Sheets of newspaper cover a portion of the floor of our house in Manila, and on top of those thin pieces of paper sits a white candle, a box of matches, a metal spoon, and a metal basin filled with water. The doors are locked. We’re huddled around the basin, and the room plunges into silence. Rest assured, this is not some scene from a B-rated supernatural horror movie. This is just what happens whenever anyone in my family gets sick. We call an albularyo—Tagalog for witch doctor or folk healer—to come and conduct either tawas or hilot depending on the degree of illness. All my life, I’ve never really understood nor tried to understand why my mom rarely sends us for check-ups, opting instead for tawas, hilot, and the occasional pharmaceutical drugs we self-medicate ourselves with. That is, until I took an Introduction to Anthropology course, where I encountered the term “structural violence” and the whole world of medical anthropology.
“Whatever your eye can see, it's vecik.” This line resonated with me while I was conducting my fieldwork in Taiwan with the indigenous Paiwan village known as Paridrayan. Good friend and prolific artist, Etan Pavavaljung, once mentioned to me this Paiwan concept known as vecik. The concept, briefly speaking, implies an interconnectedness that links all tangible things with each other. From humans, rocks, and trees to winds and words, they are connected to each other through vecik...“However,” he added, “something like poetry can be vecik.”. He continued, “let’s take for example, a village elder reciting a poem about his childhood. He recites verses about his flower garden from his childhood home as well as reminiscing his childhood days. These words become vecik.”
What would it mean to be no longer ‘in country’ in Australia? How would the legacies of British colonialism, and the attempted extirpation and survival of Australia’s indigenous peoples, be refracted in the experience of living in a new country with a very different colonial past?
“A lot of what individual white anti-racists, as I called them, but also the broader policy frameworks are struggling with is the question of how do we enact Indigenous equality; how do we make the lines on the graphs that we draw of Indigenous versus non-Indigenous; how do we make those lines converge and ‘close the gap’, while maintaining Indigenous difference?”