That summer Haviland met Mol Petul, one of the village elders. An outgoing man whose father had worked with anthropologists, Petul showed exceptional kindness to Haviland. When Haviland returned to the town in later years with his first wife, Leslie, and their baby girl, Sophie, Petul saw that they needed their own place and gave them the use of one of his houses. Petul's daughter asked to be Sophie's godmother, and as she was unmarried Petul became the godfather. "We established real fictive kinship relations with those folks, and she became my comadre and he became my compadre," said Haviland. In 1974 Petul gave Haviland a house plot for his family, and Haviland built a two-room cinderblock Indian house in Petul's compound.
One of Petul's sons made his way up to Oregon with his cousin in 1986; the first Zinacantec undocumented workers in the U.S. "It was a fairly dramatic tale," said Haviland. "He came up here because I was here, even though I had been trying to convince him his whole life not to do it. He died 10 days later of this so-called sudden unexplained death syndrome. So it fell to me to take the body home. I've been an ongoing figure in this family ever since." Haviland's strong relationship with Petul continues, although he is now in his 90s with limited vision and hearing. Haviland also maintains relationships with his many godchildren, most of whom are now grown, and acts as a courier between Chiapas and Oregon, carrying money and cassette tapes and videos of family members back and forth.
After graduating from Harvard, Haviland decided to switch from philosophy to linguistics; he studied the philosophy of language in Sweden for a year on a fellowship. After his time in Sweden, Haviland returned to Harvard to do graduate work in anthropology. By this time he had spent several summers in Chiapas and had learned Tzotzil in the course of living there (he went on to write a grammar of Tzotzil). In 1970 he returned to write his thesis. "I was interested in how language was the major vehicle of social life, and in particular how people forged their knowledge of the social universe that they inhabited, largely through talk," explained Haviland. "The kind of fieldwork I was doing involved being part of village life. I first studied gossip systematically, learning an awful lot of it by just asking other people to tell me what kind of things they knew about other people." Haviland's thesis research resulted in his first of several books, Gossip, Reputation, and Knowledge in Zinacant n (University of Chicago Press, 1978).
Haviland developed another close mentor relationship when he first went to Australia to do postdoctoral research in Hopevale, northeast Queensland, on the Aboriginal language Guugu Yimithirr. (This is the source of the word "kangaroo," brought into English by Captain Cook and his crew.) "I got to the Hopevale community and said, `Here I am. Haviland from America wants to learn to speak this language.' They sent me to this one old man, Billy "muunduu" Jack, who had a son that was a little bit older than I was, but at that time was a real ne'er-do-well. . . . there were tremendous problems with drinking and violence in this community. Since I was spending extended periods of time by myself there, I moved in with Billy. He gave me a room in his house, and I spent as much time as I could talking with him."
Unlike in Chiapas, where fictive kinship relationships are possible by way of children or participation in ritual, in Hopevale, as in Aboriginal Australia in general, everyone is considered to be related to everyone else, and kinship relations define the fabric of the community. So old man Billy asked Haviland to think of him as his father, "adopting" him. "Part of him teaching me the language was teaching me this social universe, teaching me what I should call everybody," said Haviland. He then met the rest of the community as his relatives, and he learned through the description of the relationships about where people came from and how they were all connected. The Hopevale community didn't consider Haviland to be like the other outsiders they had met. "Unlike all the other white people they'd seen before, I'd lived down at the Aboriginal end of town, lived in Aboriginal houses, eaten Aboriginal food, and was learning to speak the language-something that the recent Lutheran missionaries had never done." Haviland's middle daughter, Maya, was born in Australia, and she and Sophie went to school there. (Sophie later attended Reed, graduating in 1992 in theatre.)
Photo below from left to right: artist Tulo Gordon, Roger Hart, Bob Flinders and Haviland haul a Queensland groper or "nhinhinhi" up onto the beach while his daughter Maya looks on. It had to be pulled out of the water with a Land Cruiser. July 1980.