Saturday, August 2, 2008

Re-inventing the babaylan

> > How did the babaylan cope with the
> onslaught of “cross and sword”? After the bloody revolts
> against their sworn enemies, the early Spanish missionaries;
> after burning churches and disfiguring Christian icons and
> after the painful betrayal of community members, the
> babaylans had to devise effective survival methods. They
> either fled to the mountains or adopted Christian ways to
> co-exist with the colonial order
> Mr. Adelbert Batica, a Filipino expat,
> sent his comments to my article “Silencing the
> babaylan”. He wrote: : “The babaylan, as well as the
> symbols and images associated with them may have totally
> disappeared except where they have reappeared as modern-day
> healers and "hilot" who most often use oraciones
> as part of their healing practice. But, I would propose
> that they were actually resurrected, "reinvented"
> if you may, under a Christian context.”
> Indeed, there are several religious
> communities led by women like the “Ciudad Mistica de
> Dios”, at the foot of the sacred Mt. Banahaw that uses
> the Bible and Christian prayers as the basis of their own
> stylized rituals. Curiously, the “Ciudad Mistica de Dios
> “ began with the “Iglesia Mistica Filipina” founded
> by Suprema Maria Bernarda in 1915. Mr. Batica observed:
> “The old ladies who act as prayer leaders at many
> religious devotionals including novenas (especially for the
> dead) seem to be carrying on the dynamic of the
> "babaylan", although in this day and age instead
> of being armed with amulets she wears scapulars, religious
> medals, and usually carries a prayer book or
> "novenario" and a rosary.”
> Mr. Batica also said: “ This
> reincarnation of the babaylan may not be too obvious in the
> urban areas of the Philippines, but in my view they are
> active and very present on the more provincial and small
> town scenes.. The family of the deceased is offering a
> "pamisa" or observing a "patapos" for
> the their departed loved one, they would usually turn to a
> prayer leader, instead of the family offering the prayers
> themselves because chances are, they would not be familiar
> with the rituals and the protocols for these devotions
> while the prayer leader is considered an expert.”
> >
> Mr. Batica has personal knowledge: “ Many of the
> prayer leaders I knew in my hometown were
> > either single old women or widows who decided to
> dedicate themselves to the church or to their own
> interpretation of religious life. They, in turn, handed
> down what they knew about traditions, prayers, rituals to
> younger women...and the cycle goes on. And yes, some of
> the prayer leaders in my hometown were also believed to
> have healing powers and to
> > invoke the spirits of the other world in their healing
> sessions. Truly, old (represented by ancient beliefs in
> anitos or spirits, for example) and new (christian symbols)
> working hand in hand to keep body and soul healthy.”
> Mr. Batica speaks from experience:: “Of
> course, mine are just mere observations and added
> interpretations. But would you believe that I even saw
> this kind of dynamic - the animist blending in with the
> Christian, in such far away places as Peru and Cuba? The
> reason I say this is because I had the privilege of being
> assisted by "curanderas" (healers) in my
> travels.”
> Strangely enough, in the Philippines, the women
> healers of “Ciudad Mistica de Dios” and similar
> communities do not want to be called descendants or heirs of
> our babaylan tradition. Could it be because they are wary
> of being associated with superstition and witch craft?
> Evidently, the black propaganda against babaylans started by
> early Spanish missionaries centuries ago lives on.

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