The babaylan lives in her story

January 19, 2013 by  
Filed under article, features

By Gloria Esguerra Melencio

Molo Church

The Molo Church in Iloilo. Photo by Gloria Esguerra Melencio

The word had been hushed to silence and was erased in the everyday lingua franca of the Filipino, but the babaylan tradition – through war and peace – has persisted and its legacy passed on through time.

Babaylan is a Bisayan word that evolved from proto-Austronesian words in Southeast Asia such as belian, balian, balyan, baylan and bagdan. The Subanons call them balian, balean and balayan, women who lead the religious and death rituals in Mindanao.  Its literal translation to English is ancient priestess or shaman.

The Cebuano word babay, recorded in 18th century Spanish-Bisayan dictionary, refers to a married woman. From up north up to down south, an elderly woman is respectfully called Bai followed by the woman’s Christian name: It is Ba-i in Ilocos and Bayi followed by the word Gurang to mean an elderly woman in Mindanao epics. The Leyte-Samar Waray word babayi means a woman; kababayin-an is its plural form.

While the word babaylan connotes a woman, there had also been male babaylans who were called asog in the Bisayan society during the 17th century. These male babaylans had to wear women’s clothing and pretend to be women so that the Diwatas may hear their prayers. Spanish friars described them as barren, incapable of procreating because they remain unmarried till old age, but the Bisayan society accepted them as they were, nevertheless.

The word had made a strong imprint in Dr. Jose Rizal that he had studied it as indicated in his letters to Ferdinand Blumentritt in the 19th century. In fact, he passed by the Molo Church in Iloilo on his way to his exile in Dapitan in 1896. He had known that this church has 16 female saints, standing tall on the left and right sides leading to its massive altar, a proof of strong babaylan tradition in the Bisayan region.

Spiritual leaders as they were, the babaylans had been the first to intuit and warn the Bisayans that the foreign colonizers will “uproot” them , will change their belief in the paganito, the ancient ritual worship of the ancestors, and their way of life.

Threat to the new Christian religion, the Spanish friars tried to win the babaylans with the Cross and exterminate them with the Sword. They made some of them, the maestras of datu’s children, to teach catechism; many of those who refused were chopped to pieces, thrown to the crocodiles, beheaded or burned at the stake like they did with the so-called witches in Europe during the Inquisition.

The Spanish colonizers failed to eradicate the babaylans. While the Bisayans never say the word babaylan out of fear, they continue the rituals just the same. They continued to recite repetitively gindadayaw ka namon (we praise you) despite the friars’ banning the early morning-till-noon praying and the healing tambals conducted during the cholera outbreak in the 19th century.

There arose a “political sect of women” the Spaniards called Babaylanes even after the time of Pagali, Bangkaw’s babaylan who erected their own native church in Carigara, Leyte but was pulverized with canons and burned to ashes.

Suspected Babaylanes had been imprisoned and thrown en masse with their families to Palawan, an island down south of Luzon that still bears the name Bangkaw-bangkaw as one of its localities to this day. These Babaylanes were women who were caught praying, clandestinely meeting in abaca farms, wearing white cloaks and distributing prayer booklets they called libro secreto to the consternation of the Spaniards who called them libro de peste.

The agaw-tawag-bawi, one of the healing rituals of the ancient babaylans, continues to this day in Luzon, Bisayas and Mindanao. William Henry Scott calls them “female shamans” in Bicol, who conduct religious ceremonies while wearing a small gold jewelry on the forehead, call the dead ancestors and spirits, chant and sing alternately.

The Babaylanes eventually transformed to Dios-Dios and the Pulahanes. This time they were bolo-wielding men who believed they will gain spiritual strength in the power of prayers and continued to dream of independence and self-reliance against foreign oppressors. What cannot be faced head-on due to lack of weapons is tackled with a slow and non-confrontational strategy that saves and delivers the people to a common goal just the same.

The babaylan tradition remains to be the thread that weaves us all into one cohesive personhood in times of need. This is the reason why Filipino women remain to be one of the strongest peoples in Southeast Asia.

Sources:

Alcina, Ignacio Francisco S.J. Translated, edited and annotated by Cantius J. Kobak, O.F.M. and Lucio Gutierrez, O.P. History of the Bisayan People in the Philippine Islands, Volume I. UST Publishing House, Manila, Philippines, 2002.

