March 3, 2013

A Review of James Skibo's Book “Ants for Breakfast: Archaeological Adventures Among the Kalinga”

In 1988, a bunch of anthropologists from the United States lived among the Kalinga for several months to do anthropological fieldwork. This undertaking was called the Kalinga Ethnoarchaeological Project. The project was focused on pottery and the anthropologists worked on three key villages – Dangtalan, Dalupa and Guina-ang. One of these anthropologists is James Skibo, a graduate student from the University of Arizona. Skibo was assigned in the village of Guina-ang to study and collect data on how people there use pots. Skibo's experiences and observations during his stay in the village make up most of the contents of his book Ants for Breakfast: Archaeological Adventures Among the Kalinga.

First of, the book is a GREAT piece of work. How great? I read it in one sitting. All 167 pages of it. You know a book is something special when you can't put it down. Not even when your eyes are begging you to sleep. I started reading it expecting to torture myself with anthropological and archaeological jargon. That was a huge mistake, I soon came to learn, because the book turned out to be readable and quite enjoyable. I said hurrah when in the first paragraph of the Preface, Skibo wrote “This is not a scientific report. This book is about life with the Kalinga and the lessons I took with me.” What follows are seven chapters of well-written accounts of Skibo's adventures among the Kalinga which included run-ins with New People's Army rebels, late night drinking sessions that irked the village's elders, encounters with the local justice system, and eating the likes of ants, fruit bats and live water bugs.

Ants for Breakfast; James Skibo
Probably one of the reasons why the book resonated with me so much is because I can relate to most of what Skibo discussed. I grew up in a community very similar to Guina-ang so it was a new experience reading about my own culture in the perspective of a foreigner. You know that expression “It's funny because it's true.”? I got a lot of these moments while reading the book. Skibo writes in a very conversational style. Easy to understand and easy to digest.

Another strong aspect of the book is Skibo's comparisons of the Kalinga culture with his own American culture when it comes to issues like justice, happiness, wealth, etc. In his Preface for the book, he wrote “Although they are headhunters and the blood feud continues to this day, in many ways they are more civilized than Western societies.” In order to get the full context of why Skibo wrote that, you need to read the book.

Ants for Breakfast is a must-read piece of work. Who should read it? Cordillerans interested in learning more about their roots. And anyone studying Kalinga culture or Cordillera culture in general.

This book is likely not available in bookstores here so your only option is to go to any university library and inquire about it. I don't know if the Benguet State University and Saint Louis University carry a copy. You can also try the Baguio City Library. The online retail store Amazon also carries an inventory of the book if you want to purchase it online.

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