Category Archives: Qualitative Research

Posts on ethnographic, naturalistic, anthropological, field, or participant observer research where detailed data is gathered through open ended questions that provide direct quotations.

Things You Don’t Know About the Black Wasp

Reading this article will help you understand why we should treat the black wasp with respect and appreciation. Black wasps play an important ecological role.

Chances are, when a black wasp enters your home and buzzes its way around, you will try to swat it with anything you can lay your hands on. They are known for their painful sting. In fact, a worker at home once unwittingly disturbed a black wasp’s nest attached to a mango leaf. She sustained three to five stings on her face and had to be hospitalized.

However, after reading this personal discovery about the black wasp’s nest, your behavior towards it will change. Black wasps have important ecological role.

The Mud Nest and Its Contents

Yesterday, when I glanced at the sill of the small screened bathroom window, I noticed a solitary black wasp circling around its nest of mud. I watched it while it makes its way inside the small opening on top of the nest. A few moments later, it flew away.

inside black wasp nest
Fig. 1. The mud nest of black wasp and its contents.

Anticipating that the mud nest will grow in time, I decided to remove it but not after finding out what’s inside that small mound. I carefully removed the nest, starting from the bottom and placed it on a folder to take a picture of its contents.

I was surprised to see that the small mound was full of living creatures. See Figure 1 at right.

There are at least three species of living organisms in the picture. From the left, are two black wasp larvae (the smaller one is yellow-green and the bigger one, light chocolate-brown), a pale red colored caterpillar of an unknown species, and three orange-spotted caterpillars of another species. There’s another one not included in this picture because its life juice was sucked out by the black wasp’s larva; but that one is visible in the video below.

Relationship Between Organisms in the Mud Nest

How do these organism’s interact inside that cramped space of mud? Initially, I thought all of them were developing larvae of the black wasp. But then a question came up in my mind, “how can the larva survive without food in that closed chamber of mud?” Then it dawned to me that the longer ones are actually caterpillars that serve as food for the two plump black wasp larvae.

Also, several months ago, I swatted a wasp and off fell a caterpillar from it. That gave me the idea that the black wasp brought these caterpillars into the mud chamber after laying its egg which then hatches into a larvae. The larva attaches itself to the paralyzed caterpillar and then sucks it dry. That’s a simple hypothesis, and I verified this by bringing the bigger larva close to the caterpillars and see if indeed it will attempt to feed on the caterpillar. The video below shows how it behaved.

[youtube=https://whttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNyKBF84FHQ&rel=0]

The video verified my observation that the wasp larva feeds on the caterpillar until it has enough food ingested for the pupa stage. The proportion seems to be that for each larva in a chamber, two caterpillars were allocated by the mother wasp.

The Black Wasp’s Egg

I peered inside the hole of the unbroken chamber. It is difficult to take a picture through the small hole, so I cut it in half to show a cross-section. Inside is a small egg attached by an almost invisible thread onto the roof of the chamber, hanging there and moving to and fro as I positioned it for a close up picture (see Figure 2). In other descriptions of wasp species, the eggs are laid after food is made available. This species lays the egg first, then finds food in time for the newly hatched larva.

black wasp egg
Fig. 2. The black wasp egg inside a chamber made of mud.

Notice that there is only one egg inside the 1.5 mm thick chamber and there are no other holes anywhere inside it. The top part has a 5 mm opening, enough to squeeze in a caterpillar of specific size, and of course, the black wasp. This means that the wasp chooses a prey with a circumferential size small enough to fit through the hole. This indicates species specificity, meaning, the black wasp is choosy of its prey.

Once the food is deposited, the wasp covers the hole and builds another one to repeat the process until the nest becomes large enough to form a colony. The developing larva inside is safe from ant attack.

