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Initiation: My Filipino Tattoo Experience

February 19, 2013 in Conversations and Stories, Personal Stories and Journeys, Reflections by geejay langlois

By Felicia Perez

Tattoos have always fascinated me. I remember sitting on my Uncle Lapu Lapu’s lap as a child, giggling and laughing as I touched the picture of a scantily clothed woman on his arm, a tattoo he received while in the army during the Korean War. As I grew older, my attention was captured by the intricate designs on the skin of strangers, friends and family. These “symbols” carried the essence, archetypes and soul of the individual, a skin journal of the self. Yet even with my avid interest in tattoos, I felt hesitant to receive one myself. I couldn’t imagine myself sitting in a tattoo shop, hearing the drilling sounds of the machine with rave music blasting, while a man covered in tattoos and piercings, went about tattooing something “meaningful and sacred” on my body. I knew on an intuitive level that spirituality and tattooing went hand in hand, something that could be found in my Filipino ancestry, but was lost to most Westerners.

As a teenager, I remember distinctly, as if my unconscious mind wanted me to carry the images and auditory sensations throughout time, a film I watched with my parents called “The Bounty.” The film was based upon a historical event of an English crew during the 1700s that mutinied against their captain in the Tahitian islands. Mel Gibson played the leader of the mutiny named Fletcher Christian. There is a scene in the film where Fletcher receives a traditional Tahitian hand-tapped tattoo in the hut of the local chieftain’s daughter. His Tahitian lover is comforting him by massaging his head as women are chanting in the background. His face looks intense, yet peaceful as if he is receiving a sacrament. The sound of the tapping echoes throughout my mind.

I often “forget” my Filipino ancestors as I become unconscious and develop amnesia from the stresses of the modern world, where the mind and ego rule and intuition and spirit go underground. The ancestors are always present in between the world of spirit and this physical plane. They do not want to be forgotten, so they send messages and signs that serve to wake me up, often in dreams, but many times through individuals I feel connected to spiritually. I received one of these wake up calls in an email I received from my friend Leny Strobel about the agenda for the Center for Babaylan Studies (CFBS) weekend retreat held at her home in Northern California. In her email, she mentioned that Philippine tattoo expert Lane Wilcken would also be giving hand-tapped tattoos; an ancient Filipino style of tattooing using a boar’s tusk and wild orange thorns. I felt a rush of excitement and without needing to think about it, immediately responded, “I want a hand-tapped tattoo!”

When I first arrived at the retreat, I felt an immediate sense of comfort, a home coming with kindred spirits meeting collectively as if we had prearranged this meeting thousands of years ago. There was much food, laughter and indigenous Filipino music playing. I could feel that our intentions were pure, sacred and purposeful. I had no idea when I would receive my tattoo, until it was revealed during our circle of sharing that it would be witnessed by the entire group while we told stories of our ancestral tribal myths and folktales. I took a deep breath, knowing at that moment that what I was about to experience would be transformative, beyond my reasoning capacity, beyond the self.

For the tattoo design, I had chosen an image of the sun to be placed on the right side of my back. According to Lane Wilcken, the right side represents my father’s Filipino ancestral lineage. I asked Lane to base the design on a 16th century illustration of a Visayan man covered in tattoos, which was drawn by a Spanish colonizer in a manuscript known as “The Boxer Codex.” The pre-colonial babaylans (Filipino healers) had also honored the sun in their rituals with dance and music. I couldn’t fully grasp it at the time, but I knew there was hidden wisdom in the sun. I now believe my Filipino ancestors were privy to this knowledge.

Tapping, Tapping

Ink on skin

Awakens memories from within

The first tap of the orange thorn hit my back with intense force as the sound reverberated within my ears, like sonar waves it opened a gateway into a spiritual realm. I immediately saw myself in a cave with a Filipino man dressed in pre-colonial clothing. His red putong on his head stood out as he kneeled, looking directly at me as I received the tattoo. He appeared to be related to me genetically, an ancestor watching over my initiation into the deeper mysteries of life. As Lane continued tapping, my ancestor’s image slowly began to disappear. I felt like I was somewhere between a waking state and a dream state of consciousness.

