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Teduray Society: Partnership and Mutual Help as a Way of Life

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Stuart A. Schlegel documents and reflects on the Forest Teduray of Figel, Southern Cotabato in the book Wisdom from a Rainforest: The Spiritual Journey of an Anthropologist, which he had embarked on writing nearly a quarter of a century after they had been massacred by a band of Maguindanaoan guerrillas. He described them to have been a well-developed egalitarian society that highly valued its people and its environment and its ideals, which are concretely expressed in their practices. Schlegel’s account of the Teduray men and women shows how respect, compassion, and gentleness informed their legal system, spirituality, maintenance of the forest, and their equal regard for each other, whatever their sexual orientation.

 His exploration of Teduray concepts, values, beliefs, rituals and ways of life bespoke of a people who saw violence as a natural result of anger, which was why they put extreme importance on settling disputes amicably and ensuring the physical and emotional well-being of their constituents. Teduray ideals of respect, cooperation, mutual help and concern formed the foundation of their preservation of peace and prevention of violence through a council of elders which acknowledged each voice to be valid and sought to resolve urgently matters that were potential sources of strife.

Teduray Nonviolence: Upheld by Belief and Value Systems

The forest Teduray held the gall bladder in much the same way as we do the heart – as “the center of human life, emotion, will, and consciousness”[1] which “housed one’s state of mind and rational feelings, one’s desires, one’s intentions, one’s delight or misery.”[2] The principle that was of critical importance then was “Don’t give anyone a bad gall bladder”[3], which resulted in two sides: that one should do everything one can to help each other, and that one must never do anything to hurt another physically or emotionally. They held these in the highest regard as the basis of a good life and a good society. It was absolutely essential for them to live “in harmony with all things”[4], which they termed as “just-right”. Any behavior or acts that caused misfortunes to others was not right. This covered competition, greed, and self-promotion.

Respect is also held in the highest regard, and the respect for the feelings of others was part of their characteristic behavior. In their view respect was the reason customs existed, and these customs all aimed to show respect. Even as the forest provided for nearly all their needs, the Teduray still had to make trips to the market from time to time and this was where they experienced the snobbery and arrogance of the other societies, who perceived them to be primitive and uncivilized. These experiences always reminded them of what they wanted to always express and maintain in their society – the respect, validity and value of every member of their community.

The Teduray also practiced what Schlegel had termed to be an “ethic of care, not of rights”[5]. Competitive societies necessitate an assertion of rights for both survival and social justice. Since Teduray society viewed competition as “not a way to live”, they lived their ethics of care by “looking after each other and working cooperatively.”[6]

These beliefs and values were the framework of Teduray behavior and for what they felt was the essence of being human beings. Acts of aggression and strife are in clear violation of these beliefs and values, and the Teduray had been able to successfully uphold these and maintain peaceful and nonviolent society because these beliefs and values are enshrined in their teachings, storytelling tradition, cosmology, legal system, and their ways of living everyday life.

Teduray Social Activities

Teduray activities and rituals concretized their values and principles. They actively engaged in storytelling and discussion as a means for educating the young, the adults, and the elderly. The passing on of knowledge did not occur in a hierarchical form, where one is superior for “teaching” while the others merely learn; instead the exchange of differing story versions and perspectives of knowledge made for a discussion atmosphere where everyone taught and learned. An example of this was when Schlegel sought to learn about Teduray cosmology from one of the elders. Over the few weeks that Schlegel had nightly sessions with him, more and more of the other Tedurays attended and participated in the discussion, contributing and learning from the exchanges.

 The ritual of rice planting was considered one of the most important and festive events in their annual cycle of forest gardening. It was a community event where all the Teduray celebrated, participated and contributed their efforts. They made offerings to the spirits, chose a portion of the forest for gardening, cleared the swidden and planted rice, and then ate together. The division of labor operated in the context of cooperation, where everyone was present, engaging in banter. They believed that by neighborhood cooperation accomplished much more: an achievement of community with the gift of life was a supremely important concept Teduray society held.[7] Harvesting was also characterized by sharing, where families were given equal portions of rice while much informal sharing also took place for they would simply not let any family go hungry when they run out of food.

A third activity that Schlegel described to “serve as a splendid metaphor for Teduray life”[8] is the cooperative, and not competitive, game of sifa, where players would kick a rattan ball up in the air with the goal of keeping it from hitting the ground for as long as possible. This was achieved by cooperating and by kicking it into the air so that it would come down in the perfect position for another to kick.  As with all aspects of life they cooperated, helped each other, and in so doing lived together harmoniously “because the way to win was for everyone to win, and the object of the game was to help all the other players do well.”[9]

Teduray Principles of Social Organization

A most fundamental belief of the Teduray is their equal regard for all individuals. Schlegel described them to be “radically egalitarian” in their absence of hierarchies within their own community or the sphere of spirits. His account illustrates the value the Teduray put in: being an individual whose contributions are vital; belonging to a family (“being in a pot”); and being part of the community in mutual help and in stewardship of the forest.  As individuals, the Teduray contribute to their society materially through cooperation in hunting, gathering, and particularly in rice planting. In the course of their lives, they also develop areas of expertise and become “specialists” and offer their special skills for the well-being of all.

The family, or being part of a pot, was considered a “fundamental social block”.[10] Everybody had to be part of a pot in marital partnership because each adult needed a partner in order to survive economically. Cooperation was key and both women and men had to contribute. The second reason is that being part of a pot was considered important because it produced and raised children.[11] The “cooking pot” or nuclear family units being essential in Teduray life, their society exerted much effort at creating, maintaining, and repairing or remaking them by way of the cooperation of kin and the Teduray legal system, which played crucial role in keeping the peace and preventing violence.

