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The Road Ahead for the Indigenous Peoples

November 26, 2014 in Babaylan and Community Healing, Decolonization and Filipino Identity, Events and Conference, In the News, Indigenous Education, Modern Practices, Organization Updates, Reflections and Commentaries by Jen Maramba

by Celeste Ann Castillo Llaneta in UP Forum

For countless years, indigenous peoples (IPs) have lived on the fringes of society, barely mentioned even in the footnotes of history texts. The IPs, if given any attention at all, are often viewed as collateral damage in the march to economic development, as members of a somewhat lesser race of humans, and at best, icons of a romanticized past regularly trotted out and paraded during cultural celebrations. This is the case for many of the 370 million indigenous peoples in some 90 countries around the world.

“[IPs around the world] share common problems—the non-recognition of their rights to their territories and human rights violations—but in different degrees,” said Marissa Cabato of the Philippine Program for the Indigenous People’s Empowerment and Sustainable Development under the Baguio City-based indigenous peoples organization Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education).

Tebtebba (www.tebtebba.org) was one of the participants in the Rio+20 International Conference of Indigenous Peoples on Self-Determination and Sustainable Development held on June 19, 2012 at Rio De Janeiro, participated in by IP organizations, traditional and spirituals leaders and indigenous peoples from seven regions of the world. “During those partner-meetings, representatives from different countries came together and discussed their situations, so we saw that the issues [the IPs] are confronting are not all that different from one another.”

Progress has been made in all areas of development with regard to the world’s indigenous peoples since the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations was designated in 1982 to promote and protect the human rights and basic freedoms of indigenous peoples. This led to the drafting of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 1995 and its eventual approval on September 13, 2007. However, Cabato acknowledges that the issue of the non-recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights remains as pressing as ever, even into the second decade of the 21st century.

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In The News: Filipino Women Power

June 17, 2009 in Definitions, Events and Conference, In the News by admin

Originally published in Filipinas Magazine in the March 2009 issue, reprinted with permission from the author

Filipino Women Power
by Allen Gaborro (Filipinas Magazine, pg. 45-47)

It was with the arrival of European colonialism in the 16th century that the high ideal of an indigenous Filipina woman and its practice was uprooted alongside much of the pre-colonial culture and society that it had been embedded in for centuries. One of those feminine ideals was that of the “Babaylan” which is akin to something along the lines of a spiritual leader. Several definitions have been attributed to the term Babaylan. It is said to be the Visayan word for either “priestess,” “shaman,” “medicine man/woman,” “miracle-worker,” “mystic,” or for all of the above.

While both males and females could be babaylans, it was women who made up the majority of them during the pre-colonial period. Not relegated to being simply spiritual leaders, babaylans also assumed specialized roles in their respective pre-modern communities. Babaylans performed as healers, as receptacles of knowledge, as skilled practitioners in shamanistic traditions, and as native philosophers and therapists. Other duties ascribed to the babaylans included social mediation and spiritual mediumship.

What is perhaps most fascinating about the responsibilities of a babaylan is the amount of political influence and power they wielded. There is a considerable amount of historical evidence showing that babaylan women functioned as important counselors in their tribal communities. Babaylan women in addition, were valued as political and economic administrators in the service of the ruling tribal chiefs (datus). They also acted as communal custodians, oracles of wisdom, and as authoritative leaders of their people. In short, the babaylan were a pillar of social stability, or more precisely one of the four pillars—datu (chief), bagani (warrior), panday (native technologist), babaylan—of the barangay community. Indeed, they were what one writer termed as their community’s “central personality.”

In a sign of the more egalitarian ethos they lived in, the babaylan women were afforded comparable, if not entirely equal, status with men in their community’s social hierarchy. In some cases, they found themselves even more powerful and influential than their male counterparts. In fact, few decisions were reached without the consent of the babaylan.