Implications of the Findings

This personal encounter draws out many questions that researchers in the biology of the black wasp can explore further:

  1. Which butterfly species do the caterpillar that serve as prey of the black wasp belong? Are they considered pests to farms (since caterpillars are voracious leaf eaters)?
  2. How long will it take for the black wasp’s egg to hatch?
  3. How does the pupa of the black wasp look like?
  4. How long does each stage of the life cycle take?
  5. Why is the black wasp’s egg suspended in the chamber instead of on the floor?
  6. What specific material is the mud nest made up of and how are the materials glued together?

Many more questions can be asked from the observation. These questions arose as gaps in knowledge because the information provided is a one-shot deal. It is akin to a case study. These are exploratory questions based on a single case.

From these questions, the following hypotheses may be tested:

  • The black wasp’s feeding habit can help regulate pest population in farms.
  • The black wasp suspends its egg to give it just the right temperature to allow hatching inside the chamber.
  • The black wasp uses wet mud to build the nest.
  • The life cycle of the black wasp coincides with the life cycle of the prey.

A review of literature will now be more meaningful as you learn things and compare what you have found. In so doing, you can design and carry out a more systematic and rigorous research.

It’s fun discovering and learning things through actual encounter. Using a little wit to deduce relationships between things can help you appreciate how intricate and wonderful life is in this world.

Are all these arrangements a matter of accident or evolution? There must be an Intelligent Being who is responsible for all these wonders.

© 2013 September 17 P. A. Regoniel

Indigenous People’s Adaptation to Climate Change

Climate change spared not indigenous people’s lives as these stories reveal. Read on to find out how they tried to adapt to the brunt of climate change.

Shift in Weather Condition Affects Upland Agriculture

The indigenous people of Palawan Island like the Palaw’ans observed that there was a sudden shift in weather condition that influenced their planting season in the rain dependent uplands. Normally, they would start planting their slash-and-burn farms when the ground is moist enough to support growing seeds.

The Palaw’ans and other indigenous ethnic groups like the Tagbanua test the soil’s moisture by plunging the sharpened, hollow-end of a bamboo (Schizostachyum lumampao) pole into the ground. When the ground is dry, the soil will fall off from the hollow opening but when it is moist, the soil would stick inside the hollow end. Sudden, earlier than usual downpour would show the latter soil condition and the tribe would start planting their crops. But then they saw their efforts gone to waste when several months later, heavy rains pound the almost ripe grains of rice. They could not predict the whims of the weather.

The sudden changes in weather also led to the pest outbreaks like rat infestations in farmlands. Aside from this, changes in weather can trigger the spread of plant diseases, severely parched crops thus less crop production, and displacement of farmers from their land.

How do the indigenous people adapt to these changes? The two adaptation strategies discussed below was described by Reden, a colleague who was once working with indigenous people in the remote hinterlands of southern Palawan as part of the university’s extension activities.

Adaptation 1. The Old Man and His Handicraft

The old man, an elder of Palaw’an tribe, lives alone in his hut in an isolated part of Culasian in the southern part of Palawan in western Philippines. He subsists on what little yield he can get from a small parcel of land planted with cassava and kaingin (slash-and-burn farm) rice. While awaiting the fruits of his labor, he weaves handicrafts for a living.

This way of life went on for many years until, out of nowhere, a multitude of rats attacked his crops including those of his fellow Palaw’ans. This is the first time that this phenomenon occurred. Everyone suffered because they are living at subsistence level. Subsistence level means they only plant what they need and had nothing in store to feed themselves until next harvest.

One morning, a young tribesman happened to pass by the old man’s house. The young man uttered the usual greetings, but the old man did not respond. Probably he’s asleep, the tribesman thought. He went on his usual way to the mountains to gather whatever edible fruits he can find.

Late in the afternoon when the young man passed the same path again, he saw the old man in the same position he was in the morning. He sensed something was wrong. Curious, the young man came close to the old man sitting on the chair. And he discovered the old man was dead, still holding his handmade craft.