The third important sense of belonging for the Teduray was that of community in mutual help and as stewards to the forest. The Teduray way to live was to respect and cooperate with each other. They also believed that the Great Spirit created human beings to take care of the forest (and in essence, all nature). For the Teduray, the world did not belong to anyone, but was for everybody to use and enjoy.[12] This is why the concepts of proprietary rights and privileges are alien to them. Their concept of the world was in terms of their relationship with it as caretakers and not as owners. This is why their forest practices are geared towards the maintenance of the forest – so that all can live in abundance and so that the people of the future can inherit this source of abundance.

“Justice without Domination”

All the valued principles and ideals discussed previously informed the Teduray legal system. Legal specialists were both women and men, who formed a group that had gathered to discuss and settle disputes in preservation of peace and prevention of violence. The legal specialists did not compete to win for a particular side; rather, they worked together to arrive at the matter of who was at fault, who had “the right,” and what would be the just solution.[13] They were also careful in addressing problems of tardiness, absences and the like of the people concerned in the cases (such as kin) by speaking euphemistically and by using skills in rhetoric – all with the goals of showing respect, giving consideration to their feelings, avoiding the possibility of offending others, and ultimately solving the problem amicably. They viewed violence as a natural response to anger, and in order to prevent this, they would advise the offended party not to take matters into their own hands, but to respect the council and let them solve the problem for them and for society.

What is interesting to note is that the legal specialists did not have any “military” arm at their disposal. The absence of any coercive force in enforcing the decision of the council posed no problem with Teduray society: agreements were upheld and respected. The nature of the judicial discussion also rendered it a healing system, therapeutic to the offended party’s gall bladders.

Male-Female Dynamic in Teduray Society

Egalitarian Non-hierarchical Society. Consistent with their non-hierarchical society and their concept of a Great Spirit which was neither male nor female, men and women were also not regarded as superior or inferior to the other in any way. Men and women had their division of labor, but the different sets of skills derived from their work nor the differences in their contributions in produce and as specialists were not taken to be biological markers, nor was there a battle of the sexes.[14] Greater physical strength for the male or childbearing for the female did not suggest the supremacy of one over the other. It did not provide the basis for discrimination. The ideals upheld by their society did not stop short of gender or the “cooking pot” for marital partnerships. Their egalitarianism pervaded every aspect of their life, including their regard for males and females as different but interdependent genders.

 Absence of Gender-Specifics. Traits also were not gender-specific in Teduray society. Both men and women could be nurturing, compassionate, gentle, brave, assertive, and sexual. They did not have to contend with Judeo-Christian tradition in their view of sexual matters, and Schlegel described them to be “tremendously earthy and lusty”.[15] There was no indication of profound value placed on virginity or fertility; there was, however, the view that “sexual pleasure was a gift to be given and received with joy.”[16]

Work and Self-Determination. Teduray society ritualized cooperative work where all contributions were acknowledged to be important and valid. Both genders had the options to participate in male activities of hunting and fishing and female activities of gathering, and their efforts came together in rice-planting rituals where everybody came and went to the field together in a celebratory manner. Women could become any type of specialist depending on her ability, and she would not be limited in her choices because of gender-stereotyping. Thus women could be legal specialists or shamans. Most importantly, they could exercise choice in all aspects of their lives including sexual matters. Teduray women were free to learn, develop, participate, and move about in society without bias, judgment or peril to their lives by virtue of their biological sex.


[1]Stuart A. Schlegel, Wisdom From A Rainforest: The Spiritual Journey of an Anthropologist. (Quezon City: Ateneo De Manila University Press, 1999), p.56.

[2]Schlegel, p.56.

[3]Schlegel, p.57.

[4]Schlegel, p.58.

[5]Schlegel, p.105.

[6]Schlegel, p.105.

[7]Schlegel, p.106.

[8]Schlegel, p.97.

[9]Schlegel, p.97-98.

[10]Schlegel, p.114.

[11]Schlegel, p.115.

[12]Schlegel, p.83.

[13]Schlegel, p.155.

[14]Schlegel, p.112.

[15]Schlegel, p.126.

[16]Schlegel, p.126.

“VIOLENCE AND SANCTION in the Male-Female Dynamic of the Ilongot, Tausug, and Teduray Societies: A Research Paper” written by Cindy Cruz-Cabrera | March 2008

Next: Conclusion

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Author: cindycatz: occasional pianist and coffee shop philosopher

fond of the sun, sky, sea, sand and starfish; passionate about literacy, education, media, feminisms, development, popular culture, counterculture, migration phenomenon, anthropology and the fourth world; fascinated with crochet, sushi-making, fiction, creative non-fiction, storytelling, some films and series | books and comics | anime and manga | music and videos | bands and groupies, Latin and Italian, mom-and-pop consumerism, tavern bards and cafe philosophers, trinkets and bric-a-bracs, and steampunk and lolita couture; and absolutely enamored with nail polish and bag charms, frappucinos and margaritas, conversations and moments, her 41 year-old piano, and - of course - CATS. credentials? visit about.me/cindycruzcabrera & ph.linkedin.com/in/cindycruzcabrera/

One thought on “Teduray Society: Partnership and Mutual Help as a Way of Life

  1. Pingback: Tausug Society: Male Dominion Over Society and Everyday Life | Papers, Pursuits and Purrsuasions

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