suggest appropriate patterns of behavior for the professionals when they are faced. with it.

The Colosse aux Pieds d’Argile was founded in 2013 with a special focus on combatting pedophilia in sports.  Its mission is training people who supervise children so they can better help young victims of the scourge.  The Colosse helped set up special training programs from January 11 through the 21st.

Several topics were covered during the inaugural program on the evening of January 11. About 20 people coming from backgrounds such as social affairs and health attended. They learned about the traumas experienced by the young victims, warning signs to watch for, and typical profiles of sexual predators. They also discussed how to protect themselves from false claims of pedophilia.

Tahitian girls (Photo by drmvm5 on Flickr, Creative Commons license)
Tahitian girls (Photo by drmvm5 on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The article quotes Fabien Lefèvre, a member of Colosse aux Pieds d’Argile, who said that a lot of cases of pedophilia have not been revealed because it is still a taboo subject among the Tahitian people. Adults and children tend to avoid denouncing known incidents because they fear the consequences for the families involved. Lefèvre urged attendees to speak up, however, because there can be a lot of self-destruction from keeping it hidden.

Roohianuu Douyere, President of the U’i Mana Project, praised the program as very interesting and worthwhile. In the words of the Google translation, Douyere said “these meetings allow us to share our experiences and we realize that the associative and sports fabric are important resources in the fight and prevention of sexual violence.”

The author of the article interviewed Clémentine Flages, a psychosomatotherapist, who also expressed positive reactions to the sessions. Flages urged Tahitians to break the barriers of silence around pedophilia. It would be better handled if the taboos about confronting the issue were abandoned and if people, especially professionals, could discuss it more openly and effectively.

Two Tahitian women painted by Paul Gauguin (Photo by Gandalf’s Gallery on Flickr, Creative Commons license)
Two Tahitian women painted by Paul Gauguin (Photo by Gandalf’s Gallery on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

One can search the standard ethnography of the Tahitians (Levy 1973) without finding any mention of pedophilia. Levy did some fieldwork on the main island in the Society Islands archipelago, Tahiti island, and in a smaller, much more remote community on Huahine island. He didn’t hesitate to carefully describe sexual practices such as homosexuality, and he carefully detailed the habits of men and women to cover their nakedness, and that of their small children (p.111-113).

But he did not mention pedophilia, which undoubtedly existed—recall Gauguin and his child “wife.” In any case, it is clear that at least some Tahitians are taking strong action against it today.

 

One of the first news stories published by this website—on December 26, 2004—was a review of some very disturbing news about horrible abuses suffered by the Mbuti people in the D.R. Congo. After 16 years of very limited action to foster justice for the thousands of Mbuti victims, officials announced last week that one of the masterminds of the atrocities committed so many years ago has been arrested in Paris.

Mbuti women in Mabukulu, D. R. Congo (Photo by Garry Walsh / Trocaire on Flickr, Creative Commons license)
Mbuti women in Mabukulu, D. R. Congo (Photo by Garry Walsh / Trocaire on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The 2004 news story reviewed the findings of a report provocatively titled “Erasing the Board,” issued by the prominent human rights organization Minority Rights Group International. It described their investigation of the crimes committed against the Mbuti and some other groups in their villages of the Ituri Forest in the northeastern region of the D.R. Congo.

The report described conditions in the Mbuti villages during their investigation. Rapes, murders, senseless slaughters of thousands of innocent, peaceful villagers were committed by marauding armies that coursed back and forth through the forest looking for the diminutive Mbuti to attack.

A press release issued by Minority Rights on January 4 this year indicated that Roger Lumbala had been arrested by French authorities in Paris for his crimes against humanity—the Mbuti—nearly 20 years ago.  He controlled one of the two marauding armies from October 2002 until January 2003, the Rassemblement congolais pour la démocratie – National (RCD-N), during the period when they occupied the Ituri Forest area where the Mbuti villages are—or were—located.

Mbuti bow and arrow hunter (Photo by Marc Louwes on Flickr, Creative Commons license)
Mbuti bow and arrow hunter (Photo by Marc Louwes on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Over 100,000 civilians were displaced during those campaigns. After peace accords were signed, the RCD-N forces were integrated into the army of the Congo. Lumbala went into exile, accused of aiding other rebel forces, and only returned to the DRC in 2017.

He became a member of the Congolese parliament but he was arrested during his stay in Paris and charged with the crimes committed during 2002-2003: trying to destroy the Mbuti.. The press release does not indicate how the Mbuti themselves are reacting to this development.

 

The original residents of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana joyfully welcomed a group of visitors into their villages recently, according to a blog post written by an official with the safari operator. To judge by their website, Wilderness Safaris is a well-established company that offers safari experiences for tourists in southern Africa. The interest in this particular post, dated December 29, is the potential insights it offers into the lives of the San people who inhabit the remote settlements in the CKGR, primarily the G/wi.

