The Babaylan Forum at Bago City-A A +A
By Betsy Gazo
Saturday, February 23, 2013
AT THE Babaylan Forum: Transcending Mysticism in Binabaylan, courtesy of Bago City’s Tourism Affairs Office, Dr. Alicia P. Magos, an anthropologist and Professor Emeritus at the University of the Philippines-Visayas (Iloilo City), discussed the importance of the babaylans in preserving our culture.
She is “now into Applied Anthropology where she devotes time advocating for the revival of indigenous culture through the School for Living Tradition (SLT).” Dr. Magos has devoted part of her lifetime profession in the authentication of Panay Bukidnon indigenous culture. The Bukidnons are a people found near the head waters of Pan-ay River in Tapaz (Capiz) and Halawod River in Iloilo. Yet, the main topic of her visit to Negros was about the babaylanes.
Pedro Caballero (declared a National Treasure) and Romulo Caballero are brothers who are both babaylans. They are two of the three babaylans in Panay and in them are the secrets of that mystical role in ancient society.
The babaylanes held varied and important positions in the old Filipino village. They were the manughusay or mediator for village disputes. They were the healers which included communicating with offended spirits, and possessing knowledge of medicinal plants. They were the repository of history through their sugilanon. They were our freedom fighters e.g. Papa Isio, Buhawi, and Gregorio de Dios.
Romulo Caballero narrated in the kinaray-a of his Kalinog, how his wife, one day, vomited blood. To defray the medical expenses that ensued, he had to sell two carabaos and thirty sacks of palay. Mrs. Caballero remained uncured until Romulo’s mother advised him to slaughter a red-feathered chicken which he did. The wife got well!
It was difficult for our colonizers to wipe out the babaylanes because the practice was part of the people’s beliefs. There was also no access to medical doctors. Besides, there was usually a pananubli-on within the household of the babaylan. They were either the children or the grandchildren who were exposed to the practice and imbibed these skills either consciously or subconsciously. Or, there was someone who was chosen to be the recipient of the babaylan’s powers.
The babaylan as historian memorized an epiko which he would tell through a chant. And chanting was usually done on a duyan. At the School for Living Tradition, the Caballeros teach young students chants from a duyan.
Our babaylan leaders during the Spanish and American eras worked with the elite in fighting for independence from our colonizers. However, while the upper class betrayed the revolution because of the risks involving their wealth, the babaylanes bravely continued the fight because they had nothing to lose in terms of worldly wealth.
Why do the babaylanes wear red? A red costume, according to Pedro Caballero “makabato sa mga malain nga espiritu; masilawan sila sa color.” The pulos or headband was worn by the members of the Council of Elders (“we belong to a warrior society,” said Dr. Magos) and showed that the babaylanes were respected in their barangay.
The forum opened the participants’ eyes to long-neglected traditions of our kamal-amans (ancients) which through modernization were not only in danger of being forgotten but also discarded for being incongruous.
Then, Dr. Magos warned that spirit dabbling has its dangers if one cannot handle strong spirits. Perhaps it was also the advent of Christianity that discouraged people from continuing these traditions. It is up to the present generation to discern and preserve what needs to be preserved to continue traditions that make us a distinctive race.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on February 24, 2013.