Way Laing Panginabuhi (There is No Other Livelihood): Negotiating Danger and Survival in the Life World of a Community of Compressor Fishers

Rosa Cordillera Alvarez Castillo (rosacordillera@yahoo.com)
Department of Anthropology, University of the Philippines Diliman
March, 2009
Rosa Cordillera A. Castillo teaches anthropology at the University of the Philippines Manila. She graduated with a MA in anthropology from the University of the Philippines Diliman, following a BA degree in anthropology awarded with academic honours. She is actively engaged in campaigning for indigenous peoples' rights and other human rights issues in the Philippines. She is a board member of the Anthropological Association of the Philippines, the only professional organization of anthropologists in the country. Her area of interest is the anthropology of human rights.


Compressor (kompresor) fishing (dive-fishing using compressor as an artificial breathing apparatus) has been embraced by an island community in Northern Bohol, Philippines, as their main source of livelihood despite the ailments, paralysis and deaths attributed to it. This ethnography utilizes a phenomenological approach to describe and understand the life world of this community of fishers engaged in a risky manner of fishing and provide an explanatory model for why they persist in this livelihood despite the risks involved. This monograph describes the island's context, enskilment in the depths of the sea (giladmon sa dagat), diver's knowledge and experiences of the deep sea and the human body and the relationship between these two as engendered through kompresor fishing, and the social, transactional, and power relations in kompresor fishing to understand how these implicate the community's meanings and negotiations of their livelihood. Data was gathered through survey, interviews, observation, and participant observation during a period of two months and one week in the island.

In an island with no other sources of making a living aside from the sea, people explain their engagement with this fishing practice through the phrase "way laing panginabuhi" ("there is no other livelihood"). This brief statement encompasses the dynamic interaction of geographical, historical, socio-cultural, ecological, political and economic factors that make up this community's life world and their local explanatory model of risk-taking behavior.

In the face of different powers that they must negotiate with (i.e. the sea, the unseen beings of the sea, the weather, the market, the microfinance firms, the local government, the wives, and the amo), kompresor fishers exercise their agency through their precautionary measures and strategies which are guided by their knowledge and experiences of the sea and their bodies in relation to this environment, proper skills and knowledge, faith in God and respect in the unseen beings of the sea, and a social support system that enable them to deal with the potential dangers and their fear of kompresor fishing and help them rationalize this practice. In the process, kompresor fishing is elevated to the normative. This is because in a context of scarcity of resources and political and economic inequities as well as a sense of limited, if any, options with regard to their livelihood, this community of kompresor fishers must negotiate the dangers of their livelihood in order to survive.

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