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Writing fieldnotes

by Lye Tuck-Po
17 September 2023

I've learnt my lesson. No more floods of papers. From 2000 onwards, I've  used bound notebooks. These are from Kokuyo in Japan
I've learnt my lesson. No more floods of papers. From 2000 onwards, I've used bound notebooks. These are from Kokuyo in Japan
What stands out in my memories of the old days was how firmly the Batek protected my fieldnotes.
Sometimes while writing in the lean-to I’d be distracted or called out to see or photograph something or speak to somebody. I’d drop the notes and rush out. Inevitably somebody would call me back to put away my papers—not because I was untidy, but to keep the notes safe from infant or toddler hands. Other times I’d be engrossed in writing and some older kid would warn me if one of the babies was moving too closely to the papers and books spread out around me. If a toddler attempted to play with my writing materials, he/she would be scolded by the older kids. I never asked anybody to do this.
All of this seemed to have a lasting effect, in a cultural-transmission kind of way. In 1999 whenever I’d sit down to write, a bunch of kids would troop over and ask to look at my manuals of plants and animals. They’d huddle up, pore over my books, and point out stuff of interest to each other (it was always the same books every time). I kept an ear out, but mainly I was busy with my own work. After an hour or so their parents would call them back for dinner. Before rushing off, they’d carefully close and pile up the books in the middle of the lean-to. Not a single page was ever torn off and all those manuals remain firmly attached to their covers.
But children grow up and each generation has to be introduced to the norms of anthropological fieldwork all over again.
notebook

"Funny to be writing with running commentary in the background. . . Kids telling each other about me. “Knows our language. . .” “. . .knows how to write in white man’s language.” I look up. And find myself surrounded by bunch of kids, all under seven years of age. One of them is holding a mobile phone" (Fieldnotes, 31 December 2011).


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