Wednesday, October 26, 2011

BUSONG: A Review by Mykelle Pacquing

Film Review of Busong

Mykelle Pacquing
Oct. 27, 2011

I recently watched Aureaus Solito’s latest film Busong (translated from Palawan as “fate”) at the ImagineNative film festival in Toronto.  I have never seen any of Solito’s work prior to Busong.  As well, all I knew of him was of what Katrin de Guia mentioned of him in her article contribution to Babaylan: Filipinos and the Call of the Indigenous.  I called on some of my family to attend the film and it happened that my Tita and my two cousins—her two children—came with me.
After the film, I felt overwhelmed—the film was intense.  I felt that my thoughts had been catapulted into the mountains, rivers, beaches, forests of Palawan (as the north wind began to bring in the cold weather outside the theatre)—as well as the challenges, realities, beauties, and gifts that the Palawan people bring in their spirituality and worldview that is so intrinsically tied to the land.  The implications of watching the film in Toronto at an Indigenous film festival which brought people of all colours to see the film had given me great comfort and hope for peace and understanding on this land.  It was the first time for me that friends from my Indigenous circles and my Filipino circles had come together on equal footing—we are beginning to see the interconnections of our stories.
Oftentimes I get the sense that the Indigenous People of the land where I’ve made my home feel alienated from the peoples who arrive to their traditional lands because of the waves of colonization that have been pouring in from all over the world carrying their traumas and diseases—making them feel weary of the cultures that newcomers bring with them.  On the Filipino side, I get the sense that many Filipinos that live away from the Philippines believe that they are severed from their homeland and have no choice but to assimilate to the dominant culture in order to flourish—and with that that, the assimilation of the dominant culture’s behavior of suppressing Indigenous People.  It was for the first time that I felt that the two communities were open to each other.
Despite my education in Indigenous ways, I could sense at the beginning of the film—when the viewer is forced into the Palawan pace of time in long drawn-out shots of the landscape—that my impatience with this pace revealed my modern city indoctrination.  At this point of the film, I had to let go of this need to process my thoughts as fast as I could simply for the sake of efficiency.  I had to let go of my city-mind—needed to navigate train lines, schedules and coordinate meeting places and pick-up locations—and suspend them to immerse myself into the film.  There caused a mental discomfort, but it felt like medicine afterwards.  It was necessary in order to see the film at the level that Solito presented.
After the first sub-plot, it began to make sense how Solito was exposing the interconnections of the stories—the search for healing and for beauty—in the Palawan way.  It became clear how the struggle for that beauty is brought about by going through forced external interferences—a chainsaw that was used to cut indiscriminately, a white foreigner who imposed alien concepts of private property, and a Manilan who finds his Palawan spirit name and takes up his role as a balian.  The ending of the film encompasses all these struggles and the beauty that was borne from all the separate stories.
I was saddened that my younger cousin did not understand the film, but this reminded me that understanding Indigenous ways is a privilege.  Indigenous ways are not relegated to the marginalized, the uneducated, the illiterate, and the economically disadvantaged as mainstream perception perceives it.  It takes a fair amount of experiential education and literacy of nature simply to understand Solito’s film—and I think this is one of the film’s weaknesses.  The reality is, if you grew up in the city in a Christian family, the richness of what Busong offers may not be accessible to you.
What concerns me now is not so much if Busong can be understood in its film context, so much as if the Indigenous Thought implicated in the movie can still be accessed by non-Palawan city dwellers in a real-world context.  Can the concept of busong—as I understand it, the understanding of one’s story, which encompasses one’s fate (or what the Creator provides you), experiences, and actionsbe understood and integrated into one’s worldview?  Can the intrinsic connection to spirit and the land be understood as crucial in maintaining balance in one’s life?  Can the innocence of a lifestyle gathering clams provide a shift in the modern consciousness that has been conditioned and industrialized to work the body full-time?
Solito’s film would say that yes, that this can be done—as depicted by the Palawan who was born and raised in Manila and became immersed in his ancestors’ ways out of his desire to go back to Palawan and hear the ending of his uncle’s song that he recorded some time ago.
It is my hope that this film fuels the desire of others to find the songs of their own busong and sing them, knowing that wherever they are, the land is listening.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Historical Markers on Filipino Women’s Sexuality During Spanish Colonial Times

Historical Markers on Filipino Women’s Sexuality During Spanish Colonial Times

By Gloria Esguerra Melencio

The intention of this research paper is to compile data about the Filipino women’s activities, rituals and customs related to sexuality and mark its historical markers along the way from the 16th up to 17th centuries.

The paper asks the following questions: What did the Spanish colonizers find out when they first saw the women? How did the Spanish colonizers view the Filipino women through time? What were the Filipino women’s activities, rituals and customs that pertain to sexuality? How did they express their sexual desires? Why were polygamy, concubinage and abortion practiced ? How did the Spanish colonizers wield the Christian Doctrine to conquer the so-called Evils that plague the Filipino women? What was the perception of the Filipino women of the Spanish colonizers?

Why sexuality? Why Historical Markers?

First, the researcher chooses the sexuality aspect of women as a topic because most of the materials gathered about womanhod focus on chastity, modesty, virginity, relationship with men and everything related to her being a woman that involves conception, childbearing, giving birth or failing to give birth. Sexuality here as the Webster’s Dictionary defines is the “possession of the structural and functional differentia of sex.”

Second, the researcher sees putting historical markers on the important events related to women’s sexuality using the historical process of Spanish colonization as a backdrop while putting forth forward the social issues that have arisen as past and present-day problems.

Third, the researcher categorizes the historical markers as nodal points in the meeting of two different peoples and cultures – the paganistic native Filipinos and the Christian Hispanics – and discovers along the way a metamorphosed culture where can be threshed out specific issues of Filipino women related to sexuality. The periodization, as the researcher discerns, is fluid. It means the event or symbolical object had begun or surfaced when the Spanish colonizers set foot on the islands in the 16th century and continued until the 17th century. Or may have been continuing up until the present time.

Further study on the periods that are marked as nodal points in women’s sexuality is a must in the future because it will provide explanations and clarifications as to what had transpired in the past that led the way to where the women are now in history.

