Sunday, August 29, 2010


features the Babaylan Conference in its 32nd edition

The editors of OOV said that this issue  took their breath away!

See for yourself and may these pages lead you forward in appreciating and learning about our FIlipino Indigenous practices.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Resilient Future

My new issue of YES magazine arrived yesterday. It is always a breath of fresh ideas that comforts my  sense of despair (after having watched the news  for two days about hostage-taking, miss universe, mosque debates, etc). This issue focuses on how to practice resiliency as we are faced with the slow collapse of capitalist civilizations.

*In one editorial, Boy M laments the possibility that  in the near future the $8B remittances of Fil Ams to relatives in the Philippines might dry up due to the economic downsizing in the U.S.
*In the news, GB has hijacked Martin Luther King and plans on a civil rights rally in DC on the anniversary of the I Have A Dream speech.
*It has all been predicted before: the escalation of race wars, escapegoating, war mongering.
*The Chronicle of Higher Ed's front page: How did we become a Nation of Fury?

Yet in this issue of YES, there are stories after stories of how ordinary folks are preparing for a post-peak oil future: from transition towns, to localization initiatives, to urban gardening, redesigning living spaces, redefining the meaning of work, re-defining education, plus insights on how to get out of Wall Street. These people get it. They know that nothing short of a radical shift in American values (of individualism, consumerism, competition, etc) is necessary. Another America is Necessary.

I long to have conversations like this in the Fil Am community. I am interested in the dilemma posed by Boy M: what would happen when the overseas remittance dries up? how can the Philippines re-imagine itself without this overseas remittance? what happens when we run out of oil to transport balikbayan boxes across the ocean or to fuel the airplanes carrying balikbayans? what would shift in the values of Filipinos in the diaspora and Filipinos in the homeland?

As a Filipino in the diaspora and as a US citizen, I join the many who are recognizing that the burden of creating smaller carbon footprint on the planet lies on the affluent countries. I suspect that part of the contraction of the US economy might be from the collective practices of folks who are already consuming less voluntarily or involuntarily. Of course, that's just a sliver of the reality; the bigger piece has to do with the macro: the fatal flaw and consequence of the gospel of free trade.

Furthermore, when asked if white supremacy can be divorced from capitalism, Immanuel Wallerstein at the US Social Forum said NO.

Friday, August 27, 2010

David Abram, Storytelling and Wonder

On Storytelling

It is possible, however, that we are making a grave mistake in our rush to wire every classroom, and to bring our children online as soon as possible. Our excitement about the internet should not blind us to the fact that the astonishing linguistic and intellectual capacity of the human brain did not evolve in relation to the computer! Nor, of course, did it evolve in relation to the written word. Rather it evolved in relation to orally told stories. Indeed, we humans were telling each other stories for many, many millennia before we ever began writing our words down -- whether on the page or on the screen.
Spoken stories were the living encyclopedias of our oral ancestors, dynamic and lyrical compendiums of practical knowledge. Oral tales told on special occasions carried the secrets of how to orient in the local cosmos. Hidden in the magic adventures of their characters were precise instructions for the hunting of various animals, and for enacting the appropriate rituals of respect and gratitude if the hunt was successful, as well as specific insights regarding which plants were good to eat and which were poisonous, and how to prepare certain herbs to heal cramps, or sleeplessness, or a fever. The stories carried instructions about how to construct a winter shelter, and what to do during a drought, and -- more generally -- how to live well in this land without destroying the land's wild vitality.
go to the link to read more....

Thursday, August 26, 2010

revisiting August 2007

The Sacred Pause of Summer is coming to an end.
The power of this Stillness leaves a mark on All It has touched.
It is not for me to foretell how these markings will find their way
Into a book, a poem, a play, a dance, a painting
Or the heart of a freshman in college
Or the rambunctious energy of a toddler.

I do not know
If Fire will leave embers
To keep the hearth warm
If Air will continue
To conjure primal metaphors
If Water finally satiates
Communion of desires
If Earth will bare itself
As a Round Brown Woman
Holding her cup of potions

Of Remembering
All that's been uttered
Without words for millenia.
Tonight I take down the books of Summer from the bedside.
If someone asks me what I did this summer I will tell her that I disappeared into a Cave and dwelt among ghosts and angels, lizards and dragons, songs and reverie.
I will say that I dated Eros...that she led me to the Gatekeeper's den and we took back the key, released the dead bones and took them dancing.

Soon it will be Fall. With Fall comes young bodies in search of their faces.
But I will be thinking of another ocean and a sea of brown faces in orange skirts.

