Thursday, April 22, 2010

Babaylan Book Launch Response
S. Lily Mendoza, April 20, 2010

I have been asked to respond to the book as a scholar, but find that task to be impossible given the short time that we have.  Obviously the text before us is much like the ecology of babaylanism itself—a deep loam of intuition, a conjuration of healing from many angles, under varying lights. It is the kind of text suitable to a diaspora, a delicious halo-halo texture, offering up insight and challenge, comfort and confirmation sufficient to touch a varied audience, wrestling with a dislocated experience, and dreaming of home and kin.
I have been privileged to be privy to the book’s remarkable gestation, and although I was originally asked to serve as one of its co-editors and had in fact already began work on the initial drafts of the essay contributions, as it turned out, it wasn’t meant to be: as they say, man, or in this case, woman, proposes and God disposes.  It so happens that when the time came to devote sustained work on the project, I found myself at a very different place in my own journey. More importantly, however, having witnessed the powerful movement of the spirit in my sister Leny’s life in the last few or more years, I thought to myself, no, this is meant to be her baby, hers and hers alone. That’s because, it was in her womb that it’s genius was seeded, in her body where the babaylan drama of the wounded healer was played out, culminating in the fateful summer of Fulbright 2008 where she was painfully initiated into the intimacy of death and then again, in her courageous and compassionate accompaniment of our eldest sister in her hour of grief as she waited out the last two weeks of her husband’s long battle with illness. And even further back than these recent important initiatory rites, were other dramas of love, of love lost and found again, albeit now in shape-shifted form.  Insights from these soul-  and psyche-breaking body woundings became the necessary ingredients to the composing of what turned out to be Leny’s meaty, weighty introduction to the book.

There is a passage from the German writer that I feel most aptly describes the book’s birthing and it reads,

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.  Concerning all acts of initiative [and creation], there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.  All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.  A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man (or woman) could have dreamed would come his [or her] way.  Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.  Begin it now.”

And indeed we find palpable in this book’s pages not just the magic and genius of the sariling duwende of Leny and that of the various contributors, but the uncontainable current of ancient memory, the meandering and mounting of the babaylan spirit itself, crushed a colonial eon ago, but never entirely broken or subdued, trickling or surging like water under soil, seeking the lowest places to germinate fecund life in its manifold forms, stronger than rock, subtler than breath, a whisper from the dark womb of a tropical night, monsoon in scope, typhoon in power, the second coming of kapwa, when given a community to laugh and love in.  And so it is fitting that this book be launched here and now at this conference, in this gathering of kapwa maglalakbay/co-sojourners on the journey homeward, seekers of the fire that would rekindle and keep alive the connection to our ancient ninuno.  May each one of you in this hall be wise enough to get a copy in your hands, and like hungry mouths and hearts, devour the sumptuous feast, and savoring its deliciousness, be nourished, and enjoy. Maligayang pagbati, Sis Leny and all the babaylan-inspired contributors to this book. May it be fitting food for the gods.  Siyanawa. 

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