PANAGHINABI: FRUITFUL CONVERSATIONS: BRIDGING INDIGENOUS AND CHRISTIAN TRADITIONS OF SPIRITUALITY
BURR OAK LODGE, MAY 22-24, 2015, GLOUSTER, OHIO and
IFUGAO HEALING HUT PROJECT in ALBANY, OHIO
We give Thanks to the Ancient Ones/Our Ancestors for the guidance that was given to us as we put together this Symposium/Gathering in Ohio on May 22-24, 2015.
We give Thanks to the 40 participants who invested their time, energy, and resources in order to be with us.
We give Thanks to our resource persons from the Philippines and the U.S.: Fr. Albert E. Alejo, SJ, Carmen Manalac Scheuerman, James Perkinson, Grace Nono, Arlene Natocyad, Mamerto Tindongan, Nati Delson, Cynthia Tindongan – for the rich and deep engagement of our symposium themes.
We give Thanks to the Indigenous persons from the Agta community, Panay Bukidnon, and Celyo Rizal (an indigenous religious community) who joined us via video interviews. We give Thanks to the Kapwa Collective from Toronto, Canada who represented voices from the diaspora.
We give Thanks to our volunteers for the logistic support without which the weekend wouldn’t have flowed as flawlessly as it did. We specially thank Aimee Gomez, Mariana Goyeneche, Jessica Caldwell, our Filipino caterer, volunteer drivers Koole, Emile, Nati, Brad, Nic Evans and Diyan Valencia, our video documentarians, and the Booth Family Drummers. Special thanks to the entire Tindongan family – Mamerto, Cynthia, Torin, Malaya, Joannah – as our local hosts.
We give Thanks to Tamalpais Trust for enabling our indigenous resources speakers from the Philippines to join us. We also give Thanks to Philippine Expressions Bookshop c/o Linda Nietes for supporting the travel of Fr. Alejo. We also give Thanks to the Reginald Lewis Foundation and to Titania Buchholdt for their financial contribution.
Our Vision for this gathering has been to deepen our understanding of Filipino indigenous spirituality, through engaging the Filipino concept of Loob (“depth of the heart”). We opened the Friday evening session with indigenous invocation from Ifugaw mumbaki Mamerto Tindongan and Aeta chanting and Kapampangan prayer from Pastor Carmen Scheuerman. This was followed by the ritual of building of our collective altar where each participant gave a sentence-description of their sacred object and told of its significance to their lives as they placed the object on our tapestry-covered altar. This simple ritual gave us our first glimpse into who our participants were and what remarkable gift of presence each one would bring to our gathering.
Fr. Alejo addressed the concept of Loob in his first keynote address through the use of Storytelling, metaphors (Bahay Kubo), song (lullabies), and his examples of his advocacy work on behalf of indigenous communities in the Philippines. He embodies for us the possibility of bridging indigenous and Christian traditions of spirituality. He gave many examples of apologies that have been made by Catholic religious orders around the world to indigenous peoples. In his second keynote talk, he spoke of how the Catholic teachings today are focused on Jesus rather than on theology or doctrine, on Jesus as healer, as Babaylan.
The Saturday morning invocation was led by Agusan chanter/singer/scholar Grace Nono who insisted that we trek down all the way to the lake where we were to gather by the water and say our prayers and ask for blessing for the day’s proceedings. There in the stillness, with only the sound of bird song and the occasional lapping of waves on the shores and the wide-open sky, Grace offered prayers followed by a beautiful chant that broke open many of us in tears of gratitude.
The morning session opened with a video documentary meant to give voice to indigenous folks from the homeland and decolonizing Filipinos in the diaspora who could not join us for the symposium. The video interviews with the Christianized Panay Bukidnons showed a diversity of experiences in terms of negotiating their relationship to both their Christian and indigenous traditions. One of the interview participants mentioned that she still practices their culture (dance, music, crafts) but no longer participates in Ritual, although she admitted that she and members of her family still go to the Babaylan for healing. While the desire certainly is there to honor both traditions, some report uncertainty as to what to do in terms of keeping their indigenous spiritual traditions when they are already Christian. The Agta interviewees, for their part, mostly expressed disappointment with their local church. They mentioned that they were told that the church would help them but in the end what was promised wasn’t fulfilled. One also mentioned his disillusionment over the immoral conduct of the local priest. The Celyo Rizal interviewees were the most militant. They emphasized that pre-colonial Filipinos already had their Sacred relationship with Nature long before the coming of Spanish and American missionaries. They also focus on the divinity of the Filipino martyr/hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. The Kapwa Collective from Toronto, Canada spoke of their conflicts with their immigrant parents when the latter couldn’t explain clearly the religious practices being imposed on the children. They spoke of the difficulty of wanting to develop a spirituality that is not attached to an institutional religion but family pressure to be devoted to the church makes it difficult.
All in all, the video documentary showcased effectively some of the struggles, conflicts, resistance, as well as longing to integrate and make sense of their dual, often dichotomous, spiritual inheritance from Christianity and their own indigenous traditions.
Roundtable panelists from various religious backgrounds (Irish Catholic, Filipino Catholic, Indigenous and Catholic, Catholic/Native Spirituality) shared their personal stories of how they have been led to their respective spiritual paths via differing life experiences and influences. Coming from diverse backgrounds, they talked about where they were in their spiritual journeys as well as their continuing quest for integration of all of their spiritual experiences. These stories resonated with many of the participants. (One of the youth in attendance remarked to us that next time we should have a youth panel as well since “we have things to share, too!”).