A few days ago, a neighbor said the old man complained of a lack of food just like everyone else who had nothing to harvest that season. To keep his hunger away, he resorted to working on his handicrafts to sell in the nearby village. But his effort proved futile because he died while trying to ebb the tide of hunger. He is no longer fit and strong as the younger members of his tribe to survive days without food.

Adaptation 2. Gleaning the Gleaned Farm

The old man’s adaptation strategy did not work but some of his fellow Palaw’ans survived through other means. One of these strategies is farm gleaning.

I discovered this adaptation strategy accidentally while walking a dirt road on the way back to the city located more than 200 km away. Looking for subjects to photograph in the rural setting, I noticed a family huddled close together next to a pile of rice straw. I took a shot to document the scene (see picture below).

gleaning

Initially, I thought the family owns the farm and were winnowing grains from their harvest. But when I asked Reden about it, he said those are indigenous people scavenging what was left of the lowlander’s harvest.

This is a pitiful sight because this scavenging activity reflects how poor these people are. Gleaning from what has already been gleaned is difficult.*

Discussion

The problem of global climate change lingers and affects all marginalized people especially those who rely on what nature provides.  Those engaged in subsistence farming or hand-to-mouth existence such as the Palaw’ans described in this article are most vulnerable. The severe effects on the food source of the Palaw’ans show how a shift in weather condition can have significant impacts to resource-dependent communities.

A subsistence way of life can have positive benefits to the environment because subsistence living means the least possible extraction of natural resources. This enables the forests and coastal regions to regenerate from minor disturbances inflicted by resource users.

The subsistence way of life, however, seems to be an inefficient response to the effects of climate change. There is a need for the indigenous people to modify their way of life to successfully cope up with the growing threats of global climate change. They need to produce more than what they actually need. This means a greater are of land for planting or more resource extraction activities.

Meanwhile, the scavenging activities show that the Palaw’ans are a resilient people able to survive the challenges of the times. For a minority group with low population, this adaptation would be sufficient to soften the impact of climate change.

These stories show that climate change can change the way of life of resource dependent people. It threatens the very survival of people who for generations lived compatibly with nature.

————

*I missed the rare opportunity to ask a few questions about what the Palaw’ans are doing while on the field. Their self-narrated story would have made this account more interesting. But this is a good lead for research on how indigenous people adapt to the effects of climate change.

I resolved to probe more during my next visit to the place as part of my job as the university extension director at that time but then my work assignment changed and I forgot all about it. This is a lesson that should always be borne in mind by a researcher and an old one at that: “Strike when the iron is hot.” The same opportunity may not come again so exert extra effort each time something interesting like this comes up.

© 2013 September 9 P. A. Regoniel

How is Human Psychology Related to Environmental Sustainability?

Is there a relationship between human thought processes and environmental sustainability? This article illustrates how people’s beliefs can help preserve the environment.

Taking off from the definition of psychology, there is a connection between psychology and environmental sustainability. The Free Dictionary defines psychology as the study of the thought processes and behavior of humans in their interaction with the environment. The way humans think or regard the environment, influences his behavior towards it and vice-versa.

How can human thought processes lead to environmental sustainability? Let me explain the connection by narrating a short story. This is about a supernatural occurrence that shaped a community’s behavior towards an island. This prevailing belief among the fisher folks helped preserve a coral reef for many years.

The Enchanted Island of Marangas

Several years ago, a fisherman docked on the rugged terrain of Marangas Island to take a brief rest from a busy morning doing his usual fishing routine. After pitching the small anchor into the shallow waters, he waded towards the shore while pulling his small boat along with him. He tied one end of the rope at the bow to a sturdy rock offshore to keep the boat from swaying wildly in the wavy, afternoon waters.

He looked for a place to rest in the narrow island. Despite the island’s rocky nature, he found a sandy spot under a tree. He took his late lunch and prepared to take a nap.