While most babaylans were female, their male versions deserve some mention. It is said that the babaylan was the symbolic manifestation of both female and male power, an approximation of the yin and yang principle. Interestingly, babaylan men were believed to have worn feminine attire. This goes back to the idea that some babaylans were androgynous in nature and that they were endowed with the sexual properties of both genders.

The process of becoming a babaylan involved supernatural occurrences and paranormal states. According to babaylanic traditions, a person can begin developing into a babaylan by experiencing dreams that express a sacred summons, or a “rukut,” emanating from a mystical being. It should be pointed out that a person can become a babaylan by way of inheritance. A descendant can transmit a babaylanic tradition down to their successors.

Sometimes a sacred summons comes to a person in a trance. This trance resembles somewhat the phenomena of spiritual possession. If a person receives such a summons, they are deemed to be especially chosen by supernatural spirits to be a babaylan.

The chosen ones are then escorted by a “surog” or a spirit guide on a spiritual expedition. This journey will take them to a transcendental endpoint where they will be able to communicate with ancestral spirits. The completion of this unworldly journey, as it is indicated by the surmounting of the trance stage, signals the chosen one’s readiness for interaction with supernatural entities.

Under the auspices of an active babaylan, the newly-discovered babaylan is immersed in the essentials of babaylanic rituals and practices. Once the babaylan finishes their training, they receive amulets and other small ornaments (“pangalap”) which they use for a variety of ritualistic customs. Typically, these rituals entail ancestral spirit worship. Babaylanic rituals also have therapeutic powers that are utilized for the benefit of the sick. Ritualistic chanting is conducted by babaylans whenever a community is hit with an emergency or with trouble of some kind. The babaylanic rituals are intended to mollify the spiritual entities that are believed to be the origin of the difficulty.

Why is the memory of the babaylan so faint in the collective Filipino historical consciousness, given the leading positions that they held in pre-colonial society? Probably a key reason was the advent of Spanish colonialism in the Philippines in the 1500’s. The Spanish colonizers brought with them notions of masculine vanity, a dominant patriarchical paradigm, and a Catholic clergy that cast aspersions on the babaylan. This foreign clergy would supplant the babaylan and their rituals and instill Christian teachings and sacraments in their place.

It was not beyond the Spanish to use unadulterated violence in repressing the babaylan. In her publication, “A Book of Her Own: Words and Images to Honor the Babaylan,” Professor Leny Mendoza Strobel writes that, as recounted by historian Mila Guerrero, babaylan women were physically slaughtered with wanton cruelty. Their bodies were consequently, in Strobel’s words, mutilated as well: “as if to make sure [the babaylan] bodies never return, their bodies were chopped and fed to crocodiles.”

The Spanish legitimized their pogrom against the babaylan by invoking the preeminence of Christianity in the new colony. The babaylan and their philosophy were seen as an anathema to the colonizers’ religious beliefs and therefore had to be eradicated for the sake of the Christian faith. As part of that strategy, the Spanish friars demonized the babaylans as the “monstrous feminine.” Accompanying this perception was the friars’ claim that the babaylan were malignant enchantresses who were endowed with black magic powers.

The Spanish onslaught on the babaylan disrupted the generational inheritance of babaylanic knowledge and traditions from babaylanic mothers to their daughters. Attempts to revive that inheritance with the defeat of the Spanish and the dawn of American colonialism were futile for the most part as the babaylans were regarded as heretical by American Protestants in the Philippines as they were by the Spanish Catholic friars.

At present, the babaylan tradition is being rejuvenated as a Filipina expression of feminine power, independence, and wisdom. As Neferti Xina M. Tadiar writes in her essay “Filipinas ‘Living in a Time of War,’” contemporary Filipinas are reinventing “the role of the babaylan.” This role, Tadiar suggests, encapsulates the power that Filipinas exert. She means both the “the power over life” and “the power for life” that Filipinas utilize “in struggle” against social and political repression.

This 21st century version of the babaylan is a fresh take on the tradition, one that keeps its followers engaged in the pre-modern understanding of the sagacious babaylan female. This version at once, espouses a babaylanic spirit that characterizes modern-day Filipinas’ collective empowerment and resistance against historical subjugation and inequity.

