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An American Babaylan:
Living in One's Own Truth

As our culture follows us in our blood, bones and genes, we cannot be split from a rich, deep heritage, strengthened by our diversity, and by the ancestors who gave us life.

Introduction

The concept that the Babaylan is defined by factors that override an individual’s direct experience of the originating land, the Philippine Islands, is vital to understanding the presence of the Babaylan in the Diaspora and the ways that sacred practices of the Babaylan have, as well, bridged the seas of consciousness that Pilipinos have traversed in their journeys around the world.

The modern day Babaylan has demonstrated the resilience and adaptability, key to the survival of the modern day Pilipino, in both friendly and hostile environments, outside of the Philippines.

Pilipinos are historically adaptive to environmental stress. Within the borders of the Philippines, they have experienced climactic stress, such as typhoons, and sociopolitical and economic stress, such as Western colonialism.

Adaptation

I will explore, from a cross-cultural perspective, the following conditions:

  1. Babaylans isolated from an experience of the land-based or geographical environment, which originated the Babaylan trait.
  2. Babaylans with only one, or no Pilipino parent to provide context to the experience the individual is undergoing.
  3. The pathways Babaylan have used to discover, connect to and integrate the Babaylan traits into an identity surrounded by the Western perspective.

This presentation will use as context, North America, specifically the United States, as the basis for observation.

An exploration of this topic will serve to broaden the definition of the term,"Babaylan" as applied to pan-Pilipino women globally.

While the Babaylan’s cultural heritage is derived from the Philippine Islands, they cannot be confined simply to the land.

As our culture follows us in our blood, bones and genes, we cannot be split from a rich, deep heritage, strengthened by our diversity, and by the ancestors who gave us life.

Where Pilipinos have settled, Babaylan have been born to fulfill a natural social function integral to their communities. Their interaction with the culture they find themselves in has resulted in valuable contributions to that culture’s spiritual, economic, political and artistic growth.

Origins

What I am here to do today is discuss our origination.

Like many of you, I both am and am a parent of Americans of Filipino descent.

Some of us are adopted and don’t have parents who are Filipino.

Some have Filipino parents but realize that the cultural values they are raising us with don’t quite fit.

We have two origins, Filipino and American.

As much we love our parents, there is a point when dealing with what you are, in this moment in time and space, is bound to cause questioning, frustration, and perhaps guilt over trying , but not being able to, “fit in”.

One theory proposes that the Seminole, a native American people in Florida, may have had Filipino bloodlines derived from those who jumped ship to escape the Spanish.

Before we throw away all the “Traditional stuff “, there are a couple of things we may want to know.

The People, now known as Filipinos, Pilipinos, Pinoy, began over 28,000 years ago as Malays mixed with African, Indian, Chinese, Spanish and lastly, American.

A princess named Majarlika gave birth to a people through peaceful negotiation. Until Western colonization by Spain’s King Philip, this land bore her name.

First and foremost, neither the Spanish in the 16th Century nor the Americas in the Spanish-American War, created us.

Our Filipino ancestors were trading along ancient Trade Routes between Africa, including Egypt, Asia, China and India, for thousands of years before Western colonial “discovery.”

Provenance

As far as America, Filipinos may have been here before the English Pilgrims on ships owned by Spain.

One theory proposes that the Seminole, a native American people in Florida, may have had Filipino bloodlines derived from those who jumped ship to escape the Spanish. After my presentation at the Conference, one Pinay let me know that Filipinos jumped ship in New Orleans where there is a long lineage present to this day.

When the US took over the Philippines and declared it a US Territory, effectively establishing an Asia Pacific rim presence, it was solidifying its status as a World Power.

All that to say that our history here, on the North America continent, is now centuries old.

Legacy

In more recent memory, the relationship with the US and the Philippines has colored the experience of the Filipino American.

Until President Obama was elected, Filipino Americans could only share the same expectations as other Peoples of Color: the African American, the Latino American, Native Americans and other Asian Americans.

As a result of this great moment in American history, parents and grandparents can tell their Filipino American children, ”You can be anything you want to be.” and know it to be true.

As an American of Filipino descent, a child of two nations, this is the legacy we claim. Dream Big!

Context

There is growing recognition that the best hope for the US is in its diversity.

If we accept that Culture is a human construct, by which a group of individuals agree basic concepts of values, morals, mores to form a worldview, then it follows that Culture evolves as humans evolve.

Where we are right now, here in the United States in the year 2010, with a President,
…who is happily African American,
…was raised in Hawaii by American parents,
…with an African American wife and children and Indonesian relations,
speaks to the journey before us as a people.

The reality we face, despite issues with color, class, gender, age, religion, outsourced economic platforms, outrageous far right wing politics, is at the same time, one of hope, of belief in an American Dream, that is Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness for all American regardless of all the issues we have with each other.

If Filipinos are anything, we are diverse.