The fisherman was on the verge of sleep when, out of the corner of his eye, he figured something moving among the rocks. Something long and alive wriggles towards his direction. This was followed by another one, then another. Then he realized, it was a den of snakes! And the snakes are making their way towards him. All his life, he never saw such a multitude of snakes. island

The poor fisherman frantically snatched his belongings and ran towards the boat. He rowed with all his might without looking back. He was so frightened that he forgot to lift up his anchor until it dragged and get snagged in a massive growth of coral reef. After cutting the rope quickly, he rowed so hard that his boat seemed like a speedboat racing towards the mainland.

The story spread like wildfire in the small fishing village taking twists and turns that made the story even more dramatic. A farmer further fanned the flames of intrigue and awe when he recounted that once, he left a herd of goats in the island and lost them all without a trace.

The people thought the island is occupied by evil spirits. From that time on, the fishers avoid the island and regard it with fear in the belief that the island is enchanted.

A Healthy Coral Reef Environment

What has this enchanted island story have to do with environmental sustainability? Here’s the explanation.

Since fishers dare not approach the island to do their usual fishing activities, the coral reef surrounding that island remained untouched for many years. As result, a healthy coral reef environment thrived. The area was preserved from the rampant illegal fishing activities that plagued many islands dotting the bay.

I witnessed such amazing underwater environment when I prodded a reluctant fisher guide to bring my team of SCUBA divers to the island so we can have a glimpse of the corals underneath. At right is a picture of one section of the reef showing a large tabulate coral with sergeant majors swimming above fragile branching corals. The whole reef was virtually intact despite its closeness to the mainland. coralreef

The Environmental Perspective

The environment is defined as the tangible and intangible things around us. Tangible things are those that we normally perceive with our five senses. Intangible things include people’s norms, values, and beliefs that exist and influence people’s behavior.

Based on this definition, the belief that supernatural beings exist in the enchanted island dictated how the fisher folks regard the island. They avoided the island thinking that they might displease the evil spirits. This kept the island’s surrounding coral reef intact. Hence, environmental sustainability is assured as the healthy coral reefs provide a viable, productive habitat for marine life dependent on it for sustenance.

This story is similar to the Balete tree story. Respecting people’s beliefs by keeping it that way despite its ridiculous, irrational or illogical nature can have some positive benefits. Superstitious beliefs help preserve the environment.

© 2013 August 30 P. A. Regoniel

Examples for Research Design Development

How do you come up with your research design? Here are two examples of blood pressure exploratory studies as leads toward research design development.

Blood Pressure Exploratory Study

I find the practical aspects of applying research enjoyable and designed experiments to uncover some relationships or to resolve my problem.

Several years ago, I convinced my doctor to cut my blood pressure drug maintenance. I simply presented to him a graph I prepared using a spreadsheet application and an Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) to compare my blood pressure readings with the full dosage of the drug, half of it, and a fourth of it. I also compared the two groups at a time using t-test and I got the same results. The graph and the statistical analysis showed my blood pressure readings did not show a significant difference as I gradually reduced the dosage of the prescribed drug.

The Diet Experiment

The primary purpose of the above experiment is to see whether diet can produce the same results as a drug in lowering blood pressure. One of the active components of the drug in question was potassium. I thought it is better to take natural food to get the mineral. I computed the amount of potassium that corresponds to the dosage by eating a number of potatoes that will supply such amount and gradually reduced the drug dosage while monitoring my blood pressure daily.

From my musings on the nutritional value of potato, it would take about two to three medium-sized potatoes to get the same amount of potassium. So, I took at least three potatoes a day to correspond to the amount of potassium required as I reduced on the drug dosage.

When I came around 1/4 of the prescribed dose, I asked the doctor if I can forego the drug because I suspect it is one of the reasons why I was feeling weak. And I confirmed it by finding information on the side effects of the drug. The doctor was amazed because I reduced the drug to such a small amount that, according to him does not anymore provide substantial benefit in lowering blood pressure. My blood pressure has stabilized. He said I can forgo the drug and return to him when my blood pressure rises again.

Despite this apparent success in my desire to live without the drug in my system, I do not recommend this approach to anybody because it might work differently to different people. I take certain precautions when I do conduct studies on myself.

