filipino genesis

filipino genesis30 Oct 2014 11:01 pm

bagobo ancient herbal wisdom – Mt. Apo’s babaylan – sage-priest-healer

Mt. Apo’s Babaylan – Sage-Priest-Healer
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Filipino Genesis 02
By Bernie Lopez




At the end of the fourth and last glacial period, about 10,000 BC, a momentous human dispersal across half of planet Earth began from Burma and southern shores of mainland China. Archaeologists call it the Austronesian dispersal, which took 5,000 years and was so complex that there are conflicting theories. The Austronesians are the ancestors of present-day Filipinos, Indonesians, Malaysians, and Polynesians, or more popularly known as the Malayo-Polynesians or ‘brown race’. They were pre-historic mariners, the first boat people of human history, free spirits obsessed with wanderlust. The rising of the sea due to the melting of the polar icecaps triggered the dispersal. As the land shrank, they built their makeshift mini-Noah’s arcs. Centuries before the Phoenicians roamed the calm Mediterranean in the first known wooden ships, the Austronesians had reached the remote islands of the vast Pacific, Fiji, Samoa, and Hawaii, using tiny makeshift boats (balanghay in Pilipino).


The first waves of people in the Philippine archipelago, whose total shoreline of its 7,100 islands is greater than that of continental USA, settled in the lush coastal plains. Succeeding waves eventually drove away the first waves, who sought refuge in the inhospitable mountains. Today, the 180-odd ethnic groups, about half having distinct linguistic categories, remnants of that dispersal, are scattered, their purity and heritage at the mercy of rapid assimilation into the modern age, their ancestral lands at the mercy of big business. Such were the Bagobos (bago means new, ubo means people or growth), the ‘new people’ first encountered by Spaniards in the Davao Gulf Coast. In truth, the Bagobos (a generic term which includes dozens of linguistic and cultural sub-groups all over Mindanao) settled in Mt. Apo, tallest mountain in the nation, during the dispersal period, centuries before the Spaniards arrived.


Click photo for blow up.

The color of the province denotes the largest ethnic group within that province, according to the 2000 census.


Bagobo Babaylan – Sage, Priest, Healer


absorbing the primordial sacredness
i sat still in the silence of the rainforest
disturbed only by the echo of bird songs
meditating on the ancient wisdom
of its keepers, the bagobos
and their supreme god apo sandawa
guardian of their micro-universe


I roamed the remote recesses of Mt. Apo, covering with Dojin Okada, a fellow journalist from Japan, the controversial PNOC geothermal plant, whose arsenic-laden wastes were poisoning a lot of people downstream. Our base was in Kidapawan at the foot of Mt. Apo, at the home of the late Atty. Sol Jubilan, human rights lawyer, champion of the oppressed, of the victims of rape, land-grabbing, and military abuse, who paid legal fees with chickens and eggs. We also covered the human rights violations and Pagsagop (rescue), orphanage for mutilated children war refugees, run by Betty Colmo, Sol’s woman Friday.


Once, I dared climb Mt. Apo alone in spite of my bronchitis recurring. When I reached the top, I was feverish and regretted my mis-adventure. My Bagobo guide brought me to a hot spring about 15 meters in diameter. On one side flowed ice cold water, on the other steaming water. You could choose the exact location of human endurance to hot and cold. I went for the safe center, slowly edging towards the hot as my body adjusted. I ended up immersed in the pool for a good one and half hours while my guide sang fascinating ancient Bagobo tunes that echoed across the misty rainforest. When I got up, I spewed out all my phlegm and my fever was gone instantly . My guide said it was instant healing from Apo Sandawa, god of their mountain realm, because he looked with favour on me for helping to protect their territory from the multinational.


Babaylan is the Bagobo term for the wise old man, the sage everyone looked up to for wisdom, who knew about the primordial earth, about the ancient mores handed down by oral history, the laws of synergy with Mother Nature needed for the Bagobo to survive, the sage who spoke with authority on political matters, especially conflicts and alliances with Christian lowlanders. He was also the tribal priest who could talk to Apo Sandawa in dreams, who received his sacred messages to the Bagobo people, who conducted wedding and harvest rituals. Finally, he was also a healer, a medicine man, who prescribed rare rainforest herbs for ailments. Bagobo herbal science is 2,000 years old, handed down by oral history.


I met two babaylans introduced by Sol, Datu Ito and Datu Hirang. Dojin theorized Datu Ito was a nisei, half Japanese, half Bagobo, because Ito was also a Japanese name. He was statuesque and could look like a Japanese. I played devil’s advocate. The Japanese farmers came to Mindanao for sanctuary from the oppressive Meiji Shogunate at the end of the 19th century. They integrated well with the Bagobos of Mt. Apo, and became ‘invisible’. They were the pioneers of the abaca plantations. They were the peace-loving gentle Japanese who would later be forcibly conscripted as spies by the Japanese Army in World War II. Today, 3 to 4 generations of Japanese descendants, nisei, sansei, yongsei number about 25,000 nationwide, concentrated in Davao and the Cordilleras. They completed Kennon Road when the Filipinos and Chinese workers gave up. Ironically, the vicious Meiji opened the doors of Japan, which had been in isolation for 200 years, to usher in World War I.


