Monday, September 13, 2010

A Festival, A Jazz Concert, A Birthday Bash

She asked me to stand in for the brown race and then asked for other volunteers to stand in for the black, yellow, red, and white races. Then the crowd followed her instructions: Pair up with someone. What is your word for Love? Say it to each other. Beauty. Universal. Family. Peace. Justice. Compassion....Touch each other's heart. Listen. Breathe. Now all the people who said the same word for Love, get together. Now all those without partners, insert yourself into the pairs. Now form a circle. Walk around....

Thus we entered the sacred space of Ritual led by Reyna Yolanda, a primary babaylan from the Philippines, at the 19th Festival of Philippine Arts and Culture in Los Angeles. Amidst the magnificent and ancient trees of Fermin Park, the cooling breeze of the Pacific Ocean, and the early crowd that gathered around for the opening ritual, we entered mythic Time. We made our offerings to the ancestors and to Mother Earth and asked for blessings on the festival. I cannot find the language for describing this feeling of being fully present to the Sacred -- so palpable from the soles of my feet to the crown of my head, I was tingling...and the energy would carry me all day and into the long night.
This is the day of my 58th. When I decided to be at FPAC for my birthday, a part of me felt ambivalent but I also could not Not be here to support the first CFBS Babaylan Pavillion at FPAC. It was the best decision ever.

The weekend began with my host, Prosy, taking me to Baldwin Park summit as soon as she picked me up from the airport. She wanted me to see the sunset at the summit with a 360 view of the city. There was also a 220-step climb from the base to the summit. What a coincidence, I told Prosy, that this was scene is similar to the dream I had the night before of being on top of a plateau and a vertical ladder on the rim going down to earth.

Prosy also had a piece of quiche from La Maison du Pain for my snack - oh so thoughtful! Then she and Enrique took me to their favorite Serbian restaurant for a pre-birthday celebration - Serbian food is a first for me! The delicious entrees were topped by desserts from La Maison that Prosy brought with her. I know now why she has been raving about this Kapampangan-owned French Bakery in LA. Thank you, Prosy and Enrique!

Naturally the next morning she took me to La Maison  again where I bought more goodies to share with our CfBS crew. We got to Fermin Park early to set up and decorate the Babaylan Pavillion tent. Mila greeted me with a basket of purple hydrangea when she came to pick me in the morning. Mila, whose effervescence is infectious, has been the backbone of the LA CFBS crew together with Vedel, Virgil, the Herbitos, Gina, Lilibeth, Mandala, Letecia, Mang Faustino, Mang Rudy. Those of us from the Bay Area - Lizae, Titania, Jennifer, Marisza, Trixie, Mark, Rocco, Lengleng - were also present. Our joyful reunion and our colorful ethnic malongs, the drummin and jammin at the Babaylan Pavillion attracted festival goers to the pavillion. At first people walked by with curiosity but by early in the afternoon people were lining up to Virgil and Mang Faustino for healing. The rest of us practiced on our Kapwa jammin with Cordillera gongs.  Prosy said our Pavillion was the most vibrant in energy and colors!

Happy Birthday songs were sung several times during the day and by late afternoon Leng brought me a bibingka cake with a candle on it! Bliss!! Mila and Mang Rudy serenaded the crowd with folksongs while the others were answering questions about the Babaylan and what, who, how, why....It was heartening to listen to young folks talk about their desire to consciously connect with their tacit experience of the Babaylan spirit. Listening and receiving their intentions always confirm the reasons why we do this work. 

There were a lot of folks taking pictures of our pavillion. They thought we were "performers" because we were in our colorful malongs. Some people walking by cast long glances unsure of what it is they were seeing. Others stopped to ask questions, sign the guestbook, and others couldn't resist and joined in the Kapwa jam circle. The colorful banigs from Samar were laid out on the grass and Virgil and Mang Faustino laid their healing hands on those who wanted to have a taste of the Ablon healing practice.

Reyna Yolanda's quiet presence supported our rambunctious energy. It reminded me of what Kidlat Tahimik said about what it feels like to be in the presence of a primary babaylan. He said "in ritual you can almost touch and feel what it must have been like for our ancestors to commune with Nature, to understand Nature'a language and to commune with the spirits in Nature."

I wasn't able to return to FPAC on Sunday but there were even more folks who came to the Pavillion. Lane and Virgil and Lizae did their respective presentations to a large crowd. According to Venus who described it to me: there were competing loud music coming from two stages at FPAC, but in our Babaylan corner, there was stillness as people listened to Virgil's flute and watched Lizae's dance; people were transfixed.