Oh, Beloved Stranger -- always, always, I return to You.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On the alleged abuse of the "B" word

Yesterday, someone I respect posted (then deleted) a rant on Facebook about US Pinoys who "abuse the babaylan word." Before I could ask him to say a bit more, the post had been deleted. Nevertheless, it bothered me and I wanted to pursue a dialogue. Now it will just be my monologue here.

One of the lessons I learned in doing research on Filipino Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices for more than a decade is that a Babaylan does not self-ascribe. This is one of the statements that those of us at the Center for Babaylan Studies have agreed upon. We say that we are inspired by the spirit of the Babaylan (after Sister Mary John Mananzan). We did  not arrive at this claim lightly. We have been in dialogue and reflection with our counterparts in the Philippines for many years, through the babaylan listserve, parsing out the politics of what we do as Filipinos in the diaspora with Filipino indigenous practices. It was only after this prolonged process that we felt affirmed in our desire to create a Center.
In an email exchange last year with someone exploring this work, I said:
I am not a self-proclaimed babaylan because I want to honor and respect the primary/land based babaylans in indigenous communities in the Phil. I also cannot claim that I have passed through the core shamanic initiation rituals that bestow the babaylan title as practiced in indigenous communities. However, I can say I am babaylan-inspired because my life journey resonates with the literature I've read about shamanic practices which I then contextualized within my personal and political history as a Filipino. The literature also says that those who do shamanic practices are not necessarily shamans. 
(The debate about babaylan=shaman? is a separate discourse and I won't talk about it here).

Even someone like Grace Nono who has spent more than 15 years being taught by babaylans, ritualists and chanters does not want to be called a Babaylan for the same reason: she has too much respect for primary babaylans that she wouldn't appropriate the title (even though her body of work comes from this long immersion - I might add).
The recently successful Babaylan conference has resulted in the visibility of CFBS and the ubiquity of the term "babaylan" (in cyberspace and in some parts of US Fil Am community). Through the Center, as a container for the building, dissemination, and practice of Filipino indigenous knowledge, more and more folks are coming to us to ask questions, to tell us their stories. We get questions like these: how do I become a babaylan? where can I get training? My lola was a hilot and I think she passed her healing power to me, how can I develop it? Then there are those who are already trained in other healing modalities and they want to connect their practice to Babaylan work in order to reach out to the Fil Am community's needs.

These questions must sound naive to someone in the Philippines who is knowledgeable about the babaylan tradition. But to many Fil Ams, this is new information. Many people are resonating with what CFBS does or what they've read about this tradition and they want to know more. It's as if their cultural genes are being awakened; this is something that they know in their bones but haven't had the language or conceptual framework to talk about their lived experience.  So the word "babaylan" circulates and is made to carry symbolic meanings in both good and flawed ways. Is there "abuse" of the word babaylan? Potentially, yes; that is why there is work that lies ahead in clarification or better articulation.
Once I asked Virgil Apostol (a practising hilot in the Ablon tradition) for advice on how to answer these questions. He said: observe, observe, observe. be with the hilot when he does his healing and then perhaps he will ask you to show how you heal... and maybe it will then be confirmed whether you have the gift or not.

Mang Faustino is also a well-known healer in Los Angeles. He tells me that he doesn't advertise and he doesn't ask for payment when he heals. People just hear about him and they seek him out. Few words. No theorizing. No discussion. He heals with his hands not with words.
BulletX and Helen Toribio from the Bay Area never called themselves "babaylans" either.  But I name them as contemporary Babaylans in my life because they have healed me and so many others in the community. BulletX healed the body and mind and spirit of the sick; as a civil and human rights activist she worked for the rights of Filipino veterans and other dis-enfranchised segments of our community. Helen, as an organic intellectual and civil rights advocate and as the embodiment of Kapwa healed many in her circles.

Al Robles, poet, is also a Babaylan because he loved his homeland and built community around this love, inspired artists and writers to learn how to fall in love with a homeland that he never set foot in.    He died without seeing his beloved Philippines so Oscar Penaranda created the "Al Robles Express" and carried Al's spirit with him and a group of Al's friends on a trip to the Philippines.

BulletX, Helen, Al are no longer with us. Just as NVM Gonzalez and Ver Enriquez are also no longer with us. When they were alive they never spoke of themselves as Babaylans or thought of themselves as doing babaylan work.  Now that I look at them collectively, I see the results of their body of work, the Kapwa spirit they nurtured in the community, the inspiration they left behind.  And I see us as the receivers of their legacy, of the body of work that they've left behind, of the embodied spirit of transformation and liberation that they lived and passed on to us. I am part of the community that continue to invoke their spirits for guidance and inspiration. They are my Babaylans.

