The Book of Human Emotions: From Ambiguphobia to Umpty - 154 Words from Around the World for How We Feel - Tiffany Watt Smith 2016


“The implicit poetry in Ifaluk emotional understandings is nowhere more evident than in the concept of fago,” wrote the anthropologist Catherine Lutz in the late 1980s. While living among the people of Ifaluk, a tiny coral atoll in the Caroline Islands of the Pacific, Lutz became fascinated by an emotion that she instinctively recognized but for which there was no English equivalent.

Fago is a unique emotional concept that blurs COMPASSION, SADNESS and LOVE together. It is the pity felt for someone in need, which compels us to care for them, but it is also haunted by a strong sense that one day we will lose them. Fago comes in those moments when our love for others, and their need for us, feels so unexpectedly overwhelming—and life so very fragile and temporary—that we well up.

Lutz suggested that the fact the Ifaluk, who are famed for their nonaggression, have a distinct emotion to describe a combination of sorrow, and the compassion that might go some way to relieving it, points to the importance of mutual concern in their culture. It also alerts us to the inevitability of grief in all human life.

Fago,” wrote Lutz, “is uttered in recognition of the suffering that is everywhere, and in the spirit of a vigorous optimism that human effort, most especially in the form of caring for others, can control its ravages.”

See also: GRIEF.