Blood Pressure and Exercise Experiment

exerciseRecently, I’m at it again. This time, I just would like to verify if indeed exercise provides the benefit of lowering blood pressure. My readings say so and I would like to personally find out what the numbers will show. I monitored by blood pressure before exercise, right after exercise and 15 minutes or more after my exercise so that my blood pressure will stabilize at rest.

I just started this last week and saw a trend just from three readings. I show the results of the blood pressure monitoring in the table below.

blood pressure data

The results are interesting because obviously, my blood pressure went down right after exercise and dropped more 15 minutes after. Upon waking up, my blood pressure readings show that my systolic reading  indicating the maximum arterial pressure is higher than the normal 120mm Hg but the systolic reading is normal. After exercise, the systolic pressure reduced greatly just by visual inspection even while the heartbeat is high. After 15 minutes, the systolic and diastolic readings even went down further while my heartbeat approximates its normal value.

So are the results conclusive enough that exercise lowers blood pressure? There is no doubt exercise lowers blood pressure[1] but I have not seen details on how much blood pressure is reduced by exercise. This data informs me right away the benefits of exercise and serve as an encouragement to engage and maintain my exercise routine.

Today, when I went for my usual six kilometer run in 41 minutes and 38 seconds (the fastest so far in that distance), my blood pressure after exercise approximates the previous values. It is 104/65 with a heartbeat of 95. Again, after my heartbeat stabilized 15 minutes later at 64, while my corresponding blood pressure is 101/59.

Data Collection Procedure for the Exercise Experiment

How did I come up with such values? What is the data collection procedure? I collected this data systematically, making consistent readings as much as I can. Roughly, the data collection procedure goes this way and can be replicated by anybody.

Record BP and heartbeat –> stretching exercise for five minutes –> slow walk of 8 minutes –> run proper –> cooling down with a slow walk for about 15 minutes –> five-minute stretching –> record BP and heartbeat –> rest for 15 minutes –> record BP and heartbeat

I used an Omron Automatic Wrist Blood Pressure Monitor in making blood pressure readings. It read a little higher than the standard sphygmomanometer but it reads consistently. So it will be easy to calibrate it for more standardized results.

From this exploratory study which confirms the benefits of exercise in a quantitative way, a research design may be developed for more rigorous analysis. You should notice, however, that sleep may also have an influence on blood pressure readings so I marked the third reading with an asterisk. The quality of my sleep in the first two readings is not that good as I only had six or less hours of sleep while on the third reading, I got quality sleep of seven hours or more. This apparently resulted to lower blood pressure readings upon waking up.

This means that if I pursue this experiment, I should make my measurements consistent and consider the hours of sleep and factor it in for analysis. I should also make sure that monitoring time should be the same all throughout the duration of the study.

Now, the question is: “Are there studies conducted like this before?” I actually don’t know as in truth I am not a medical researcher. At best, my experience is only a case study; a description of my case. But a review of literature will tell me if a similar experiment was done by anyone on a greater number of people. These experiments are guided by different theories on the effects of exercise to health developed through time. In my case, I just did it out of mere curiosity to verify my readings which are also backed by theories.

From these initial data, an experimental research design may be developed to ensure that the evidence obtained answers the questions initially posed for the study. Two questions were posed in these two examples: 1) Can a well-planned diet produce the same results as a drug in lowering blood pressure?, and 2) Does exercise lower blood pressure?

From simple case studies like these, experiments may be designed to test if the findings are consistent for a greater number of people. This will also provide insights on which variables should be included for analysis.

Reference

1. Mayo Clinic (n.d.). Exercise: A drug-free approach to lowering high blood pressure. Retrieved August 27, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/high-blood-pressure/HI00024

© 2013 August 26 P. A. Regoniel

Successful Family-Based Mangrove Afforestation Project

Effective collaboration between communities, the government and non-government organizations can help restore the environment. Here is the story of a successful family-based afforestation project.