Connection: Who defines Filipino Identity?

If we accept that Culture is a human construct, by which a group of individuals agree basic concepts of values, morals, mores to form a worldview, then it follows that Culture evolves as humans evolve.

As each of us, who identifies ourselves as Filipino, walks, talks, eats, dresses, laughs, cries, loves and hates, lives and dies, we build upon the foundation of our culture, a culture that is the legacy of our Ancestors.

How great is this legacy?

At last count, 28,000 years old. Some say older.

A number of peoples including the Native Americans, the Hawaiians, Africans, Mexicans and many other Peoples, have had similar experiences of conditioning in relation to Western colonization, so, we are not unique in that regard.

As a people, we were already fully formed at the time of Magellan’s “discovery”, with our own world view.

Ours was a mature civilization active in the Ancient Global Markets, plying the Ancient Trade routes, engaging in the trade of, not only products and services,
but of information.

The wellspring of our Ancestors’ minds were fed by the currents of these Trade Routes, which flow to this day, between what is now known as Asia, Africa and India.

While many may provide their perspectives, and assist in our discoveries, through critical analysis founded in scientific methodology, it is up to us to decide who we are and where we are headed. Conferences, like the one we are attending, encourage thoughtful consideration of our origins, our present day existence and our future.

From our own observations, it’s easy to list some characteristics of these present day Filipinos: Mental Agility, Diversity, Flexibility, Dexterity, Adaptability, Fluency, Resilience, we are Travelers/Adventurers.

Value of our Birthright

Logic dictates that if our Ancestors were engaged in exchanges with the other Culture present in the Ancient World, we must have had goods and services and knowledge.

We must have been valuable!

What knowledge was present?

Math, Reading, Writing, Astrogation, Geometry, Spirituality, Music, Arts, Judicial systems, Law-making, Medicine…all hallmarks of Civilization.

What do you see in Filipinos today?

Let’s fast-forward to today. The Filipino of today is present in greater number outside the Philippines, commonly known as the Diaspora.

From our own observations, it’s easy to list some characteristics of these present day Filipinos: Mental Agility, Diversity, Flexibility, Dexterity, Adaptability, Fluency, Resilience, we are Travelers/ Adventurers. So, for example, as travelers, we demonstrated that we used the latest technology to advance to the next stage of our endeavors.

Perspective

Physically, we share a range of hues from dark to light.

When you ask a child what they see when they see their Filipino parents, friends, etc. they will say brown.

From the perspective of Pilipinos in America, when the child is just a little older, that same child will say white, black, brown not yet understanding the racial implications.

Reality

Just a moment, I’d like to address some realities up front:

People are treated differently in America based on the color of their skin. This color will not be rubbing off any time soon!

So there’s good news and there’s bad news, which do we want to look at first?

Good News: We’re Filipino
Bad News: We’re Filipino

We are Proud to Be

The message to all those who consider themselves proudly Filipino by trying to tear your ever-loving Filipino souls apart is,
“Stop the Madness.”

We do not abandon our children, no matter what color, size, shape, gender or the percentage of Filipino bloodlines you carry.

Yes I Am! No You’re Not!

Let’s also consider that because we reside in the US, there are those of your own people who will not recognize us as Filipino because…
..you don’t speak the language,
..you’re not dark enough,
..you’re too dark,
..you walk like an American, you’re too..

You get the idea.

...a spiritual Ancient Filipinos, or Majarlikans, were adept at scientific methods, trial and error, fluent in technical and aesthetics.

So back to the original question: Who defines Filipino identity? We do.

Here and now, and for all future generations. The same way all Filipinos, who had any relationships with European Americans, and who resided here, set the stage for us today.

That is one of the reasons that our own journey, as Filipino Americans, is precious.

Spiritual Heritage

With all that in mind, what is our Spiritual Heritage?

Let’s address up front the Western labels: animism, paganism, polytheist. The connotations these labels carry can be daunting to Filipinos who are devoutly Christian.

In point of fact, our Spiritual Heritage is quite rich and valuable. As our people exchanged, traded, we shared ideas, including definitions and methods, a spiritual Ancient Filipinos, or Majarlikans, were adept at scientific methods, trial and error, fluent in technical and aesthetics.

They employed ancient technologies, over millennium, arriving at conclusions, which we have access to today, through simple interactions with our Filipino parents, children, family and friends and through conferences, such as this, which intend to explore fundamental cultural functions such as the Babaylan.

Babaylans were, and are known to be, healers, counselors, leaders, warriors. Part of their function was, and is, to support the growth and well being of individuals and families in their communities.

Who and What we are

Who and What we are is defined by our thoughts.

Dr. Deepak Chopra is a highly respected physician in the Western and Ayurvedic traditions. In one of his books, Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, Dr Chopra cites a study conducted in 1979 at Harvard by Ellen Langer.

In the context provided in this experiment, the year 1959 was mirrored as a test environment. Elder males agreed to conduct conversations such as those held during their prime.

