The Babaylan Historical Narrative: How the Aswang came to be

The babaylans who had been mostly women remain to be steadfast in their world view different from the Spanish colonialists, unlike the male-centered political system of the raja, lakan, datu and later capitan municipal who all succumbed to the sword and the cross. The babaylan in Philippine history, always an old wife, a sister or a close relative of the male political chief cannot be given the political reins, yet the Spaniards cannot penetrate her spiritual domain.

Retired History Professor Milagros Guererro, in her lecture given at the Buhay-Babaylan lecture series in the University of the Philippines last Saturday, explained how difficult it is to have a babaylan historical narrative given the dearth of primary materials available to historians. But the problem may be resolved with painstaking archival reasearch, she encouraged the lecture attendees who filled the CSWCD’s Bulwagang Tandang Sora up to the brim.

The country’s political elite collaborated with the Spaniards that had become the blue print of today’s political governance.  It had always been the babaylan, the priestess in the tripartite social structure composed, too, of the raja, and ‘harbor masters’ including the panday– who refused oppression and in many ways fought with words and teeth, earning the ire of the Spanish friars to high heavens.

Guerrero narrated how the Spanish alcalde mayor, alferez and frailes smashed the babaylan structure to pieces which acts send shivers to the bones. What they cannot destroy with insults calling them ‘brujas’ or witches, they tear to pieces with atrocities no civilized human being could imagine.

In Marikina, the Spanish friars assigned vagabonds and olgasanes (similar to kanto boys nowadays) to rape these “erring women” in the 19th century, according to the professor. In the Visayas, some of the Indios, upon the instruction of the Spanish friar, tied the babaylan to a raft and threw her to the river where hungry crocodiles tore her to pieces.

“Mangingilabot kayo,” she said in Filipino with both her crossed hands holding her arms in akimbo, apparently with hair raised on end.

Citing a transcription written in old Kinaray-a language, she disclosed an incident in Capiz in 1859 when as a vengeance to these mentioned atrocities, the babaylan fought with great dare the Spanish friar: The women kidnapped the surprised priest, brought him up the mountain, killed him and “dismember” his organs. Thus, the story of the human heart-and-liver-eating aswang began.

Guerrero likewise revealed to the audience that the babaylan had been absent in the Spanish records from 1850 onward, claiming they had annihilated them and successfully vanish to oblivion the babaylan’s spiritual realm. However, anti-American resistance in the Visayas proved otherwise. They remain alive in Dionisio Magbuelas or Papa Isio, who led a group of babaylanes in a peasant uprising in the Visayas. It was Papa Isio who blurted out: “Naaapi tayo ng mga kumakain ng karne,” Guerrero quoted him as saying in the Spanish document.

In Samar and Leyte, the Pulahanes known for their red trousers, red band or anything red in their person also fought the Americans.

“Nauulinigan ang alingawngaw ng mga nag-aalsa. Bahagi ito marahil ng tradisyong babaylan,” the historian said in Filipino.

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