Filipina intellectuals and activists have divided Filipina women into two definitive archetypes: the Maria Clara type and the babaylan. The Maria Clara type is identified with the image of the submissive, compliant Filipina. In contrast, the babaylan type constitutes the politically-conscious, autonomous, and enlightened Filipina female.

Professor Leny Mendoza Strobel, through her writings and scholarship, has emphasized the postcolonial bearing that has been attached to the babaylan. Strobel reprises the babaylan as a revolutionary force, as a symbol for tearing down the psychological edifice of colonial dispossession and domination that has plagued Filipinos. She writes that by invoking the babaylan name, Filipinos everywhere can draw on its “power to heal” and its “power to call the wandering, colonized soul, back into its own body and home.” Strobel also tells us that babaylanic traditions “provide us a language for talking back to the [American] empire that we now paradoxically belong to.”

The babaylan ideal has been modified over the course of Philippine history. And yet, even in its evolved state, how the babaylan heritage is understood still revolves around its pre-modern past. That compelling and significant past is very much alive today thanks in part to the restoration of the babaylan tradition.

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In The News: Bay Area Artists Revive Old Filipino Writing

June 9, 2009 in Creative Expressions, Performances, Art, Poetry, Events and Conference, In the News, Kapwa and Other Indigenous and Filipino Values, Modern Practices by admin

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Laguna’s Midwives of the Soul

May 1, 2009 in Babaylan and Community Healing, Feminine Divine, In the News, Modern Practices by admin

~~ In the News ~~
LOS BAÑOS, Laguna – They call themselves “midwives of the soul.” But while midwives assist women during childbirth, these hospice volunteers “give comfort to the dying.”

“When dying, there is so much pain – physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual. The hospice attends to all those,” said hospice president Monina Mercado.

In 1993, Fermin and Lourdes Adriano, both professors at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), lost their 14-year-old daughter, Sarah, to cancer. Trying to assuage their grief, they attended a hospice seminar of Filipino oncologist Dr. Josefina Magno in Manila.

Magno, who was the pioneer of hospice care in Washington D.C. and Maryland, was then commissioned by the World Health Organization to bring the idea of palliative care to Third World countries.

The Adrianos introduced hospice care to colleagues and to some members of church groups in Los Baños the following year.

The Madre de Amor Hospice was founded and its first president was Antonio Mercado, Monina’s husband.

Since then, the hospice has serviced about 500 dying persons in 15 years and is considered the longest running community-based foundation with its center located in Los Baños Subdivision, formerly the Umali Subdivision, in Barangay Batong Malake.

“The dying usually asks not to be left alone, to be forgiven, to reconcile differences with spouse or children,” Monina said.
Death, she added, comes with the “fear of the unknown and of the end of things.”

The dying fears leaving loved ones behind.

“We do not promise cure to the patients, it is not in our hands,” said Monina. The hospice, instead, offers companionship and friendship to the dying as well as to the family of the dying.

A dying person goes through the denial stage and the hospice helps him/her accept the fact.

“Death is not death. It is a passage to the next life,” Monina said. As the body perishes, the soul remains. She said this is the “healing” the hospice could offer.

Monina remembered Emma, a hospice patient who had cancer of the uterus.

“She could not sleep. She said she could hear children crying in her head and wanted to stop them,” she said.

Emma was a known abortionist in the town for 10 years and only stopped when she was diagnosed of the illness.

The volunteers accompanied Emma to a confession, but it did not stop the crying.

“We told her, you have to forgive yourself,” Monina recalled.

However, the anguish continued. It only ended when Emma opened up about her adopted son Boyet.

Last suffering

According to Monina, there was a young student who wished to get an abortion. Emma refused as the student was already on her ninth month of pregnancy. She instead adopted the boy.

“It was her last suffering. She worried about who would take care of Boyet,” Monina said.

Emma’s sister promised to take care of the boy and shortly after, Emma died in 1997.