So what does it mean when I name them as Babaylans? For me, it means that there is a diasporic community that affirms them as contemporary Babaylan. There is a community that bears witness to the work that they've done and are benefitting from it and then continuing to build on their legacy. It is a community that is socially and politically progressive and promotes social justice. Isn't this true in land-based indigenous communities as well. Do we not share the same struggle for justice, fairness, and a desire to see wholeness and interconnectedness? It takes time, a lifetime even, before such legacy is remembered and honored. Thus, it is in hindsight, after their deaths, that I am stepping out to name them as Babaylans. 

Zeus Salazar says that there are "babaylan para sa sarili" and "babaylan para sa bayan" -- those who seek after the babaylan for self-development and those who seek to do babaylan work for the good of the nation/community. He warns of the self-centeredness of such individualistic pursuit especially among urbanite middle class, English-speaking (mostly) women. I hear this loudly and that is why in identifying Bullet, Helen and Al, I am clarifying that they are babaylans because they served the community first and foremost. 

However, it is also true that one always begins with a desire for self-improvement and whatever else this desire is called. I write about this in describing the decolonization process -- it is the work of the psyche; it is archeological, deep soul work. As one moves through this process, it enlarges one's vision of service and compassion. Service and compassion must be work that is grounded in Kapwa, in Loob -- it is the embodiment of such Filipino values that makes one's work babaylan-inspired.

More caveat: How then do we contextualize service and compassion? A young Fil Am scholar has taken my work to task by saying that it is nothing more than an attempt at formulating a Filipino American cosmopolitan subjectivity that makes it complicit with the conservative multicultural narrative of the US nation. What he means by this is that my work lacks the kind of sharp critique of American imperial and white supremacist narratives that would help Filipino Americans to become more oppositional, non-assimilationist in their politics.

I agree that our politics should be a politics of critique. I wouldn't be doing the work that I do unless it was part of such a project. However, in being led to deal with the psychic and epistemic violence of master narratives at the individual level, my work has simply been a documentation of a fluid process that takes a person's 'starting point' and facilitates a moving-through a decolonization and indigenization process that, hopefully, is service-oriented and compassionate and focused specifically on the Filipino communities in the diaspora.

Having said so, this doesn't mean that anyone has control of who appropriates the "babaylan" word. There will be those who will resonate deeply with what they've read about Kapwa psychology or about babaylan and they will or might self-ascribe and call themselves babaylan. This initial dip in the vast source and deep well of indigenous Memory is just what it is - a dip. No one is guarding the well, so to speak.

I have been asked many times on how to do babaylan work in a capitalist context. If I believe that I have inherited the healing powers of my Lola who was a hilot/healer, and if I have been certified as a therapist in a specific modality, do I not have the right to call myself a babaylan? And why shouldn't I charge for my services if I live in a capitalist context rather than in an indigenous community where a babaylan didn't have to charge fees?

These are real questions and difficult to answer. But I like the clarity of someone like Letecia who understands the process by which a babaylan is identified in her community. As a second generation Filipina American who first found her spiritual path through the western goddess tradition, her approach to the babaylan practice has been one of humility and submission to the delicacy and nuance of Kapwa psychology. 

Or you can read Perla Daly's online cyberactivism and you will see how her creative works come from years of contemplation and dialogue with others about babaylan, baybayin, pagbabalikloob, pakikipagkapwa-tao. Perla always tells me that her creative works (art, poetrybooks, websites) will always be gifts of love to her Kapwa.
In returning to the Facebook rant about US Pinoys who abuse the word 'babaylan' -- I think I have a clue  as to the source of such perception and perhaps it is even a valid one. It is a good rant (if a rant can be good) because it challenges me to articulate more clearly what I usually take for granted. So thank you, Mr. T.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

more from the USSF

Transformation, Wellness, Healing as Social Justice work

How can one be well if we are not well together?  And how will we get well when our sense of wellness often does not include the whole?  As Toni Cade pondered in her book The Salt Eaters we have to open ourselves up again to wellness and wholeness, because what is in our memory and intrinsically a part of us has been separated and often taken away from us.  It is something we will need to find again as part of understanding our role as organizers who once were healers, or healers who once were organizers. (Cara Page)

note to self: connect the CFBS work with Incite. It is good to be reminded that the work of healing/transformation/wellness must be connected to social justice movements. Such pursuits often begin as personal development projects but must evolve to become more expansive and inclusive in ways that benefit communities into becoming socially just and fair.  In the absence of such vision, our personal development goals can be easily co-opted by a materialist/consumerist narrative.