Full Link posted 17 September 2009 on Philippine History and provided to the Babaylan Files by Letecia Layson

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Curing Colonial Stupor, A booklist

Why is decolonization and indigenization important to Filipinos today? One of the reasons is that it helps Filipinos become more integrated in their own cultural identity. It also helps them become strengthened as a collective of people who are of the archipelago called the Philippines or whose ancestry hails from there. Why do Filipinos have some sort of cultural identity crisis? Maybe this can help you find answers:

Here is the intro to a booklist called Curing Colonial Stupor, at
When an imperial power comes and colonizes indigenous people, takes away their culture and language and teaches native people to become eurocentric and to look down upon their own kind... a human sickness sets in that is called colonial mentality. This is a systemic and traumatic kind of educational and programming of minds. It is a set of dysfunctional human beings, with a superiority complex, teaching with brutal methods, another set of human beings how to have an inferiority complex and how to be innately dysfunctional as a human being.
This dysfunction, this colonial mentality and colonizers mentality can be cured.
How to find healing?
First, get very angry. The first book listed here will help you do that and is called The Forbidden Book for a reason. Who among the U.S. imperial forces want the little people, among those they colonized and in their own country, to understand the demented thinking they have that justifies their colonization of people who seek their own independence and ways of life?
Next, figure out that this whole Life thing and how people think is all a Game of sorts. The illusions that people project upon us, that we agree to uphold can be shattered.
Next, find ways to rid yourself of programmed thinking that you unconsciously began to subscribe to throughout your life. Aha! That's the catch---it takes years to deprogram. But a personal practice of meditation and self-reflection can help you achieve that.
Return to your roots.
Unsubscribe from belief systems that were constructed to benefit one people and take away from another.
Find healing, wholeness, Clarity.
This booklist includes titles such as:
  • Forbidden Book, by Abe Ignacio, Enrique de la Cruz, Jorge Emmanuel, Helen Toribio 
  • Waking Up In Time: Finding Inner Peace In Times of Accelerating Change by Peter Russell
  • Coming Full Circle, by Leny Strobel
  • If Life is a Game These are the Rules by Chérie Carter-Scott
  • How to See Yourself as You Really Are... by by Dalai Lama
See the amazon booklist on "Curing colonial stupor" here

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Towards a 'Kapwa' Theory of Art: Multiplicity in Integrative Contemporary Practices

Towards a 'Kapwa' Theory of Art: Multiplicity in Integrative Contemporary Practices
by Margarity Certeza Garcia
Presented at: Bahaus University Weimar
Masters in Public Arts and New Artistic Strategies
21 February 2011

(What)…is the large percentage of the population of the world who could be categorized as 'Other,' to do when attempting to enter the bastions of the art world, other then, at least for women who might be perceived as desirable, take off their clothes; as Guerilla Girls' sardonically suggested in a series of poster placed in the New York City arts scene in the 1980s. That question, sans the mocking response, (which is both humorous and painful in its stark reality), forms the crux of this paper. What are additional ways for an artist from the non-dominant modality to position themselves and their work? What additional examples exist for coherent practice that acknowledge the multiple possibilities and hybrid and shifting positions of contemporary life? Where do I, as a hybrid Filipino Artist studying in Europe stand in relation to this debate? This essay neither intends to establish a definitive answer to these questions nor to privilege any artistic theory as a response to them. Instead, it represents an examination of the problem itself, followed by a brief expiration of the possibility of multiplicity using alternative theories.

Full text link provided by Leny Strobel

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Popular Spirituality as Cultural Energy by Albert E. Alejo, SJ

Popular Spirituality as Cultural Energy by Albert E. Alejo, SJ

This paper was delivered during the Spirituality Forum III on August 5,2003 at University of Sto. Tomas CME Auditorium, Manila, Philippines. This article was previously published in Lecture Series 3 on Spirituality, 2004.


Spirituality has always been difficult to define. At the heart of the notion of spirituality, however, is the people’s search for the sacred, for a transcendent dimension to life, for something that gives people meaning in their lives, something that ennobles them to think of and be concerned about a higher cause, something that offers them inner connection and deeper purpose in life, something that helps them celebrate life and existence.

From the data of my experience---I would not claim empirical precision here---I discern at least four spiritual dimensions of our cultural religious practices. I call them spirituality of the body, spirituality of the many, spirituality of celebration and spirituality of negotiation. There is no claim here of exhaustive listing. Let me not waste time being apologetic for my

Full text link provided by Leny Strobel

Leny writes:

This essay by Paring Bert Alejo is refreshing in the way it articulates and clarifies, for me, the language of popular spirituality among the Filipinos especially of the masa/common folks. I find it interesting that the official church (Catholic) often deems this language as mere resistance against the church's dominant practices when in fact, as Fr. Alejo says, it is cultural energy that challenges our vocabularies of power.

Full text on Leny's blog, Kathang Pinay 2.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Book Excerpt: Indigenous and Cultural Psychology Understanding People in Context

Indigenous and Cultural Psychology: Understanding People in Context
Uichol Kim, Kuo-Shu Yang and Kwang-Kuo Hwang, eds.
Springer, 2006, ISBN 978-0-387-28661-7 (Print) 978-0-387-28662-4 (Online)
DOI: 10.1007/0-387-28662-4