As referred to by WHO and insurance companies, hospice workers are often called volunteers.

“It is only here in Laguna that we are called nambibisita,” Monina said. She said the term came from the volunteers’ approach as “nambibisita po kami (we are here to visit).”
Madre de Amor has about 50 volunteers operating in 17 towns of Laguna. They come in pairs when visiting homes of patients usually at Stage 3 or 4 of cancer.
Most of the time, relatives, neighbors or doctors enroll a person to the hospice.

“It’s not easy to see a dying person. Sometimes, the breasts are open and rotting. Most (patients) also take time before they open up,” Monina said.

But she believed the volunteers were mature in age and experience. “They have a certain kind of depth. They are brave because they carry their faith,” she added.

A beginner volunteer undergoes a two-day training at the hospice.

The volunteers regularly meet each month to review and discuss the case of the patient they are handling and to consult with the hospice doctor regarding the patient’s medical needs. They also conduct quarterly spiritual recollections.

“A volunteer is never left alone. He has a support system,” Monina said.

When the patient dies, the volunteer joins the wake and attends to the bereaved family.
For the whole year, the volunteer looks after the family by regularly calling and visiting them.

If a relative of the volunteer dies or the patient he was taking care of passes away, the volunteer is not allowed to do hospice work for a year to recover from bereavement. He, however, continues to attend activities at the hospice.

A volunteer gets by “through prayers and friendship” the others offer him, Monina added.

They receive no pay for the service, as the foundation survives through donations and drugs sourced from health organizations.

Passage

Teresita Gonzales, 68, was one of the hospice’s pioneer volunteers. She joined the service believing “it was pay back time.”
Teresita earlier worked at the University of Missouri Medical Center, whose patients were children with terminal illnesses.
In 1986, she herself was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“They gave me six months (to live) and I am alive up to now,” she said, owing her survival to medical doctors and to the “Divine physician.”

She said her faith and the support of loved ones were a big factor to her recovery. “I felt first-hand how to have this kind of disease. It is a blessing to have the opportunity to touch and heal the dying,” she said.

She remembered one hospice patient, Pauline, who had a brain tumor. Hours before the girl died, Pauline talked to her about seeing images of God and angels.

“That is the stage called playing with the angels. Her eyes were stuck on the ceiling,” she recalled.

Teresita lamented that the dying are often ignored in society today.

“What if death sneaks in and you are caught unprepared? Every day, you need to make a difference in the lives of other people,” she believed.

Hospice movement

Hospice care in the Philippines has not gained much support and popularity, said Dr. Rhodora Ocampo, Madre de Amor medical and program director. In Asia, she said, Singapore has so far the most number of hospice centers.

“The need for hospice care could be referred to the millions of people dying unrelieved of pain and suffering,” Ocampo said.

Most hospice patients in the Philippines suffer from breast and lung cancer.

Only 11 percent die in the hospital, while 89 percent die in their homes, mostly without available treatment.

Madre de Amor helped establish the National Hospice Palliative Care Council of the Philippines and in 2003, the umbrella organization Hospice Philippines that now has 20 member hospices.

It has also moved for the declaration of the National Hospice Week celebrated every first week of October.

Laguna’s ‘midwives of the soul’ By Maricar Cinco
Inquirer Southern Luzon
First Posted 01:03:00 04/16/2009, accessed 4/24/2009

Contributed by Mary Ann Ubaldo

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The Power of Healing: Remembering our Babaylan Spirit

April 25, 2009 in Babaylan and Community Healing, Decolonization and Filipino Identity, Definitions, Events and Conference, In the News, Modern Practices by admin

~~ In The News ~~

Human beings are not born violent: Associate Professor Leny Mendoza-Strobel

SAN PEDRO—”Perhaps if women had never lost parity with men and we live in a society that honors both genders equally, we wouldn’t even need an International Women’s Day,” declared Dr. Leny Mendoza Strobel, an Associate Professor of American Multicultural Studies at Sonoma State University, and a cultural and community advocate.

