Monday, February 02, 2009

Defining "Babaylan"

The tradition of women's writing in the Philippines can be traced back to the pre-hispanic era of the archipelago when, in certain communities, priestess-poets called babaylan (Bisayan) and catalonan (Tagalog) held sway in the spiritual and ritualistic lives of the people. These women provided healing, wisdom, and direction for the inhabitants of their barangays (towns) with morality stories, myths, poems, prayers, and chants - Nick Carbo, p. vii Babaylan: An Anthology of Filipina and Filipina American Writers (aunt lute books, San Francisco, 2000)

According to anthropologist Alicia Magos, in indigenous Filipino culture, which is animistic and shamanistic, the babaylan maintained the following functions in the community: They are keepers of wisdom; Folk therapists, folk philosophers; Intercede for the community and individuals - they are healers of the body by recognizing the spirits that cause illness. Thru shamanic rituals they can call back the lost or wandering soul back into the body; They communicate with ancestral spirits and the spirit world; Transmitters of culture; Stabilize social structures; The term literally means "one who serves." - Leny Strobel, p. 148 A Book of Her Own: Words and Images to Honor the Babaylan (T'boli Publishing, San Francisco, 2005)

Native psychologist-priest (also bali-an, mombaki, tawas, ma-aram); shaman - Katrin de Guia, p. 376 Kapwa: The Self in the Other (Anvil Publishing, Pasig City, 2005)

...the ma-aram, the shamans who act as intermediary between the sick and the spirit world. The ma-aram is a well-documented type of medicine man in the ethnographic literature since recorded history and it can be traced to thousands of years of prehistory because it come from alam "information, knowledge" and this word was present in the vocabulary of the ancient Philippineasians thousands of years ago. In historic times, the ma-aram is the same personality as the babaylan or baylan, who may be male or female. - Alicia P. Magos, p. v, The Enduring Ma-aram Tradition: An Ethnography of a Kinaray-a Village in Antique (New Day Publishers, Quezon City, 1992)

Babaylan is a term identifying an indigenous Filipino religious leader, who functions as a healer, a shaman, a seer and a community "miracle-worker" (or a combination of any of those). Although the role and function of a babaylan is open to both sexes, most babaylans from the pre-hispanic era are female. Wikipedia (accessed 2/2/2009)

Who is a babaylan? The babaylans, predominantly women, were mystical women who wielded social and spiritual power in pre-colonial Philippine society before the coming of the Spanish conquerors in the 16th century. In his research on pre-colonial women, anthropologist Dr. Zeus Salazar described the babaylan as “a specialist in the fields of culture, religion, medicine and all kinds of theoretical knowledge about the phenomenon of nature.” Isis International (accessed 2/2/2009)