A History of Shame
By Resil B. Mojares
 There are many names for shame, the emotion that defines — so it is said — what it is to be human. Curiously, in Bisayan, it is called ikog (literally, “tail,” from Malay ekor). By what strange transformation has the notion of “having a tail” become a mark of the human?
The connection between tail and shame is not clear in the history of either word. The Bisayan dictionary of Mateo Sanchez (1617), the earliest known dictionary of the language, does not define ikog as scruple or shame.1 By the nineteenth century, however, and presumably earlier, ikog already denoted shame. In his nineteenth-century Bisayan dictionary, Juan Felix de la Encarnacion records a confusing definition. However, by associating ikog with the action of vexing a person with one’s stupidity or rudeness, he points, if vaguely, to the current meaning of the word.2
Apart from semantics, there does not seem to be a completely convincing explanation for the link between “having a tail” and “having a sense of shame.” Mythology does not provide a clear answer. The Philippines does not have, for one, an indigenous tradition of a monkey-god, as in India, where a tail has moral associations — it is a mark of greatness, evidence that one was descended from the monkey-god Hanuman.
There are local stories, however, of the origin of the monkey that associate the condition of being tailed to violations of norms of conduct. An example is related in the seventeenth-century account of the Bisayan islands by the Jesuit Francisco Alcina. “The natives [Bisayans] say about them [the monkeys) that they were people, but because they did not pay the tribute and conform in other matters, they went off to the forests where they lost the power of speech.”3 This account has survived in a widely distributed cautionary tale that has, for its core plot, a lazy, ungrateful, and disobedient child who is punished by a curse to live in the forest as a monkey. A rod, spinning-stick, ladle, or some such object thrown at the erring child becomes his or her tail.
It is plausible to think of the story as an archetypal tale of the birth of shame, that being tailed signifies the notion of violating a “proper” norm of conduct, as well as the need to be sensitive to such a norm
This remains an exercise in fancy, and it does not seem to carry us any further.
 Let us widen the semantic field. Ulaw is in fact the more common and precise Bisayan word for “shame.” Ikog is used interchangeably with ulaw but mostly functions as the latter’s negative correlative: it has a more specific reference to the diffidence in dealing with superiors and the anxiety over committing what may be improper. Ulaw, on the other hand, has a more diffuse and positive sense. It refers less to a breach of a norm as the norm of propriety and restraint itself.
This is suggested in the 1617 Sanchez dictionary, which defines ulaw (olao) as “shame” (verguenza) but, interestingly, also introduces the word alo as its synonym. In a separate definition of the word tahum (“beauty”), Sanchez illustrates by using alo as a term designating refinement of speech, manner, and inner disposition. Now somewhat archaic, alo survives in the Cebuano, Hiligaynon, and Leyte-Samar languages as a word for shame.4
Alo appears to be a softer, more delicate form of ulaw (which may be derived from it), referring to the sense of refined restraint, self-consciousness, or shyness arising from such social situations as being with many people, being stared at, or facing strangers and superiors. This is the Javanese concept of alus (halus, “refinement”), which is the state of exceeding civility as expressed in high speech, court-derived etiquette, artistic excellence, and the virtues of perfect balance and self-control. Opposed to kasar (what is coarse, impure, or unruly), halus is the height of personal virtue and social accomplishment. It manifests that concentration of power the Javanese view as a condition for fertility, prosperity, and glory.5
The link between shame and courtliness is alluded to by Encarnacion when he cites the cryptic word oii as a synonym for ikog. Encarnacion does not have an entry for the word oii. But I strongly suspect that the reference here is to oiod (wiud), a word that survives in Bohol as a synonym for the more widely-used ikog, to mean a sensitivity to the other person’s needs which is related to feelings of shame and reserve. Interestingly, oiod appears in the seventeenth-century Sanchez dictionary, where it is defined thus: “to walk slowly or sedately like the binocot and the chieftains when they go forth pompously or ceremoniously with their retinue.” The binukot is a highly-esteemed woman in indigenous society who is kept cloistered and appears in public only in ceremonial contexts, when she is usually carried so that her feet will not touch the ground.
The association of ikog to the courtly manner of the binukot is highly suggestive. The reference to what is now a largely vanished practice, with its connotations of a particular deportment or bodily style, suggests that, in an earlier meaning, shame was a sign of human refinement or halus-ness. That this meaning has largely disappeared suggests a process of cultural translation in which old notions of high ceremony, extreme delicacy or propriety, are disenchanted into mundane understandings of shame.
