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Thursday, August 04, 2005

More from Metro Manila: Book Launch and Babaylan Symposium

Book Launch -- July 15, Balay Kalinaw, Univ of the Philippines; sponsored by Cultureworks/ISACC (Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture) and the Dept of Filipino and Phil Literature; 1:30-4:30pm

This was an intimate affair with family and friends. The program prepared by Cultureworks was beautiful! KaTribu - members of an indigenous arts consortium provided the dance and music. The program included a Pang-alay dance by Nerissa of Katribu, poetry reading from the book by Prof Joi Barrios (Asst Dean of the College of Arts and Letters), and welcome remarks by Prof Joey Baquiran (Asst Dept Chair, Fil and Phil Lit Department), introduction of the author by my sister Lily, synthesis and remarks by Dr. Melba Maggay, song rendition of "Ugoy ng Duyan" by my two sisters (Rox and Mil), a response from Prof Bolet Bautista (Psych Dept and "in-house" babaylan of the event), cake-cutting and merienda (Cake - gift from good friend Vicky Lazarte), emceeing by Prof Grace Jamon (UP prof, Malacanang consultant and Dev Academy of the Phil, Dean of Education). The program ended with a celebratory dance and chanting led by Nerissa and Katribu! It was a sacred afternoon filled with the babaylan energy and spirit! Not a dry eye in the house.

Folks who joined us for the afternoon included: Narita Gonzalez (NVM's widow - who was later picked up by Gilda Cordero Fernando - so met her briefly); Prof. Jimmy Veneracion (UP- History Dept), Krip Yuson (who wrote about the book in his July 25th column), Norma Liongoren (art curator and gallery owner), Juliet Cunanan (Dean of UP Clark), Julie Dalena (famous sculptor!), Isa and Ric Caminade of INAM (Integrated Medicine for Alternative Healthcare Systems), Irene Chia of ISIS, and other family members and friends, Beth de Castro (Sikolohiyany Pilipino, UP Psych Dept).

Tagalog was the medium of the event except for the portions of my reading from the book. There is something about using this language that softens the heart and touches the deepest parts. For someone like me who has been away from this community for more than 20 years, this welcome made me feel as if I've never really left. Some of the people in the room, like Melba Maggay, nurtured my early attempts at writing and helped me get published. I thanked NVM (via Narita) for his wise advice and challenge: For what you want to do, there is no container in language; learn to sing, dance or paint. Later, Narita asked why I was not included in the book, "Remembering NVM," and I didn't want to say that I wasn't asked.

What is moving for me about this occasion is that in the midst of a political crisis and people's busyness with their daily lives, they took time on a Friday afternoon to commune together, to welcome a book into their lives, to re-acquaint ourselves with the babaylan spirit and her history. Story-telling, poetry reading, analysis and synthesis, music, dance, and chant, the gift of flowers and food -- fed our hearts and souls, strengthened our ties (local and transnational), and rekindled our desire to continue journeying together towards the path of creating Beauty, speaking the Truth to power, working for social justice, and walking softly on the Earth.

My friend Vicky later told me that when her family gathers for the weekend, they now center their meditation time on readings from the book. My sisters took to admonishing each other with "Eat your Fear!" in reference to one of the poems in the book.

This report will not be complete without mentioning the indefatigable Fhabi Fajardo of Cultureworks/ISACC. Thank you, Fhabi, for your creative spirit, tenacity, patience,organizational skills, and doing the post-event tasks! This is a maiden event for Cultureworks (a soft launch, she called it)-- a consortium of visual and performance artists, writers, media folks, tech-savvy folks -- who can bring a particular Filipino indigenous flavor to any event. They can organize events, run media blitz, assist an organization in areas where these particular giftings are needed.

Babaylan Symposium - July 22, St. Scholastica College, Malate Manila

The keynote speech (Babaylan: She Dances in Wholeness) by Agnes Miclat Cacayan (thank you, Agnes!) -- was the highlight of the day for me. The importance of this lecture lies in its primary data about babaylans in Mindanao. Her talk was both academic and poetic; the visual component adding even more substance. I look forward to learning more from her work.

Other speakers included Sr. Rosario Batung (The Babaylan Healing Practice from the North).Sr. BAtung's presentation on was accompanied by the singing of the healers from Tuguegarao.

Fe Mangahas, Chair of Social Sciences Dept, St Scholastica College, gave a talk on The Babaylan's Historical and Cultural Context. Grace Nono and Myra Beltran both said "I am not a babaylan" although both acknowledge the inspiration drawn from the babaylan tradition. Myra is a classically trained ballet dancer; her talk (after her dance) focused on her paradoxical location as one who is drawn to indigenous traditions while at the same time using her western classical dance training to create a fusion of the two. Grace Nono's talk was also inspiring; she has been immersing herself in the company of babaylans who teach her about the power of chants. Sister Mary John Mananzan presented the same lecture she did at FAWN/NY. Senator Leticia Ramos Shahani, Chair of the National Network for the Feminist Centennial made brief remarks on the state of political chaos in the country and she said that the babaylan's wisdom and spirit is needed now more than ever. Brief responses from Carolyn Brewer (author of Holy Confrontations) and Prof. Asuncion Azcuna - chair of Women's Studies at St Scho).

The symposium brought together scholars and practitioners who are interested in re-centering the importance of the Filipino babaylan. From historical perspectives to the work of contemporary women who are inspired by the babaylan spirit -- this event, hopefully, has jumpstarted a move to create similar venues for making visible this discourse and practice. Already we are buzzing with the idea of an international babaylan conference in two years.

Other events on this trip:

Interviews with Prof. Zeus Salazar, Prospero Covar, Oscar Campomanes, PAring Bert Alejo, Beth and Tony DeCastro, Fe Mangahas, Prof Jun de Leon, Melba Maggay, Nelda Balauitan of CELL (and Columban priest).
Video Presentations and Dialogues at Institute for Studies in Asian Arts and Culture (ISACC) on topics of global advertising, consumerism and their implications; and western colonial/global adventurism among indigenous peoples (case studies).
Visit to Conspiracy Bar -- to listen to Joey Ayala and our friend Mon David

There is more to say as I process these experiences...but for now just these "facts" about the official trip. Will tell you more later about the culinary research and spa visits:-)).Right now the body aches for a Ton-ton massage!

Next: Fr. Bert Alejo's poetry performance at Makati Shangri-la!

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