From the Preface

The development of indigenous psychology as a field has a short history. Its emergence has been stimulated by leading psychologists in various parts of the world. Virgilio Enriquez was a charismatic leader, championing Sikolohiyang Pilipino (Filipino psychology), which became a national movement in the Philippines (Enriquez, 1992; Pe-pua, Chapter 5, this volume). Durgan and Sinha was critical of “carbon copying” Western psychology and was a vocal advocate of indigenizing psychology. There were other scholars who stressed the importance of indigenous knowledge: Yoshi Kashima in Australia; Bame Nsamenang in Cameroon; John Berry and John Adair in Canada; Reuben Ardila in Columbia; Denise Jodelet inFrance; James Georgas in Greece; Michael Bond, Fanny Cheung, David Ho, Henry Kao, Kwok Leung, and Chung-Fang Yang in Hong Kong; R. K. Naidu, J. B. P. Sinha, R. C. Tripathi, Ramesh Mishra, and Girishwar Misra in India; Hiroshi Azuma, Akira Hoshino, and Susumu Yamaguchi in Japan; Sang-Chin Choi, Uichol Kim, and Young-Shin Park in Korea; Rogelio Diaz-Guerrero and Rolando Diaz-Loving in Mexico; Michael Durojaiye in Nigeria; Alfred Lagmay and Rogelia Pe-pua in the Philippines; Leo Marai of Papua New Guinea; Pawel Boski in Poland; Boris Lomov in Russia; Carl Martin Allwood in Sweden; Pierre Dasen in Switzerland; Kuo-Shu Yang and Kwang-Kuo Hwang in Taiwan; Cigdem Kâgitçibasi in Turkey; Padmal de Silva and Rom Harré in the United Kingdom; Fathali Moghaddam, Carolyn Pope, and Joseph Trimble in the United States; and José Miguel Salazar in Venezuela. They represented individual voices, with differing perspective and emphasis...
To bring together diverse viewpoints, approaches, and perspectives in indigenous psychology around the world, an international workshop entitled Scientific Advances in Indigenous Psychologies: Philosophical, Cultural and Empirical Contributions was held in Taipei, Taiwan, October 29-November 1, 2001. The purpose of the three-day workshop was to bring together leading scholars to document the scientific advances in indigenous psychology and to discuss possible integration of the field. The workshop provided an opportunity for participants to present their views and findings and to discuss the basis for integration and collaboration.
If we had to identify a weakness in the present volume, it is the lack of representation of psychologists representing indigenous peoples. The volume focuses on modern nations, and we could not fully represent scholarly work on indigenous peoples. We hope that a volume that focuses on the indigenous psychology of indigenous peoples will be published in the near future...

Submitted by Leny Strobel

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ancient Baybayin: Early Mother Tongue-based Education Model - History Ko

Ancient Baybayin: Early Mother Tongue-based Education Model - History Ko
by Bonifacio F. Comandante, Jr. / Asia Social Institute

Miguel Lopez de Legaspi first experienced the linguistic diversity of the Philippine Archipelago on 1565. In the succeeding years, Catholic missionaries were heaping praises on the excellencies of Baybayin Language, not hesitating to compare it even to the Hebrew, Greek and Latin, the prestigious language of the letters and religion that time.

Fletcher Gardner in 1938 quoted Luyon wife of Yagao (Tribal Mangyan) as saying, “Our writing never changes as it is taught to the children.” Extant Baybayin scripts such as Tagalog, Ilocano, Bisaya, Bohol, Bicol, Pampanga, Pangasinan, Hinunoo, Buhid, Bangon and Tagbanwa have been found very recently to predate the birth of Christ.

While Filipinos lost the ancient art of writing in favor of the Spanish Orthography, the spoken Baybayin language fortunately enough has flourished to this very day. Long before the arrival of the Spaniards, Baybayin has been used in detailing personal and domestic interests, postal scheme, writing poems, art works, healing modalities and conducting rituals for festivities and spirituality. Higher education back then was done by teachers called “Pantas.”

Full text posted 28 May 2010 on History Ko.
Link provided by Leny Strobel and accessed 24 May 2011.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Theoretical Advances in the Discourse of Indigenization

by S. Lily L. Mendoza

Mga babasahin sa agham panlipunang Pilipino : sikolohiyang Pilipino, pilipinolohiya, at pantayong pananaw. Eds Atoy Navarro; Flordeliza Lagbao- Bolante. Quezon City : Published and distributed by C & E Pub., 2007.

Out of the initially uncoordinated and scattered moves to revamp theorizing within the Western-introduced academic disciplines in the Philippine academy, three programmatic narratives emerged from the disciplines of psychology, anthropology, and history, notably, Sikolohiyang Pilipino, Pilipinolohiya, and Pantayong Pananaw, respectively.  I take them here as part of a single discursive formation, each working from the same principles of valuing pagsasarili (self-determination) and pagtahak ng sariling landas tungo sa kabansaan (“charting an autonomous path toward nation- or people-hood”).  Together, they offer what appears to be the first organized,  comprehensive, and programmatic challenge to the long-standing hegemony of colonial theorizing in the disciplines beginning in the period of the late 1970s and reaching a fuller maturation toward the latter half of the 1980s to the present.  To date, all three discourses seem to have succeeded in attaining a certain measure of hegemony, not without their share of momentary setbacks and capitulations, but overall, managing to give force and direction to what heretofore had been mostly scattered, diffused critiques of colonization within Philippine higher education.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Dances of Hostility and Friendship

Dances of Hostility and Friendship: Embodied Histories of Group Relations in the Agusanen Manobo Spirit-Possession (Yana-an) Ritual

by Jose S. Buenconsejo

Humanities Diliman, Vol. 1, No. 2 (2010)

This paper explores the complex, aesthetic embodiment of a particular history of group relations. It investigates how the form or materiality of ritual séance—constituted by dance, music, speech, and acts—reflects changes in the political economy. The paper deals with Agusanen Manobo séance (yana-an) as a channel for embodying the Agusan Manobo’s rich cultural imagination of “others.” Agusan Manobos are indigenous people,most of whom are now Christians and who live in middle Agusan Valley. Their “imaginary others” are distant outsiders with whom the Manobos owe some kind of affinity because of a more or less shared historical experience based upon concrete social exchange practices. The paper examines two kinds of social relations: (1) Manobos vis-à-vis other indigenous peoples, and (2) Manobos vis-à-vis the Visayan speaking settlers. It demonstrates that the nature of the first social relation is symmetrical or egalitarian. This contrasts with the second, which is asymmetrical. The paper shows that Agusan Manobo yana-an makes reflexive, visceral statements about these social relations, enabling ritual participants to define their social identity and reconstrue the newer asymmetrical Manobo-Visayan relations back to its original equalizing one.