The sound of the tapping, like drums used by shamans in indigenous cultures, lulled me into a trance. With the kulintang a kayo (wooden kulintang) playing softly in the background, I felt the comfort of Will and Lorial tending gracefully to the wounds on my back. I felt the gentle touches of more friends, of Titania’s hands as she rubbed my cold feet and Marybelle as she massaged my lower back with her cat-like fingers.

I could hear the group talking about their myths and stories, but from a distance and in muffled voices, yet they were right next to me. I only remember pieces of the stories. The pain, struggles and strength of individual and archetypal experiences sunk within me as each tap of ink entered into my skin. I heard the voices of our ancestors in the voices of the storytellers next to me: Will, Lizae, Catherine, Marybelle, Lorial, Titania, Joanna, Roque and Leny. Each one spoke “truth” that had been buried in order to adapt to the surrounding culture, a culture which doesn’t hold space for grief, connection and wholeness.

I felt something emerging within me, like a dolphin swimming to the surface of the ocean to breathe or lava flowing at a steady pace down a hill. There was a rising sensation flowing through me as I held my trance for four hours long during the tattoo ritual. I felt what was being “birthed” within me was ancient wisdom resurfacing from the past and into the present. It had to be rekindled through indigenous ritual, community, truth telling, emotional connectedness and spiritual aliveness. This type of wisdom cannot be learned through books and Western schooling. It needed to be “experienced” by letting go of the ego or mind and reconnecting with spirit.

What I learned was that the sun design on my back was not just an inanimate object in the universe. It was not just something that took up space or could be described only in scientific terms as a depiction of a star which emanates light and expends its energy resulting in life on earth. What was revealed to me was this: my Filipino ancestors knew that the sun was conscious of itself!

I will forever treasure my Filipino hand-tapped tattoo experience. I feel honored and blessed that I was given the privilege to be a part of something so sacred and ethereal. This story will be passed down to all my descendants, as I now know that I will be present, as an ancestor, during their own Philippine tattoo initiations.

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Conversations – Tabada: Why doctors become nurses

July 27, 2009 in Babaylan and Community Healing, Conversations and Stories by admin

Periodically, we will post from the Babaylan Yahoo Group archives. The links offered invite the reader to study, reflect, meditate on the content of these materials. Some of the texts are journalistic in nature, some are scholarly, some are personal anecdotes. Please pay attention to the sources and references.

Sunday, March 02, 2003
Tabada: Why doctors become nurses
By Mayette Q. Tabada

One night the serpent in the sky swallowed the moon, and a boy in the village kept his mother awake with his questions.

—Nanay, where has the moon gone?

—Binacunauahan ang bulan, anak.

Despite the darkness in their room, the mother saw the confusion in her son’s eyes.

So she lifted her left arm and made it undulate in the liquid dark. Her son’s eyes followed that slithering arm.

—Our people believe there is a sawa, a large snake that lives in the sky, the underworld or the sea.

She bent her right hand at the wrist, making a broken tail that had been stepped upon.

—People across the sea call it the naga but in our shores we call it the bakunawa. Bent (bako) snake (sawa). Son, we have an eclipse because the serpent spirit has swallowed the moon.

The boy was quiet, absorbing this snake that must have been as long and thick as a coconut tree.

—Nay, what can make the bakunawa spit out the moon?

—Hear the noise our neighbors are making? The babaylan is getting them to scare the bakunawa into throwing up the moon.

And as his mother foretold, the boy saw the moon back in the sky the night after. Many times during his playing, the boy would stop to gaze at the pale and thin shadow. Was it hot or cold inside the snake’s mouth?

A day came when the boy’s mother and other villagers fell sick. The boy’s friends looked everywhere for him but he did not leave his mother’s side, his hot cheek warming her cold one.

—Nay, what is making you sick?