Prosy also described this to another friend: 
The Babaylan women and men were presenting amidst the competing noises and chaotic sounds of the generations stage and the main stage. The noise has become the dominating sounds of FPAC. But, even with that dominance, and amplified by volume of microphones, the Babaylan women and men managed to share, read, chant, do kulintang dances, heal with intent and focus, light incense, all the while while the noise had amplified, the booth had attracted growing numbers of folks who lingered, stayed, watched, observed, participated and asked questions. Even the babaylan rituals and offerings to the ocean, sky and earth. They concluded, that we take the world as it is, no alterations, and still manage to change our interior selves. It was a profound discovery, a transformation of thinking from reflecting on what they did, on spontaneous self expressions and a space where each person was free to occupy. In doing so, none of them negated each other. They created an outcome they did not consciously prepare for, except that their hearts and spirits were clean, clear and open to receive and give! It was amazing to see. And folks were wondering why the crowds kept growing. There really can be peace and harmony from community gathering from correct foundations and folks articulating new ways of communion.
On Saturday night, Jennifer, Lizae, Titania and Rocco, Gina, Prosy and her friends joined us at Ford Theater for Jazzmopolitan. What a beautiful evening! Later, I will post Prosy's review of the concert. For this blog, I want to thank Mon David for his special rendition of O, Rosing, A Kapampangan song, as a birthday greeting.  What folks may not know about Mon is that he is one of the cultural pioneers who revived Kapampangan culture before he left for the U.S. Mon has a big heart for Pampanga and the Philippines and it shows in his jazz repertoire. In this way, it can be said that he, too, is inspired by the spirit of the Babaylan.
For isn't that what the Babaylan inspires in all of us? A love for the Land. Homeland. Bayan. Kapwa. It shows up in Filipino jazz, too.

Mon has a special place in my heart. I sang a bit with him in high school glee club and then later he sang many duets with my younger sister, Rox. I will never forget when he visited my dying mother at the hospital and sang for her, Ima, and again at my mom's memorial service. Like an older sis, I watched him "grow up" as a musical artist and now seeing him at the top of his game just makes this heart swell...and even gloat a little. I hope his pagkaPilipino will always be foregrounded no matter the audience he is singing for.

So there it is -- a Festival, A Jazz Concert, A Birthday Bash....and a plentiful dash of Facebook greets and texts -- what more can an old gal ask? I feel very blessed. Salamat.


  1. And more tears of joy from those within your sacred circle! Thanks for your decision to come and to share it was your birthday, it gave us an opportunity to cherish you, which is what the Babaylan spirit is about - when one cares for her ninunos, her ancestors, her roots, herself - she is overflowing in joyful spirits to love others as much!

  2. Thank you for sharing this written account of your weekend with us. Each of us experienced it in our own special way, much more so since it was spent with our CfBS family members who attended. Look forward to more photos posted on the CfBS FB page.

  3. Well,dear Leny , I wish I had been there. What a lovely, nourishing celebration you describe. I am so happy that you have such a loving ohana, and that your celebrations are shared with all who are drawn closer by shared heart songs. Love from Susan in Hawaii

  4. Rebecca Mabanglo-MayorSeptember 15, 2010 at 4:30 PM

    Wonderful post! Did Apo Reyna return to the US this month? I wish I could have been there with you all. :)

  5. The Babaylan spirit is present in everyone as long as we realize the purpose of what we are doing. In the midst of books at FPAC and the noise that pervaded, there was peace and silence in my heart as I present my books to clients, as the bridge to discover the missing parts of our culture in themselves, and am happy when clients find the right book and recover what they lost in transition while living the busy life of mainstream America. We can be whole in the midst of chaos if we know who we are and why we are there! Mabuhay!

  6. Napakagandang ala-ala para sa lahat.
    Imagine more festivals so full of hearts and spirits that are clean, clear and open to receive and give. Imagine more festivals of exaltations of our cultural gifts and spiritual traditions. A rockin' stillness it will be!

  7. Thanks for sharing, Leny! What a memorable birthday celebration. I wish U could have been there.

  8. it was a beautiful weekend overflowing into this week as the photos are beginning to appear on FB. alas, i know not everyone is on FB.
    thank you all for being in my family!

  9. wow. soooo glad to hear that reyna continues to weave the ancient net of healing over the boiling ocean that divides us.

    happy birthday leny. kahit belated.

    from wayway's secret friend