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Uncultural Behavior

An Anthropological Investigation of Suicide in the Southern Philippines

Charles J-H. Macdonald

Publication Year: 2007

Until recently the people of Kulbi-Kenipaqan lived on the fringes of the modern world following traditional customs and beliefs, practicing shifting agriculture, and leading an outwardly peaceful existence in a remote corner of Palawan island. Yet this small community, basically indistinguishable in society and culture from its immediate neighbors to the north, has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world. Why would the comparatively happy and well-off inhabitants of Kulbi fall victim to despair? Uncultural Behavior investigates the mystery of self-inflicted death among this nonviolent and orderly people in the Southern Philippines. To make sense of such a phenomenon, Charles Macdonald probes the beliefs, customs, and general disposition of this Palawan people, exploring how they live, think, behave, and relate to one another. Early chapters examine group formation and the spatialization of social ties, material culture, marriage, and law, providing an extensive ethnographic account of the Kulbi way of life. The author offers insights into the spiritual world of the community and addresses the local theory of emotions and the words that supply the vocabulary and idiom of indigenous commentaries on suicide. A well-documented case study of a suicide and its aftermath gives readers an idea of how Kulbi people treat suicide and their conflicting views on the subject. Following an analysis of statistical information, the author presents five "profiles," bringing together motivations, actors, and circumstances. He concludes by examining the perspectives of neurobiology and genetics as well as psychology, sociology, and history.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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p. v

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

List of Tables

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

I would not have been able to conduct this investigation or accomplish the many field trips during which I gathered the data on which this book is based without the support of the National Center for Scientific Research, France (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifi que [CNRS]), where I am a Senior Research Fellow (Directeur de Recherche). The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and ...

Transcription Notes

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p. xiii

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pp. 1-7

My acquaintance with the Palawan people of Palawan Island in the Philippines dates from 1970. I conducted fieldwork from 1970 to 1972 in the central highlands near Brooke’s Point, in the Mekagwaq and Tamlang River basins . I gathered there most of the data I used for my PhD dissertation and further publications...

Part One Palawan Culture and Society

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1. The Kulbi-Kenipaqan River Basin and Its People

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pp. 11-35

The narrow and elongated island of Palawan is home to several autochthonous groups, namely the Tagbanuwa, the Bataks, and the Palawan people (spelled variously as Pala’wan, Pala-wan, Pelawan, etc.).1 In the southern part of the island, stretching over 150 kilometers, live 40 to 50,000 Palawan people.2 They share their homeland with a number of other groups as well, both Muslim and ...

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2. Material Culture and the Symbolic Structure of Everyday Life

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pp. 36-60

This chapter briefly describes the material and economic basis of the Kulbi- Kenipaqan society. Many of the objects and techniques observed in this area are similar or even identical to those found in other areas, and various accounts have already been published (among others Macdonald 1977b, 1987a, 1988a, 1994b; Revel 1990), including a detailed catalogue...

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3. Social Organization

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pp. 61-90

In chapter 1, I discussed one major dimension of the Palawan social order—the creation of stable local groups. This aggregation of individuals forming a local group results from a strategy largely based on bonds of kinship . Uxorilocality, as we have seen, is a basic rule accounting for the special kind of spatial alignment observed in one form or another in all hamlets and local settlement s among the ...

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4. The Spiritual World of the Kulbi People

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pp. 91-122

In this chapter I shall discuss matters that are usually considered part of what is called “religion. ” In the Palawan language the word for “religion,” egama, is of Sanskrit origin and should probably be considered a foreign notion applying to world religions, like Islam and Christianity , and ill adapted to belief system s of the kind discussed here. When asked about their beliefs and ritual practices, ...

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5. Personhood, Emotions, and Moral Values

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pp. 123-142

Since the major concern of this book is suicide, there is a need to look at one section of Palawan ethnography that we have only touched on in the preceding chapters and that has not been fully considered yet: the realm of ideas concerning the structure of the person, the emotional and moral life as conceptualized locally. By discussing this we will then be in a better position to see how suicide ...

Part Two Suicide

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6. Sumling’s Death

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pp. 145-166

Sumling, a young woman in her late twenties and married to Durmin, hanged herself on August 9, 1989, in Tegpen, shortly before my arrival in Kulbi that year . Durmin, whom I knew well, described to me the circumstances of her death . At about noon that day, Sumling went to the river to wash clothes, or so she announced. She did not say anything about committing suicide, nor did ...

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7. Suicide: Case Studies

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pp. 167-197

The cases described in this chapter have been documented after the fact based on information from respondents who knew the victims well or had firsthand knowledge of the circumstances or a recollection of events as reported to them. I collected these data from interviews conducted during fieldwork from 1989 onwards. My main informant and collaborator, Taya Ransawi, provided himself ...

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8. Profiles in Suicide

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pp. 198-223

Looking at such an exceptionally high number of suicides, one is tempted to draw conclusions and define a pattern that would hold for the whole population. Is there one typical profile of the suicide victim? Is there one variable or dimension that overrides all others? One would like to come up with a quick answer to the question of why people commit suicide so often. But inevitably ...

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9. The Anthropological Study of Suicide

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pp. 224-253

In this chapter I shall review a number of anthropological approaches to suicide concerning premodern, non-industrial, or tribal societies. I do not include works dealing with urban and industrial societies, such as Japan, although obviously anthropological approaches can and have been conducted on them (see Iga 1986). However, studies on industrial and urban societies are mostly sociological ...

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10. Explaining Suicide: Concluding Remarks

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pp. 254-268

The dozen or so approaches to suicide and the explanatory models that have so far been summarized and commented on here may not represent all actual anthropological studies of suicide, but they form a significant cross-section, and some valid inferences can be made as to the kinds of assumptions, methodology , At the outset of this survey one is aware that anthropologists can choose two ...


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pp. 269-288


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pp. 289-297


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pp. 299-307

E-ISBN-13: 9780824865368
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824830601

Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 256622302
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Uncultural Behavior

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Palawan (Philippine people) -- Social conditions.
  • Suicide -- Philippines.
  • Ethnopsychology -- Philippines.
  • Philippines -- Religion.
  • Philippines -- Social conditions.
  • Palawan (Philippine people) -- Suicidal behavior.
  • Palawan (Philippine people) -- Psychology.
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