—There’s a fire in my loins, left by the spirits from the river. But the babaylan will put it out.

—Who is this babaylan, Nay?

—The babaylan is the bakunawa’s link to our world. His magic is stronger than that of the sultans, who only count wealth, or the priests, who look after souls. The babaylan is stronger because his power extends over the finite and the infinite.

—What power is this, Nanay?

—The power to heal, anak.

The complete text can be found on the Sun Star Cebu site. Link accessed 7/20/2009

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Conversations – Landscape: Re-inventing the babaylan

July 23, 2009 in Babaylan and Community Healing, Conversations and Stories, Historic Context, Modern Practices by admin

Third in a series, posted in 2008 at Global Balita

by Gemma Cruz Araneta

Re-inventing the babaylan

How did the babaylan cope with the onslaught of “cross and sword”? After the bloody revolts against their sworn enemies, the early Spanish missionaries; after burning churches and disfiguring Christian icons and after the painful betrayal of community members, the babaylans had to devise effective survival methods. They either fled to the mountains or adopted Christian ways to co-exist with the colonial order.

Mr. Adelbert Batica, a Filipino expat, sent his comments to my article “Silencing the babaylan.” He wrote: “The babaylan, as well as the symbols and images associated with them may have totally disappeared except where they have reappeared as modern-day healers and “hilot” who most often use oraciones as part of their healing practice. But, I would propose
that they were actually resurrected, “reinvented” if you may, under a Christian context.”

Indeed, there are several religious communities led by women like the “Ciudad Mistica de Dios”, at the foot of the sacred Mt. Banahaw that uses the Bible and Christian prayers as the basis of their own stylized rituals. Curiously, the “Ciudad Mistica de Dios” began with the “Iglesia Mistica Filipina” founded by Suprema Maria Bernarda in 1915. Mr. Batica observed: “The old ladies who act as prayer leaders at many religious devotionals including novenas (especially for the dead) seem to be carrying on the dynamic of the “babaylan”, although in this day and age instead of being armed with amulets she wears scapulars, religious medals, and usually carries a prayer book or “novenario” and a rosary.”

Complete text available on in the Global Balita archive.

Links accessed 7/19/2009

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Conversations – Landscape: Silencing the babaylan

July 22, 2009 in Babaylan and Community Healing, Conversations and Stories, Definitions, Historic Context by admin

First in a series, posted in 2008 at Global Balita

by Gemma Cruz Araneta

Silencing the babaylan

The BABAYLAN, a native priestess or spiritual leader in the days of datus and rajahs, has always been a subject of fascination to latter day Filipina feminists. There is no self-respecting conference on the empowerment of women that does not conjure the spirit of the babaylan directly after the national anthem is sang. So beguiling is the babaylan, members of the gay population insist that they are the rightful descendants and heirs of those enchanted women , a contention belied by a variety of historical evidence ranging from ancient epics and ritualistic formulae to the travel chronicles of Pigafetta and de Loarca who came to these shores with Magellan and Legazpi, respectively.

Antonio Pigafetta did not know they were called babaylan and referred to them as “viejas”, old women, because that was what they were. By the time a woman became a full-fledged babaylan, she was already middle-aged and menopausal for it took almost a lifetime to master that gift those sacred rituals and songs and to assimilate the wealth of ancient wisdom. That being the case, self-styled modern day babaylans like dancer Myra C. Beltran and singer Grace Nono, are probably too green to
aspire for such prominence. After all, the babaylan was a pillar of native society together with the datu, the panday and
bayani ( warrior); they were not only spiritual leaders but also guardians and harbingers of culture values and tradition.

Pigafetta wrote about how the “viejas” danced on a cambay cloth, chanting and drinking wine, playing reed trumpets (flutes probably) to pay homage to the sun . One of them sacrificed a pig, which revolted Pigafetta, and dipped the tip of her reed flute in the pig’s blood and marked the forehead of her busband, companions and community members…The vieja (babaylan) did not mark the Spaniards with pig’s blood, a bold and meaningful statement that went above Pigafetta’s head.