The celebration of International Women’s Day, which began in 1911 and celebrated in 63 countries and 982 events this year, is a “gesture of multiculturalism in its conservative form,” according to Dr. Strobel, who spoke at the Men Reading Women’s Writings luncheon held at the Ports of Call Restaurant in San Pedro on Saturday, March 28. Her speech was entitled The Power of Healing: Remembering our Babaylan Spirit.

“Human beings are not born violent, do you agree?” she began. “We now have access to accounts that tell us of prehistoric huntergatherer societies that lived in balance with nature and harmony with each other and with other species. They had conflicts, but they did not have war.”

Dr. Strobel said that even today, according to Filipino author Katrin de Guia, in the Philippine island of Palawan, there are still indigenous peoples that do not have a word for war in their language. “When developers began to encroach on their ancestral domains, they mainly avoided the conflict by moving deeper into the forest.”

Historians write that matriarchal societies ended at the beginning of the agricultural era 10,000 years ago. That era also marked the beginning of patriarchal civilizations. “Matriarchal societies,” says Dr. Strobel, “are non-hierarchical, egalitarian and deemed the relationship to the universe and all species as sacred. With the rise and evolution of patriarchy, these feminine values and energies were repressed and exiled into the narrow spaces of expression under the control of patriarchal institutions and systems.”

Philippine Society in general is under-guarded by an egalitarian, lateral kinship system, according to a talk by Filipino professor Jaime Veneracion, at a lecture he delivered to a group of Fullbright scholars that included Dr. Strobel. “This is the reason,” says Dr. Strobel, “why we have a difficult time adjusting to the requirements of modernity because underneath all these modern impositions is a bilateral egalitarian system.”

Dr. Strobel said she recently had a discussion with her Fil-Am classes At Sonoma State University in which they talked about the values of “kapwa” (fellow humans) and “Bathala na” (God’s will), the value of “loob” (inner self) and “dangal” (honor) and “pakikiramdam” (sensitivity). “Many of the white students remarked how beautiful these values are, and that they would like to live their lives being more in tune to those values,” Dr. Strobel revealed. “Our modern lives dismember and fragment our lives by exiling our feminine or female energies in the bedroom and in the home and the service of men’s needs,” Dr. Strobel asserts. “Men are dismembered by cultural values that tell them that they must not cry or show emotions, or that the only way to survive and make it in the world is through aggressive competition,” she adds.

She said that the psychology of “kapwa” (self) is geared towards the “babaylan” (ancient healer/shaman) practice that each human embodies male and female energy. “That’s what makes a person whole,” said Dr. Strobel.

Linda Nietes, owner of Philippines Expressions Bookshop, which organized the event, thanked the men for coming and for reading stories and poems written by Filipino women. The readers were Robert J. Little, Jr. (Linda Nietes’ husband); who read Love ‘Em, Leave ‘Em and Speak Up Woman!, A Dalaga’s Debut, from the book Twenty-Five Chickens and Pig for Bride, read by Stephen Adamu; To the Man Who Thinks He’s in the Market, poetry by Rowena Penaflor Festin and In the Name of the Mother:100 Years of Philippine Feminist Poetry, 1889-1989 by Lilia Quindoza Santiago, read by Robert J. Little, Jr., The Legend of Lola Amonita, poetry by Elvira S. Mabanglo, and Silence, a story by Marianne Villanueva, read by Craig Diamond; and Beauty and the Brit by Joselle Concio Harkin, from the book Speak Up, read by Steve Austin, and Fruit Stall from the book, The Kissing: A Collection of Short Stories by Melinda Bobis, read by Steven de la Vega.

“Men are present because in our last event last year, we had made it an all-woman activity. Now we thank the men for coming,” Nietes said. “This is an advocacy that we women cannot do alone…; to be able to highlight the fact that men and women are partners in their journey in this life.”

Published on April 4, 2009 in Asian Journal Los Angeles, p. A3, accessed 4/24/2009.

Contributed by Leny Mendoza-Strobel