Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Letter to Mungan

This letter to Mungan is informed by the work of Ming Menez Coben, author of Verbal Arts of Philippine Indigenous COmmunities.  I thank her for this important work. I have borrowed her own words in crafting this narrative and added my own response to Mungan's story towards the end. May the power of Mungan and the epic of Ulaging of the Bukidnon people, inspire us all.

Dear Mungan,
To the Bukidnon, you are the first babaylan. 
You are the true heroine of their beloved epic, Ulaging, even though the honor goes to Agyu and his brothers.
Your husband shunned you because of your leprosy but your brothers-in-law were kind to you.
They took turns carrying you on their backs on their long journeys from the sea to the top of Mt Kitanglad.
One day you told them that you didn’t want to slow them down anymore.
So they built you a hut and went on their journeys, returning on occasion to bring you food and gifts.

In truth, they returned for instructions from you because you alone knew where they should go and how they can obtain sustenance.
You taught them the virtue of sharing food. 
You told them that even if the meat is no bigger than a baby’s fingernail, that they must share it.
You taught them that they can achieve immortality without first experiencing death.
You taught them that they can attain the highest state of spirituality by abstaining from material wants and sustenance.
You taught them that they will lose their fear of famine and starvation.
You taught them that, in the end, their bodies will shine like gold, carried on a magic flying ship to the world beyond the skies.

One day, just before dawn, you began to beat your gong. Slowly at first, then building up to a rhythmic trance.
It soon became light and just before the sun rose, you looked up with amazement…
The sky in the east looked like polished metal
You kept on beating your gong but never took your eyes off the Sun
Gazing at it without blinking.
You were amazed that the sound of the gong now sounds like laughter that grew loud and louder  
When you took your gaze off the sun to look around you, all the weeds and wild plants around your hut have turned to gold
And the leprosy slowly left your body.

The sun is a source of magical power
The blinding light heals the leprous body of the gong-playing maiden
Your eyes became the conduit for the energy that would humanize the gong with the gift of laughter
Having conquered disease and death, now your scabs have turned into mountain rice birds and flew away.
One of the birds returned to you with a vial of coconut oil, a gold striped betel nut, and pinipig from the first harvest.
Mungan, everything that surrounds you shines with golden light.
In this state of rapture and spiritual ecstasy, your body is radiant with transcendent light.

To Lena, the first brother, you gave the first betel nut of immortality
And as he chewed, his speech became different
He speaks in the words of ancient poetry

Dear Mungan, your quest for a safe homeland for your people
In the time of war and violence
Your desire to lead them to paradise
To found a new community
To lead people in times of trouble
Is hiding in the words of the ancient epic

In these millennial dreams
At the heart of it is the desire for Oneness
All men and women of all creeds, ethnicities belong to one extended family
Who will attain immortality without passing thru death

Dear Mungan,
I beseech you now to shine your light upon us
Teach us how to gaze at the Sun without blinking
So, too, may our bodies shine like gold
So, too, may everything around us shine like gold

We are your descendants in the here and now
Flying ships carried us not quite to the world beyond the skies
But to this continent
Where we are tracing your steps
Where we are building our huts
Where we are forging Oneness
Where we are forging Wholeness

Shine your light upon us, Mungan.

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