One should not expect that there is a perfect fit between the Javanese alus and the Bisayan alo, given the differences between a more hierarchically articulated Javanese society and simpler, more egalitarian Bisayan communities. Styles of ethical behavior vary across cultures and communities. Traditional Maranao and Ilongot societies may share the same notions of nobility and self-possession — hence, shame — but these notions would be expressed and styled differently in each case.
In sum, ikog, ulaw, wiud, and alo belong to the same complex of behavior. The fluidity of the terms indicates that shame is not a simple, single emotion; it is construed and contextualized in changing ways. Emotions constitute a dynamic field, interacting, sliding away and into each other. Investigating how they change across time raises the fascinating prospect of an historical inquiry into a people’s sensibility, a histoire des mentalites focused on the emotions of a culture.
 The historian Lucien Febvre has called for such a history, suggesting the use of such sources as language, literature, iconography, and the musical arts in reconstituting the emotional life of the past, and in writing the history of love, of joy, of fear, or pity, cruelty, or death.6
The task of doing such a history is difficult, and the sources fugitive and scarce. On the use of linguistic evidence, for instance, Febvre warns: “No study of vocabulary can enable us to reconstitute the overall evolution of a whole system of sentiments within a given society in a given period.”7 The anthropologist Michel Leiris likewise says that “etymology is a perfectly ineffectual science that is not at all informative about the true meaning of a word, that is, the particular, personal signification that each individual ought to assign to it, as his mind pleases.”8
Yet, I am sure Leiris would not object to mining language as an archive of meanings that through time its users have attached to words, and a point of access to the shifting social worlds words figure and shape. Febvre himself concedes that, in recomposing the history of particularly meaningful words, one can have a kind of “geological cross-section” of sensibility of a culture.
Word histories point to the possibilities in historicizing forms of feeling, seeing them not as universal and stable but culturally-specific and mutable. Such an undertaking — which must range through related languages — is constrained in the Philippine case by the lack and nature of the linguistic evidence. Old dictionaries of Philippine languages, while extremely useful, are few, Castilian-based, and produced by non-native speakers. Moreover, relatively shallow tradition of literacy does not allow the kind of deep documentation of historical usage possible for languages like French or English (as illustrated in a project like the massive Oxford English Dictionary or the deep archival investigations attempted by French historians like Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie).
One must look at diverse kinds of historical evidence, from the arts, literature, histories, ethnographies. An investigation of such texts widens the field and poses forbidding difficulties because of their unevenness, diversity, and heavily mediated character. It is not surprising that local studies focused on the history of emotions have not been seriously attempted.
In the Philippines, exemplary studies in such fields as literary hermeneutics and the anthropology of emotions have offered culturally situated understandings of shame, Such are the works of Reynaldo Ileto and Michelle Rosaldo.9 Reconstituting turn-of-the-century revolutionary mentality through a close analysis of Tagalog popular texts, Ileto defines hiya (Tagalog for “shame”) as a person’s sensitivity to his mode of relating to others, that expresses a purity of self (loob) and underlies — Ileto argues — the communitas (katipunan) that was both the ethos and goal of the revolution. In a sensitive ethnography of Ilongot society, RosaIdo distinguishes between the child’s betang (denoting both “shame and “respect”), which implies compliance as the child is socialized to the world of family and community, and the betang of the adult, which means the display of mutuality in one’s interaction with others, a mode of being that shows one’s composure, humility, and respect.
These examples embed shame in a specific context and thus mark the particular way it is registered. They also show, in their difference, the importance of attending to the social and moral systems in which shame is generated and expressed.
 It is ironic that one should speak of emotions as a neglected field. After all, questions of values and identity — with their assumptions not only of what people think but how they feel — have long dominated public and scholarly discourse in the Philippines.
Discourses on the “Filipino personality” go back to Western characterizations and Filipino counter-characterizations of the “native” during the Spanish-colonial period. These range from Spanish ethnological accounts and books of conduct to the nationalist tracts of Pedro Paterno and Jose Rizal and the revolutionary “catechisms” of Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Jacinto, and Apolinario Mabini. Writings on character and identity continued after the revolution, from public-school civics textbooks and the writings on “ancient codes” of morality and the “national character,” to the various state-sponsored initiatives of civic education and moral formation in the decades that followed.
