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Thursday, August 31, 2017

“My curiosity was stronger than my fear”: The Michiko Takaki Papers

It was 1964 when Michiko Takaki boarded a plane to take her from Tokyo to Manila to begin her ethnographic fieldwork. She was planning to spend one year among the Kalinga people of the northern Luzon region of the Philippines, a location she had chosen because her doctoral advisor (Harold “Hal” Conklin) studied the nearby Ifugao. “The usual allotment for doing doctoral research and observation is one full year,” she said in 2010. “That’s what I had thought going in, but that went right out the window because I couldn’t speak the language in one year.”[1]

It was 1968 before Takaki finally returned to Yale University to complete her doctoral dissertation. In what a later colleague described as “an unprecedented 46-month uninterrupted period of fieldwork,” [2] the planned one year of research had turned into four. The data and notes gathered during those months form the bulk of the Michiko Takaki papers, 1921-2011 (bulk 1960s), the most recent collection opened to researchers at the National Anthropological Archives (NAA).

Michiko Takaki surrounded by Kalinga associates and assistants, 1965, Box 116, Michiko Takaki papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Born in Japan in 1930, Michiko Takaki (also known as “Michi”) had traveled to the U.S. in the early 1950s with a precursor to the Fulbright program (then called GARIOA, or Government Appropriation for Relief in Occupied Areas) to earn her bachelor’s degree in literature. She returned to America for her master’s in journalism, from Southern Illinois University. Anthropological study followed soon after. She began her PhD studies at Columbia University, then transferred to Yale. She received funding from the Wenner-Gren Foundation to pursue her doctoral fieldwork, which began when she was in her early thirties.

In a series of oral history interviews recorded between 2006 and 2010, Takaki reflected on her experience completing fieldwork in the Philippines as a woman and an outsider among the Kalinga, a people known for ritual violence associated with headhunting. [3] “I chose to go to Kalinga, but with tremendous apprehension,” she is recorded as saying. “Now for a man, an American man, to go into that part of the Philippines would be fine because Americans had prestige. Nothing would happen to a white American male, but a Japanese woman would be a very different story…Professor Conklin, my mentor, assured me that it isn’t too bad, but he is a white American. In the city, it’s a different story, but anything can happen up in the mountains. No one can come quickly to rescue you as it’s not just a single mountain range. I was frightened on my way, but my curiosity was stronger than my fear.” [4]

Michiko Takaki in the Philippines, 1965, Box 116, Michiko Takaki papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

The danger Takaki felt was palpable. “Anyone who is not one of the Kalinga is an outsider,” she said. “Eventually, you’ll be beheaded and people will know that you were killed. I don’t think it’s possible to survive in Kalinga unless you are protected by someone there.” Conklin had connected Takaki with a Kalinga man named Tan Jin, who served as her entry point to the Kalinga. “Once you are allowed to enter somebody’s house and drink their water, the master of the house is obliged to help you in the event that you are attacked…I was very fortunate, early on, that Tan Jin took me in as a guest and it was known that I had eaten his food and had drunk his water.” [5]

In the end, Takaki felt, perhaps ironically, that her gender aided her immersion into Kalinga society. “I don’t think they really knew what to do with me. I didn’t fall into [any] category they had known. I appeared to be a harmless female and it was to my advantage because, from the very start, they had sensed that I was not there with hostile intention.” For the next four years, Takaki would study the Kalinga, predominantly in the villages of Uma and Butbut. With notebooks, pencils, tape recorder, and two cameras (one for color film and one for the less expensive black and white), she compiled meticulous notes on Kalinga culture, language, and the subsistence activities of rice cultivation and livestock ownership. “At the beginning, I couldn’t even think of the means by which to communicate. I was always afraid because I didn’t really know what I could or could not do.” But by the time she left, “In Uma…they came to know me and I came to know them.” [6]

Michiko Takaki in her field office, 1968, Box 116, Michiko Takaki papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.

Takaki flew out of Manila and back to Tokyo – and from there to New Haven and Yale – in 1968. The trove of ethnographic material she had gathered during her four years in the Philippines made a similar cross-continental trip. Over the next nine years, she would work with this material to complete her 3-volume doctoral dissertation, “Aspects of Exchange in a Kalinga Society, Northern Luzon” (1977). She continued to refer to the same field notes and field-gathered data for the remainder of her anthropological career, as a faculty member in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Now preserved at the NAA, these materials serve as rich mid-twentieth century documentation on the Kalinga that should interest anthropologists and other scholars working on the northern Luzon, as well as Kalinga community members interested in their language and cultural heritage. This collection also shines a light on the life and work of Michiko Takaki, who overcame the challenges of her status as an “outsider” to complete an immersive and extended field experience, the documentary results of which have continuing value.

The NAA thanks the colleagues of Michiko Takaki at UMass/Boston who helped to facilitate the transfer of her papers to the NAA. The Michiko Takaki papers, 1921-2011 (bulk 1960s) were processed with funding from the Wenner-Gren Foundation. The collection is open for research at the NAA. A finding aid for the collection is available on the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives (SOVA).

Kate Madison, Processing Archivist
National Anthropological Archives


[1] “Kalinga story,” Box 109, Michiko Takaki papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
[2] “Tenure dossier,” Box 109, Michiko Takaki papers, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
[3] Headhunting, the practice taking and preserving the head of an adversary, has been widely studied by anthropologists in an effort to understand the relationship between ritual violence and attaining manhood and/or sustaining cosmological balance among peoples like the Kalinga.
[4] “Kalinga story.”
[5] “Kalinga story.”
[6] “Kalinga story.”

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