Full PDF link submitted by Letecia Layson

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Seclusion and Veiling of Women

Seclusion and Veiling of Women: A Historical and Cultural Approach
by Maria Bernadette L. Abrera
Philippine Social Sciences Review

A very select group of women existed in indigenous Philippine society which has hardly merited any account in history. These women were daughters of datus or rulers who were kept hidden in special rooms and were not allowed to be seen by any man. They remained secluded from society but their beauty and prestige were widespread. Their seclusion contributed immensely to their near invisibility in history, except that their presence dominates the narratives of almost all the Philippine epics. In these epics, these secluded women are described in length, from their physical beauty to their abilities in the spiritual realm. The description of these young women, desired by warrior-heroes and rulers as their wives, are an uncanny guide in a closer reading of the historical texts where we find glimpses and hints of their presence once their characteristics are discovered from the epics. Even the description of the houses as well as the architecture of the Maranao house give evidence to the presence of these secluded young maidens. This paper utilizes the initial historical evidence available to show the presence of the binukot woman in indigenous society, weaving the narrative with those found in the epics and in ethnographic accounts in order to glimpse through the veil and reveal the binukot. However, it has only served to show how much she still remains secluded and veiled in history.

Full PDF link provided by Letecia Layson.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Sacred Journey exhibit by John Paul "Lakan" Olivares'

For those of you in Manila, please view John Paul "Lakan" Olivares' Sacred Journey exhibit of stunning, contemplative, mind-bending, soul-baring drawings... Prof. Olivares shares drawings that reflect his spiritual journey during his 11-year hiatus. 

February 28 - March 14, 2011
Galerie Y, 4th FLR SM Megamall Artwalk

Cocktails will be on March 4, 2011, 6:00PM, Galerie Y. 

Click link for more details...

You might be able to get a glimpse of some of his works online here:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

shine mentality, a cure for crab mentality by Perla Daly

If the cure to colonial mentality is a mental and spiritual decolonization then the cure to crab mentality has to be what I now call Shine Mentality.

In 2002, I remember speakiing to a group of women in the Manila at a Wowee! Workshop on women's wisdom. When I told them that there is room in this world for everyone to shine because inside all women are fabulous---I got a lot of unbelieving looks. A lot of women around the world, even in the United States, the birthplace of the term liberated woman, don't believe that they've got fabulous-ness or the ability to shine within their own selves in the first place.

I know that most of those Filipino women, like me, were raised up to be quiet and demure---keep your legs closed and your thoughts to yourself....etc, etc. Little do most of us mahinhin/lady like Filipinas realize that some of these tenets of femininity have suppressed our full expression of who we are and have prevented us from pursuing our dreams. It's how we're raised and how our environments influence us that cause us to limit ourselves, and to want to limit others too, even bring them down.

We all need to discover for ourselves how we can live life to the fullest and to also discover how we can want others to live to their fullest potential too. What keeps people from "shining"? What causes people to want others to not shine or to bring down others with their crab mentality?

Read more of the blogpost on

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


February 2011

The banigs or hand woven mats said it all. It was Thursday evening, January 27, 2011 and as I spread them out and looked at them, they looked back, crumpled, dirty and forlorn. I carried them, laid them on the tub and tried to scrub them clean. But as the soap and water were flowing, so flowed my tears. The banigs have been in the building basement far too long and have become moldy and badly stained from the rains. How could I have allowed this to happen? As the keeper, I have been remiss in my duty. Now, how could I ever unfold the intricate weavings and the vibrant colors that tell of my people’s tales? They who have lovingly woven these mats in the caves, where the right temperature and amount of moisture helped bring out the best colors, the soft but resilient strands? How was I to help launch Virgil and Lane’s books without the magic of the mats’ stories? I cried, blamed myself, blamed my husband, blamed myself again and cried some more.

The tears were forgotten when the books were launched two days later, on Saturday, Jan 29, at the Silver Lake Center. Three banigs were not so bad after all and were put up on the walls of the center, accompanied by a happy array of indigenous cloth from the Cordillera and Mindanao. The splash of tribal colors and images brightened the center and were reflected on the faces of those who attended. The community came joyfully together to celebrate the books’ L.A. debut. Music, dance, performance and talks flowed and filled everyone. The joy spilled over until the early hours of the morning, when we of CFBS and FilAm Arts celebrated some more – with songs, stories and games, in Roque’s home.

On Sunday, Jan. 30th, the well in my eyes spilled tears again. I heard the news of violent clashes in Egypt and the total communication blackout. My daughter was there, working as an RN and I could not reach her; there was no telephone, no internet, no Skype, nothing. It was just a few days ago that I was looking at her Facebook, how it beamed with pictures of her visit to the pyramids, her childhood dream realized at last. A week after that tour, the Sphinx seemed to have awakened and brought total chaos to the country. It was the most frustrating and stressful time, having to face this dark and ominous wall of silence in Egypt, worried sick about a daughter’s safety. I could not sleep and was glued to the TV and my laptop for news updates. I called the Dept of Foreign Affairs in Manila. Someone said the officials were still assessing the situation. I kept calling them the following days for updates, but no reassurance came. I was on a thin wire, suspended indefinitely, precariously, and the only release were my tears.

Worn out with anxiety, I remembered the last mid-January weekend retreat in Sta. Rosa, the playing like children in Sonoma, the comfort of Leny’s kitchen and couch. I remembered the warmth of bodies and hearts, all 15 of us, settled like birds in a nest, treasuring the home we found in one another. I remembered the sheer bliss of rediscovering deep friendship, the sweetness of laughter shared as a family, the passionate play of being community. We were, as Perla so aptly described it, a bowl. We contained each other, our laughter and our tears, our smiles and even our fears, our bodies, our spirits. We were a bowl yes, but at the same time, we were also a boat on the river, flowing with our dreams, rowing to the rhythm of our vision - for service to our Kapwa - rowing towards liberation, always moving towards freedom.

But what of freedom, a part of me asked, when at any given moment one is clutched by fear and anxiety that grinds unceasingly, unmercifully? If we are to look at the big picture, are we not mere pawns of those in highest authority, those who wield imperial powers and have the resources of the world at their feet, unmindful of the groveling majority, and the wanton destruction of environment and humanity? Is our rowing at CFBS merely a pathetic simulation of movement that cannot get us anywhere anyway? What of the bowl or the boat?

