Where babaylans live forever

As I entered the majestic  wooden house of Julio Nakpil sitting serenely like a queen amid the hustle-bustle of noisy Quiapo, mixed feelings of awe, sadness and reverence for the Filipino ancestors enveloped me.  Julio Nakpil,  musician, revolutionary and second husband of Gregoria de Jesus, whom she married after Andres Bonifacio died in the hands of his fellow Katipuneros, took care of Ka Oriang after her  and her first husband’s ordeal in Cavite in 1897.

The Nakpil and the Lin- Bautista clans opened their ancestral house for the book launching of “Babaylan: Filipinos and the Call of the Indigenous” to the book enthusiasts, historians, women and students as well to commemorate the birthday of Bonifacio that falls today, 30 November 2010. The women descendants of Ka Oriang  graciously asked the guests to tour around the big house that is now a museum of pictures, memorabilia and writings about history.

The house, before it was reconstructed in 1913, had two gates: one facing the busy street and another one serves as a get-away to the river where Ka Oriang’s eldest daughter Julia used to paddle the banca in going to school by herself.  A big window facing the river was where Ka Oriang usually hang her pamingwit to catch fish for lunch. Retracing Ka Oriang’s steps, the river now is murky and dirty. Tall buildings and sign boards tried, though not successful, to dwarf the Nakpil house. Old tin roofs marked with rust spread along the riverbank as garbage and plastic bags cling lifeless wherever it can between the waters and solid ground.

Ka Oriang’s dainty looks with her coiffed black hair in a picture hanged on the wall commands admiration and respect befitting a hero and a babaylan.  She speaks her mind through her “Sampung Aral ni Oriang” written on the Nakpil wall. It says in numbers 6 and 8: “Iligtas ang api sa panganib;” and “Matakot sa kasaysayan pagka’t walang lihim na di nahahayag.”

Social development activist Sister Mary John Mananzan inspired everyone when she said that the babaylans have a “dangerous and subversive memory” that the foreign colonizers failed to subvert. While they were burned at stake, beheaded and killed by the thousands, the babaylan tradition lives on.

Herstorian Fe Mangahas explained in the launching that the pre-Hispanic Philippine society had three major characters – the datu, panday and the babaylan. Where the datus and the pandays failed to continue their legacy, the babaylans continued to live in the hearts of Filipino women in the beaterios, the present-day nuns and the indigenous peoples in the north down south. She further said: “Nanatiling buhay ang diwa ng babaylan sa bawat isa sa atin – lalaki man o babae.”

Feminist Girlie Villariba who is one of the book writers brought a tampipi full of gifts from Charito Basa who is in Rome helping Filipino migrant workers. Girlie made us smell the lavender flowers, leaves and herbs – curative of mental and spiritual illnesses one has as an individual and as a collective group of people.

Chapter writer Ceres Pioquinto’s sister and relatives flew all the way from Iloilo to relate how their Lola healed people, thus, regarded as a good “tambalan” in their community.

A group of young babaylans called “babaylanins” (female) and “bayogins” (male, from the Visayan word bayog or prayer leader) taught a Palawanon way of hand gesture and greeting saying: “Nagkakaisa tayo sa diwa at sa puso.”

Professor Grace Odal,  dressed in white with a flower bouquet on her head, lighted the candle at the altar, threw fragrant petal flowers up on air and danced ala-early babaylan to summon the spirits of nature to come and bless the occasion. While the book launching attendees danced to the tune of the gongs, guitar, kudyapi and bamboo musical instruments, Professor Connie Alaras said: “Natutuwa ang mga sinaunang babaylan.”

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