The Bontok-Igorot Anthropologist: June Chayapan Prill-Brett

Written by Maria Carinnes Pamintuan Alejandria.

The Bontok-Igorot Anthropologist: June Chayapan Prill-Brett

 june bret1Born in July 31, 1939, June Chayapan Prill-Brett is the first Igorot anthropologist to finish a Ph.D. at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. Growing up in a multi-cultural household with her mother who was an Igorot and her father who was American, Dr. June was introduced to the lifeways of her mother’s village by spending every summer there encouraged by her father. It is within this backdrop that she would later develop a keen interest in the culture of the people of Mt. Province with whom she strongly affiliates with.

In the 1950s, she completed a degree in midwifery and was highly active in her advocacy for maternal health care among the slum dwellers in Marikina.  Due to lack in medical supplies, she and her classmates would often use their own resources to provide for the needs of their clients. In 1959, she left this field to take on a career as a PAL flight attendant which lasted for four years. This job allowed her to travel and visit European museums and ancient cultural sites. It was her husband, James Brett, who convinced her to leave the flight industry to commence her education at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. Her husband, being a sociology major, encouraged her to take on a BA in Sociology. It was after 18 units that she decided to leave the department of sociology and move to the department of anthropology where she felt her heart was.

It could be said that Dr. June is a product of UP Diliman’s Department of Anthropology as she finished her Bachelor (1971), Master (1975), and Doctorate (1987) Degrees from this institution. At the time when her contemporaries were taking scholarships abroad, she has decided to stay in the country and finish her degrees here with the intent of maintaining a well-bonded family. While taking her MA, she started working as a lecturer at UP Baguio. It was here that she would contribute to the training and development of local anthropologists in the Cordillera Region.

As a student of anthropology, she has been influenced largely by Prof. E. Arsenio Manuel who trained her to be an ethnographer. One methodological legacy of Manuel to her is that of conducting field works without any theoretical bias during her undergraduate training. This approach argues that credible ethnographic work should shy away from heavy theory prior to fieldwork as this clouds the collection of data. Being an educator, she has also followed this tradition and let her students find their theory in the field.  This process, she argues, allowed her to gain a better understanding of the political and property systems in the Cordillera which are in stark contrast to western models.

Some of her acclaimed works are Survey of Cordillera Indigenous Political Institutions, Irrigation and ritual regulation in Bontok  society, Pechen : the Bontok peace pact institution -- with a Foreword by William Henry Scott, Common property regimes among the Bontok of the Northern Philippine highlands and state policies, and Landholding and indigenous corporate groups among the Bontok of Mountain Province, Philippines. Her study on Gender relations in Bontok society, presents a society where rape is unheard of, and where men and women are equally valued by the society.

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Dr June Prill-Brett (Right) with Dr. Hal Conklin (Left) and Dr. Ronald Himes (Middle) taken in Bayninan, Ifugao.

Today, Dr. June Prill-Brett remains to be an active faculty member (emeritus) of the Department of Social Anthropology and Psychology where she teaches graduate courses and continues to do research. As part of her passion for Cordillera studies, she continues to revisit data banks on the history of the region and the cultural intersections between the colonial administrators and the locals. 

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Dr. Dr June Prill-Brett wearing the traditional Igorot clothes