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Updated: Dec 14, 2023

by Lye Tuck-Po
A fieldwork recollection:
Late in September 1998, I was at the Batek settlement of Kuala Yong, waiting for some men to return from their shopping trip across the river. The men had come in from their forest camp an hour upriver, and I was to follow them back then overnight at their camp. A familiar scene: the long waiting around for things that never happen quite how one expects, the expectation that plans will crash and directions will change even as one conceives of them. I couldn’t wait. I hadn’t slept in a forest camp since I had finished dissertation fieldwork two years earlier. Since then, I too had been as mobile as the Batek; writing up in Hawai`i, a year’s applied work in Sabah, East Malaysia, and now preparing to leave for a postdoc position in Kyoto, Japan.
A few days earlier the Batek’s rattan trader, Towkay Mang, had dropped me off at the Malay village across the Tembeling River from Kuala Yong. I walked past the undergrowth fringing the river, and Kuala Yong came into view, 150 meters away. A bunch of people were sitting on the escarpment there. They began to recognize my shape as I made my way down the slope to the water. Tuck Po! Tuck Po! Tuck Po! [1] Excited children’s voices rang clear and loud in the quiet afternoon air. I had looked forward to seeing them again, and was even more thrilled by their warm welcome. ʔoylah, ʔoylah (friend), I shouted back. A man paddled a boat to take me across.
As I walked up the sandy trail, I greeted everybody with a wide-open smile. True to form, however, now that I was in front of them, the children had gone silent and unresponsive. I didn’t mind: this is how Batek show their emotions when they see an old friend who has been away a long time, by appearing not to care. The children, in fact, had committed a faux pas when they called out my name so enthusiastically earlier. At the top of the trail, one of the women, yaʔKaw, started talking as though no time had passed. Before I could put down my backpack, she was already giving me all the kinship updates. I nodded, seriously, not quite catching all the details, then made my way into the settlement area. There was one face I was looking for. I knew she would hang back, and indeed there she was inside her house, my best friend naʔK—-.
Later, they passed me my cup of tea with some comment I didn’t quite catch. In a convivial mood, I leant back and looked around the room. I spotted what seemed like a familiar implement near the fireplace. I turned to naʔK—- and her father taʔKad—-: “Is that…my old plate?” They laughed. Yes, it was. And I was drinking from the cup I had left behind. Then my eyes rested on the piece of cloth hanging on the door, keeping out the sun…it was my old sleeping bag.
I was home.

A photo from 1998: little boy (aged 3) learning food-processing while his  brother watches
A photo from 1998: little boy (aged 3) learning food-processing while his brother watches

[1] To be linguistically correct, it sounds more like "Dabo."
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Nov 14, 2023

Tuck I noted I discussed briefly the Agta return behavior. I'll make a note again. The Agta do not greet an returning person. Say a man has been away -even a fairly long time - weeks - He walks into camp and to his house. His wife sees him coming. She immediately puts a pot on the fire to cook. She says nothing. Everybody stays respectfully quiet. In a bit, perhaps some men walk over, sit near, and make betel nut chews. The chews are exchanged - the returnee getting one from each man. Then, talk begins. (This betel exchange applies more to Dupaningan speakers than Pahanan speakers). Interesting.

Nov 14, 2023
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Interesting rituals among the Agta. With Batek, I don't think they have any ritual as such, except for the "face" - it falls down. Sometimes they greet immediately upon arrival. More usual greeting is like I said in the article - no yelling and greeting, but the person is talked to as though no time had passed.

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