Salazar, Zeus. Ang Babaylan sa Kasaysayan ng Pilipinas. Lungsod Quezon: Palimbagan ng Lahi, 1999.

Brewer, Carolyn. Shamanism, Catholicism and Gender Relations in Colonial Philippines, 1521-1685. Burlington, USA: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2004.

Scott, William Henry. Barangay: Sixteenth-Century Philippine Culture and Society.  Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1994.

Cruikshank, Bruce. Pilgrimage and Rebellion on Samar (1884-1886). Wisconsin Papers on Southeast Asia Center for Southeast Asian Studies. University of Wisconsin-Madison, September 1979.

Arens, Richard. The Tambalan and his Medical Practices in Leyte and Samar, Part VI. Folk Practices and Beliefs of Leyte and Samar. Leyte-Samar Studies. Divine Word University of Tacloban, Vol. V  Nos. 1 and 2, 1971

Deportados (1872-1897). Leyte SDS 14268.

Varias Provincias, Carolinas, 1864-1895, Spanish Document Sections (SDS) 494

 

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32 Comments on "The babaylan lives in her story"

  1. prescilla tulipat on Sun, 20th Jan 2013 9:04 PM 

    Our babaylan tradition were the seeds of our presentday feminism. I believe we are living up to the tradition by using creative ways to combat patriarchal institutions…

  2. admin on Mon, 21st Jan 2013 4:51 AM 

    Yes, indeed. Thank you.

  3. janine riego on Sat, 2nd Mar 2013 8:31 AM 

    Babaylans have a big part in our philippine history. They are the one who taught us that women are equal to men, both in powers and in intelligence.

  4. Jordan Lee Pabalan on Sat, 2nd Mar 2013 9:12 AM 

    Nice church

  5. reuyan marites on Sat, 2nd Mar 2013 9:59 AM 

    Filipino women are really strong, Very palaban. Akala ko nag-evolve lang this days ang mga women na naging matapang cos before ang nasa isip ko ang mga filipino dati ay Maria Clara lahat but there are still some pala who’s fighting.

  6. reuyan marites on Sat, 2nd Mar 2013 10:01 AM 

    Filipino women are very strong!

  7. Dimarucut Jocarlo on Sat, 2nd Mar 2013 11:06 AM 

    Our Babaylan serves a big role ing our history as they serves as our spiritual leader during their time. I even discovered that there were also male Babaylans but they have to pretend to be woman for their prayers to heard by the Diwatas. For the spreading of Christianity our Babaylan were exterminated by our spanish colonizers due to different beliefs because some of our local people still belive on them.

  8. frianne tuazon on Sat, 2nd Mar 2013 11:10 AM 

    this article helps to freshen the tradition through this they will never forget that we have like this tradittion. -tuazon, frianne/HAU

  9. ericadeguzman on Sat, 2nd Mar 2013 1:20 PM 

    Babaylans has a big impact to us because of their being strong, they fight for they want and what they have. So that many womens learned how to fight to their rights because of them as well. – De Guzman, Erica Lyza; Holy Angel University

  10. Quiambao, Renzo on Sat, 2nd Mar 2013 8:50 PM 

    I thought the word babaylans are just pertaining to females, we also had our male babaylans. This article is a very helpful and useful to those interested to know about babaylans in our Philippine history. – Quiambao, Renzo/ Holy Angel University

  11. Bubay MIchael Angelo S. on Mon, 4th Mar 2013 6:47 AM 

    This Article share the Tradition of the ohilippines and the attitude of being Strong of the Filipino people . especially for the filipino women . – Bubay, Michael Angelo S./ Holy Angel University .H212.

  12. Perez, Charle Pherico P on Fri, 8th Mar 2013 12:06 AM 

     Babaylan, someone who has the ability to mediate with the spiritual world. And they are the doctors at their times. actually they have knowledge to heal . I salute you Filipino women .

  13. Catama, Patricia Lynn on Mon, 11th Mar 2013 6:23 PM 

    Babaylan has a ability to mediate with the spiritual world. They become holy and by praying they have great power to heal the people.