Complete text available on in the Global Balita archive.

Links accessed 7/19/2009

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Conversations – Landscape: Betraying the babaylan

July 21, 2009 in Babaylan and Community Healing, Books, Talks, Papers, CDs, Websites, Conversations and Stories, Historic Context by admin

Second in a series, posted in 2008 at Global Balita

by Gemma Cruz Araneta

Betraying the babaylan

Thanks to archive moles like historian Dr. Zeus Salazar (Ang Babaylan sa Kasaysyan ng Pilipinas 1999) who have unearthed and analyzed data about the enigmatic babaylan, we now know that in ancient times, she was the authority on mythology and cultural heritage, had healing power, was the harbinger of rituals and knew astronomy which she related to the vital agricultural cycle.

In Fe B. Mangahas compelling essay, “The Babaylan historic-cultural context”, we learn that the babaylan traversed both spiritual and physical realms so she inevitably became the formidable rival of the Spanish missionary /friar who were the spiritual and public leaders of a new religion and political dispensation. That was why the babaylan had to be culturally and socially disempowered; she had to be destroyed.

Prof. Carolyn Brewer, a historian from New Zealand wrote insightful articles about the babaylan like the ones in Bolinao who turned over their ceremonial instruments to the friars and stopped practicing “witchcraft.” The Recollects and Dominicans, according to Brewer, used newly-converted young boys to spy on the babaylans in their families, steal their paraphernalia, impersonate them and destroy and profane the anitos. How tragic it must have been for the babaylan to see their datus together with the asog (effeminate male babaylans) join the colonial bureaucracy.

Strikingly, the babaylans crossed swords with the Spanish colonial order. They revolted violently against the ”reduccion” (hamletting) whicih brough the community “bajo de las campanas.” Faced with intense vilification campaigns led by the Spanish friars, they urged their communities to preserve their own ancient beliefs and practices. Because they were so close to the people, It was not easy to destroy the babaylan.

Historian Milagros C. Guerrero wrote that many babylans led rebellions from 1596 to 1780 , like Dapungay of Cebu, Negros and Panay (1599), Caguenga, the “vieja anitera“ of Nalfotan, Segovia in Cagayan Valley (1607) , Yga whose alias ”Santa Maria” enraged Fray Juan de Abarca so much that he ordered Gapan, Nueva Ecija burnt and reduced to ashes (1648). From Oton, Iloilo (1664) a babaylan called herself “Santissima” and was impaled on a bamboo pole and fed to the crocodiles.

Complete text available on in the Global Balita archive.

Links accessed 7/19/2009

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Conversations: Lakandiwa – The Way of the Warrior

July 6, 2009 in Babaylan and Community Healing, Conversations and Stories, Events and Conference, Kapwa and Other Indigenous and Filipino Values by admin

Lakandiwa: The Way of the Warrior
by John Paul ‘Lakan’ Olivares*

When we contemplate the concept of a warrior, we often conceive a person who is trained in the martial arts, engaged in the thick of battle, or celebrated for conquering his foes. When we think of the ancient warrior (or even the present), the professional soldier comes to mind. These warriors come in various images, from the Roman gladiators or legionnaires, the Japanese samurai, or the medieval knight.

We often romanticize these people because of their exploits and most especially because of their warrior codes, such as Bushido for the samurai and Chivalry for the knight.

However, in my research on ancient/traditional(1) Philippine cultures I discovered that the concept of the warrior is completely different from what we would expect. There are many historical accounts and mythical epics about warriors and their exploits in battle, ranging from our national heroes (such as Andres Bonifacio), to early chieftains (such as Lapulapu), to even epic legends (such as Lam-Ang).

However, if we delve deeper into their stories, we will find that they were not professional soldiers. Warriors/heroes lead completely different lives when there was no war. In the pre-Hispanic times, the warriors were also landowners who were greatly respected not just for their martial prowess, but also for their leadership in administering the care of the land. In other words, they were also farmers and patrons of the various rituals that governed the daily lives of the people under their tutelage. Yet in times of war, these men would raise their arms and defend their homeland to the death.