The result was a reversal of the aging process in that the men to paraphrase “behaved more like 55 year olds than 77 year olds.” The psychological intervention resulted, even more remarkably, in actual physical indications of age reversal.

Traditional medicine

All this to say that traditional medicine, as defined by Native American Shamans, African Babalawos and Filipina Babaylans, Indian Yogis, understand that treating individuals, without understanding the whole person, including their cultural context, is not as effective.

Western medical practices are adopting traditional practices such as meditation, yoga, herbal medicines, food, light and sound-based remedies.

If we scratch the surface of current scientific theory regarding Quantum Physics, the basis of Ancient Traditional Spiritual models, a belief that all objects have energy, is proven correct.

Treatments aligned with Nature

From a cross cultural perspective, these traditional medical disciplines share similarities in approach and methods.

The expression of treatments include chanting, song, dance, ritual, and music.

There are similarities in names. In Ifa, one of Africa’s spiritual traditions, we have the Babalawo and the Orisha, Obatallah.

From the Philippines, we have the Babaylan and the deity, Bathala.

Ritual containers, used by both cultures, are pots, such as the Catalangan pot. Divination is employed as one diagnostic method in the Native American, African, Chinese and Filipino disciplines.

The approach to healing is inclusive, sympathetic (as in aligned with Nature), to bring about balance, homeostasis to the individual and, thereby, to the family and community.

It Works…

The use of traditional medicines and practitioners has only recently gained acceptance and certain methods have been included in Western Medical training at the doctoral and nursing levels.

This may be seen in coursework now available for the laying on of hands, the inclusion of forms of traditional medicine: European, African, Native American, Asian including Filipino methodologies.

Healthcare Strategy

The Pilipino healthcare strategy is preventive, holistic, and leverages the natural resources available.

The individual is viewed, in a comprehensive approach, including in analysis of unhealthy dissonance, the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of the environment.

The use of Intuition in the US

What are some American definitions of Intuition?

Intuition has, as its basis in traditional medical disciplines, the premise that we are interconnected.

If we scratch the surface of current scientific theory regarding Quantum Physics, the basis of Ancient Traditional Spiritual models, a belief that all objects have energy, is proven correct.

According to Dr. Deepak Chopra, in his book Quantum Healing, “..the whole of reality, as explained by quantum physics, lies deeper. A famous mathematical formula, known as Bell’s theorem (after its author, the Irish physicist John Bell), holds that the reality of the universe must be nonlocal: in other words, all objects and events in the cosmos are inter-connected with one another and respond to one another’s changes of state.”

From the Ifa spiritual discipline, originating from Nigeria, we have the Ori – head, Ewa – character, Ewe – plants/ herbs. Divination tools such as the opwele, obi, coconut.

From China, we have the concept of Chi, herbal medicines in the form of teas, acupuncture. Divination through the I Ching. Solutions to medical conditions are developed and delivered through these methods as well as through herbal medicines, ritual and chants.

From where we stand

Our physical location colors our perception, requires the adjustment in time and space, (time (sunrise, sunset, season), space (longitude, latitude)), affects magnetic polarity, the environment, and weather, and flora and fauna respond in kind.

While our methods may not change, in response to the environmental context present at the time, the tools available and the answers may be required to adapt.

Ancient Filipinos understood the Sacred and Babaylans actively consecrated long before our People had priests from Spain. Communities formed support mechanisms for individual psyches, mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The Babaylan was, in traditional society, a critical component in the health and wellbeing of families and individuals.

As doctors in Western civilizations hold a highly regarded professional status, so too, did the Babaylan in traditional Filipino society, as Carolyn Brewer noted in her work on Shamanism, Catholicism and Gender Relations in Colonial Philippines.

The approach taken was comprehensive, aligned with Nature and its elemental forces, preventive, and inclusive.

Individuals actively participated in their own healing, rather than being subjects of medical professionals who had been trained to consider the disease divorced from their subjects’ bodies interaction with the environment.

Individuals exerted personal authority, healing was considered part of self actualization. Clients were informed, educated, the healing approach resulted in sustainable or, in western lexicon, Preventative healthcare.

The social status Elders were entitled to, ensured mental and emotional acuity. Their grandchildren’s (who were considered treasures of the community) high degree of dependence on these same Elders ensured cultural continuity and greater psychological, mental and emotional stability across multiple generations.

High levels of literacy throughout the population in ancient Filipino society indicated a stable educational system supporting intellectual agility, agreement on governance, trade, use of space.

Conclusion

As Americans of Filipino descent, in isolation or fully steeped in Filipino acculturation, it is natural to establish our own connections to the lineage that is our birthright.  We have millennia of independent thinkers’ lifetimes, who were fully vested in self actualization, stored in our genes. Why should we be any different?

The good news is that we’re Filipino.

© Cynthia Arias

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