Teaching Peace, Developing Tolerance, Instilling Sensitivity

I grew up in an extremely pious Catholic city. Every year, thousands of devotees gather in Naga City to show their love to Our Lady of Peñafrancia, bringing with them a multitude of thanksgivings and prayer-requests to Ina. The festivity during the nine-day novena itself has become a cultural icon, the celebrations referring to the city while the city prides in being the steward of this devotion – Pueblo amante de Maria. But looking in retrospect, with me now immersed for two and a half years in the cultures and struggles of Mindanao, I found myself asking questions on religious tolerance and sensitivity, of challenging my worldview as a Taga-Naga Catholic and to reflect on the level of tolerance given to non-Catholics in and around Naga. How, for instance, are we portraying our pagan past in performances like street dancings during the Peñafrancia festival? How much space is provided for the narratology of non-believers in the public discourses? How are we excluding non-Catholics when we institutionalize such religious events? I believe such questions must be addressed in pedagogy.

Developing a curriculum and reforming methods of instruction with a particular sensitivity to diversity in cultures and religions in the Philippine context is an imperative in promoting peace and in pursuing a society marked with respect and acceptance of the ‘otherness’ of the other.

We are in a point in our educational history when great leaps and bounds are being done not only in the adding of two years in Basic Education but also of reforms being done in curriculum and classroom instruction. This is also an opportune time to integrate subject matters or topics relating to peace, and in amending certain topics that have been deemed passé, obsolete or culturally insensitive. Methods of instruction in the classroom must also be changed to cater to more and more plural ethnicities, backgrounds and religions of the students.

For instance, in teaching Grades 6 and 7, a crucial time for transforming attitudes and biases of students, greater emphasis on multiculturalism can be done. This includes, among other things, the use of literary samples from the different ethnolinguistic groups of the Philippines in teaching Values Education or in other suitable subjects. In English subjects, literature tends to lean in favor of English writers and Western categories of literature when in fact, there is a treasure chest full of literary gems from the Indigenous Communities which may be carefully translated to English without losing its soul, and not packaged in a Western literary category, but as it is. In this way, students may be able to appreciate the diversity of cultures, and also, of worldviews in the Philippines. 

Religious intolerance may be corrected by choosing carefully the topics, examples and methods of instruction. Students must be given the freedom to express their beliefs in projects, or written compositions, without feeling betrayed by the prejudices in the textbooks or the way the teacher delivered the lesson. This point begs an example. The ‘Moro-Moro’, (which in fact was a type of theater in several Luzon areas) for instance, as a type of Philippine theater play may not be omitted on textbooks but instead used as a jump-off point for students’ personal reflection on their attitudes towards Muslims – a movement towards conscientization that can be strengthened in higher year levels. 

It must also be clear, in the development of curriculum, to refrain from generalizing that the wars in Mindanao have been caused by the gaps in the relationship of Muslims and Christians when in fact, several studies have already concluded that the hardening of ethnic and religious identities were the consequences, and not the causes of conflicts in Mindanao. Students must be given input on the political and socio-economic conditions of Mindanao to better understand how conflicts are triggered and identities mustered in wars. This can be iterated in the Social Science subject and emphasized on Values Education.

How do we teach the ‘Mindanao Problem’ to students outside Mindanao who have never been directly impacted by the many challenges in Mindanao? By putting Mindanao right at their doorstep. I, for one, am a product of an educational upbringing where Mindanao seems to be so far off from my own community. By bringing into the fore how this ‘Problem’ directly and indirectly impacts on the students’ own community, a better interest might be attained. By giving emphasis on Mindanao’s indispensable contribution to statehood and nationhood, ranging from contributions on cultural diversity to economy and contributions to the nation’s collective symbols and narratives, Mindanao becomes a bedfellow to the student who lives in a mountain community in Camarines Sur. 

Instilling sensitivity of the other requires that we move out of the tribalistic frame of mind that is often characteristic of many groups here in Mindanao. This pervading tribalistic attitude is marked by insensitivity to non-members of the ‘tribe’ or group and shuts any sense of the pursuit of the common good, and takes personal and tribal affronts to wars and violence against this ‘other’. It fences in the ‘tribe’ away from the nation and away from the global world, taking into consideration the good of the tribe or even in some instances, only the private, individual good. This lack of the sense of the common good, of this ‘my tribe’ attitude needs to addressed as one of the primary causes of conflicts in Mindanao. A Sama Banguingui youth, for example, can identify his or her role in a globalized world, or identify his or her contribution to nation building. This must be addressed not only in education but also in agencies working for the development of Mindanao like the Mindanao Development Authority. Public interests, the summation of interests of those individuals comprising Mindanao is imperative in any development plans, of which education holds a key role. By addressing the dearth of the sense of the common good in education and development plans, we can imagine a movement from the tribal good and on to a good that serves the nation (or even nation/s in the context of Mindanao) and the global world, which ultimately, serves the community.

A change in attitude is required of every citizen, most particularly the young, if ever this is to be achieved. Here the emphasis is on education, the right kind of education, with its core deeply rooted in forming culturally-, peace-, and environment-sensitive citizens not just of the immediate community but also of the nation and the global world who sees him/herself in the web of human relations. This is an education that is not cold-hearted but is committed to the ethics of care, valuing the other not because he or she is a victim of injustice, but because the other is valuable per se.

On Anthropologists and Ethnic Conflicts

The traditional domain of the Anthropologist has been the small community, often in what has been coined as “indigenous peoples,” while his ethnography and holism in analyzing phenomena are his tools-of-the-trade that enable him to understand the “understanding of the other”. At present, there has been an increased interest in the social sciences in the study of conflicts and violence both in small communities (i.e. skirmishes among tribes) and larger states, nations or sub-cultures (e.g. Shia vs. Sunni in the Middle East). This has led to the mainstreaming of conflict studies in Anthropology especially because of how anthropologists, equipped with the holism of the discipline, are able to look at the many facets of the conflict from its emergence to a, hopefully, successful conciliation between the opposing sides. The study of conflict and violence has been greatly influenced by the wars of the 20th century that saw in its wake great atrocities to humanity ranging from genocide to unconscionable aggression against the weak. This evolution of the discipline in synch with the great movement of History(ies), has led to the invaluable contribution of anthropology to the understanding of conflict between differing cultural groups.