I have observed these traits associated with a Bagobo man, whom I have met. Within this man’s clan, he is one of the chieftains in the council of elders, but he is also their chief magani, or warrior. Yet, on an ordinary day, he was a farmer, with several families under his care. On special occasions, he was a poet and a musician.

This is a warrior who is a far cry from the professional soldier we often think about. I can also say this for a whole range of people of traditional cultures, whom I have met in the course of my research and journeys around our archipelago.

There were the Tausug MNLF (Muslim National Liberation Front) soldiers, whom I met up in the mountains of Patikul, in Sulu. Having recently returned from skirmishes with the Philippine Marines, they immediately transformed into Pang-alay dancers performing in a wedding ritual.

There was the Mumbaki (shaman) of the Ifugao, whom I met in the hinterlands of Banaue, who was a farmer by trade, yet a seasoned warrior in clan wars of the past. In fact, in the ancient headhunting practices among the Cordillera cultures (Ifugao, Kalinga, Bontoc, etc), they would only start their forays after the planting or harvesting season was over.

There were the Aeta of the Subic area, who practice their martial arts in a dance that is also a ritual of fertility.

In other civilizations (and it seems to be continuing in the present), the professional soldier was created not in defense of the homeland, rather for conquest. They had no other duty but to be warriors, and were sustained by taxes from the common people. However, to augment their salaries and give justification to their existence they needed to go to war and collect loot by pillaging others. It is just common sense not to pay taxes for an army, if there was always peace, thus a war is needed.

In fact, the popular warrior codes such as Bushido, were guiding principles among the samurai and their daimyo, anyone lower than these were treated as lesser people and not treated with respect as dictated by the code of honor. Among the European knights, the Code of Chivalry was drafted to curb the barbaric acts of the knights against other people. The code of the Cavalier (the mounted knight) has been overly romanticized, yet hardly enforced in the Dark Ages.

No matter how idealized were their codes of conduct, their lives revolved around the killing of others and not the defense of the people.

Looking back again at our ancient warriors in the Philippines, their lives revolved around creating, as in the tilling of the land and managing the lives of the families under his tutelage, rather than destroying through war. Because of these traits, we can view our heroes as builders rather than destroyers. In fact, the name hero or bayani, is derived from the ancient name for warrior; the magani for the Bagobo or the bagani for the Manobo. Thus the warrior/hero was more than just a fighter, he was a defender of the way of life, in battle or in the daily participation and administration of duties; such as farming and ritual. And, in my opinion, if they ever rose up in arms, it was not just to defend their lands and people, but to defend their way of living, their culture.

To summarize this concept, I have come across an ancient Tagalog word, ‘Lakan’, which means warrior, the freeman/landowner caste, or even chieftain. This seems to cover the range of responsibilities of the warrior/hero, from madirigma(warrior) to magsasaka(farmer) to mamanmanhala (leader).

Yet there is also another word, Lakandiwa, which is commonly described as a judge. Yet, if you breakdown the word into its components, you get Lakan (warrior) and Diwa (spirit). Thus, Lakandiwa may also mean the spirit of the warrior or the way of the warrior. And from this word, we can derive our own code of the warrior: a hero who, in times of war or times of peace, leads us in our maintaining the very essence of our lives, our culture.

Author’s Notes: (1)In this paper, the Traditional Cultures are those ethno-linguistic groups whose cultural identity and practices are still very much the same from before Spanish, American, and Modern colonization. (2) 2009 June. (3) I wrote this as a Father’s Day gift to the men out there, to be the warriors of their families.

