A Man Finds An Explosive Emotion Locked In A Word

In 1967, anthropologists Renato Rosaldo and his wife, Shelly, went to live with the llongot, an isolated tribe that lived in the rain forest in the Philippines. It wasn’t exactly an accident that this tribe was unstudied — it was known for beheading people.

But Renato and Shelly were undeterred. As they immersed themselves in llongot culture, they began to learn the language. Simple words at first, then more nuanced ones that encompassed such things as love and anger. To Renaldo, all of the words were familiar except one.


At first, he thought this word meant “energetic” or “productive.” But then liget exploded out of that definition into an emotional landscape he had never before encountered.

One evening, members of the tribe asked Renato if they could hear tape recordings of his conversations with the people he studied. The voice of a deeply loved and respected man who had recently died began to play.

The room fell silent. The men’s eyes narrowed and their lips curled, their faces turned into masks of rage.

They told Renato that hearing the tape made their hearts feel liget. It makes us want to take a head, they told him, over and over. It makes us want to take a man’s head and throw it.

Read more: NPR

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