I am reminded that my work then is to learn how to articulate this more clearly as a CFBS vision. The beauty of Kapwa psychology is that it already serves as a framework that needs to be enfleshed and embodied.

I am looking for individuals who might want to dialogue with me on this topic.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Tide pools and young boys

We recently returned from Sea Ranch with 6yr old Noah and his Dad. We spent several days by the tide pools where we found: fish, starfish, mussels, hermit crabs, snails, anemones, sea weed, slugs, and other creatures on the sand and sea. With his found friends at the beach, Ri and Luke, they were oblivious to time, sun, cold wind, hunger, and thirst.

I had forgotten the joy of tide pooling and watching Noah shriek with delight made me feel so happy. The boys created an "observatory" where they put the species they caught by hand into another area of the tide pool that they barred with sand so the sea creatures can't escape. I watched as they sometimes lapsed into total silence and concentration while watching a crab feed itself or while trying to coax a fish out of hiding. Other times, their joyful high-pitched shouts of joy, was infectious. This is It, I told myself. We were made for moments like these.

Right there was Magic. Watching kids and adults delight in the beauty of our Sonoma Coast - its tides and tide pools, the rocks for climbing, the shells (there were folks who were collecting mussel and abalone shells), the sand (for building sand castles), the rocks for making zen altars. Each day started with overcast and chilly winds but by mid-day we were graced with the parting of the fog and the kiss of the warm sun. Bliss.

On the way home, Noah was already making plans to return next year. I told him to remember his friend's phone no (5660133) so he can call him then.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Putting Our Brains on Hold

New York Times editorial by Bob Herbert laments the statistic that the US is now ranked 12th among 36 developed countries in terms of college graduation rates.

If he wasn't so hung up on the idea that the US should be no.1, he could have explored the reasons why:

-  the growing secondary orality of the population who grew up on visual and audio technology
-  literacy skills, consequently, diminish. literacy is a difficult skill to master.
-  the contraction of the economy caused by the casino economy
-  shift from industrial to technology society limits opportunities to an elite corps of "intelligent" folks
-  shift to service economy where low paying jobs do not require college degrees
-  possibly a shift in values by a younger generation disillusioned by the American Dream
-  a generation that wants "Another America is Possible" and "Another America is Necessary"
-  a capitalist economy numbing and dumbing down the population. mass production, mass media manipulation, catatonic stupor glued to a computer screen or television playing games or watching reality tv.

to be continued...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Remembering Helen Toribio

I was cleaning and thinning out my library (books and vhs) when I came upon an old VHS tape from 2001. The tape contained segment of a Bay Area Backroads feature on Arkipelago Books and South of Market sites and Daly City. The other segment is the booklaunch event of my first book, Coming Full Circle, emceed by Helen Toribio. Other participants are: Dr. Rosita Galang, my USF mentor, Marie Romero, Evelie Posch, Michelle Bautista, and the other authors of the book Teresa Ejanda, Laurie Quillopo, Peter Golpeo, Ruth Constantino, Luz de Leon.

At this event, Helen was commemorating and honoring the legacy of Virgilio Enriquez, NVM Gonzales and Bullet Marasigan as influential persons in the Fil Am community's decolonization movement. How strange it felt to be watching this now; watching Helen do what she does best - bringing people together, exhorting the good in the work that we do as individuals and as a community. Tears welled up as I remembered her and even as I type this now, I feel my heart sing in gratitude for having known Helen.

Helen was always the first to sign up for the Kapihans at my home or in other folks' home in the Bay Area. These Kapihans in the 90s  were small gatherings of scholars and activists interested in the intellectual vocation.  Whenever a scholar was visiting from the Philippines, we would gather and take advantage of the opportunity to dialogue with them. At these gatherings we have been fortunate to meet NVM, Ver E, Jimmy Veneracion, Johnny Francisco, Melba Maggay, Delia Aguilar, Felipe De Leon Jr., Rogee Pe-Pua, Beth Marcelino, and others. We have been enriched by these Kapihans.

Once, Helen asked me: do I still need to decolonize if I've spent most of my life as an activist? I remember telling her that her life work is an example of what a decolonized consciousness looks like. We often struggled with the language issue because she didn't speak Filipino. But she intuitively understood all the concepts we were talking about -- kapwa, loob, dangal, etc.  Helen helped me sharpen my own perspectives because of the kinds of questions she asked.

In introducing my book, she said "at last...we have a word for what we have been doing all along: decolonization."

