Celebrating March as Women’s Month, activist nun Mother Mary John Mananzan, Prioress of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters in Manila, says she is a present-day babaylan whose roles she would want to share with other Filipino women who wish to change the Philippine society. Babaylan, a Visayan word that means priestess, had played important roles during the pre-colonial period.
Speaking at the book launching of Babaylan: Filipinos and the Call of the Indigenous edited by Leny Strobel in Manila recently, the spritely nun discloses her personal life where her mother’s virtues in the family and her community, and that of the Benedictive sisters’ way of life inside and outside the convent, led her to believe that “God must be a Mother” whilst integrating feminism with her faith.
Speaking contemporaneously, she enumerates the four babaylan roles that physically vanished to oblivion, but not quite, during colonialism in the 16th and 17th centuries: that of a warrior, teacher, healer and visionary. Sister MJ, as women, nuns and people in her circle call her as a term of endearment, relates her own story to explain the four roles that babaylans have been playing until today.
As a warrior, she has become a political activist when she first joined the La Tondena wine factory workers’ strike for just wages upon her coming home after her six-year study in Europe where she earned her Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1975. Other nuns and priests organized themselves by telephone brigade and immediately went out of the streets, her baptism of fire in the parliament of the streets against Martial Law.
She explains: “ We started talking about integral salvation. There is no soul that is saved without the body. So if there are obstacles to the well-being of the persons , if we are what we call Christians who are taking seriously Jesus’s message, then we had to be there.”
As a teacher, the pre-colonial babaylan had the knowledge of heaven, earth and the spirits that reside in the environment. She was intimate with the spirit world and can connect humans with them. The nun discloses that the babaylan’s “sense of transcendence” can lead to individual change and social transformation eventually. The nun relates her experience as an educator and Dean of College at St. Scholastica. While she was aboard a Cathay Pacific flight to Manila, a stewardess she does not remember approached her. It turns out she is the nun’s former student at St. Scholastica’s College. “I was one of your first graduates in Women’s Studies. And I tell you no pilot can make hanky-panky with me,” the stewardess told her.
The healer in the nun’s babaylan self speaks of liberating theology and spirituality. The healing transcends the boundaries of religion. She thinks that God put all the virtuous teachings in all the religions on earth that she describes as “gems.”
The babaylan as a visionary envisions women’s empowerment. Actualizing that vision means lobbying laws against sexual violence, among others, the nun sees. 30
By Girlie Villariba
Today think of the 100th year of women’s liberation and share a story. Why ? More than a billion women are not quite liberated but can enjoy some freedom. With an audacious attitude similar to that of the heroines of the turn of the century, women can plan revolutions, in small and big ways.
Yesterday, Ed and I went to have dinner with a dreamer-storyteller. She has been planning for 20 years to access a fund that will make poverty history, at least that is my take on her stories and the reason I listen.
After listening to her story and finishing a delicious japanese dish of tofu and salmon, I went on to a thread of planning my own story. I wish to start regreening and “revegitating “mountains. There is Mt. Boso Boso in Antipolo yearning for trees to save the watershed serving metropolitan Manila. There is Mt. Pinatubo which the Aeta communities are revitalizing to save Central Luzon from further impoverishment.
I asked Ed “If we have a 100 million pesos this year, can we reforest and plant rice on 15,000 hectares?” “Ed replied ” If the communities are organized and empowered.”
I immediately tapped my cortices/heart and imagined sixty people’s organizations going up the two mountains and planting rice, root crops, vegetables and fruit trees. I also started (in my head and heart )seeing a thousand women writing emails, blogging and sending sms to many volunteers all over Luzon to help organize schedules of teaming up with the Aetas and Dumagats. Suddenly the tools and directories in WordPress, Facebook, Yahoo, Gmail and the websites these women create will compete for attention. Maybe, just maybe we will reach a million more women and men every month and the buzz for regreening will be like waves of human hands tilling the soil, planting,watering mountains. Is this all possible?
Today, I believe so. Wombs create life. With all the life inside us women, let’s do it. Mabuhay tayong lahat!