There are many stories of successful community-based reforestation projects but few describe successful afforestation projects. Intrigued by a colleague’s story of an afforestation program that thrived for many years in Aborlan, a municipality located 69 kilometers south of Puerto Princesa, I embarked on a trip together with colleagues to see how the community did it.

But before you read the story of a successful afforestation project I narrate below, I see it necessary to define the terms reforestation and afforestation. What is the difference between these two terms? Unless you understand the difference, you cannot fully appreciate the significance and uniqueness of this story.

What is the difference between reforestation and afforestation?

For those unfamiliar with terms that relate to environmental or natural resource matters, the term reforestation is more easily understood as opposed to afforestation. These two terms are operationally defined, that is, defined in relation to this story on afforestation.

Reforestation is planting trees once again to deforested sites or former forests that have been logged over, overharvested of lumber or burned due to a forest fire. Afforestation is converting once unproductive or bare lands into forested areas able to support biodiversity, increase carbon sequestration and capture, provide for the natural resource needs of man, among others.

The Case of Family-Based Mangrove Afforestation

Here is a condensed version of the successful afforestation project published in a local journal[1].

The coastal community  of Tagpait, Aborlan undertook a mangrove afforestation project and sustained it for many years. Their accomplishment is quite unique because they used a family-based approach in achieving the objectives of the project.

The community-based mangrove afforestation project commenced through Japan-based Organization for Industrial Spiritual and Cultural Advancement International (OISCA) International. With the help of dedicated Filipino community organizers who trained in Japan through OISCA, the community members led by their chairman, started planting mangroves in a section of the coast virtually without mangroves. The place was used mainly by the local folks for gleaning and fishing activities.

OISCA provided the funds for logistics such as hauling of seedlings and boat hires. On the other hand, the community members contributed to the project by voluntarily gathering the mangrove propagules necessary for their 25 x 400 meter (1 hectare) lots. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) awarded Contracts of stewardship agreement to families in 1991.

The stewardship agreement provided that the grantee may receive technical assistance and extension services in the management of the stewardship area. These services, to be provided by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Agriculture (DA) and other government or private entities, include the procurement of planting materials, harvesting and marketing.

Seventy-eight families started to reforest the muddy portion of the coast on a one hectare per family basis. They nurtured the mangroves to maturity. Simultaneously, they established a sanctuary for fish and other marine species. The community members managed the mangrove plantation, making sure that the area is free of disturbance.

The Outcome and Benefits of the Mangrove Afforestation Initiative

After twenty years of family-based mangrove management, the families reaped the benefits of their labor. Lush growth of mangroves, bisected by an allocated section of open space for fishers to gain access to the sea, characterizes the area. Species of Sonneratia spp., Rhizophora mucronata, Rhizophora apiculata, Lumnitzera racemosa, Xylocarpus granatum, among others species of mangroves grew at sizes of 5 to 10 cm in diameter (Figure 1).

afforestation
Fig. 1. Lush growth of mangroves bisected by a pathway for fishers in Tagpait, Aborlan.

Now, community members harvest timber from sturdy mangrove species of Xylocarpus sp. and poles of Rhizophora spp. Every time they harvest wood or timber, they immediately replace this by planting a corresponding number of mangrove propagules.

Aside from being able to satisfy the community members’ lumber needs, they have now a sustainable source of nutritious food from wildlife supported by the mangrove forest. Occasionally, people come around and trap or gather crabs, shrimps, fish, edible shells, tamilok (a shipworm of the genus Teredo which is considered a delicacy by the local folks), among others.

Beside the open area for boats and along the mangroves, the families constructed a pathway made of bamboo, sturdy mangroves and planks of wood. It is here where hook-and-line fishers and gleaners pass through. This also serves as a pathway for visitors, who come to visit the man-made forest and enjoy the food served by the community members. They charged corresponding fees for the use of cottages and services.