All these represent a large literature that is important. Pedro Paterno’s La Familia Tagalog (1892) and El Individuo Tagalog (1893) may be eccentric and overblown, but they are conscious attempts to draw from European psychology and other disciplines, that, in their philological speculations on native mentality, adumbrate today’s interest in “indigenous psychology.”10 In this respect, they are (though we may be embarrassed to admit it) founding texts in Filipino psychology.
Paterno sets forth a basic, evolutionist tenet in saying that morals evolve in a process in which life’s necessities create ideas and sentiments that, enacted, develop into customs that in turn evolve into morals and laws. The same environmental determinism operates (though in ways less simplifying) in Jose Rizal’s historical analysis of Filipino “indolence.” Rizal’s Sobre la indolencia de los Filipinos (1890) is a classic in Filipino psychology. Moreover, Rizal was interested in psychopathology, as shown in his articles on spirit-possession and mali-mali or sakit-latar (Malay latah, a psychiatric disorder characterized by involuntary compulsive utterance of obscenities, parody, or other socially offensive behavior).11
Colonialism transformed moral systems and revised the ways in which values like shame were conceptualized, experienced, and enforced. On one hand, Catholic conversion cultivated a new way of being, a remodeling of the native in “imitation of Christ.” On the other, political reduccion (“reduction”) reformed mentality and conduct according to Hispanic-colonial conceptions of the “civilized” life. New hierarchies were erected, and new patterns of behavior deemed proper to one’s status in a world where virtue ascended from the lower levels of animals, servants, and children, to the higher levels of parents, officials, and priests. Such was the moral infrastructure of the virtuous Christian life — and a stable colonial political order.12
Moral reorientations are already evident even in dictionary definitions of shame. In 1885, for instance, Juan Felix de la Encarnacion illustrates the use of the word ulao with these instances of guilt and unworthiness: being ashamed or shamed before God for having been “undressed” because of sin; being asked to pay for a debt in the presence of others; or being exposed for one’s manners before superiors or elders.13 This is no longer, one glimpses, the world of alo but one in which relations of moral and social power are more coercive and naked.
Vicente Rafael clarifies the reorientations in a major study of Christian conversion in early Tagalog society, that locates hiya in a new economy of debt relations brought about by Spanish conquest. He says: “From the early seventeenth century to the present day, hiya has been defined as the appropriate affect that accompanies indebtedness. Yet it is also the feeling that arises when one senses one’s exclusion from circuit of debt relations.”14 Hence, shame activates exchange between Spaniard and native, ruler and ruled, priest and convert, in a cycle that is open, indeterminate, unequal, and fraught with tension. Moreover, such relations were always articulated with a “third term” that stood outside the exchange yet determined its contours. “Whether figured as God, the king, the state, or the law, this third term served as the central figure in all negotiations, acting as the origin, interpreter, and enforcer of the terms governing exchange. It was thus regarded as the source of hierarchy just as it was the source of all gifts.”15
The nineteenth-century reform and nationalist movements interrogated the colonial moral order. Claiming that indigenous moral sentiments were highly developed, Paterno tried to carve out space for greater native participation in the affairs of state. Showing that indolence and other perceived native defects were produced, in Rizal’s words, by “a fatal combination of circumstances,” particularly Spanish misgovernment and the lack of individual liberty, Rizal attacked colonialism for its morally distortive effects. In this debate, “shame” was interpreted in terms of colonial relations, as notions of nobility and gratitude were deployed by one side against the other.
Revolutionary leaders revised the terms of reference — Rafael’s “third term” — by “Filipinizing” God and privileging the nation. They produced moral catechisms aimed at instilling values needed for waging a revolution and creating a nation. Apolinario Mabini, for instance, set forth in his “True Decalogue” the values to guide the emerging nation, in which love of God was a wellspring for an ideology built on concern for fellowmen, love of country, and commitment to values of freedom and justice.
This was carried over into the post-revolutionary period in the discourse on national identity and the moral requirements for nation-building and progress. These questions were taken up in school lessons on citizenship and character-building, debates in the popular press on the “Filipino Soul,” and government initiatives to formulate and promote a “code of ethics” for Filipinos.