Rye Barcott in his article for Survival: Global Politics and Strategy entitled Marine Experiences and Anthropological Reflections gives an insightful peek at a US Marine’s experience in ethnic conflicts and a reflexive take in trying to understand the conflicts in Bosnia, Kenya and Iraq with an anthropological lens. Barcott is an advocate of Participatory Development which seeks to engage local populations in development projects, which he explicated in It Happened on the Way to War, and is very clearly advocated in the Survival article: “Those small and great acts become part of the discourse that fosters tolerance and reconciliation” and “Provided it remains rooted in the community, it will continue for generations to come”.[1]

Barcott, talking about ethnic conflicts and the role of the anthropologist in such events, invoked at the beginning of his article the statement of the American Anthropological Association adopted in June 1999 which among other things, “opposes suppression of diversity by powerful states of factions and denounces claims by such entities of superior cultural values, which may lead to ethnic cleansing (the attempt to create an ethnically homogenous land by removing people with distinct cultural identities.”[2] He further explained the role of the anthropologist in ethnic conflicts:

Anthropologists’ close contact with cultures and groups can lead them to identify flash points of emerging strife. They can contribute to diplomacy, especially at the local and community levels, where their fieldwork places them to work closely with relevant factions. They can contribute to healing processes, such as truth and reconciliation projects…

An addition here, perhaps is how the holism of anthropology helps in framing the conflict by recognizing the different kinds of ethnic settings, putting into consideration different factors: demographic patterns and ethnic geography; pre-colonial and colonial legacies; the histories, fears, and goals of ethnic groups in the country; economic factors and trends; and regional and international influences. In this sense then, the anthropologist is placed at a very important position in preventing, modulating and resolving ethnic conflicts.

Barcott, in Survival, recollected his experiences in Bosnia, Kenya and Iraq as a Marine officer and contemplated at the root causes of ethnic conflicts in these areas. He concluded that, “More often than not, political and economic factors – not primarily religious difference – are deeply involved in instigating ethnic conflict. Yet once ethnic conflict begins, collective identities often are manipulated in ways that intensify and prolong the violence.” This, he added, is where the anthropologist can help in early intervention when the strife is just emerging, and “help prevent conflict by identifying incipient ethnic tensions.” The anthropologist is also in the position to advise political and military leaders “and help then devise and monitor reconciliation efforts.”

In Bosnia, for example, during the civil war that purged regions of certain ethnic groups, Barcott asserted that “protracted ethnic violence makes ethnic identities more rigid and intolerant, and why efforts to reconcile and reintegrate ethnic groups often fail.” This hardening of ethnic identities was in fact a consequence and not a cause of conflict, which goes back to how Barcott described collective identities as malleable, “especially under the pressure of trauma and tragedy.”

This malleability of identities may also be attributed to how, indeed, culture is malleable: “Culture is not static. It is not immutable. It can be transformed and made compatible with other cultures, although doing so might take many years.”[3] This is also how anthropologists can contribute in the on-going processes to solve, or primarily, to understand ethnic conflicts. Transformation in culture is natural and dynamic, which may be seamless or characterized by social upheavals. Identifying creases in these cultural transformations, where potential conflicts may emerge, is another role of the anthropologist.

What is, on the outside, religious violence, in fact must be analyzed in the lenses of culture. Talking about his experience in the US counter-insurgency operations in Iraq, Barcott said that, “we needed better understanding of local sub-cultures, tribal politics and history, not to mention a better understanding of the shifting Iraqi perspectives on the war.” He added, and here we can compare this to the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Oplan Bayanihan operations in Mindanao: “a counter-insurgency is a battle for the support of the local population. If one does not have an adequate grasp of who the local population is and what motivates it, the counter-insurgency is fundamentally flawed.” Again, we are led back by Barcott to his paradigm of participatory development, which leads to joint decision making about what should be achieved and how. While outsiders (Armed Forces) are equal partners in the development effort, the primary stakeholders are primus inter pares, i.e., they are equal partners with a significant say in decisions concerning their lives. Dialogue, facilitated by people who are understand the communities, identifies and analyzes critical issues, and an exchange of knowledge and experiences leads to solutions.

Another familiar picture that Barcott provided are the Kenyan ethnic clashes of 1997 and early 2000.  The 1997 clashes happened in Likoni, Kenya, where police station and outpost were destroyed, along with countless market stalls and offices. Many non-local Kenyans were either killed or maimed, as the raiders targeted LuoLuhya, Kamba and Kikuyu communities. Barcott also described the explosive violence following the December 2007 elections where violent clashes between different ethnic groups happened in Kibera. Yet again, Barcott shared that the hardening of ethnic identities was only a consequence of socio-economic factors: “The protests over rent hikes took on an ethnic character, as many of the landlords self-identified as Nubians while those who were renting and rioting were mostly Luos.” This leads us to the earlier assertion that cultural identity, poverty, secessionist politics, and ethnic violence interrelate, and the anthropologist, in the helm of community fieldwork and informed by the “native viewpoint”, plays a crucial role.

I referred to the Kenyan conflicts as “familiar” because I was reminded of the recent events in Mindanao. The clash between the government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front in Zamboanga City (September 2013), which is characteristically secessionist in the outside, is actually rooted in not only cultural grounds but also socio-economic conditions. The lack of economic opportunities, especially for specific ethnic groups in the area, may be seen as inflaming the horizontal and vertical conflicts. Horizontal conflicts in that instance may be the conflicts between different sub-cultures, Tausug vs. Sama, or Muslim vs. Christian, while vertical conflict is between the MNLF vs. the Government of the Philippines – all interrelating synergistically, compounded many times by this lack of economic opportunities and concentrating in a volatile area in Zamboanga City.

Addressing ethnic conflicts does not have a universal template as each situation and community calls for its unique approach, but how little we know of the culture – behaviors, world views, etc. – deeply impacts on the processes of intervention and reconciliation which may help save lives and the integrity of communities.