I checked myself and recalled that this time is the same February of our People Power Revolution in EDSA, ignited 25 years ago in 1986. It was this same bloodless revolution that inspired others to bring down the Berlin Wall in 1989, and now, the same people’s revolution that is sweeping Egypt into an unprecedented era of change in 2011.

Buoyed by these thoughts, I again confront the same fears that have shadowed me as a child, even as an adult, assailed by my own and my people’s colonial mentality and the internal oppression that made me feel how painful it was to be “The Other.” I see you, and I accept you as part of me, I tell my fears. But now, I am someone else, I add with conviction.

I am of the same spirit as my ancestors, indestructible and free. It is this same indomitable spirit that connects me to the eternal strand woven into all of creation, animated by its divine Source, regardless of time, matter and space. I am the container of the past, the present and the future. I am part of the tree of transcendence. I live with its roots embracing the earth, I am one with its branches merging with the sky. And together with the rest of my Kapwa, we shall unravel the promise of freedom, whether fighting for it in the streets of EDSA or Egypt, or realizing it in the deepest frontiers of the inner self, and in the realms beyond.

I cry with joy for this life which is a banig of exquisite weavings, of amazing dancing images, imbued with nature’s textures and fragrances, and astounding rainbow hues. I am grateful to be sharing the banig of life with my CFBS family and community, whose nurturing support sustains, and yes, contains as it moves, our personal and collective dreams.

Mabuhay tayo kailanman!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Filipino Tattoos:Ancient to Modern reviewed by Leny Strobel

Filipino Tattoos:Ancient to Modern



I first took notice of young undergrads at UC Berkeley sporting baybayin tattoos in the mid-90s.  Elsewhere I wrote about these tattoos as signifying a desire to reconnect with one’s Filipino indigenous roots or ethnic/cultural heritage. I also wrote that perhaps some of the young folks were just riding a wave of popular culture: the modern primitive. As I perused photography books at bookstores and television spectacles about these modern primitives, I began to wonder about the meaning of such practices.

I thought that in these postmodern times when everything is in flux and identities are hybrid, fluid, cosmopolitan and even “homeless”, the body has become the last territory that a person can still have some control over or ownership. Perhaps, I thought, if our lives are so controlled and mediated by business corporations and the corporate media, the body is trying to assert its own authority. Since tattoos are still relatively marginalized in the dominant culture, those who choose to wear them are asserting their own resistance to dominating narratives. In my head, I kept on theorizing about postmodern practices of resistance to the fetishes of capitalism. But something shifted soon after.

In 1997, as I was recovering from a car accident, I asked a henna artist to draw a “tree of life” tattoo on the six-inch scar along along my right arm. A henna temporary tattoo lasts for about 4 -6 weeks. I got this tattoo the day before I enplaned to the Philippines to recover in my Mother’s arms. Naturally, when she saw my arm she squirmed and asked “what have you done?” – thinking that this was permanent.  

I loved this temporary tattoo; it was my way of marking my survival. My second life commenced with this gesture of marking my body, even if only temporarily. My mother was relieved that it was temporary. But I think for the rest of her life she wondered about this strange daughter’s surprises and musings.

Thus, today I sit with Lane Wilcken’s Filipino Tattoos: Ancient to Modern and praising the book for filling in a lot of blanks for me about this ancient practice.
In this book, Lane provides in-depth and wide-ranging perspectives on the connections of Filipino tattoo designs with Polynesian/Pacific Islander myths and practices; what Filipino tattoos signified among specific tribal groups; designs or motifs derived from the animist worldviews of indigenous peoples; and how contemporary Filipino Americans are choosing to tattoo themselves with tribal symbols.

As we[1] attempt to articulate Filipino Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSP), Lane adds to this body of knowledge with this book. How do we recuperate the relevance of these indigenous practices and why and what for? In this book, Lane documents the answers to all these questions. What comes through loud and clear for me is that these are living traditions. In indigenous communities where the belief that all is Sacred and animated by the spirits of our ancestors, these living traditions of marking the body with beauty is an extension of one’s relationship to the Sacred. Whether it is to signify the courage of the warrior, safe passage into the other life, or protection from malevolent spirits, or to beautify one’s body, or to signify kinship with other created beings, like thebuwaya/crocodile – these living traditions are kept alive and their symbolic meanings provide the power that is invoked by the chosen tattoo.

To choose to be tattooed is a decision not to be taken lightly. In their indigenous contexts, the community had a shared understanding of the rituals, the symbolic meanings of body adornment. Today, in the diaspora and in the absence of such communities, Lane writes about the meditation that is required before one chooses to be tattooed. As with Asian and Filipino practices like qi gong, acupuncture, kali – these practices require not only the acquisition of skill but the transformation of one’s world view, values, and lifestyle. It may mean a serious reckoning with colonial history, a conscious decolonization process, a shift in lifestyle choices, a shift in the way we eat or what we eat – all of which are part of the process of connecting to the timelessness and Sacredness of Life.

In this book, Lane’s connection to his great grandmother who was a mamangkit/spirit medium, and his grandmother who was a manghilot, is evident. As the receiver of this heritage he has devoted more than two decades of his life researching and documenting this Filipino living tradition. Using the earlier works of American and European anthropologists who documented Filipino tattooing, Lane is able to recontextualize these traditions in the Filipino indigenous world view.  To me, this is a critical intervention that is needed for us to fully appreciate these traditions outside of the colonial gaze and outside of the construction of “modern primitives.” In doing so, Filipino Tattoos: Ancient to Modern, returns us to our nobility, beauty, wisdom, and…a sense of magic.

