Feminism Ala Babaylan

Manila Bulletin, September 20, 2010 | Go to article overview

Feminism Ala Babaylan


MANILA, Philippines - It is hard to believe that modern Filipinas whose ancestors suffered two waves of colonial rule -- Spain in the 16th century and the United States in the early 19th century -- have a tradition of feminism that dates back to pre-Hispanic Philippines. Yes, every modern Filipina should know that she owes her freedom and strong-mindedness in part to a more than 500-year old tradition of intentional, forceful, and positive feminism, longer than the history of women's liberation in the West. The babaylans, an empowered class of women who reigned prior to the arrival of the Spanish colonials in the 1521, were healers, advisers of men, intercessors between material and spiritual worlds, inspirers of arts and crafts, and believers of a holistic world view, according to the scholarly writings of Dr. Fe Buenaventura Mangahas and Professor Jenny Romero Llaguno, co-editors of the 192-page Centennial Crossings, Readings on Babaylan Feminism in the Philippines, published by the C & E Publishing Inc. in 2006.Identifying with the babaylans nowadays, appreciating what they went through when their men were defeated by colonial rule -- how these women hid, survived, and preserved their culture during the colonial era -- will give feminists in the Philippines a more solid historical ground to stand on in their advocacies on freedom and responsibility.Majority of Filipinas would not have found it necessary to strut in the 70s and in the 80s like their bra-burning sisters from the West who eventually became anti-male and anti-family. At the time, feminism, coupled with romanticism and rebelliousness, claimed a major role in attracting young female intellectuals in universities to join the Maoist red flag. Later, many of them were dismayed to find out that macho culture was not only present but remained strong in the underground movement.Well, the season of tears is over and it's not too late to get affirmation from an older past, sisters, asserts Mangahas, former chair of the Social Sciences Department of St. Scholastica College and now a full time book writer on history and Philippine feminism."I have been studying the babaylans since the 80s," she recalls. In a joint project with historian Dr. Zeus Salazar in 2000, Mangahas remembers reconstructing the Philippine prehistoric socio-political structure in the pamayanan (kingdom) as containing four types of leaders: the datu (king); the sundalo (warrior); the panday (technologist) and the babaylan. "In 2005, I coined the word babaylan feminism because many believed then that we did not have an indigenous tradition of feminism," says Mangahas. This was more than 30 years after she, too, almost succumbed to the belief that Western feminism presented the right model for emerging, liberal Filipinas. For Mangahas and Llaguno, modern-day feminists can use babaylan as an adjective to identify Philippine feminism. In a sense, the babaylan-spirit is like a cross to ward off the Draculas of the past and the neurosis of colonialism which have burdened us with disturbing questions about identity. …

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