[1] Rye Barcott. (2008) Marine Experiences and Anthropological Reflections in Anthropology in Conflict: An Exchange, Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, 50: 3, 138.

[2] Ibid, 128.

[3] Ibid, 131.

Examining the Vision of Mindanao 2020

The Mindanao 2020 Peace and Development Framework Plan is, in itself, a remarkable attempt at collaboration and clear-sightedness. The document is built on the idea that the situation in Mindanao must be changed and that the problem must be addressed at its roots. But in every development framework, one must ask several questions: 1) Development from what state to what ‘improved’ state? 2) Development for whom? 3) What is the context and definition of development in this framework plan? 4) How do we realize the vision of the development framework plan?

The Mindanao 2020 document provides the context and the present conditions in Mindanao, specifically on the “Where We are Now” section, enumerating several historical key moments, economic points and social conditions. The document asserts, as part of its context that at the heart of the “Mindanao Problem” lies injustice. It specifies that “historical injustices lie at the root of the conflict in Mindanao: from colonization, annexation of the Moro homeland to the Philippine state; a series of government policies that led to the minoritization of the Moro and indigenous inhabitants; and on to newer and various forms of injustice whether real or perceived, coupled with the politics of exclusion and years of neglect have exacerbated these divides that add volatility to the struggle for ancestral domain and self-determination” (p. 19). Truthful, at the least, but overly simplistic, I might add. This is too simplistic that it might lead to a tunnel vision, instead of the 20/20 vision and promise. It might indeed be true that injustice lies at the bottom of the Mindanao Problem, but this too is multi-faceted and must, in my opinion, not be the sole root of this “problem”.

In my 2 years of stay in Mindanao, I have always sensed a pervading tribalism in the many groups calling Mindanao their home. This tribal attitude shuts any sense of common good and takes personal and tribal affronts to wars and violence against the “other”. It fences in the “tribe” away from the nation and away from a global world, taking only into consideration the good of the “tribe” or even in some cases, only the private, individual good. This lack of the common good in the discourse on development works must be one of the problems of Mindanao that needs to be addressed. Public interests, the summation of interests of those individuals comprising Mindanao, is imperative in any development plans – one of such public interests that need to be addressed is the dearth of historical and social justice. Yet with common good, we are also confronted with the tension between the ontological and the practical, the common good as something to be attained at as a convenient construct, without a foundation in reality, or something possible and attainable in which the micro and macro economy should serve. I believe that this can be addressed if we put this issue of the common good in our classrooms, meeting halls and councils.

With common good, we can imagine a movement from the tribal good and on to a good that serves the nation and the global world, and then vice versa. A change in attitude is required if ever this is to be attained, and the promises of development be achieved. Here the emphasis is on education, the right kind of education, I might add, with its core deeply rooted in forming citizens not just of the immediate community but also of the nation and the global world. This is an education that is not cold-hearted but is committed to the ethics of “care”, valuing the other not because he or she is a victim of injustice, but because the other is valuable per se. This caring society, if made as an intrinsic part of any development plan, “would attend to the health of the social relations between its members, rather than promote the nearly boundless pursuit of individual self-interests.”[1]

The development framework of the document is also rooted in very strong neoliberal attitudes, in which it is assumed that the market will take care of the social ills of Mindanao. For instance,opening up Mindanao to extractive industries will only give birth to more conflicts. Streamlining business processes and minimizing transaction costs will not ensure the equitable distribution of wealth. Working on that development phantasm we call “developed world”, where we model every developments to the USA, European countries, or Japan, might not work hand in hand with environmental conservation and IP rights. This challenge also needs to be re-examined.

Overall, Mindanao 2020 is a hopeful package; the vision and promise are written in broad strokes, yet pessimism has a way of creeping in to the shadows of our vision once we go out of boardrooms and out into the villages.

[1] Virginia Held, “The Ethics of Care: Personal, Political, and Global”, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Re-imagining the Balyana Priestess in Pre-hispanic Bikol


This article is an attempt to study the [mga] balyana or priestesses of Bikol and  analyze some of the  names in the epic-fragment of Ibalon and practices of the ancient religion as cited in the Lisboa dictionary (1754). It  features three images/personalities: the Balyana, the Asog and Oryol.

Balyana and Asog

Many would define a priestess as a woman who leads rituals. But there are a range of names and culturally-defined meanings, including shaman, medicine woman, diviner, spirit-medium, oracle, sibyl and wisewoman. There is no sharp division in these categories. The shaman may be a ritual leader, but also a solitary practitioner. The visionary can act as healer, the medicine woman speak prophetically. The ceremonial role of the priestess does not preclude her from entering into trance or shamanic spiritual journeys.

The main sources for the Philippine study of priestesses are manuscripts written by the missionaries upon contact with the inhabitants of our islands. These include the Bolinao, Manila and Visayas Manuscripts, also, writings by Pigafetta, Marcos de Lisboa, and other Spanish writers in the Philippine contact of that century.

Lisboa pointed at the role of the balyana as “priestesses to whom the natives entrusted their religious needs and obligations such as the performance of supplicatory rituals,” indicating the varied roles of this priestess as spirit-medium, healer, ritual-leader and others. The balyanas as many Spanish writers noted were mostly old women.

It is also important to add in this article the position and function of their male counterparts. Carolyn Brewer in her book Holy Confrontation: Religion, Gender and Sexuality in the Philippines, studied the role of transgendered male priests in the Philippines widely known as asog and bayog. The presence of these transvestite priests suggests different theories in anthropology. Two opposing theories are the following: “the third sex/gender group is regarded as being neither male nor female or being a composite of both. It is their ambiguous status which locates them beyond the more conventional sexual and gender dualism of society and becomes a sign associated with the primal creative force.” (Brewer, 1999) And another, one which Brewer asserts is that, “… male shaman’s identification with the feminine either as temporary transvestism or as a more permanent lifestyle choice, reinforced the normative situation of female as shaman, and femininity as the vehicle to the spirit world.”