Given a society that was culturally and politically divided, Filipino intellectuals spoke in different voices. There were those (like T. H. Pardo de Tavera) who looked towards the developed countries and stressed science, reason, and internationalism; others (like Teodoro Kalaw) warned against the loss of traditional values and “ancient morality”; and still others (obscure rural “prophets” like Felipe Salvador) formed peasant brotherhoods around the values of a folk socialism. Defining the national identity was a major preoccupation. Responding to what he felt was a collective wish for a grand past, the intellectual adventurer Jose Marco (the historian William Henry Scott tells us) fabricated, around 1914, a series of “pre-Hispanic” documents that included the “Code of Kalantiaw.” Faced with the advent of independence and a world in crisis, President Manuel Quezon commissioned in 1939 the country’s leading intellectuals to produce a “code of ethics for Filipinos.”16
Much of this literature is bent to what government and intellectual leaders imagined the citizenry should be. The circumstances and motives in these discourses on “Filipino character” — polemical, promotional, prescriptive — are such that they are perhaps less important for what they tell us about Filipino psychology as for the politics of its representation.
 How is hiya represented in these discourses?
Under Spain, nationalists claimed shame as an attribute of the native’s moral ascendancy by interpreting it as a mark of sensitivity to one’s fellows and a sense of honor. In this wise, the Spaniards were the “shameless ones” (walang-hiya) for their acts of deception and oppression (as in the nationalist discourse on the “blood compact” the Spaniards violated). In the post-revolutionary period, however, Filipino intellectuals — interested in the “active” values needed for nation-building — were ambivalent about the value of shame.
In Cinco Reglas de Nuestra Moral Antigua (1935), Teodoro Kalaw, perhaps the time’s most prominent intellectual, defines hiya as both “shame” (verguenza) and a “sense of dignity” (sentido de dignidad), but subordinates it to “self-control” (dominio propio), one of the five cardinal virtues of the “ancient morality” that he constructs.17 Kalaw locates shame in the colonial experience of subordination and slavery, an experience that fostered, he says, prudence and resignation, the “desire to please, the fear to offend, the habit of measuring and revising our thoughts and desires before externalizing them.” Prudence encouraged us to be patient and serene, for so long as our “dignity” was not injured or abused, in which case we lost our “self-control” and turned violent, as in the phenomenon of the amok. Ambivalent about the virtue of hiya, Kalaw places it in a pathological complex in which serenity can be resignation, prudence a fear of failure, and honor recessive and instinctual rather than habitual and practical.
The example of Kalaw and others underscores the need to historicize the emotion of shame and its interpretation. This is what “culture and personality” studies and sikolohiyang Pilipino (“Filipino psychology”) — the dominant discourse in the second half of the twentieth century — have not quite done.
Influenced by positivist social science in the United States, the so-called “Ateneo school” (because of its association with Jesuit anthropologist Frank Lynch and Ateneo de Manila’s Institute of Philippine Culture) stimulated studies on “values” and popularized such concepts as hiya as keywords in understanding the Filipino character.18 Much of this work, however, has been ahistorical. Lynch himself pointed out that he was concerned with “ideal types,” meant to stimulate research rather than correlate perfectly with social reality. Hence, personality studies gloss over the history and politics of the classificatory system by which dominant groups socialize individuals and maintain order.19
Sikolohiyang Pilipino set out to construct and promote — in the words of Virgilio Enriquez, its leading exponent — “a psychological system worked out by Filipinos from indigenous and foreign elements in response to their national and cultural experiences.”20 Inspired by Third-World “indigenization” movements in the social sciences and Marxist-popular tendencies in the Philippines in the seventies, Sikolohiyang Pilipino aimed to build psychology “from the ground up” through its use of the local language for analysis and teaching, culturally appropriate methodologies, and indigenous mental categories.
It was explicit in its political positioning, tracing its roots in the nationalist tradition and committing itself to the task of social transformation, or what Enriquez called a sikolohiyang mapagpalaya (“liberating psychology”). Thus, Enriquez and colleagues criticized the Ateneo school of values research for its concern for balance and reciprocity rather than relations of domination and subordination.