Synchronistically, I have been reading about the recovery of indigenous mind (Jurgen Kremer, 1997; 2003) for white folks and for those who have been subjected to colonialism and imperialism.  Kremer refers to the “original instructions” that are given to people and how these instructions need to be taken cared of through ceremony, ritual, dreams; it means to “live in the presence of the past for the future. The original instructions are from the past, we need to bring our present into them, so that creation emerges from the center of our cultures. They contain the information for sustainable living.”[2]

This is the gift of Lane Wilcken’s book; it is an offering and honoring of our Ancestors and their gifts to us. Whether you are Visayan, Ilokano, Gaddang, Kalinga, etc, male or female, modern, in the homeland or in the diaspora – you will find relevant information about your ancestors or about your Filipino history in this book. Even if you have not or will not consider getting a tattoo yourself, you can draw knowledge and wisdom about the ways of our ancestors from this book. You might learn to understand these cultural practices in terms of the validity of the indigenous worldview; for the value of honoring the past in order to honor the present; for valuing our ancestors and their legacy of Sacred Wholeness. You might learn to question the ways in which our ancestors’ practices were portrayed as primitive, barbaric, demonic, or heathen.  I only say “might” because the work of doing so – of questioning, reflecting, valuing – is a process of grieving what has been lost under colonization. It is a process of painful re-membering of the stories and practices we have traded in. But if there is even a glimpse of resonance, of magic, that rises to your awareness as you read the book and look at the photographs, pay attention to that whisper. It is your indigenous soul calling you Home.

For me, I specially like this passage: “A woman’s tattooing was an affirmation of her strength and inherent spiritual power, procreative endowment, and as a form of clothing, an enhancement of beauty and a proclamation of her status. Finally, the tattoos were a form of recognition that allowed the soul of a woman to pass into the afterlife and join the glorious chain of her ancestors.” (57).

[1] “We” here refers to the Center for Babaylan Studies whose mission is to provide a container for Filipino IKSP and articulate their relevance today for Filipinos in the homeland and in the diaspora. Visit
[2] Jurgen W. Kremer, “Recovering Indigenous Mind,” in Revision,  Vol. 19. No. 4, p.33. 1997.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Virgil Apostol's "Way of the Ancient Healer": A Review

Virgil Mayor Apostol, Way of the Ancient Healer

Reviewed by Leny Mendoza Strobel
January 28, 2011

In a note I sent to Virgil shortly after receiving my copy of his book, I wrote: In a way, my books have been a way station for the arrival of the knowledge that you bring in this book. I said this because I’ve been writing about the need for those of us in the diaspora to have access to Filipino indigenous knowledge and practices as part of our decolonization process. For what is the point of deconstructing our colonized identities if, in the end, we didn’t have an indigenous narrative of our own? In all of my writing about decolonization and indigenization, I have described my own journey, including my desire to know more specifically about my own ancestral roots as a Kapampangan.

While I have the body memory, I didn’t have the ancestral stories to go along with it. Way of the Ancient Healer gave me those stories. Even if they are Virgil’s personal stories, he claims he speaks out of a collective voice as well…and that includes mine.

In reading Virgil’s Way of the Ancient Healer, I felt as if I finally had the empirical evidence or concrete data in the form of his own personal stories and those of others who reveal the encyclopedic knowledge of healing arts of our Filipino ancestors. He also links this knowledge to the traditions and practices of near and far neighbors in Southeast Asia and beyond. Even further, he also weaves these traditions within the realm of the cosmic and mythic. His narrative spans both ancient and contemporary times to show that the past is still alive in the present; in his Epilogue he envisions that our ancient ways of healing will survive into the future as well.

I used to read the Journal of Noetic Sciences  and Parabola and there was always a part of me that felt incredulous about the attempts of western scientists to prove that certain psychic or spiritual phenomena can be proven scientifically in laboratory settings or with measuring instruments. Even then I was already skeptical of the need to validate everything through the scientific method. I muttered to myself often: why do we need science to prove that prayer works? Why do we need science to prove that meditation works?  

And then I was introduced to the term “indigenous science” through the work of Apela Colorado[1] and Jurgen Kremer[2] and Jeremy Narby[3] – all of whom are writing to posit that there needs to be better dialogue between indigenous knowledge holders (shamans) and scientists.  In particular, I appreciate Narby’s contention that what hinders this dialogue is not language but the arrogance of western science.

Well, we must be making some progress towards that dialogue if I take as one indicator the publication of the Way of the Ancient Healer by North Atlantic Books. Blurbed by famous names in the healing arts - Deepak Chopra, Bradford Keeney, Hank Wesselman, and Jean Houston – this book places our Filipino Sacred Teachings and Philippine Ancestral Traditions on the map.  (Whether we admit it or not, the colonized mind tends to be impressed by the authority of the printed word more than the authority of the oral tradition).

But something is changing…

I heard Danny Kalanduyan, the kulintang master, tell the story that when be brought his Filipino American students to Mindanao to learn about kulintang arts, the locals were wondering why Americans are interested in their arts. I hear the same story repeated in various ways: when Filipinos in the Philippines receive the balikbayans who are interested in indigenous cultures and practices, it creates a synergy and it awakens their own consciousness to the importance and relevance of these practices.  In the Philippines, I remember Fr. Alejo’s story of how the indigenous folks on Mt Apo told him: why do you still want to study us, Father, when we don’t have culture anymore? (in reference to their having agreed to allow a geothermal development on their sacred mountain).[4]

Indeed, the timing of Virgil Apostol’s book is perfect.  I sense that we are ready to look back at our ancient ways of knowing and healing because when we do, it returns us to a place of belonging. It makes us feel whole. It makes us joyful to remember, re-member and make whole the fragments of stories that we have silently carried in our cultural genes.

I look at the photographs in this book and the various ways of naming among our ethnolinguistic groups and I am overcome by a soothing feeling, a very comforting feeling. More recently, my grief and sadness over the stories that were not passed on to me by my own ancestors have been assuaged: You may not know our names or our stories, but you know us. Your work honors us. And we know you. What prepared me to hear the voice of my ancestors includes the time I spent with Virgil’s book. 

Let me put it another way: The spoken word is potent. In oral cultures, as in the ancient times of our ancestors, the stories were handed down in all their potency and power. David Abram[5] writes that reading can be an animist experience once we learn how to reconnect with the sensuousness of the world and the word.

The structure of Way of the Ancient Healer lends itself to the potential of reclaiming the power of the oral tradition, of the story, of the spoken word in its literate form. In this way of bridging, of finding the middle path (as Virgil calls his approach to this work), it invites the skeptical, the cynic, the doubter – for whatever reasons – to come hither and listen.  Is your religious belief or scientific belief or your modern consciousness getting in the way of this invitation to imbibe in the wealth of your ancestral Filipino roots? Not to worry. Virgil’s approach in this book is gentle, humorous, compassionate, and non-judgmental. After all, that’s the only way the ancestors would have it.