The “Bolinao Manuscript” is one piece of document that is important in the study of the female role in spirituality during the pre-colonial era as it is a record of 236 Dominican interviews of suspected catalonan, (priestesses in the Pampanga region) most of whom are elderly women. Occurring between 1679 and 1684, the interrogations provide valuable details of the practices and paraphernalia associated with ‘animism’, supplying clear evidence of the persistence of spirit veneration. The document reveals the interactions between individual catalonan and their group bonding as daughters, mothers and grandmother. In this manuscript, there is a suggestion that rather than a complete transgendered existence, the three male shamans in the document (Calimlim 70, Calinog and Mamacuit) dressed in women’s clothes only when they performed the ceremonies for the anitos. (Brewer 1999) This would suggest that these men dressed as women to perform the ceremonies of sacrifice and that the transvestism was seen as a drawing in, or rather an immersion into the realm of the spiritual which was feminine.

Balyana and Oryol

In the Archivo del Bibliofilo Filipino in Spain, a copy of the “Breve Noticia Acerca del Origin, Religion, Creencias y Supersticiones de los Antigous Indios del Bicol” by Wenceslao Retana (1895) can be found; it is an account of the ancient Bikolanos, their origin, superstitions and beliefs, a Spanish translation of an ‘epic-fragment’ later entitled Ibalon. It was written for the Archivo by Fray Jose Castaño, a Fransiscan, then rector of the Colegio de Almagro in Spain. 

The structure of the fragment found is divided into two sections. The first part is a request of Yling, a legendary Bikol name of a magical bird or perhaps representing a group of listeners, seated under the cool shade of a daod tree, to the poet Cadugnong, imploring him/her to sing of the historic events in the realm of Handiong.

The second part is the song of Cadugnung which narrates in poetical verse the events of long ago in a trilogy centered on Baltog, legendary first man and king of the Bikolanos and his two mighty warriors, Handiong and Bantong.

One stanza in the original Spanish of the Bikolano epic-fragment, Ibalon, speaks of the ‘sibilas’ Hilan and Lariong:

Separó del continente

Las isleta de Malbogon

Donde moran las Sibilas

Llamadas Hilan, Lariong.

The same stanza translated in English and Bikol is the following:

A torn part from the mainland formed

The islet known as Malbogon

Where went to live the two witches

Whose names were Hilang and Laryong.


Igwang nakasiblag daga na kaputol

Asin pinagapod na purong Malbogong,

Duwang aswang iyong nagerok na lolong

Pinangaranang Hilang asin Laryong.

We take note of the term sibilas in the third line. The word means “sibyl,” and in the modern understanding is defined as “seer”, “clairvoyant”, “spiritualist”, “mystic” and “diviner”. The term is a Greek original and refers to the prophetess of the Hellenic god Apollo in his temples. Although it is not clear how the original writer intended the term to mean, the over-all temperament of the people to supposed sibyls and witches was not positive during the time of the Inquisition (founded in the 12th century for the purpose of exterminating those who held the wrong ideas about religion or heresy). Other indications of the distrust to sibilas and witches were present in writings of that century. Literature of the Inquisition points at witchcraft as arising from female carnality, and “all wickedness is but little to the wickedness of a woman.” (Kramer and Sprenger, 1971) Laws of the Medieval Church took away most of women’s traditional roles one by one: priestess, midwife, healer, landowner, lawmaker, judge, historian, craftswoman, merchant, record keeper, spiritual advisor, prophet, funerary official, and intermediary between heaven, earth and the underworld.

It is of interest also to note how the translation from the original Spanish evolved. From the Spanish sibilas (sibyls, mystics, seer) to the English “witches” and the bikol “mga aswang”. The term changed in meaning. If the writer of the Spanish version meant it to be witches, the right word to be used was brujas instead of the more polite sibilas as it was the term used that time.

The supposed ‘sibyls’ Hilan and Lariong are important. Ma. Lilia Realubit pointed out that Hilan is a corruption of the Bikol term hilang (sickness) while Lariong is a distortion of lagdong or idols of the anitos which was considered to be the souls of departed ancestors who looked after their living descendants. (Realubit, 1983) We may assume that these sibilas may be balyanas, priestesses that were also parabawi(exorcist), hokluban (witch doctor), mangkukulam (sorcerer) and parabulong (healer/herb doctor). Suggesting that they conceived the source of both therapy and anti-therapy, healing and the power to cause harm and injury, as the same, or issuing from the same source.

Inserted also in the Relacion de las Yslas Filipinas of Pedro Chirino (1582) are the names of Naguined, Macbarubac and Arapayan, described as being “demonios” of Ybalon to which the people pray to and offer crocodile teeth for kulam or anti-therapy. It is of interest to note that the Relacion which was published in 1582 have included the names of the three witches stated in the dictionary of Lisboa which was published in 1794. This would presuppose that the names of these three “demonios” have been known widespread among the Bikolanos.

What surprised me is the name of the first “demonio” Naguined or Nagini (as described by Lisboa) which in India refers to the feminine form of the word Naga or snake beings. Can this be a demonization of the Bikol Nagini[d], displacing the images associated with indigenous religious leaders and divinities transforming them into “demonios” and witches in the conversion project of the Spanish colonizers? Perhaps.

Oryol, the snake woman of the Ibalon epic, and Naguined are connected in this light. The connection of snake and the feminine is mostly in the sense of rhythm and tides. In ancient times, the snake was seen as the earthly counterpart of the moon, which rules the tide of the sea and of women. Women in turn was seen by the primitives as the embodiment of the earth and master of the rhythms, seasons and tides of the earth and the creatures on it.

This is where the character of Oryol in the epic Ibalon finds significance. Three things are important in this discussion: Oryol being a Nagini or a snake being, Oryol as the daughter of Aswang and a killer of men and lastly, Oryol and her supposed fickle-mindedness in the epic Ibalon.

As a snake-woman, she is a Nagini and master of the seasons and the tide – of change. The reader is reminded of how Oryol shifts from a beautiful woman to that of a snake, always luring men to their death in the Higabo spring. (Realubit, 1983) The snake as chthonic, as opposed to telluric (the tilled soil) is the highest symbol of the unknown, of the mysterious, as it lives in caves and the crevasses underground. This association to the woman is important because the woman can be considered as also being chthonic, inward, whose body was seen as a mystery, capable of giving birth like the earth. Oryol as a snake-woman is a symbol, an image of mystery that guides the unseen forces of pregnancy, ebbing and flow of the tide and phallus and the rhythm of planting and harvests so useful to the agricultural Bikolanos of that time.