During that time I have not developed my understanding and knowledge about the Babaylan tradition and practice. But today I can say that Helen is a Babaylan in my life.

Recently, we had Prosy and Enrique at home and we discovered our common link thru Helen. Prosy said that Helen's home in San Leandro has always been her spiritual home in the Bay Area. She said that ever since Helen passed away, she has missed visiting her. We talked about Helen's presence in our lives and how her spirit continues to inspire us to this day.

Today is a good day and I have Helen to thank for it.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Notes from An Evening of Dawac Stories

The first of many reports from the Dawac event is Eileen's.
After Manang Betty  read from her short story about her brother being healed by a Dawac, the q and a portion triggered more memories of Manang's eyewitness accounts of the healer. As most of her stories are childhood remembrances, she said that she didn't ask a lot of questions then. In hindsight, she realizes now that it would have been better if someone had, at that time, explained what the healing rituals were about, what the symbolisms were, or what the underlying worldview was about.

Jean said that she couldn't help but feel a sense of loss as we shared bits and pieces of what is remembered about our encounters with the spirit world. She said that listening to Manang Betty reminds her of how she could have asked her mother and other relatives to tell stories about healers but not knowing at that time how to ask the questions, she missed the opportunity. Now they are all gone taking the stories with them.

These bits and pieces of loss and remembrances, even to this day, resonate with us. We remember the stories we heard growing up about hilots, arbularyos -- the gifted and blessed ones by the ancestral spirits. We recalled into the evening how later on these stories would become stories about ghosts, faith healing, psychic surgeries, and other phenomena that were inadequately explained or framed within a coherent narrative. They became mere fodder for casual conversations about psychic stuff and sometimes as curiousities to be explored by those who are fascinated with the spirit realms.

Were the river spirits really offended and took the soul of a child?
Did the river spirit really saved a child's life?
Did  the Dawac really heal the child of typhoid fever?
How and where did the Dawac get her extraordinary strength and precision when she cracked open a coconut with one fast swoop of a sharp and long bolo?
Why does she go into dance and ululations when she performs her ritual?
What about the ouija board games we played and the spirits showed up? what was that about?
Did the pig and chicken offerings really propitiate the spirits and returned the soul into the body?
How did our mothers know about the medicinal qualities of local plants, trees, and roots?
How did the hilot learn about kinesiology, bone setting, or balancing the energies within the body?

Manang Betty's stories led us into a labyrinth of questions but there wasn't enough time for answers. It seemed enough to acknowledge that we have this treasure trove of memories about our spiritual and cultural heritage that is waiting to be explored. It is not enough to be curious. Something, someone is calling us.
Darlene came to this event hoping to find answers and ways of feeling more deeply connected to her indigenous roots. She was at the Babaylan conference and at Reyna Yolanda's rituals in the Bay Area. At this event she said she wanted more. This desire to quench a hunger for rootedness seems to lead to an even greater sense of loss. Later in the evening, we asked Darlene to sit inside a circle so that her older sisters can offer her gifts of insight:

It is a process that you embrace. It is a journey.
You are not really lost. "Lost" is only a perspective. You are where you need to be at this moment in your life.
Learn to grieve well. We all must grieve for this sense of loss under colonialism.
Out of the remnants of what we remember, we create anew.
Find and read similar stories from other cultures which have a better archive of indigenous knowledge and practice. 
Yes, it helps if you can go to the Philippines and visit indigenous communities but this journey is as much an inward journey as it is an outward journey. Kularts tribal tours will be great. There's one in January!
Yes, of course, we had a Kapwa Jam afterwards. Out came the kumbing, kulintang, balengbeng and other instruments that Titania brought. We sat on her lovely banigs and made beautiful rhythms. Once we got synchronized we began to feel the energy dance around and with us, connecting our bodies and spirits with each other.  This is the way we tap into the energy of our babaylan ancestors who danced as they healed. There is power in "losing the mind", in being with the rhythm and sounds of hands connecting with bamboo and brass -- these elements that were/are connected to the the Earth's elements.
Elemental spirits.
It seemed that the next best thing to do after a night like this is to go the Water. Off we went to Salmon Creek (same beach where Reyna Yolanda did her ritual in April) on Sunday morning. But first a side trip to Wild Flour Breads in Freestone where we feasted on organic sweets and savories. We were breadtarians for a day. At Salmon Creek, we went for a long walk greeting sea gulls, picking up shells, seaweeds (Lizae asked permission to bring these back to her children at the school). On the beach, a makeshift structure was erected and we sat at its threshold imagining that someday we will have a physical  Center for Babaylan Studies. Dreaming the future.