Sunday, August 18, 2019

Images of Women: The Mebuyan feminist underworld

A MEBUYAN encounter with the indigenous feminist discourse reveals so many faces of the woman.

In her article from the “Womb of the Mebuyan,” Vivien Nobles reaffirms the power of the indigenous woman. “Mebuyan is the earth goddess depicted in the Bagobo myth as a beautiful pregnant woman whose body is covered all over with breasts and nipples. As earth goddess she is the mother who nurses all dead babies in the underworld. This definitely makes Mebuyan a fertility goddess, one whose creative activities never cease in the eternal cycles of life and death.”

As I honor the women who nurtured this Earth, I honor the Mebuyan in each one of us, the Earth goddess, nurturing, mother, life-giver. Nobles wrote that “The earthly wisdom of the indigenous peoples is now being reaffirmed. One insight to this wisdom is the reverence that the Tibetans have for the highest mountain peak of the Himalayas. The sacred mountain is called Chama Lomma, the Mother of the Universe. Likewise, the earth is Gaia, the Earth Goddess, Mother of all.”

Mebuyan Underworld
Mebuyan Underworld. (Painted by Maria Rosalie Zerrudo)

She added that for the Mandaya myth, “woman represents the land, where the land or the underworld, Bilibolan, becomes the realm of the Goddess Eboll. The Bagobos have a striking parallel in the myth of Lumabat and Mebuyan, the divine pair who according to one story fiercely fought against each other until Lumabat, the male prototype, ascended upward to become the sky and Mebuyan, the female counterpart, descended to become the goddess of the underworld.”

Reclaiming Mebuyan

In her studies, Agnes Miclat Cacayan gave us a deeper understanding of the road map to reclaiming the Primal as she resurfaced the positive Mebuyan Myth which “honors and restores the agencies and heritage of Filipino-Mindanaoan Women, of the Lumads, and of the Earth.” In the context of Filipino Feminist spirituality, “reclaiming Mebuyan is a way of reclaiming our own women heritage,” Cacayan added.

In many of my artistic exploits, I have been so inspired to paint women goddesses as my way of reclaiming my indigenous roots and feminine spirituality which was clouded by male patriarchy in my growing up years. Looking at the context of Mebuyan, Cacayan wrote and I quote “If, for many spiritual feminists in other lands, story is medicine,for us and our people, the sugilanon/kwento, like rice, has always been a kind of staple sustenance food. The impact of the symbols and metaphors contained in certain stories, as exemplified by the Mebuyan methos – for symbols and metaphors speak for and to our deepest feelings, desires and experiences – better than rational words can, because they address – as well as come from – the fertile unconscious or “underworld’ realm of our psyche.”


Feminism in the post modern era has been responsive to issues on misrepresentation, sexualized roles, and sexual colonization but also creating a commentary about woman’s superiority.

The danger somehow has created this convoluted power-trip in the materialistic constructs which is dangerous to both sexes when Parker commented in her article Born Again Feminism, “we were trying not just to be as good as men, but to be men… It turns out that women make lousy men.”

The notion of “emasculation” of women invented by women themselves as deterrent to their own self-construct was my idea of me being equal to men as I was growing up as a teenager. I thought I was as good as a man and stronger than most of the men in my family that gave me a sense of satisfaction as a woman.

Then I naturally switched off my feminine self as a defense mechanism to abusive men that surrounded me in my childhood. It makes me shiver that the woman in me inevitably was helped shaped by the men who traumatized me more than the men who loved me.

It is the shadow self of every woman who haunts her even she resists when her sexuality is the projection of the male persona that consumed her. I still suffer sometimes from my own nightmares of being a “woman”.

One particular strong decision that made the point is staying single as my own declaration of “feminist” privilege but also all the other mix undercurrents of being self-contained independent thinker that cannot stand the poor emotional quotient of men in general.

My own process made me resonate to the women writers in our readings as they superimposed and projected their own self portraits in the characters they created and the people involved in the shaping of those characters.

The act of writing during those repressive convent years in Martyrdom of the Holy virgins, Fides, Spes and Karitas was subversive enough as a way of exposing the internal dialogues of a woman.

In the Catholic colored community, the Virgin Mary plays the role model of purity. In this play, virgins as self- sacrifice are glorified which define the spirituality at that time. This particular morality play does not embody a feminist agenda but rather questions the violent rule of the church that has sacrificed so many women in the atonement of sins of men.

Here is one story I wrote in poetry for a woman artist, Frida Kahlo whom I admire for her heart and passion as story teller in her visual narrative as painter.

I love visual images which is one highlight of our Wednesday class when we have to show and tell about images of women.

In one person Kahlo embodies the many wolves that lived inside the women’s body. Her stories in her paintings are far beyond her time that echoed the pain as surreal protests on her canvass. The life of Frida existed in my pages just like revisiting the museums of the dead, for she had died many times being a “wife” and lover to a woman-hungry man.

Women in power

In a Newsweek magazine on Spring 2011, 150 Women Who Shake the World were featured. The words of Kathleen Parker caught my attention “until women are equal partners in the human race, we are less secure and surely less interesting” which is a striking sarcasm that until this modern intellectual era women have to assert their own place in the sun.

How far have we come from the birth of civilization? Should it come naturally as the milk for the babies coming out of the breasts of women who have to feed humanity before the invention of cow’s milk.

She is the mother milking cow, but the bare breasted woman of color has been a subject of the triple burden related to their gender, race and class and the many oppression even for the privileged white.

In America it took hundreds of years before the nation elected a black colored skin president and slowly admired a naturally charming black woman who runs the family of the president. In the same article, Michelle Obama America’s first black first lady is not just black for nothing, but proves herself equal if not better as she popularized a platform to tell the world that real change takes “one determined woman at a time” (Newsweek on-line).

Nowadays, we see some amazing women in powerful positions in politics, theater, business and even churches as priestess, and it is important that women have gained such places after all these years of struggles and subordination in a patriarchal society.

How far have we gone? According to the Newsweek statistics, only 3% out of 500 CEO of Fortune are women. (Parker) Do we say at least we have 3% of the bacon? Is this a race against men or a truce between what a man and a woman can do until this day and age? Am I joining the race? I am not interested personally. I have better things to do than competing with men. But it is still a society of male-dominated system.

Then as we sensitized the emotionally-handicapped men to take care of women, maybe we can add more quotas to our economic leverage. It is somehow scary that in China there are more men without women by the millions. According to statistics researched by Niall Ferguson of Newsweek “within in the age group 20-39 there will be 22 million more men than women.”

Is this the man cub scare in the near future? Or is this revenge as tragic humor that life may bring as punishment to men’s cruelty? The guilty shall perish deprived or in the absence of love.
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