The story also tells us that Oryol is the daughter of Aswang, god of evil and the brother/sister of Gugurang, chief of the gods. Many have accepted the image of Aswang (the Bikol god and not the nocturnal ‘monster’) as masculine  but it is also possible that Aswang is female, the sister of Gugurang.   Being the daughter of Aswang, one is immediately exposed to an icon of evil. But analyzing how in the rituals the balyana is ambivalent, supplicating Aswang one time and then giving offerings to Gugurang in another, may show how the pre-hispanic Bikolanos viewed evil occurrences as controllable. The balyana in a way becomes a daughter both of Gugurang and Aswang of good (karahayan) and evil (karaotan) or more precisely, light and darkness, an intermediary between the two extremes. Oryol on the other hand, as a symbol of the dark, the night and the dark soil, is an image of the wilderness, the untamed earth in which no man has ever conquered. In a sense, the imagery of her luring men to their deaths may be construed as an initiation, just as the men of Kali, Ishtar, Kore, and other mystery cults have to die symbolically, which means losing a part of themselves, and facing the darkness of the untamed regions of their psyche, in order to emerge as the hero.

But Oryol is also ‘fickle-minded’. The epic states that Oryol sometimes helped Handiong in the killing of wild creatures that roamed Bikol like the Pongos. Only recently, Prof. Zeus Salazar authored a book about an archeological find in Libmanan, Camarines Sur entitled “Liktao at Epiko: Ang Takip ng Tapayang Libingan ng Libmanan, Camarines Sur.” It is interesting to note this research as Salazar asserted an important part of the epic Ibalon, how Oryol ‘changed her mind’ and helped Handiong. The epic-fragment itself is silent on why Oryol changed her mind and later on helped the principal hero Handiong. The said cover of the burial jar (now in the Museum of the Holy Rosary Minor Seminary in Naga) purportedly implies an ancient civilization in Libmanan possibly founded by a Historical Handiong. Important in the argument of Salazar is the part in the artifact where a man seems to be talking to a snake whose left hand is holding a deer, perhaps an offering. Salazar asserted that this was the missing part in the epic where Handiong talked to Oryol.

Salazar writes:

Malinaw na naging batayan ng pagsimula at pag-usbong ng kalinangang Bikolnon ang pagkakasundo nina Uryol at Handiong… Sa pagkakasunod-sunod ng mga pangyayari, naganap ang pakikipaglaban ni Handiong sa mga buwaya at sarimaw bago niya kabakahin ang mga “ahas na may boses na parang sirena” (las serpientes, que tenian/cual la sirena la voz) na kalahi/kampon ni Uryol. Sa katunayan, tila kampon nitong huli hindi lamang ang mga kalahing ahas kunid gayundin ang lahat ng hayop at nilalang sa balat ng lupa at karagatan – kasama ang Usa na sa “epiko” ay tila iginalang ni Handiong simula’t sapul (hindi niya pinagpapatay; sa katunayan, walang nabanggit na Usa sa “epiko.”) Nagmimistulang panginoon ng kahayupan, kakahuyan at lupa si Uryol. Kung kaya’t sa tingin ni Uryol nilapastangan ni Handiong ang kaayusang likas sa rehiyong Bikol nang ito at ang mga Bikol ay dumating at pakialaman dito ang mga hayop at iba pang nilalang, sapul ng kapaligiran/kalikasan. (2004)

The seeming fickle-mindedness of the snake-woman in the Spanish version of the epic is understandable in this light. This conceptualization of Nature-Woman, Snake-Change is parallel to the mystery cults in the western traditions (represented by the cult of Demeter) and eastern traditions (represented by the cult of Kali-Ma). The balyana as an important social figure comparable to the hadi, raha or datu is an embodiment of the power that is symbolically portrayed by Oryol in the epic. As daughter of Aswang, the balyana is also the initiator in the community as she performs the rites of initiation to one stage of human development to the other; From menarche to motherhood, to crone-stage and for men, puberty, adulthood and then death. But not only is the balyana the officiator in these rites, she is also an initiator to the mysteries of life. As daughter of Aswang, she teaches the community to face their fear of death and to accept that evil (karaotan) is an integral part of life.

As snake-woman, the balyana teaches the community of change, of the seasons and the tides and women as the governors of seasonal change, the ebb and flow of water and phallus. Being the officiator in major planting rituals, the community acknowledges her as an embodiment of the seasons (birth, life and rebirth) capable of calling the seeds to grow and the earth to be fertile as her own womb. As snake-woman, she is wild and nubile, the personification of the ancient forests and the fertility of Nature, later on subdued (talked-over as pointed by Salazar) by the civic-minded Handiong, himself a symbol of a different change that foreshadows a great revolution in the culture of the ancient Bikolanos.

The balyana and Oryol relate and connect such heterogenous things as birth, becoming, death and resurrection; the cosmic darkness, prenatal existence, and life after death, followed by a rebirth as seen in the moon. The balyana’s and asog’s rituals were expressions of these experiences. Oryol is the symbol of the earth and the mystery of its transformative powers.

We then wonder how these images were transformed, infused or maybe appropriated in the Bikolano’s devotion to Ina – Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia. How did the Cimarrones, the ‘pagan’ inhabitants of Mt. Isarog, saw and conceived in their minds the stories of the Virgin riding the moon? How did they feel and apprehend their first glimpse of white priests in their skirts? What were the gossips in the village when the Black Virgin, shaped like the distant mountain of Mayon , brought to life a decapitated dog, in the riverbank of Naga (-Nagini)?

[Illustration of the Haliya (done during lunar eclipses) ritual re-imagined by Mr. Pen Prestado]

Sources Cited:

Brewer, Carolyn. (1999). “Baylan, Asog, Transvestism, and Sodomy: Gender, Sexuality and the Sacred in Early Colonial Philippines,” http://wwwsshe.murdoch.edu.au/intersections/issue2/carolyn2.html.

de Lisboa, Marcos. (1754) “Vocabulario de la lengua Bicol”.

