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Dr. Erlinda M. Burton

Elson Elizaga .

A FEW months before Dr. Erlinda M. Burton died, a friend said she had changed. She was older and weak after having undergone surgery for breast cancer. Then I received a happy greeting from her in Messenger. She wrote it would be nice to have a gathering with a common friend who was leaving in September. But I failed to see her. So, I harbor today a painful sense of regret.

Dr. Erlinda M. Burton

To many people whose lives she had touched, she was an influential teacher, a friend, and a caring mother. She visited me when I was confined in a hospital – the only teacher in my life to give me such honor.

She was partly interested in my ailment because of her knowledge in psychology and medical anthropology. After 10 minutes of my responding to her series of questions about my condition, she gave me a startling diagnosis, which gave me an invaluable feeling of meaning, a discovery of my place in a map.

Certainly, I’m not the only person she had given a strong and useful insight, self-knowledge even. She told a tribal leader to be proud of his identity, and to assert his voice wherever he goes.

She has the ability to tell someone who they are, and convince them she is right, in a gentle but firm manner. When she knows your interests, she would introduce you to other people of kindred spirit, so that an interactive community is formed, here and there.

When someone defies civility, she would say something that would make the person realize their place in society. “You are a liar,” she confronted a lawyer. And when a team of archaeologists from the University of the Philippines made a research about the Huluga archaeological site without inviting her to join them, without consulting her, she accused them of violating archaeological ethics. She also criticized their report by saying the researchers didn’t know the definition of two elementary concepts: “habitation” and “settlement”.

I suspected ma’m Linda was merely hurt when the UP archaeologists excluded her from their research about a subject she was familiar with, that she took things personally. But when I searched online, I discovered she was right. Archaeological ethics adopted by several organizations worldwide demand teamwork among archaeologists with common interests.

On the definition of settlement and habitation, I consulted Dr. Barbara Ann Kipfer, a lexicographer and archaeologist with 30 years’ experience in writing and editing dictionaries, thesauri, and other word books, and I found out that ma’m Linda was right and the UP archaeologists were wrong.

I also asked Dr. Sebastian Stride if small archaeological sites are worth studying. He replied that in our quest for knowledge of the past, scattered occupations are also important, sometimes more important than big cities.  Stride had spent four years living in Uzbekistan and has been working in Central Asia since 1995. He teaches Central Asian History and Archaeology at Barcelona University.

Possibly the most destructive act of the UP archaeologists was to declare that Mount Canatuan in Siocon, Zamboanga de Norte “is not sacred” because it has no monuments. This pronouncement encouraged a Canadian mining company to continue exploiting Canatuan, although later they accepted their mistake and apologized.

I consulted the Indo-Eurasian Yahoogroup about the UP declaration and received a long response from Dr. Francesco Brighenti, Dr. Benjamin Fleming and Dr. Trudy S. Kawami. Let me paraphrase their findings: Some places worldwide don’t have monuments precisely because those who worship them do not want to build anything there.

Their opinion supports the single sentence from ma’m Linda, who was an agnostic and whose grandfather was a Tingguian headhunter: “It is the people who decide what is sacred to them.”

Goodbye, ma’m Linda. You will never be forgotten. Your courage, love, and fire have brought us together, wherever we are.

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