[4] See Fr. Albert Alejo’s book, Creating Energies on Mt. Apo, Ateneo University Press

Friday, January 28, 2011

Tera Maxwell's Reflections on the CFBS Retreat

Moon smiling down on us at at the lake on last night of retreat.
(Photo by Karen Pennrich)
On the last evening of the Babaylan Retreat 2011, we gathered at nearby Lake Ralphine in Santa Rosa, California to make an offering to our ancestors. The twilight sun softly dipped below the trees to the west. A swollen moon awaited evening in the east. This land held the painful memories of my adolescence, but sharp regret troubled me no more. Balikbayan describes diasporic Filipinos who return to the homeland. It literally means returning to settlement. Balik means return; bayan means settlement. (Vicente Rafael p206). It is a feeling of coming home. Yet here, in Sonoma County, California, I experienced balikbayan at this working retreat for the Center for Babaylan Studies (CFBS). 
The intention of the retreat was to brainstorm upcoming plans for the Center for Babaylan Studes, whose main purpose is to educate about indigenous knowledges and practices. Before the closing ritual of the weekend, we sat on a sharp outcropping of rocks above the lake and recalled our experiences at the retreat. I expressed gratitude for each participant for the gift of acceptance. As a second-generation mestiza Filipino American, it was the first time I felt I belonged as a Filipina. Among the group were Filipino artists, writers, musicians, academics, and healers. Virgil Apostol taught us about Ablon, the Filipino art of healing. Lily Mendoza lectured on the indigenization movement in the Philippines.  Perla Daly presented on the babaylan's many symbols. Lane Wilcken talked about the Filipino art of tattooing as a committment to one's ancestral family. Leny Strobel discussed the Center’s purpose and welcomed us into her home. Titania Bucholdt shared her bamboo percussive instruments, and we danced in a tribal circle. We nourished our bodies with good food. We laughed. We played. 
The first night we feasted together. Mila Anguluan Coger led the opening ritual. The first ritual was called "The Gathering." Frances stood with a bag of scarves tied to her hip. She called to the first person in the circle "Intan, Tera" meaning "Come here from wherever you are. Put your feet on the earth." Each person tied her scarf to the last person on the scarf chain, like a winding snake of scarves and bodies. After every person in the group was welcomed into the chain, the ritual shifted. An outer circle and inner circle formed. Every individual in the inner circle spoke to each member of the outer circle: "I honor you" and shared something unique about that person. Everyone took turns. 
Mila invited us to play through ritual. Her activities would be presented to Filipino American college students to help them get in touch with their indigenous roots. We were asked to draw a power symbol and an indigenous symbol. My power symbol is the waterfall, shifting and moving continuously, a fitting metaphor for my energy, and my life, married to a corporate gypsy. But intuitively, I was given my ancestral symbol--a large, smooth stone. The stone is solid and unchanging. It represents the islands of my ancestors. It symbolizes the source of my strength.
Atang in Ilokono is a ritual offering to one's ancestors. It is showing respect for our ancestors on the other side of the veil. It is acknowledging their presence and assistance in our mortal affairs. This honor of ancestors is important in Filipino indigenous traditions. We were invited to make an offering to our ancestors. I wrote a note expressing my gratitude to my ancestors for their help in writing my dissertation among other things. Because of my own religious biases, I came to the ritual expecting simply a beautiful ceremony, but not necessarily a spiritual act.

I was wrong.
As Lane Wilcken placed the offering of food and letters on taltalabong, a spiritual raft, and uttered a chant of respect to the ancestors. The taltalabong drifted out on the lake. Seven geese circled overhead twice from left to right, a Filipino omen that the ancestors were pleased with our offering. To my surprise, I felt my heart surge with joy. I felt the joyful embrace of my ancestors; a strong presence of many surrounded me. This sacred experience was more profound than words can convey, but I knew that this indigenous ritual was important, as I honored my indigenous ancestors in a ritual they recognized. I received the impression: "We are always with you." 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Notes and Reflections from the CFBS Retreat, Jan 14-16, 2011

JANUARY 14-16, 2011

Attending: Leny Strobel, Perla Daly, Letecia Layson, Lorial Crowder, Mila Coger, Lane Wilcken, Virgil Apostol, Lizae Reyes, Gina Honda, Karen Pennrich, Lily Mendoza, Tera Maxwell, Venus Herbito, Frances Santiago, Titania Bucholdt

Last night of the retreat. The lake was as still as a mirror. 
Wednesday, January  12: Letecia and Lily arrived on this day and am glad they got here early because they helped me with the food preparation for the weekend. They chopped, peeled, sliced, diced vegetables while we got a head start on storytelling. Letecia also created the altar as we prepared the space. We set our intentions.

Friday, January 14: Perla arrived from Austin; Lorial from New York. Tera (Minnesota) arrived with Malena (9mos) in Santa Rosa where her mother lives. Lane arrived at Sonoma County Airport where he was met by Karen. Venus, Virgil, Mila and Gina arrived from Los Angeles; Frances from Maryland. Lizae picked up Perla and Lorial from BART station near her home.

Lizae, Perla, Lorial, Venus, Frances, Mila, Gina had lunch at Café Gratitude in Berkeley and they all celebrated the graduation of Frances (MA in Indigenous Mind). Mila, who has defended her dissertation proposal and is now on her way to do the research was also feted.

I mention the places where everyone came from because I am still in awe at everyone’s resolve to come and be with one another. Our home was happy to be the container for the vibrant energy of beautiful souls. Cal and I felt honored.

Opening Ritual: I was washing dishes when Mila, Gina, and Frances came up from behind and started the summons: Intan, Leny! Intan, Leny!  and proceeded to summon everyone to the living room. Mila then gave each one a scarf and then we tied our scarves together and formed a circle and then Mila gave us instructions on welcoming and honoring each other.  This was a wonderful way for everyone to greet and honor each other individually. Already, there were misty eyes and laughter.

