Editor’s note: We defer our regular column to bring to readers Leny Mendoza Strobel and this Babaylan Issue.
May all that is Remembered and Re-membered bless us.
We remember Cariapa, Cabacungan, Estrella Bangotbanwa, Bolandugan, Caquenga, and all the ancient Babaylans who appear and do not appear in the historical records. These unearthed records written by the Spanish, speak of the systematic ways of extermination of the Babaylan in the first 100 years of colonial encounter. With the reading of these buried histories, our memories of their babaylan work awakened our own memories buried in our cultural genes. Our ancestors have been calling us, courting us and now our generation has heard the call and we have gathered ourselves together to listen and remember together. We remember them today because the Spirit World that gave them their gifts of healing, foretelling, priestessing, and teaching, have continued to give the same gifts to those who have the ears to hear, eyes to see, and the heart to care about the Land. In our Filipino story, our homeland is the Philippines.
Thank you to the editors of Our Own Voice for inviting us to feature the Babaylan Conference in this issue. OOV has, for many years, collected an archive of literary and scholarly works that speaks to the yearnings and longings of Filipinos in the Diaspora to have a taste of Home when they visit its pages. OOV has always been sweet nectar for me, a safe refuge, and a cradle of comfort. More particularly, this and other communities online, like the Babaylan listserve and websites like babaylan.net, Pinay.com, newfilipina.com, have created a groundswell of interest in Filipino Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices especially the Babaylan tradition.
This groundswell has been building up over time—in both linear and mythic time—and its most recent manifestation was the First International Babaylan Conference held at Sonoma State University on April 17-18, 2010.
The Path Of Good Remembering
Fr. Albert Alejo of Ateneo de Davao University told me (and a group of California teachers) during our Fulbright trip this story: One day he was invited to a meeting with indigenous leaders in Mindanao. At lunch time as they were about to eat, one of the leaders said – since we have a priest with us, perhaps we should say a prayer and Fr. Alejo said—if I am not with you, will you be saying a prayer? The answer was: No, Father, because you see we gave thanks to the land when it received the seeds, we gave thanks to the seeds when they sprouted and yielded, we gave thanks when we harvested, we gave thanks when we cooked . . . so by the time the food is served, Father, it is already sacred.
Fr. Alejo told us this story to remind us that indigenous peoples and their sense of the Sacred Whole is intact. Their consciousness is not split into secular and sacred.....everything and everyone is sacred.
Another time he reminded me that I should not worry or grieve about indigenous peoples disappearing because of the encroachment of modernity. He said “Leny, all it takes is for one of them to have a dream, a vision, and everything comes alive again.”
Years later, at the Kapwa Conference in Iloilo, I saw again how this is true. I and a group of Filipino Americans who attended the conference met babaylans, oralists, chanters, culture-bearers, indigenous leaders who, against the tide of globalizing forces, maintain their indigenous world view and practices with integrity, creativity, strength, and courage of conviction. I was also introduced to Kidlat Tahimik’s concept of indio-genius— referring to non-indigenous folks (as so many of us are)—who are reclaiming their sariling duwende (inner trickster), or their indigenous selves.
So for those of us who are consciously decolonizing, the work we have been doing all along is the work of Remembering—Re-membering the Sacred ones—our babaylan ancestors and their wisdom, their wholeness, the functions they served in their communities as healers, as mediators with the spirit world, as folk therapists, as social workers, cultural bearers and advocates.
The process of decolonization as the path of good remembering begins with grief . . . the recognition and acknowledgement of the pain of History. But when this grief is catalyzed by access to Filipino Indigenous Knowledge and Practices, the pain and grief that we have held in our bodies, in our hearts and minds and spirit—can be released as medicine.
Scholars, poets, writers, musicians, dancers, activists, healers, priestesses, social justices advocates, cultural advocates, and culture bearers who heard the call of the Indigenous were at the conference. Many of those who responded to the call said: I cannot NOT do this work. This is the path I have been looking for a long time. I just get it, I really do.
During the conference, we gathered medicine for ourselves and each other, for our communities, for the Earth and beyond.
Below are the general questions that were brewed together for this conference. We chose our keynote speakers on the basis of the work they have done in the Philippines and their access to primary Babaylans and culture-bearers. We asked them to provide us with the stories and theories and concepts that, for those of us in the Diaspora, we can begin to include in our knowledge base. This is the core of the conference.
Scholars, what new areas of research open up to us when we privilege the indigenous discourse? What obstacles are we going to face in the academe when we venture into this area and are we willing to pay the price?
Healers, how can we integrate the decolonization perspective when we are healing the minds, spirit, and bodies of our Kapwa? How do we integrate the indigenization perspective in social work, in public health?
Artists, how do we tap more deeply into the well of our Loob where our sariling duwende dwells and where works of healing through the arts are conceived and born?
Social Justice Activists, how can we use the frame of Kapwa when we critique social structures that breed injustice and inequality?
As Filipino Culture-Bearers, what are we being called to do to manifest the spirit of the ancient Babaylan?
The second track of the conference built on the core plenary sessions. From knowledge about the work of Primary Babaylans in the Philippines, we want to build a body of knowledge and practices as Babaylan-inspired practitioners; we want to build a community in which practices can be made alive. Thus, Ritual is a very important part of this conference. Rituals are our guide to remembering and connecting with our Loob, our Kapwa, with our Ancestors, and with Bathala.
The Center for Babaylan Studies was created as a container for the many conversations, creative projects, research projects by women and men who recognize that our decolonization process must go beyond its deconstructivist modes. In recognizing the relevance of Filipino Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices and specifically, the Babaylan practice, the Center positions itself as this vessel of articulation and practice.
But why now, in the 21st century, are we looking back to the animist and shamanistic heritage of indigenous Filipinos? In the U.S., there is a growing recognition of the relevance of the indigenous perspective. This modern culture is fond of inventing new names for the wisdom of ancient practices, but it is a tacit or unsaid recognition that there is something flawed in the modern worldview that is grounded solely in materialist terms. There have always been underground/ alternative movements seeking to balance or transform or subvert this materialist orientation. These movements tout the slogan “Another World is Possible” and very often, at the center of their discourses are indigenous experts from the various native communities in the US, Canada, and Latin America and beyond. Van Jones, the recently deposed U.S. environment czar called it “the reverence movement.”
For us who gathered at the conference, we acknowledged that we have always felt this “reverence” in our bones . . . it is deeper than our religious devotion to a professed faith. We knew it even before we had a name for it.
As many of us are engaged in the decolonization process, we are also being serenaded by the song and dance of the Babaylan. She who understood the Sacredness of the Land, of Creation, of Cosmos, of all Beings. She who still walks with the spirits and the ancestral anitos and who receives their guidance and wisdom from this embodied knowing and relationship – we hear the courtship song.
We organized this conference to enlarge the container and expand our community. We need a body of knowledge, a body of practices, and a beloved community in which the knowledge and these practices can be made alive.
Now in Our Own Voice, we share some of the fruits of the conference via personal narratives, photographs, poetry, short stories. Enjoy the delicious offerings for the body, mind, and spirit. Stay in touch with us via our Facebook page, Center for Babaylan Studies, or our website: http://www.babaylan.net. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Leny Mendoza Strobel