Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Conversations - Landscape: Betraying the babaylan

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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