Afterwards, Letecia led us in reflection about Sacred Time and Sacred Ritual. We all made a commitment to the structure of the weekend’s program as agreed upon so that there would be no need to have a timekeeper. We posted our weekend schedule and weekend menu on the door of the pantry for everyone to see. For me, Letecia’s words can be summed up thus: Remember what CFBS stands for, what we have committed to and then show up. Her words are much more profound than these, of course.

Saturday, January 15: Everyone was on time! I mixed the vegetables with the bihon for our no-cook pansit lunch baon; made hummus, and then laid out our breakfast of lox and bagels, cream cheese, fruits. Tea with calamansi and ginger and honey; coffee, orange juice.  By 8:30 we were rolling out the door and headed to Sonoma State U.

At SSU, after our brief opening Kapwa Jam with bamboo instruments brought by Titania (thank you!), we began the day with “framing our Big Story” as a way of clarifying what we mean by Filipino Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices (IKSP); identifying the various discourses under IKSP including, of course, the Babaylan discourse. We emphasized the significance of understanding how the stories we tell ourselves are often shaped by powerful historical narratives and ideologies, and, therefore, the decolonization and indigenization processes are critical to the vision and work of CFBS.

Lily continued the morning session by talking about the indigenization movement in the Philippines – its history of emergence and the strands (Sikolohiyang Pilipino, Pilipinolohiya, Pantayong Pananaw), key persons, and its relevance to CFBS. Furthermore, in linking IKSP to the global concerns (environmental, social justice, capitalist exploitation, etc), she used the example of Detroit (as a post-industrial city) where the local movement is towards “Grow our Food; Grow our Stories; Grow our Beauty.”  She further noted how wonderful it is not to feel the need to have a divide between cognitive ways of knowing and the more "embodied ways of knowing." At CFBS the community process allows one to experience a more integrative  mode of knowing where indigenous consciousness and ancient ways of being are not only studied and theorized but  actually re-learned and practiced as living traditions.

Saturday afternoon: Mila, Lane, Perla, and Letty presented their modules.  Mila’s workshop is designed for her presentation to undergrads in Southern CA. Her interactive activities got us invigorated and creative. Lane presented his outline presentation on Filipino tattoos and their spiritual symbolism; Perla presented the “Babaylan Power Roles” which she has developed and has had online presence and she is now ready to take them on the road. Letty presented her outline of a presentation she will be making at a Matriarchal Studies conference in Switzerland this summer. Her plan is to talk about decolonization as a spiritual path to liberation using Babaylan discourse to present her main ideas.

Saturday evening: Lane shared about the power of storytelling and why and how we need to learn how to read the metaphors in our creation myths, folklore, and legends.  I was reminded that the ancestors want to speak to and guide us and we have to pay attention when they manifest their presence.  For our bedtime meditation, Lizae played the harp. When Lizae plays, the energy settles down and puts us in deep reverie…that place where words are absent and inadequate. In the silence of our collective calm, Spirit dwells. A beautiful ending to a full day’s work.

January 16, Sunday morning: After a breakfast of crème brulee French toast and  vegetarian sausage, fruit, and tea and coffee, we settled in the living room and Karen led us in a grounding meditation followed by Perla’s invitation for us to enter dreamspace and await the revelation and inspiration from our deep well of Memory. To some of us it was a time of cathartic release of long held grief, tears flowing to wash us clean. Venus said it best: all of your tears are making me really…joyful!  After journaling our dreams, we began to talk about how we might manifest some of these dreams through the work of CfBS.  Even as we are still keeping these plans under wraps, we are excited to birth them this year and into 2012.

In the afternoon, Virgil led us in an Ablon workshop teaching us some ways of relieving tension and stress in our bodies. As we tried the poses and Virgil corrected us, more raucous laughter ensued as we realized that some of the poses looked more like prostrations to a deity and it so happened that Virgil was standing in the middle of the circle. Laughter, of course, being therapeutic as well.

Sunday at sunset: We said goodbye to Gina and Mila who had to leave for LA. Then the rest of us went to Howarth Park’s Lake Ralphine to do our closing ritual. Lane was led by the ancestors to offer an atang/offering on a boat that would carry our food offering, our symbolic offerings of “letting go”. As Letecia led us in our final recalling and recapping activity, we were all facing the serene lake and watched and listened to the birds and ducks as we listened to each other’s voice. Lane then lowered the atang boat onto the water and as he did, a flock of Canada geese circled above from left to right – an auspicious sign that the ancestors have received our offering.  We walked back to our cars in silence and serenity. I am thankful for rituals that return us to this primordial sense of belonging to the Earth and to each other.

Greetings & blessings from the ancestors.(Photo by Karen Pennrich)
As Perla puts it: The weekend could not have ended any sweeter than when the geese passed us twice overhead in the air, spiraling over the Atang ritual, indicating that our ancestors were pleased with our questing to feel and release their pain, to connect with them and to help our Kapwa rediscover them also.

Sunday night: Our first post-retreat event: Intimate book launch with Lane and Virgil. We felt privileged to be the first book launch audience as this gave us a chance to know both of them not just as authors but as kindred spirits. Lots of laughter as we feted and blessed the books’ journey with cake and toasts.  

Post-retreat events: Om Shan Tea, Filipino Community Center of Sonoma County, BAyanihan Community Center/Arkipelago Books. The Grace Nono performance was cancelled due to an emergency situation.

Postscript: For over a week, I savored the presence of each of you in our home. A few days before everyone arrived, I had an epiphany (which I shared with you during the retreat) and during this week, this epiphany became more and more real and helped me appreciate Lane’s metaphor of being tattooed in your heart. It also made me realize that what we at CFBS can and will offer to our communities is the communal experience of our Filipino indigenous spirituality as it is made to bloom through our individual and collective processes of decolonization and indigenization. Over the weekend, we sharpened our intellect, we nourished our bodies with good food, we cherished and learned from our child-like spirit of play and creativity, we grieved together, we created rituals together, we danced, we honored and thanked each other. In doing all of these things, we were also palpably being guided by our ancestors.  It is as if all of our tacit knowing became explicit as we created together the container for its manifestation.

I am now out of words and will end with this:  PADAYON! Onward….