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From Elders to Children: a new book from Maryknoll Ecological Sanctuary


Happy I was asked to review this book in time for its launch on Dec. 8. I couldn't be there for the launch, but Rudi Tabora read my review on my behalf. Here it is.

In a world where some kids have never tasted a guava, where other kids will refuse to eat red rice, where countless kids have never dipped their feet in a cold mountain stream with clean rushing water, where we don’t pay attention to birdsong, where many don’t have an ili to which they proudly belong, where parents are afraid to set their children free so they can roam far and wide and come home covered in puriket – in a world such as this, this book is precious.

In a world where so much happens too quickly, and our senses are constantly bombarded with thousands of signals, “From Elders to Children” reminds us to sloooooooowwww dooooooowwwwwwwnnnn… and to pay attention to how we live and love. Together, Judy Cariño-Fangloy, Merci Dulawan, Vicky Makay, Maria Elena Regpala, and Lucia Ruiz have made a gift that kids can open again and again. At the same time, they have presented today’s parents with a pause button disguised as a book. The cover art by Clemente Delim and the illustrations by Merci Dulawan invite us to look beyond the obvious and see things differently.

These stories of wisdom from the Cordillera remind us of the joys of a simple, quiet life. In the story “Rich and Poor” for example, a wealthy father and son spend the night with a poor family living in a bamboo hut. The boy learns a way of seeing, in which those who have the light of the stars by night are richer than those who have electricity, but can’t see the stars. The rich boy describes a paradox of “modern” living when he says to his father, “Our house is fenced so no troublemaker can enter; but they have no fence and all their friends are free to enter.” This is echoed in the sections on Sharing and Caring, and Living in Community.

A special kind of ethic can be gleaned from the sections entitled Waste Not, Respect for the Unseen, and Caring for the Land that Sustains Us. It is an ethic of reciprocity that extends beyond the human community, to include plants, animals, the elements, and the unseen. It’s the same ethic that fills the pages of this book’s ancestor volume, Indigenous Earth Wisdom, by the same wise women of Maryknoll Ecological Sanctuary.

In one of my favorite stories, Vicky Macay recalls hours of unstructured Childhood Games, and making toys from recycled things. In these games and in other stories scattered throughout the book, the outdoors provides kids with countless adventures and exercises in dexterity, creativity, and resourcefulness that no playground or phone app could ever match. It’s a little funny to say “the outdoors”, when what we really mean is nature, the world we live in and the world that nurtures us! By accepting the illusion that we and our children are safer indoors, we forget that almost everything we need is provided by things that come from “the outdoors”. In this book, children spend hours playing – and working with their families! – outside, under the sun, in the water, or the mud.

Once on a visit to a Dumaget community in the Sierra Madre, I met a boy who refused to go to school. He was about 9 or 10 years old. He said it was too noisy in the town where the school was. He was happier in the mountains, near the forest and the river. His parents said apologetically that he couldn’t read or write. But when we went for a walk along the river with him, he brought us wild fruits to taste, he pointed out and named so many different plants. If we pointed at something and asked if it was planted or wild, and if it could be eaten, he would laugh at our questions and answer with confidence. He dove into the depths of the river and where we couldn’t see anything, he speared three fish in a matter of minutes. While it may be true that he did not know how to read words, he knew how to read nature, and he knew how to move through nature. We were the illiterates.

His is a different kind of literacy, a literacy that we are losing. The stories in this book challenge us to learn how to read nature. And we will have to add to this knowledge too. With climate change looming over our lives and our children’s future, we need to retool our literacy so we can read both the science and the signs that matter.

In the section on Our Elders Wisdom the reader is reminded of the comfort grandparents give us with their presence, their stories, and their memories, which are also our histories. But do not read this book to your kids as a collection of stories from these elders’ past. Do not read the stories to your kids as folk tales or fairy tales. Do not read this book with cynical eyes.

Instead, read this book as an inventory of things we must show our kids and enjoy with them: tinawon growing in the terraces, tinawon cooking in a pot, tinawon between the teeth and on the tongue, the tikgui and idaw birds, toy-making, tree-climbing, pako, camote, rituals, gongs, dances, the sharing of food at a community celebration, and much, much more. When you read these stories with your kids I hope that they will ask (if they don’t already know), “What is puriket? Where can we find some?” It is their right to know, and to go.

Read this book as a parenting manual on ancestral child-rearing. In this book kids are capable of joining the work of grownups, kids are entrusted with important tasks, they make their own decisions on gift giving, and they are not excluded from important community gatherings.

If we read this book actively and seek its parallels around us, in the HERE and NOW, we and our children may yet keep alive the gracious world that these stories describe.

The world needs all of us to keep these stories true.

Now enough of the boring, grownup talk. Hey kids! Do you want to find your super powers by going on adventures and discovering new ways of seeing the world? You can start right now by doing three simple things:
1) Play outside as often as you can!
2) Ask your parents to read this book with you! And,
3) Ask plenty of questions.

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