A San family prepares to go hunting in Ghanzi, Botswana, immediately to the west of the CKGR
A San family prepares to go hunting in Ghanzi, Botswana, immediately to the west of the CKGR (Photo by Petr Kosina in Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The writer, Rauve Vasco, describes the trip by four vehicles and one ten-ton truck over rough, arid terrain to visit the small hamlets and deliver Christmas gifts of food and articles of clothing that volunteers had collected. The residents of the villages met the arriving visitors with songs and dances. Small children and old ladies greeted them with laughter and clapping. “There was so much gratitude, and so much need, yet so much peace in the eyes of these people,” Vasco writes.

He describes in detail their visit to Mothomelo, their last stop of the trip. Alerted to their impending arrival, the entire village was waiting for them. Once the dust had settled, everyone broke into songs and dancing. The villagers welcomed the visitors with “unbridled joy” which brought tears to the eyes of the visitors. Vasco describes the process of unloading their gifts from the truck and handing them to the grateful people.

San near New Xade enjoying dancing (Photo by Petr Kosina in Flickr, Creative Commons license)
San near New Xade enjoying dancing (Photo by Petr Kosina in Flickr, Creative Commons license)

That evening as the visitors were settling into their campsite for the night, the G/wi came out of their homes again and gathered around them. Young and old told stories, danced, and clapped along with their songs. The visitors joined the villagers in their singing.

The people from Wilderness Safaris had come with the idea that they were the ones who were doing the giving but they discovered that they were given “the biggest gift of all: the gift of humanity, the gift of sharing, the gift of being allowed a glimpse into the lives of ancient people,” as Vasco put it.

The cynical reader may be tempted to assume that of course the villagers were filled with joy—they were about to get significant gifts of free food and clothing. Why wouldn’t they be happy? But the excessive pleasure the G/wi expressed when visitors arrived in their villages leads one to wonder if they are predisposed to welcoming visitors. Do the people of Mothomelo and the other communities in the CKGR have a tradition of welcoming strangers? If so, why?

Fortunately, George Silberbauer, a scholar who did fieldwork among the G/wi 50 years ago, noticed similar behavior and described his observations in a paper published in 1972. He wrote that when the word went out from one band via informal word of mouth that they had plentiful supplies and would welcome visits from other bands, in time, as this was repeated, other groups of people would come and pay them a visit.

The visitors would share in the resources just as if they were residents and the members of the two bands would mingle as if they were close friends. Those friendly visits would facilitate social interconnections, the sharing of resources, and the extension of kinship ties through fostering marriages.

A San family in the bush in the Ghanzi District (Photo by Petr Kosina in Flickr, Creative Commons license)
A San family in the bush in the Ghanzi District (Photo by Petr Kosina in Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Silberbauer concluded that since the territories of some bands could be stricken with drought at any given time, the sharing of resources fostered by those friendly visits helped ensure the survival of all the bands. The reciprocity inherent in the relationships between the bands and the alliances, friendships, and kinship relations that they formed helped inhibit competition for scarce resources.

In sum, the visit last week by the Wilderness Safari people provoked responses from the G/wi based on motives that developed due to the scarcity of the desert environment.

 

Researchers studying Arctic issues are increasingly consulting the local people to gain, in the early stages of their investigations, the benefits of the Inuit traditional knowledge. Nunatsiaq News published an interesting piece on Monday last week about the useful collaboration between scholars and the indigenous people.

Inuit women throat singing in Ottawa (Screenshot from the video “Inuit Youth Council of Canada –World Suicide Prevention Day 2012-” on Vimeo, Creative Commons license)
Inuit women throat singing in Ottawa (Screenshot from the video “Inuit Youth Council of Canada –World Suicide Prevention Day 2012-” on Vimeo, Creative Commons license)

For instance, during a study of pregnant women in Nunavik, researchers discovered that the women’s blood contained high levels of selenium. Moderate levels of the mineral in the blood are beneficial but high levels can be toxic.

The researchers from Laval University in Quebec City, Mélanie Lemire and Matthew Little, discussed the preliminary findings with the indigenous people for clues as to what might be causing the results they were finding. They asked the regional hunters association for help.

A beluga whale in captivity (Photo by Jason Pier in DC on Flickr, Creative Commons license)
A beluga whale in captivity (Photo by Jason Pier in DC on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

According to Lucy Grey, a research adviser for the Kativik Regional Government, that approach untangled the mystery. The hunters informed the scholars that the women traditionally ate the tails of beluga whales. With that information in hand, the researchers analyzed beluga carcasses and found that they did have higher levels of selenium in their tails.

Grey cited this incident as an example of the value to researchers of consulting the Inuit to seek their traditional knowledge as soon as possible in their investigations. Grey presented her thoughts on the subject at a December 10 meeting on Inuit traditional knowledge during an ArcticMet conference. Grey said that a major responsibility of her job is to work with outside scholars and provide them with Inuit perspectives on their research topics.