Future Outlook

The use of mangroves by the Tagpait fisherfolk adheres to the principle of the sustainable utilization. However, encroaching individuals from other communities sneak and cut some trees for their own use, threatening forest integrity. There is a felt need among the fisherfolk to address this problem.

Despite this threat, the mangrove afforestation in Tagpait, Aborlan demonstrates that long-term benefits can be derived from long-term initiatives to enhance the coastal ecosystem. Taking the family-based approach in creating an ecosystem that mimics a natural ecosystem is an effective tool in engaging communities towards the goal of natural resource conservation. The family has “property rights” over the resource thus prevent its abuse. The economic benefits that arise from a protected ecosystem further strengthen the need for people to use the natural resources in a sustainable manner.

Replication of the community’s experience in Tagpait, Aborlan in other places will undoubtedly revive portions of the coastal zone where marine biodiversity thrives. The mangrove trees provide shelter not only to dugongs, sea turtles, monitor lizards, molluscs, among others but also to local and migrating bird species. Mangroves are a powerful form of erosion control, buffer against storms or even tsunami, clean the air through carbon sequestration, filter sediment-laden runoff.

Source:

1. Regoniel, P. A., and E. B. Pacañot (2012). Family-based mangrove afforestation in Tagpait, Aborlan, Palawan:
Sustaining the drive towards sustainable development. Palawan State University Journal. 5, 8-13.

Competing for Water in Nangalao Island

One of the critical environmental issues that hound small islands is water scarcity. However, not only is the water scarce in such locations but also difficult to access, owing not only to environmental factors but also the attitude of people living on those islands. The experience of a community of fishers living in Nangalao Island is a case in point. 

Impact Assessment

On April 30, 2013, I was one of a composite team of field workers who visited the island of Nangalao, about an hour boat ride from San Miguel poblacion in the municipality of Linapacan in Palawan Province. When the 20-passenger outrigger boat hit the shallows, we have to transfer to a smaller boat towed to the beach by a local fisher until we can step out right to the sand and avoid getting wet.

We have to duck through ropes and wires strung across rows of randomly built houses which occupy most of the beach front. The local government has no zoning scheme so the buildings and houses were in disarray. We have to snake our way through to get to the barangay hall.

My main concern in visiting the place was to assess the impact of a foundation’s various programs implemented in the community for the past six years. The main goal of those programs is to help uplift the living condition of the marginalized fisherfolks whose fishing activities have been affected by the operation of a natural gas project.

What caught my attention was a lady carrying a pail of water across the basketball court, in such a hurry and in an attempt to avoid bumping into teenagers playing on one side of the court.  Thereafter, I saw another group of people carrying plastic containers from the same place the lady appeared. Obviously, they were fetching water from a nearby source.

Network of Water Pipes

This observation puzzled me because I have seen a network of large, black PVC water pipes at the left side of the barangay hall. I asked one of the local government officials to verify if indeed those pipes were intended to distribute water. As expected, he affirmed but noted that those pipes were empty because water flow from source was so weak to fill those pipes for household use.

I thought I would visit the water source to confirm. I asked for a guide to accompany me to the site, which, I discovered, lies two kilometers away.

Water availability is a very important factor to consider when evaluating the productivity of communities. Without water, it will be difficult for people to grow crops and of course, drink clean water to quench their thirst, among other household requirements. How can life be sustained without water?

Thus, I decided to walk all the way to the water source located uphill. That will also be good exercise for me after a few days out of my regular running routine.

The Water Source

The residents obtained water from two sources: one located about a kilometer away from the main cluster of houses, and the other nestled almost on top of a barren hill. My guide, together with another field worker, climbed up the rugged and steep hill devoid of vegetation. A recent fire razed dry cogon grasses (Imperata cylindrica) including a section of the PVC pipes which once funneled water downhill.

What we saw was a surprising, and pitiful scene. Young boys wait patiently for their turn to fill small water containers, with just a stream of water akin to that of a urinating animal. What can you expect in a bald mountain with rocky substrate that cannot hold much water?

scarce water
Boys patiently wait for their water containers to fill at the main water source in Nangalao.