Biography: Artist, Designer, Advocate, and Teacher; John Paul ‘Lakan’ Olivares’ work is is inspired by his travels around the archipelago and living with different urban, rural and tribal communities. In these travels, he has searched for the Filipino spirit, which he tries to share in all his activities. In his paintings, he reflects a soulful connection with the various traditional indigenous cultures and the sensibilities of the people. Passionately rooted on Philippine lore, the free-spirited artist orients his audience to his journeys by way of graphic representations of nationalistic concepts which are simply expressed, yet sincerely articulated by his meditative art process. Beyond native motifs etched in his art, Olivares conveys themes that celebrate universal connectedness by his environment, which inspires him to share his own visions of beauty through his varied works.

He may be contacted through via email – lakan70 (at) hotmail (dot) com

The original article has been edited for style and grammar.

by admin

Ghost Stories

June 19, 2009 in Conversations and Stories by admin

(Tera writes: I wanted to thank you Leny. I started out writing about imperial trauma and Urduja, but your invitation to be part of the babaylan anthology really pushed me to consider the babaylan figure. What started out as an intellectual exercise has really become part of my spiritual practice, of who I am… I have grown so much over the past year, and it is really shifted things for me and my family. I wanted to include a draft of something I’m writing that perhaps expresses this babaylan journey better (it’s short).)

Ghost Stories (a draft) by Tera Maxwell

I grew up hearing ghost stories, the supernatural made natural in my otherwise conservative Mormon home. Home, rather a small rental, perched just outside the entrance to the Pensacola Naval Base, was inhabited by a ghost. A ghost is what made me cry when I was a baby. A baby, I cried whenever I was brought to that corner of our family room. Family room unsettled me, according to my dad.

My dad, otherwise skeptical, tells me, “One night, your mom and I were in bed, but I was awakened from sleep. Awakened from sleep when I hear your wail, I saw a shadow creep across the hall. Across the hall, it must be Cecilia, your nanny, I thought at first. First, I checked Cecilia’s room, but she was sleeping. Sleeping, and not wanting to wake her, I picked you up and held you until you nestled to sleep again. Again, I checked the doors and windows of the house, but they were all locked. All locked up” he insisted, “I know that house was haunted.”

Haunted by this story, intrigued by ghosts, I always ask about Cecilia. Cecilia is only mentioned in this ghost story:

“After your mom and I got married, she was given to us as a wedding present.” A wedding present, I can’t imagine my father used those words–always solicitous of others–, yet that was what I understood, that she was a wedding gift. Gift, servant, all the family that make your business their business when you marry a Filipina, it made my father very uncomfortable. Uncomfortable, he said, because “I didn’t like a third adult in our home when we wanted to raise you ourselves, so after a year, we asked her to leave. “To leave? “Then what happened to her after that?” “After that, she went to live with some other relative…”

With some other relative, the story drifts off, and I never question this story about the nanny Cecilia, a ghost memory in her own right, only surfacing in this telling of other ghost stories. Stories fed my own childish fantasies about having a nanny, like the English upper-class novels I’d love to read as a kid. As a kid, I asked my grandmother about Cecilia, and she explained, “She was staying with us cleaning and cooking but when we were stationed in Brussels, Belgium (my grandfather served in the US Navy, that’s how he came to the states) we couldn’t take her with us because she had no visa. No visa, so I left her with your mom to help her with the baby. With the Baby and your mom only twenty, I felt bad I couldn’t be there, so I left her Cecilia.”

Cecilia now drifts across the margins of my scholarly research about imperial memories, all sorts of ghost stories.

Ghost stories are what my grandmother tells me about when she was a young girl growing in the province of Bataan, Philippines, so she tells me, when she was scaling up the mango trees next to her house, oh it made her tita, a spinster, so angry to see her climbing her mango trees and devouring her mangoes, her tita came out wailing a stick and scolding her to come down from there right now, but this time, she was dangling with her tomboy legs from the branches when she saw the ghost of her grandmother, Nanay, who had just recently died–my grandmother tells me, “I just looked at Nanay, and she waved at me, and she wasn’t so frail anymore, but I was so surprised to see the ghost of my lola.”

