A Reflection on the Influence of Babaylan Women in Pre-colonial Philippine History

A Reflection on the Influence of Babaylan Women in Pre-colonial Philippine History

A Reflection on the Influence of Babaylan Women in Pre-colonial Philippine History
In this summertime transition from AAPI Month to Pride Month, we honor both our mothers and our fathers, as well as the generations of ancestors that came before us. By reflecting on the many beautiful layers of babaylan history, we may find deeper appreciation for our ancestry, our family, and even ourselves.

Who are the Babaylan?

Before the Spanish colonization of the Philippines, indigenous customs recognized the babaylan as highly respected leaders of their communities.

Babaylan women (and even some men) served as spiritual guides, warriors, healers, and ritual specialists. Alongside the chieftain, they maintained the balance of spiritual and physical health among their people. The chieftain and babaylan would work together to make crucial decisions in social and political matters as well.

As spiritual leaders, the babaylan practice herbalism and divination, and hold strong respect for nature. Babaylan customs often call upon the ancient wisdom of nature, and also of their ancestors, through rituals and ceremonies that may vary by region.

In different regions of the Philippines, they are known by a different name. The term “babaylan” comes from the Visayan region in Central Philippines, whereas shamanistic leaders are referred to as “balyan” in the Tagalog region of Luzon, and “mumbaki” in Mindanao.

To dig into the babaylan can of worms is the start of a very deep journey ahead, as there are centuries of indigenous wisdom upheld throughout history.

Babaylan Resistance

During the era of Spanish rule, the babaylan were a fighting force to be reckoned with. Any non-Christian practices were unacceptable and punishable by death, but the babaylan fought to preserve our indigenous traditions and rallied their people together. Over the next three centuries, the babaylan either practiced their rituals in secret, or adapted their customs to align more with Christianity.

Connecting to Our Roots

Learning more about Filipino indigenous customs and traditions can serve as a window to our past, helping us to understand the legacy of our ancestors. Doing so can be difficult, especially those of us among the diaspora, where we can easily feel disconnected with our heritage.

Babaylan history reminds us of the innate healing power and warrior spirit of Filipino feminine energy. These roles were filled by women or transgender women who each possessed deep interconnectedness with nature and within their communities.

By igniting the spark of curiosity to dive into these customs, we might just grow the fire to want to keep learning more.

Studying the indigenous ways of pre-colonial Philippines, we find curious reflections of ancestral traditions that may hold the key to a brighter, more balanced future. This exploration gives us a sense of rootedness in our culture, confidence in ourselves, and hope for better in a rapidly changing world.

The Power of Conversation

Discussing these topics with our relatives and fellow Filipinos can open a pathway to a greater understanding of our shared history and culture. These conversations can inspire us to explore our identity more deeply and recognize our own power. In doing so, we can draw strength from our ancestral roots and foster a stronger sense of community, together.

In conclusion, honoring AAPI Month, Mother’s Day, Pride Month, and Father’s Day through the lens of babaylan traditions opens up space for even more gratitude – to more deeply appreciate our roots, to engage in enlightening conversations with family and loved ones, and to embrace our power, especially as the Filipino community at large. This journey through history not only pays tribute to our ancestors but also paves the way for future generations to keep the Filipino heritage alive.

Written by Ellaine Manuel, June 7th, 2024.


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