The concept of hiya remained problematic. While Enriquez defined hiya as the sense of “propriety” and “dignity,” he called it an “accommodative surface value” that favored the status quo, in a binary model in which it was paired with the “confrontative social value” of bahala na (the will to action despite the odds).21 Other proponents of Sikolohiyang Pilipino, however, stressed the positive rather than negative in hiya, showing how the word and its derivations generate a varied register of positions and meanings. Saying that hiya marked “a style of living and relating to others,” Armando Bonifacio wrote that shame does not only come from feelings of insecurity, it manifests a sensitivity to what is right or proper, a consciousness of such values as courtesy, respect, and fellow-feeling. Zeus Salazar offered an elaborate linguistic analysis of hiya and its affixations, that reveals a dynamic two-level structure of loob (“inside”) and labas (“outside”), and distinguishes between what pertains to sentiment and to action, object and subject, emotional states and social experience, “selfhood” (pagkakaroon ng kalooban) and its loss (kawalan ng kalooban). Salazar concludes by saying: “Ang ‘hiya’ ay isang kumpletong damdaming panlipunan. Hindi lamang ito pasibo kundi aktibo rin.”22
Sikolohiyang Pilipino, however, has remained rooted in the Tagalog experience, selective in its privileging of concepts, and reliant on linguistics despite its ambition to draw from diverse cultural sources.23 Like the Ateneo school, it has been preoccupied with the privileging of a Filipino mentality, ideal types, taxonomic classification, and model building.
The lack of history and restricted empirical base in these studies occasion essentializing descriptions of the “Filipino personality.” Heavily biased in favor of Tagalog psycholinguistics, these descriptions do not fully account for the variant ways in which shame operates in specific contexts.
We need to attend to how ideas and emotions are shaped within historically diverse social forms. Filipino values are not a garden of virtues but a moving, deeply fissured field.
What does the theory of hiya say about cases where people are denied the capacity to feel shame, and “honor” is reserved for some and denied others? Among Cebuanos, ikog is commonly associated with feelings of diffidence, inferiority, of being “out of place” that subalterns have in dealing with those who are socially superior. Being “tailed” is not an attribute associated with the rich and powerful, which may suggest the claim (I am freely elaborating, of course) that only they have become fully “human.” In traditional Maranao society, maratabat (which carries both the meaning of “honor” and “shame”) is strictly defined by the social structure and a person’s position in it, such that high-status persons are expected to be zealous in possessing and protecting it, while slaves are not supposed to have it and may be punished for showing it.24
What happens to shame when an old moral order disappears — and with it, the old ways of achieving honor — and a new one has not quite replaced what has been lost? The historian Renato Rosaldo movingly describes Ilongots who, forced to abandon an old moral code based on headhunting, have been converted to Protestantism and incorporated into a nation-state that have not quite replaced the power the old ways had of fully becoming a “person.”25
What happens to shame?
 Contagious and patterned, emotions are eminently social. Shame presupposes a recognition of self in relation to others, of boundaries and hierarchies, of conceptions of honor and what makes a person “civilized” or “human.” Like honor, with which it is often paired, shame presupposes a “public” that expects and enforces it. It applies not only to individuals but groups and societies.
To study emotions — when and how they are expressed, in what social relations or circumstances, with what quality or weight — is to study social and moral systems. These systems are best understood from “within,” as they are constituted by thoughts and feelings (which are intimate with actual experience) rather than “values” (a normative term that carries with it its origins in economics, where it is reified and assigned a “value” apart from the social context that generates it).
Shame operates in societies where the paths towards individual perfection are communal, that is, where one seeks perfection with others, moved by feelings of mutuality and the shared sense that one “completes” the other. Such an ideal does not exist in a pure form, as Philippine examples attest. The alo of the binukot is enabled by relations of hierarchy, her existence made possible by those who work in her stead, attend to her needs, or carry her when she goes forth. The sipug of the Tausug is articulated in distinctly masculine terms, taking heightened form when the adult male, guardian of his family’s honor, redeems a blood debt by killing another.26 The betang of the Ilongot is more egalitarian and consensual, but then we must remember that, while sensitive to the feelings of co-villagers, Ilongots headhunts strangers. We must attend to the ways shame is a tool for exclusion and domination — as well as the prospect of an order, or disorder, where perfection is purely individual, where one is responsible only to oneself and no one else, and shame does not exist.
For now, we can only sketch what a history of shame might be.
There is the time before shame, the state of perfect innocence before the child is socialized into a world of social norms.
There is shame in the world of family and community, where, when ruled by an ethos of inclusion and mutuality, shame does not humiliate or dominate but functions as an inner force that makes one fully a “person” among others.
There is the aestheticization of shame as a heightened sensitivity to others, a sense of social equilibrium enacted in refined, ceremonious manners, an idealized, performative state enabled by relations of hierarchy.
There is shame as instrument for ensuring deference and enforcing discipline, the internalization of naked relations of power.
And when the moral order breaks down, and the conventional wisdom (though wisdom it should not be called) is that you have to be “shameless” to get ahead, there is — as we know all too painfully well — the loss of shame, and honor itself.