  14. Soria, Sonny Gerald A. on Sun, 14th Apr 2013 9:37 AM 

    This article shows the presence of the babaylanes in pre-Hispanic Philippines is well known in Visayan oral literature. During the early Spanish period, their existence in the Philippine archipelago is well documented in the historical of the Spanish rule. It also shows the Tradition of philippines and which the strong of filipinos during spanish colonization. – Soria, Sonny Gerald A. / HOLY ANGEL UNIVERSITY

  15. jenna mae antonio on Sun, 14th Apr 2013 7:46 PM 

    Spanish Colonizers spread a false belief among the Babaylan to eradicate its existence due to belief that they are threat to the Christian religion. Babaylan are strong willed women who stands for what they believe. They are the healers of Filipino folks before Spaniards came for colonization. -Jenna Mae S. Antonio/C-301/Holy Angel University

  16. jan erick silvestre on Sun, 14th Apr 2013 8:08 PM 

    This articles shows the different characteristics and tradition of Filipino women. It talks about their power and ability that dominates even the man not only in the Philippines but also around South East Asia. Jan Erick Silvestre / Holy Angel University / 4rizal / H-302

  17. eldrich dela cruz on Tue, 23rd Apr 2013 3:50 PM 

    babylan are strong and religious leaders and they will fight on what the are believing. eldrich dela cruz/holy angel university C301.

  18. Kelvin M. Ong on Tue, 23rd Apr 2013 10:39 PM 

    In this article “Babaylan” pertains to women who wielded social and spiritual power in pre-colonial Philippine society
    before the coming of the Spanish colonizers. I admire all babylans because they are very strong and they fight for what is right and their healing power is very effective.There is also a male babaylans but had to wear women’s clothing and pretend to be women so that the Diwatas may hear their prayers. Almost all babaylans have healing powers and they understand the relationship between the supernatural, natural, and
    human beings. Healing is not merely treating the infection or the illness. The babaylan’s healing rituals enliven and manifest the weaving of various notions of divine laws.
    -ONG, KELVIN M. C-301 /Holy Angel University

  19. Jackilyn Ocampo on Sat, 7th Sep 2013 1:34 PM 

    Visayas Region has always been known as the origin of diwatas or as called babaylans. In 2011, “Amaya” was shown in GMA7. The casts portraits different kinds of babaylans and demonstrated their powers specifically speaking, their spiritual powers. They taught us, the pinoys to work out our faith in what we cant see yet in what we believe in. This article also explains how the spaniards defaced our beliefs to annihilate our traditions and replace them with their practice. -OCAMPO, JACKILYN P.|R117|HAU

  20. Julie Mae P. Ventura on Sat, 7th Sep 2013 1:38 PM 

    Babaylans are strong, they heal filipinos not by medicines but in their own way like rituals. and babaylans fight for what they believe and not for what they see. Ventura,Julie Mae P. R-117/Holy ANgel University

  21. Michaella Montemayor on Sat, 7th Sep 2013 1:47 PM 

    Babaylans are big part of our Philippine history. They are the healers during their time and they have extraordinary skills to communicate in spiritual world. I have learned in this article that there are also male babaylans who had to wear women’s clothing and even pretend to be women so that the Diwatas may hear their prayers. Babaylans had even predicted that the colonizers will change their belief in paganito, which came true because the Spaniards introduced the Christian religion. They also called the Babaylans with insulting words like bruhas or witches and they even attempted–or had rape them. They really tried to eradicate them but Spaniards didn’t succeed. Babaylans continued to do what are they doing in their everyday lives in spite of what Spaniards had done to them. Babaylans are so brave, intelligent and powerful.

    //Montemayor, Michaella L., R-117

  22. Katherine M. Coloma on Sat, 7th Sep 2013 2:00 PM 

    The babaylan can be male, female, or male transvestites, but most of the babaylan were female. Prior to, during and after the Philippine Revolution of 1896–1898, the babaylans of Dios Buhawi and Papa Isio of Negros Occidental participated in the struggle to throw off the Spanish yoke.
    Babaylan ay nagmula sa salitang “babai lang”, ay nagsilbi sa mga pamayanan ng mga sinaunang Pilipino. Sila ang mga babaing tinangi ng kalikasan. May kakayanan silang maglabas masok sa mundo ng mga espiritu, makipag-ugnayan sa mga Diwata at mga Anito. Kung kaya sila ang inaatasang mamuno sa mga ritwal ng pasasalamat, ritwal ng pakikidigma, ritwal ng pag-aalay upang bigyang tugon ang kanilang pangangailangan, Sila ang tagapagtago ng mga karunungan ng kalikasan, tagapag-hilom ng kaluuwa at ng katawan, pinuno at paham.