Eliade, Mircea. (1961). “The Sacred and The Profane: The Nature of Religion,” (New York: Harper & Rows) p. 11.Reyes, Jose Calleja Reyes. (1992) “Bikol Maharlika,” (Manila: JMC Press).

Kramer, Heinrich and Sprenger, James. (1971). “Malleus Maleficarum,” (New York: Dover).

Salazar, Zeus. (2004). “Liktao at Epiko: And Takip ng Tapayang Libingan ng Libmanan, Camarines Sur,” (Quezon City: Palimbagan ng Lahi).

Love for the Poor (Message to the AJCUAP SLP Participants)

To the participants and faculty of the member-institutions of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities in Asia Pacific, volunteers and staff of this AJCU-AP Service Learning Program, Dios Marhay na banggi sato gabos, good evening.

In behalf of Fr. Joel Tabora, chairman of the AJCUAP, I would like to extend his warmest greetings of welcome to everyone, especially to the participants and faculty-mentors of our different member-institutions and extend also his sincerest gratitude to the Ateneo de Naga University for hosting this event. I am especially thankful to my alma mater for graciously hosting the 6th Service Learning Program and for courageously facing head on, a chimera, a monster so familiar its face is the face of our neighbor: poverty.

The theme for this year’s SLP is a beautiful message, and a profound challenge. Love for the Poor. The poor here is not some abstract, and occasionally present ‘other’. Western idea of the ‘other’ does not quite fit in our oriental appropriation of the neighbor, who is not completely the ‘other’ but also of us, in us. The ‘kapwa’ in Tagalog and Bikol, the ‘isigkatawo’ in Bisaya. Poverty then is not some distant situation, nor is it a place where we go to for exposure and immersion, but a condition felt and experienced by our kapwa, the ‘other’ who is also of us. We are already in poverty, immersed and fully exposed, yet seemingly blind and deaf to this reality. Only through compassion, of ‘suffering with’, of putting ourselves in their shoes, do we realize that a suffering world, a suffering neighbor, is also a suffering us. It is the aim of this SLP that you find the ‘kapwa’, who is also yourself, in the abject conditions of poverty.

‘Love for the poor’ most of all is a Gospel message and a Jesuit mission. The universities and schools, as venues and agents for change, are moved to action by this message. We gather here as different educational institutions with different visions and missions prompted by local needs, but ultimately we come together in the spirit of Jesuit Education as an apostolic instrument, in the service of the church as it serves society. In this SLP, we invite you dear participants to reflect on the actual situation of today’s world and to respond to the call of Christ who had a special love and concern for the poor. To be a self-transforming experience, this contact, this encounter through the service learning program, must be joined with reflection and intimate meditation.

Lastly, I wish you all to enjoy your stay here in Bikol, surrounded with the warm smiles of the Bikolanos, some of us poor but also richly blessed with God’s graces.

I wish you all a blessed and profound experience here in Bikol.

Dios an mabalos saindo gabos. Thank you.

Ang Hapag-Kainan Bilang Talinghaga sa Paglinang ng Pambansang Pagkakakilanlan

Noong nakaraang National Archives Congress (17-18 ng Nobyembre 2012) na isinagawa sa Pamantasan ng Ateneo de Davao, tinanong ni Paring Bert Alejo, SJ kung ano ang pambansang pagkain ng Pilipinas. Madali rin ang aking sagot, na kulang na lang binatong pasigaw sa naglelektyur na pari, na lechon (lechon!) ang pambansang pagkain. Bakit nga ba hindi lechon kung makikita mo ang inihaw na buong baboy sa karamihan ng ating piging, piyesta, salu-salo, sa bahay man ng mahirap o mayaman? Sa katunayan, tama naman ang sagot ko sa tanong ni Paring Bert. Lechon nga daw ang pambansang pagkain. Sa paglilinaw naman sa isang lathala ng Pambansang Komisyon para sa Kultura at mga Sining, hindi naman daw pambansang simbolo ang lechon kundi ay isang cultural icon na hindi isinabatas bilang isang pambansang simbolo bagkus ay nakagawian na nating mga Pilipino kasama na nang adobo, sinigang at pati na rin siguro ang pambasang kamao na si Manny Pacqiuao[1].

Ngunit may mga sumunod na tanong si Paring Bert na nagbukas sa mas malalim na pagpapakuhulugan dito. Bakit lechon kung hindi naman nito naisasaklaw ang mga kapatid na Muslim? Bakit lechon kung marami naman sa mga Pilipino ang hindi kumakain ng baboy gawa ng pagbabawal ng kanilang relihiyon? Bakit lechon (de leche o lechón na nangangahulugang batang baboy[2] sa wikang Kastila) kung tahasan naman itong dala ng mga mananakop?[3] At ano naman ang kinalaman ng pagkain sa pambansang pagkakakilanlan (national identity)?

Hindi ko masasagot sa ngayon ang mga tanong bukod sa pinakahuli. Sa pagtatangka kong sagutin ito, magsisilbing gabay natin si Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, isang antropologo na nag-aral sa papel ng mga galaw sa kasaysayan ng bansang Hapon sa paghubog ng kanilang pambansang pagkakilanlan na naka-sentro’t naka-ugat sa bigas, palay, at kanilang sakahan.

Pinamagatang “Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time” ang kanyang libro na nailimbag taong 1993. Sa librong ito ay binigyang diin ang paraang pangkasaysayan na gumagamit ng diachronic na lapit o ang pag-aaral ng isang penomena habang ito ay nagaganap sa tahas na haba ng panahon. Sa paraang ito ay binigyang tuon ni Ohnuki-Tierney ang bigas at kung papaano ang isang pangunahing pagkain ay naging isang makapangyarihan at makapukaw na simbolo ng kolektibong sarili[4] (collective self) ng mga Hapon. Sa kanyang paraan ng pag-aanalisa ay maaari ring masagot ang tanong natin na “ano ang kinalaman ng pagkain sa pambansang pagkakakilanlan (national identity)?” Sabi ni Ohnuki-Tierney malaki ang kinalaman ng pagkain sa pagtaguyod at paglinang ng pagkakakilanlan. Hinalimbawa niya ang oposisyon ng pangunahing pagkain o staple food ng mga Asyano at mga taga-Europa: ang pagkain ng bigas vs. tinapay[5].