Listening to each other’s stories without judgment was a gift that was appreciated by everyone as we were able to trace the roots of Filipino indigenous spirituality in our understanding of Loob and in the indigenous concept of Pamilamulamu/Being One (Aeta-Magindi).
A Methodist pastor of Aeta descent, Carmen Manalac Scheuerman, shared how the Aeta community taught and transformed her own view of Christian formation. She offered the Aeta concept of Pamilamulamu as an unspoken truth among the Aetas–one they already embodied in their community even before Christian missionaries came to convert them. Carmen’s work among the Aeta is to help restore the Aeta rituals, chants, and practices which earlier missionaries have sought to exterminate as “pagan/heathen” practices.
These stories of return, recovery, renewal of Filipino indigenous spiritual and cultural practices were shared throughout the weekend.
James Perkinson’s talk provided the needed response on how Christianity must return to its own indigenous roots as only one story among many rather than claiming a universalizing, imperial truth. He shared his own journey of grief (as a white man of Irish and German heritage schooled in Christian theology) at the realization of the depth of his alienation from his own indigenous roots and his slow and still ongoing journey back to recovering his indigenous soul. His re-reading of the Christian tradition from an indigenous perspective resonated with the participants, particularly among the younger generation.
We capped Saturday night with the creative expressions of the groups that were assigned to integrate their learning from the day’s presentations. This was the culmination of the group’s earlier intimate sharing with each other about where they are in their personal spiritual journeys and the thoughts and emotions that have been stirred up by the proceedings since Friday night. Full hearts, expressive bodies, voices raised in praise of our decolonized and indigenizing selves, in praise of the Holy, in praise of our Diversity.
On the last day of the symposium, we went to Mamerto Tindongan’s land in Albany, Ohio, where the Traditional Ifugao Healing Hut is being built. He talked about his dream and vision of building the hut to bring healing and reconciliation to the descendants of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Indeed his local non-Filipino friends in Ohio have participated in the construction of the hut while learning about Filipino indigenous architecture and other aspects of Ifugao culture. In a ritual of Bayanihan (shared labor), participants were asked to fetch a long log from the forest which was to be used as replacement for one of the roof pillars that turned out not to be the right length. The ritualized carrying of the log from where it was felled in the forest to the place of the hut construction was accompanied by a designated gong player whose role was to keep the energy going. Native song and beautiful voices joining in chorus made the load lighter.
We ended the symposium/gathering with gift-giving and acknowledgment and a delicious potluck lunch from our local Ohio hosts and catered Filipino luncheon. In saying goodbye to folks headed for the airport, many offerings of dance, song, poetry, and chanted prayers were offered. Mamerto Tindongan’s local (white) friends, who stood witness to our closing celebration, remarked to us about their utter amazement at our culture, thanking us for the opportunity. We thanked them in turn for their support of Mamerto and delicious dishes they brought from their organic garden produce to share.
A report on the weekend will not be complete without mention of the delicious, mouth-watering Filipino cuisine especially prepared for us by our Filipina chef, Jessica—food being one of the pathways to the Indigenous Soul. We are grateful to Gabriel Marcum, Sales Manager of Burr Oak Lodge, for his (and the Lodge’s) generosity in allowing us to bring in our own cook, even giving us a free cottage to be used exclusively by Jessica as kitchen. The meals were served buffet-style and outdoor picnic benches were perfect for communal feasting in the lovely Spring weather.
As we do Medicine work with Filipinos in the diaspora who are decolonizing and re-indigenizing by deepening our understanding of Filipino Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSP), we are humbled and awed to receive guidance and inspiration from our Ancestors and Ancestral Spirits.
.This theme – Bridging Indigenous and Christian Traditions of Spirituality – was born out of the years of listening to our communities as they raised questions about the process of integrating newly-embraced indigenous practices with the received faith traditions (Catholic and Protestant) that came to our homeland via colonial conquest.
In the following reflections by some of the participants, they capture perfectly the inspiration, learning, embodiment, community-building, and healing the deepest parts of ourselves and emerging into the Sacred Wholeness of our Loob.
Jana Lynn Umipig
Amanda Ngoho Reavey
Melissa Ray Sipin-Gabon
Are there words to describe how a small vulnerable child must feel when reunited with her nanay/mother after years of separation and constant longing? perhaps they would describe just a little bit of how I felt during this past weekend at the Center for Babaylan Studies Symposium in Ohi’yo. Filipino healers, scholars, artists, and activists from the Philippines and the Turtle Island diaspora gathered together to explore the intersections of decolonization, re-indigenization, and Christianity. we learned about loob and kapwa, laughed, shared stories of our diverse spiritual and decolonization journeys, cried, told what should be illegal amounts of corny tito jokes wink emoticon, laughed, danced and sang new songs, held an incredible healing ceremony at Ifugao mombaki (shaman) Mamerto Tindongan’s home, reveled in our togetherness, and laughed some more. Maraming maraming salamat sa iyong lahat for the profound healing and connection, with special thanks to the organizers without whose (r)evolutionary vision and dedication this profound healing would not have been possible. i am forever changed. i have been renewed and made whole. and i now know what true bayanihan feels like in my heart and body because of you. May Bathala, the diwatas of earth, heaven, and sea, and all our ancestors bless you, each and every one. Lamuwan kata!!