  23. HAU Pabustan,PatrickVincent, R. R-117 on Sat, 7th Sep 2013 2:34 PM 

    The babaylan is the first priest in our country, they believe in gods and goddesses whom they called “diwata or anitos” they also practiced many rituals in worshiping their gods. and they are also called fortune tellers, faith healers and etc. but when the spaniards came to our land they convert the filipinos from anitoism to christianity so the babylans were forgotten.

  24. Pabustan,PatrickVincent, on Sat, 7th Sep 2013 2:40 PM 

    according to the records babylans were considered to be our spiritual leader, before the spaniards came to our land we already have religion. anitoism is one which were the babylans practiced.- patrick pabustan/ holy angel university/R-117

  25. Kimberly Amistades on Sat, 7th Sep 2013 2:50 PM 

    In this article, I can hardly say that man are totally equal to woman now and even then. Given the power of a Babaylan to lead, the babaylans had the power then to rule and to heal people. they had the great power then: socially and spiritually. Asog on the other hand- For me they are like the priest in our present era. they remain unmarried. above all, my conclusion is that man and woman in today’s society have equal abilities and equal rights.
    KIMBERLY AMISTADES/HOLY ANGEL UNIVERSITY/R117

  26. krisselle Delrosario on Sat, 7th Sep 2013 11:24 PM 

    Krisselle Delrosario
    R-117

    It is good to know that the babaylans are given importance to our country. That they contribute a lot to our traditions and beliefs. They are important specially to us women because babaylans give women importance and value to our community. That makes me realized that babaylans are important to our country because they introduce so much things. And I can say that Filipinos are the best because they know how to respect the beliefs of others.

  27. krisselle Delrosario on Sat, 7th Sep 2013 11:29 PM 

    Krisselle Delrosario
    R-117
    Holy Angel University

    It is good to know that the babaylans are given more importance to our country. That they contribute a lot to our traditions and beliefs. They are important specially to us women because babaylans give women importance and value to our community. That make me realized that babaylans are important to our country because they introduced so much thingsw. And I can say that Filipino people are the best because they know how to respect the beliefs of others.

  28. Monica Nagayo on Sat, 7th Sep 2013 11:38 PM 

    Monica Nagayo
    R-117
    Holy Angel University

    I believed that babaylans contribute great things in our country. They introduced to us their beliefs, traditions and custom. that we still practice some of them today. And babaylans proved that women must be equal to men.

  29. arvin alfonso R-117/ Holy Angel university on Sat, 7th Sep 2013 11:45 PM 

    Our Babaylan serves a big role ing our history as they serves as our spiritual leader during their time. I even discovered that there were also male Babaylans but they have to pretend to be woman for their prayers to heard by the Diwatas. For the spreading of Christianity our Babaylan were exterminated by our spanish colonizers due to different beliefs because some of our local people still belive on them.babylan are strong and religious leaders and they will fight on what the are believing.

  30. Dungca, Leycel N. (R-117) on Sat, 7th Sep 2013 11:57 PM 

    It is true that women are truly respectable because like what we have read they are known to become powerful even the longest colonizer of the Philippines can’t take them down. Baybaylan are not only feared by the Spanish, they actually helps people with the power they had. And for me they are the symbol of what we are before the colonizers came.

  31. YANG, SHIN TSYR T. (R-117, HOLY ANGEL UNIVERSITY) on Sat, 7th Sep 2013 11:59 PM 

    Then and now, one could see how strong and firm Filipino women are when it comes to their belief. The Babaylans were able to endure the pain the oppressors caused them. Although the Spaniards tried to eradicate them, they continued to fight for their rights and beliefs. Through the Babaylans, the society could see how great women are. This then shows that women must be given equal treatment and respect like men in the society.

    – YANG, SHIN TSYR T.
    – R-117 / HOLY ANGEL UNIVERSITY
    – CLASS CODE: 4017

  32. Vincent Maglalang on Sun, 8th Sep 2013 9:33 AM 

    The Babaylan are really inspirational. Even though they worship their own Gods. They have firm beliefs in herbal healing and it really shaped our culture today. They are strong and very witty, outsmarting their foes with their oneness with nature.

    – MAGLALANG, VINCENT V. G-105 of the CICT Department of Holy Angel University.

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