Now, I tell my own ghost stories. Ghosts visit me at night. Or sometimes, after the children go to school. I’m sipping green tea. I look up. They are the spirits of my ancestors. I rarely see them, only feel them. Sometimes, I taste their sorrow. Mamang’s sorrow, for never showing my mother love. My grandmother was always critical, Mom says.

Now, I recognize and welcome these gifts. Before, I swallowed antedepressants or talktherapy. These spirits of my mothers and fathers. They visit to be acknowledged. I am ready for this work. A burden shifts. Joy scratches the back of my throat. I clear energetic beliefs passed through generations. Pebbles of regret ripple through one’s posterity. Never releasing the anguish of losing a child. Tears sting my eyes. Deep breath. Or centuries of anger like vinegar tracing through my blood. Our property was seized. We used to be royalty. Unworthiness laces through our DNA. Spirits witness the struggles of their children. The cycle continues. They want to be released. It is time.

I close my eyes. I see images. I feel the flames of a fire. This man mourns a loss. Never mind, we let it go. Mamang’s rape stifles my breast. I now feel her. My mother never understood. We clear the unspeakable together.

I am a babayalan, a Latter-Day-Saint babaylan. I bridge multiple worlds and oceans. Don’t tell other Mormons, academics, or even friends. I am crossing a line. Soon, the line will move over. The earth is shifting too. I clean and clear out the energetic baggage. The burdens of my ancestors. I feel lighter. Laughter reigns more freely in my home. My mom is starting to walk in her own power. I am noticing joy. We breathe miracles each day.

I write this now. It’s a memoir, or fiction? My grandmother knows. My mom, and my blond, blue-eyed (half) sister understand. And maybe, my babaylan sisters. For them, ghosts stories aren’t so strange.

Submitted by Leny Strobel. Tera Maxwell retains all copyrights.

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Conversations – Cultural Foundations: Kapwa and Bayan

June 18, 2009 in Conversations and Stories, Definitions, Kapwa and Other Indigenous and Filipino Values by admin

Filipino Community Portrait (excerpt)
by MC Canlas

Cultural Foundations: Kapwa and Bayan

A fundamental Filipino cultural concept is kapwa, the unity of “self ” and “others,” a sense of “fellow being,” a recognition of shared identity or inner self shared with others. “Anyone looking for a core concept that would help explain Filipino interpersonal behavior cannot help but be struck by the super ordinate concept of kapwa,” wrote Filipino psychologist Virgilio Enriquez.

The Filipino immigrant is fond of asking a newly introduced Filipino, “Taga saan ka sa atin?” The question, literally “Where are you from in the Philippines?” is an essential part of Filipino identity formation. The usual response consists of one’s family name and the community he or she belongs to or identifies with. In my case, for example: “I am Canlas of San Fernando, Pampanga, but we moved to Quezon City when I was in my teens.”

The question, posed without malice or sense of intrusion, elicits a response that facilitates discovery of a common bond, or ka. Kababayan, for example, are town mates (ka + bayan, or town) and kamag-anak (ka + mag-anak, or family) are relatives. Filipinos naturally seek out levels and degrees of connectivity to build kapwa and sociocultural affinity that contextualizes their interaction and establish rapport.

Again, in my case, for example, likely follow-up questions would be, “Are you related to the Canlas of Santo Tomas?” ” Do you know the Calalangs in San Fernando?” “Was your family ever in Tondo, Manila? My mother’s mother is from there and she’s a Canlas,” and so on. Chances are the person asking me will discover that our grandparents were cousins or our parents attended the same school, for example, and say: “Ah, it’s a small world, we’re related!”