Quarrel on Water Use

We saw a round, cement cistern located a few meters from the fetching area. I climbed by the side wanting to know how much water was in store. I saw the same stream of water from another pipe embedded on the side of the hill barely kept up with water drawn from it.

During rainy days, local folks say the cistern is almost full. Then I said, they don’t need to walk all the way then to the main source.

At that point, the guide told me that this was the situation before. The water pipes had already supplied the water needs of the underlying houses several years back. But residents living next to pipes in the upper elevations diverted the flowing water into their farms. They punched holes in the exposed plastic tubes and got the water for free. As a result, very little water trickled down the line. There were altercations between affected parties. Ultimately, the barangay chairman decided to stop operating the local government’s water services.

Now, everyone took the brunt of the decision. Not only is the water scarce but a natural resource of contention. Access to it is difficult and time consuming (see Opportunity Cost).

If you are a consultant for community development, what would you recommend?

© 2013 July 13 P. A. Regoniel

Cultural Diffusionism: Makeshift Mini-Hydro by the Indigenous People of Sitio Bohoy

Technology can reach remote places and change the way of life of indigenous peoples. Here is an example of cultural diffusionism and acculturation in Sitio Bohoy, a remote place where once G-string clad Pala’wans reside.

I never expected to see a trace of technological innovation in a very isolated place like Sitio Bohoy in the far-south of Palawan Island in the Philippines two years back. More so aware of the fact that those who employ such technology belong to the indigenous people, the Pala’wans, who were once wearing G-strings the last time I recalled seeing them.

How the Mini-Hydro Came to Be

Boyet, a member of the Pala’wan tribe, came up with his own version of the mini-hydroelectric power station to provide electrical power to 15 houses in his community. Together with his friends, he built a dam in a nearby stream made of indigenous materials plus junks he could lay his hands on from the materials recovery facility of a nearby mining company.

The makeshift mini-hydro dam pooled water and produces power when water is released through 6-inch corrugated PVC pipes at the main source, then smaller pipes downstream to increase water pressure. This series of big and small pipes are joined together by rubber strips, probably from worn-out rubber tires of vehicles. A two-inch GI pipe at the end of the pipeline hits the home made turbine attached to a generator that consequently produces electricity at the onset of darknesss until 10 pm. Occasionally, along the length of the pipeline, holes with small hoses inserted in it supply water in the adjoining farms.

makeshift dam
A dam made of sacks, sticks, poles, gravel and sand and reused materials from the junkyard of a mining company in Sitio Bohoy.

Is the mini-hydro an original invention? Of course not, but it arose through simple diffusion of technology.

When our group asked him how we was able to conceptualize the mini-hydro, he simply said “I saw it on TV.” His large television set, presumably one of those cheap, surplus televisions from Japan, once gets its power from a 12-volt truck battery. Now, the electricity generated by the mini-hydro powers the television including a karaoke. This turned the once quiet nights of the community into nights of singing and merrymaking.

Cultural Diffusionism and Acculturation

What struck me upon seeing the makeshift mini-hydro is the influence this technology can impose on the culture of the indigenous tribe – the Pala’wan. Technology diffused to this community through the television gradually worked its way into their way of life, changing their once unique heritage of cultural mores and beliefs.  This is a classic example of cultural diffusionism, defined by Titiev (1958:446) as the spread of a cultural item from its place of origin to other places.

I bring up this issue remembering the discussion I had with an anthropologist during one of the training I attended two years ago. She said that she would like to study the indigenous tribes of Palawan. But I said, those indigenous groups no longer exist, knowing that many of them intermarried with immigrants and citing this particular story.

The Pala’wans have already been acculturated. Theirs is a polluted culture. Wouldn’t you agree?

Reference:

Titiev, M. (1958). Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. New York: Henry Holt and Co.

© 2013 July 6 P. A. Regoniel