Ang pagsasalungat na ito ng “tayo” at “sila” o ang “pagkain natin” at ang “pagkain nila” ay isa nang tahasang pagpapahayag ng pagkakakilanlan kung saan nabibigyang halaga ang pagkakaiba-iba, hindi lamang sa pagkain pati na rin sa kultura. Ngunit pinalagom rin ni Ohnuki-Tierney ang diskurso dito gamit ang kasaysayan ng Hapon. Sinabi niyang hindi naman biglang umusbong na lamang ang ganitong kamalayan at pagpapahalaga sa bigas/palay. Sa panahong ika-walong dantaon lang naman ani’ya nagsimulang maging simbolo ang bigas/palay at sakahan bilang pambansang pagkakakilanlan. Sa katunayan nga daw, noong panahong Edo sa Hapon, ay pagkain ng mga nasa mataas na posisyon sa lipunan (ang mga bagani at mga namumuno) lamang ito, at may malawak na “agwat sa pagitan ng mga magsasaka at ang mga kumakain nito na hindi nagsasaka”[6].

Sa kanyang pananaliksik, nahinuha ni Ohnuki-Tierney na nagsimula lamang na maging simbolo ng pagkakakilanlan ang bigas/palay at ang mga sakahan noong panahon na lumalaganap at nanghihimasok ang kulturang Tang ng Tsina sa Hapon. Mapatutunayan ang paglaganap ng kulturang ito sa kanji o ang sistema ng pagsulat na Hapon na gumagamit ng mga karakter na galing sa Tsina. Sa panahong ito minabuti ng emperador na si Tenmu[7] ang pag-komisyon at pagpalaganap sa mga sari-saring kwento, alamat at mitolohiya na magtatatag ng pagkakakilanlang Hapon na naiiba sa Tsina. Karamihan sa mga kwentong ito ay bumabanggit sa “bigas/palay bilang mga diwata[8][9]. Isa sa mga kwentong ito ay ang alamat ng unang emperador na si Jinmu, anak ng diwata ng tangkay ng palay at apo ni Amaterasu (diwata ng araw). Binigyan si Jinmu ni Amaterasu ng mga binhi ng palay at binigyan ng sugo na baguhin ang mga isla ng Hapon mula sa pagiging ilang at magubat hanggang ang mga islang ito ay mapuno ng mga ginintuang palay.

Samakatuwid, mula sa mga kwentong ito ay nabuo ang kamalayan na ang mga bigas/palay ay mga diwatang-nangatawan at ang pagkain nito ay nangangahulugang pag-iisa ng banal at ng katawang-lupa ng mga tao. Dugtong pa ni Ohnuki-Tierney:

Since human lives wane unless the positive principle replenishes their energies, humans and their communities must rejuvenate themselves by harnessing the positive power of deities (nigimitama).[10]

Pinakita ni Ohnuki-Tierney sa Rice as Self na ang bigas/palay, kaluluwa, diwata at nigimitama ay magkakapantay na simbolo, at dahil dito, ang pagbabahagi ng bigas/palay at mga produkto mula dito ay isang akto ng commensality sa pagitan ng mga tao at diwata[11], pati na sa mga kapwa-tao. Mula sa ganitong pagpapakabuluhan ng mga mito at alamat ay umusbong naman ang mga iba’t-ibang ritwal na naka-sentro sa bigas/palay.

Sa isang banda naman, binigyan rin ng hulugan ni Ohnuki-Tierney ang sakahan bilang panlipunang katumbas ng mas indibidwal na bigas/palay. Ang simbolo ng mga sakahan at palayan ay nabigyang kabuluhan at kahulugan bilang katumbas ng grupong kinapapalooban, halimbawa ang pamilya, ang nayon o ang bansa. Maraming binigay na halimbawa si Ohnuki-Tierney dito. Isa na ang ang mga inukit na woodblocks na kadalasa’y nagpapakita ng agraryong kanayunan at pati na rin ang mga tula at sanaysay na may mga tagpo sa sakahan o ‘di kaya’y mga gawang-biswal na nagpapakita ng nayon sa panahon ng pagtatanim o anihan. Sa gayun, ang sakahan din ay naging talinghaga ng pambansang pagiging-Hapon.

Ang pagkakakilanlan ng sarili, samakatuwid, ay isang proseso ng pagyari at pagbibigay-kahulugan na nagmumula sa kagustuhang mapa-iba at mapa-lawak ang agwat ng sariling “akin” at “sayo”. Makikita ito sa kasaysayan ng bansang Hapon kung saan minarapat nilang (marahil ang ‘nila’ ay tumutukoy lamang sa mga ilang nasa ‘itaas’ ng lipunan) maging iba at kakaiba laban sa patuloy na pagdagsa ng kulturang Tsina at pati na nang mga kanluraning kultura.

Ngunit, kumakain rin naman tayo ng kaning bigas, hindi po ba? Ano ang pagkakaiba nating mga Pilipino at ang iba pang Asyano na kumakain ng bigas sa mga Hapon? Paano ito na-solusyunan ng mga Hapon?

Ang sagot ay ang klase ng bigas/palay na tinatawag na Oryza japonica. Ang mataba, maliit at maputing bigas na ito ang isa rin sa nagpalawak ng agwat sa “bigas namin” at “bigas ninyo”. Kung ihahalintulad sa mahaba at payat na Oryza sativa at Oryza indica na nagmula sa kalakhang Asya, ang japonica ang mas pinapahalagahang klase ng bigas ng mga Hapon. Sa sanaysay ni Ohnuki-Tierney, binanggit niya ang diskriminasyon ng mga Hapon noong panahon ng Meiji sa pagitan ng ginmai (silver rice) na tanim sa bansang Hapon at ang nankinmai (bigas na galing sa Tsina) na mas mababa daw ang kalidad. Pati noong Pangalawang Digmaang Pandaigdig, ang bigas na japonica, na nangangahulugan ding “pagkadalisay ng sarili”[12], ay isinasantabi para sa mga sundalo. Ngunit hindi lamang basta Oryza japonica ang bigas. Kinakailangang tinanim ito sa bansang Hapon. Sinalaysay pa ni Ohnuki-Tierney na noong taong 1993 ay nagkaroon ng mga panukalang mag-angkat ng bigas mula sa California. Binatikos ito ng nakararami kahit pa nga ba magkamukha lang naman ang bigas na aangkatin at ang bigas na tinatanim nila. Kwento pa ni Ohnuki-Tierney:

Nonetheless, not just the government and farmers but also some consumers came to the defense of domestic rice and Japanese rice agriculture, arguing that rice paddies are essential for Japanese land, functioning as flood control by serving as dams, soil conservation, preservation of underground water, purification of air and water, and beautification of the land. We see the recurrence here of the spatial metaphor of rice paddies as our land.[13]

Pinalalim naman ni Ohnuki-Tierney ang diskurso sa kaganapang ito noong 1993. Sinabi niya na ang reaksyon na ito ay nagpapatotoo lamang sa mas malalim na pagpapakabuhulan, hindi lamang sa pagkadalisay ng bigas na tanim sa bansang Hapon, kundi pati na rin sa pinaniniwalaan nilang pagkadalisay ng kanilang pagkakakilanlan at ng kanilang pagiging-Hapon.

Marahil dito ang akmang guang para balikan natin ang sarili nating hapag-kainan.

Kapag piyesta sa amin sa Naga, Bikol, karaniwan nang makikita ang mga sumusunod sa hapag-kainan: caldereta, pancit (canton o guisado), spaghetti, adobo, piniritong manok, higado, gulay na laing, gulay na sili (o mas popular na Bikol express), mechado, chiffon cake, fruit cocktail at leche flan. Sa unang tingin natin ay tunay na piyestang Pinoy ang handa, ngunit kung susuriin karamihan dito ay mga lutong Kastila (caldereta, adobo, higado, leche flan, mechado), Intsik (pancit), Italyano (spaghetti) at Amerikano (cake, fruit cocktail, at fried chicken). Ano nga ba ang pagkaing Pilipino na makaka-representa at magiging talinghaga sa pagiging Bikolano? Maaari nating sabihin na ang gulay na laing (natong sa salitang Bikol) at ang gulay na sili ang tunay na lutong Bikolano. Maihahambing din dito ang ugaling ‘purist’ ng mga Hapon sa libro ni Ohnuki-Tierney sa ugali ng mga Bikolano na magsasabing “bako man yan natong[14]” o “bako man arog kayan an pagluto ning ginulay na lada[15]” kapag nakakakita o nakakatikim ng luto ng hindi Bikolano. Kung aalalahanin nga ang komersyal sa TV ng Maggi Magic Meals Bicol Express, ay maraming Bikolano ang nagalit sa paraan ng pagluto na pinakita sa nasabing komersyal. Hindi naman daw ganoong nilalagay lang sa supot ng plastic ang karne, sili, gata at Maggi “Bicol Express” powder ang pagluto nito. Nakakainsulto daw sabi pa ng isa kong kaibigan. Samakatuwid, isa ring tahakang pag-insulto sa pagkakakilanlang Bikolano ang ganoong pag-“commercialize” ng isang lutong Bikolano. Marahil ito rin ay bunga ng sinasabi ni Ohnuki-Tierney na “food.. as a powerful and evocative symbol of the collective self of the people.

Makikita at mararamdaman din sa iba pang lutong ‘Pilipino’ ang daang taong kasaysayan ng ating lahi. Sa mga lutong calderera, adobo at mechado, halimbawa, ay nanunuot ang impluwensiya ng mga nanakop na Kastila. Ang naiiba lang, at marahil dito tayo mahusay, ay ang pag-aangkin natin sa mga lutong ito bilang tunay na Pinoy. Kunin nating halimbawa ang adobo. Mula sa lutong Kastila at Mehikano, ay kung anu-anong inobasyon ang ginawa natin dito: ang Bikolano ay pinapatuyo sa sariling mantika ang karne, ang mga Ilokano naman ay binababad ito sa bawang at marami pang iba.

Tunay nga sigurong sa paglikha natin ng pagkakakilanlan ay kinukuha at pinapaghusay natin ang pira-pirasong maganda, makabuluhan, at malinamnam sa ating kolektibong kasaysayan upang angkinin at tunay na gawing “atin” – bukod tangi at hitik na hitik sa talinghaga.


“The ‘Pambansang Kamao’ as Told in His Own Words,” Manila Bulletin, Pebrero 2, 2011.

National Commission for Culture and the Arts. “The Philippine Fact Sheet”, Balanghay, paglalathala bilang 3, Mayo-Hunyo 2012, nakuha noong Hulyo 25, 2013, http://www.ncca.gov.ph/downloads/balanghay.pdf.

Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko. Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time, “Education About Asia 9, bilang 3 (Winter 2004).

Ohnuki-Tierney, Emiko. Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993).

Wikipedia. “Lechon,” nakuha noong Hulyo 25, 2013, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lechon.

Wikipedia. “Suckling Pig,” nakuha noong Hulyo 25, 2013, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suckling_pig.

[1] Manila Bulletin, The ‘Pambansang Kamao’ as Told in His Own Words.”

[2] Wikipedia, Suckling Pig.”

[3] Wikipedia, Lechon.” Maaari ring tingnan ang: National Commission for Culture and the Arts, “The Philippine Fact Sheet”, Balanghay, paglalathala bilang 3, Mayo-Hunyo 2012.

[4] Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time, “Education About Asia 9, bilang 3 (Winter 2004): 4.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ika-apatnapung emperador ng bansang Hapon, taong 673-686 B.C.E.

[8] Ginamit ang salitang diwata sa kabuuan ng sulatin na tumutukoy sa salitang Ingles na deities.

[9] Ohnuki-Tierney: 4.

[10] Ibid. 5.

[11] Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Rice as Self: Japanese Identities through Time (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993), 44-62.

[12] Ohnuki-Tierney, 2004: 8.

[13] Ibid.

[14] “Hindi naman yan laing”

[15] “Hindi naman ganyan ang pagluto ng Bikol express”