She added that researchers from southern institutions used to cite Inuit sources primarily for anecdotes. Participation by the Inuit themselves was limited mostly to serving as guides, field assistants, transcribers, and translators. But attitudes are changing. “Now, we have an active role,” she said.

An Inuit hunter in a traditional kayak and carrying a harpoon (Photo by Ville Miettinen on Flickr, Creative Commons license)
An Inuit hunter in a traditional kayak and carrying a harpoon (Photo by Ville Miettinen on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

Ms. Grey cited a health survey done for the Inuit of Nunavik that was based, in part, on questions chosen by the people themselves. “Inuit were part of the design of the research, the questions that were asked,” she said. She added that of course the people have a vested interest in gaining information about themselves.

Since travel restrictions during the pandemic have prevented investigators from visiting the Inuit to pursue their research, collaboration among the two groups has permitted some research projects to continue anyway. Grey emphasized that research by outsiders needs to provide more than just information for them to publish.

The information gained by the research must also provide benefits to the Inuit. “When indigenous knowledge and science knowledge merge, it gives a much better understanding of our world,” she concluded.

I recently became aware of the fact that someone I deeply respect, who friended me on Facebook a couple years ago, has unfriended me. I have no idea why. Perhaps I said something offensive in one of these news posts—I’m clueless. But in the spirit of the holiday season, I’m stepping back from my lingering angst about it. There is something intriguing, and peaceful, about breaking off relations in such a non-confrontational way.

Facebook friend’s communication (Free image on Pixabay)
Facebook friend’s communication (Free image on Pixabay)

The stresses and uncertainties about our (former?) friendship led me back to the peaceful societies literature. How do they confront the messiness of human social interactions? Other than simply summarizing that they handle their relationships nonviolently, it may be best to look for specific societies that have, or had, Facebook-like relationships. The Buid are one of the best examples of that.

The Buid appear to make at least some use of the social media. A Google search in 2018 for Pamana Ka, the name of their high school in Danlog described again in a news story on September 4 this year, turned up several references to Facebook posts in which the school system is featured. Which makes one wonder how much the Buid with smartphones and access to the internet use the social media. For there are some surprising similarities between Facebook and the Buid style of peacefully communicating.

For a moment, we need to reflect on the way the Buid normally socialize—by making comments to a group of people, usually sitting back to back or all facing a distant mountain peak (Gibson 1986, p.46). Everyone addresses the group as a whole, rarely if ever speaking directly to another person. It is as if the Buid were anticipating Facebook many decades ago. While a Facebook member can, of course, send comments to specific individuals, many Facebook members direct their comments to their entire group of “friends,” hundreds or perhaps even thousands of people.

Some Tawbuid men, close Mangyan neighbors of the Buid, socializing while waiting for a bus (Photo by Derek Daniel on Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)
Some Tawbuid men, close Mangyan neighbors of the Buid, socializing while waiting for a bus (Photo by Derek Daniel on Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)

Much of the news shared on Facebook is less than earthshaking: “I took my dog for a walk this morning,” or some such. Though some people will care, many will read it, grunt, and go on to the next post in their news feeds. Or put up their own news about the performance of their kid in the school play last night. Or how cute the cat is. The things that matter to people.

The Buid in their traditional villages similarly make comments to groups of people without worrying about who will or will not respond. Much of the personal news and opinion is banal, in Facebook and in the Buid village, but that’s the charm, or at least the potential charm, of both. A Buid man might make a comment about his kids one morning to a group of his friends, who would similarly grunt, respond or not as they felt so inclined, and perhaps make a comment of their own.

The similarity is startling. Instead of directing comments at specific individuals and setting up potential conflicts, the Buid as well as many Facebook members just make their comments to an undifferentiated group. People will respond when and if they feel like it. They may break off their friendships with others without a word of confrontation. Anthropologist Thomas Gibson does not indicate if the Buid have different gradations of grunts people might make that would provide a pre-internet equivalent of “like.” But he does make it clear that the reticence of the Buid toward others—their attempts to never put anyone else on the spot—are an important element in their culture of peacefulness.

Mangyan village kids
Mangyan village kids (Photo by Dylan Walters on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

The big question therefore is whether the similarity with the social media, of sending comments to an undifferentiated group of friends without them having any obligation to respond, could become a foundational element in building a more peaceful world. Obviously many other elements will need to be developed before cultures of peace will take off more widely, but communicating with an indirect, nonthreatening, undemanding manner, as the Buid are so expert in doing and as Facebook seems to reinforce, may well represent one of the beginning elements of a coming culture of peacefulness. It won’t replace direct communication right off, but it may help us to feel our way forward. In a non-confrontational fashion.

Perhaps my former Facebook friend will seek to reestablish our friendship, or perhaps not. However it turns out, it will continue to be handled in a non-confrontational fashion. The Buid would approve.