This emphasis on place of origin dates back to long before Filipinos were even known as Filipinos, a time when our ways of life, culture, and identity were tied to settlement patterns and environment. Settlements tended to be located along rivers, lakeshores, and seacoasts, and even those in the hinterlands tended to parallel mountain streams. In fact, names for various Filipino ethnolinguistic groups and geographical locations are derived from bodies of water. For example, Tagalog means “native of the river”; Kapampangan are “people of the riverbank,” Cebu comes from Sugbu, meaning “riverbank,” and Lanao, Maranao, Maguindanao, and Mindanao all come from danao, “lake of flooded areas.” This water-based culture, coupled with a sacred view of the mountains, constituted the material basis of the beliefs, customs, and traditions of the ancestors of Filipinos. The houses (bahay) were usually located near people’s source of livelihood, along the shore in coastal communities, and closer to the fields in the interior. People lived together in barangays of thirty to a hundred families, and social organizations developed around kinship and neighborhood connections.

Their sense of community, or bayan, is deeply rooted in extended family relationships and neighborhood bonds. The core traditions of family-based communities as expressed in their language and culture, leadership, and governance structures, and spiritual and social life have persisted for centuries despite colonialism, social upheaval, and natural disasters.

The connection between family and community is transparent in the lexicon. The term bayan is relative. Today, it may mean “motherland,” Inang Bayan; “nation-state,” Bayang Pilipinas; “town” or “municipality,” Bayan ng San Roque; “town center,” kabayanan; people or fellow citizen or belonging to the same ethno-linguistic group or region, kabayan or kababayan. The protector of the community is Bayani, while bayanihan, usually symbolized by a group of people carrying a house to another place, is a valued practice of cooperation, self-help, and mutual support among neighbors and extended families. Balikbayan is community and family renewing, either physically or spiritually to one’s homeland. Filipino returnees and tourists in the Philippines are called balikbayans.

by admin

Kapwa Conference 09

June 5, 2009 in Conversations and Stories, Events and Conference, Kapwa and Other Indigenous and Filipino Values by admin

Kapwa Conference 09
San Francisco State University
*** SATURDAY, JUNE 27, 2009 ***

WHAT IS KAPWA? Kapwa is a Filipin@ word that describes oneness, interconnectedness, holism, and symbiosis among living beings and the broader environment.

Kapwa Conference 09, organized by Pin@y Educational Partnerships and Fulbright-Hays Philippines Study Tour 2008, will focus on the work of educators to better serve the diverse nature of today’s student population – Filipin@ youth, people of color, and similarly marginalized persons to transcend the effects of colonization and go beyond the basics of identity politics, to develop survival strategies, foster healing, and to build bridges and nurture community.

Through lectures, panels, roundtables, symposia, workshops, exhibits and performances, we will specifically explore roles and perspectives at the intersections of the Global, Local, and Personal levels. Please visit the Presenters’ pages for Global, Local, and Personal to see the full range of topics, including critical pedagogy, arts integration, history, activism, gender and sexuality, and equity in education.

by admin

Conversations: Land and Women – The Matrilineal Factor

June 2, 2009 in Conversations and Stories, Feminine Divine, Historic Context by admin

Land and Women: The Matrilineal Factor
The cases of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu
by Kristina E. Stege, Ruth Maetala, Anna Naupa & Joel Simo. Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Elise Huffer, Editor (2008)


“The women here are so sure of themselves… maybe it’s that we know for sure that we have land…Even if I don’t get land from my husband, I still have it from my mother and nothing can change that…”— (Palauan woman [no name given], cited in Margold and Bellorado, 197?)

This report brings together three studies on matrilineal land tenure carried out in the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI), Vanuatu and Solomon Islands. The respective authors, Kristina Stege, Anna Naupa and Joel Simo, and Ruth Maetala, conducted their research in at least two areas in each country – including one urban and one rural – with the overall objective of providing a better understanding of the current status of women in relation to land tenure, land management and
access to land in matrilineal areas.

This work is aimed at contributing a gendered perspective to the current regional focus on land issues and reform, particularly initiatives such as the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat’s Land Management and Conflict Minimization for Peace, Prosperity and Sustainable Development project (LMCM) and AusAID’s Pacific Land Program. It is also designed to provide updated, accessible
and locally derived information and recommendations for national land policy and legislative changes currently taking place in the three focal countries.

Submitted by Letecia Layson
Full text accessed 5/31/2009