I sat with Datu Ito for half a day as he walked me through quickly across centuries of Bagobo oral history, the peopling of Mt. Apo, the legends of wars and peace. I wrote feverishly, realizing the treasure of that meeting. My hand was complaining. My pen and notebook were running out. He told me of Apo Sandawa talking to him in dreams, giving him advice on what to do with the crisis of dealing with lowlanders. He would wake up suddenly from a dream and it would all be crystal clear in his mind. The Bagobo dream culture awed the anthropologists.


Then there was Datu Hirang. He was a warrior and an herbalist. I interviewed him in his humble home in Kidapawan. When I mentioned Apo Sandawa, he suddenly stood up, went to the inner room and produced a black stone wrapped in cloth, so smooth and shiny, so perfectly egg-shaped that I thought it was machine made. He said Apo Sandawa told him in a dream to look in the rainforest for the ‘power stone’ meant only for him, lodged in the roots of a giant balete tree. For months, he searched for the stone in vain, until one day, hiking in an area not frequented by NPA platoons, he saw the tree he recognized from his dream, and scrambled to find the stone in the roots. And there it was, waiting for him. He attributed to the stone his healing power from Apo Sandawa as a babaylan, his ancient herbal wisdom.


One day, his stone vanished. He was worried because he may lose his healing powers. He apologized to Apo Sandawa and begged him to help find the stone. After a week, a fellow babaylan came to return the stone, and knelt before him begging for forgiveness for stealing it. The babaylan said that when he stole the stone, he got a high fever that would not go away. Only then did he realize the stone was meant only for Datu Hirang. As soon as he returned the stone, his fever vanished. Skeptics may frown on my journal, but I believe this story as part of modern Bagobo oral history, a heritage treasure.


Probing into the ancient herbal science of Bagobos, I asked Datu Hirang to give me examples of healing herbs. He mentioned the herbal names in unfamiliar Bagobo names, so I just wrote them down phonetically, asked what ailments they cured, and formulations and dosages. Speaking as a non-expert in herbal medicine, I was amazed how sophisticated the circa-2,000-year-old Bagobo herbal medicine was. They had herbs for everything from menstrual spasm, boils, ulcers, high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, cysts and kidney stones to be melted, tuberculosis, measles, sterility, and even cancer. They had anti-fever, anti-swelling, antibiotics, anti-allergy herbs. They had herbs for the eyes, kidneys, lungs, liver, blood. After an hour of notes, I realized I was documenting on paper for the first time in Bagobo history their herbal medicine handed down orally through generations. I was in fact doing a Bagobo herbal primer which was never done before.


But, Datu Hirang stopped me dead on my tracks. He said Bagobo herbal medicine intentionally remained oral and unwritten and secret for centuries in fear of lowlanders harvesting them massively into extinction, until the rare ancient rainforest herbs given as a gift by Apo Sandawa to the Bagobos of Mt. Apo would vanish. I instinctively gave my notebook to Datu Hirang. He laughed and said he trusted me. I asked how he can trust me when we just met, and at stake was a thousand-year-old secret. He just smiled and said he knew by instinct he could trust me. So that notebook is buried, forgotten, in my archives of about 80 journal notebooks.


Back to Datu Ito, he complained that their ancient herbal resources were indeed vanishing due to the wars between soldiers and rebels. The AFP would set forest fires to deny cover to the NPA. Some of the rare herbs unique to Mt.Apo could no longer be found. I suggested that I would look for funds for a series of Bagobo safaris to collect rare herb seeds or plantlets, and put them in a nursery run by Bagobos. Dispelling fears of undermining the millennium-old secrecy, he was willing to take the risk to save the rare herbs. He said it was a good idea and gave me a go signal, adding that Apo Sandawa would be pleased. The six months project would cost about P150,000 but I reduced it to P20,000 (first phase only) in fear of being turned down. Never mind the name of the scientist in the National Museum who turned down my measly P20,000 proposal that would save centuries of endangered herbs, whose value is indeterminate. He had different ideas of how to use funds for ‘research’ done by his own people. Maybe I am just a sour-grapes fool, but I regret that to this day.


Datu Ito told me Bagobo herbal science is dying because it would die with the handful of surviving babaylans, what with the unwritten law of secrecy of herbal wisdom pass down only to direct kin. He mentioned names, two in Bukidnon, one in Cotabato. I frantically took down their names in the hope of looking for them before they die. But journalists are like eagles who don’t flock. You find them one at a time. Without an institution or resources, freelancers like myself are helpless.


I suppose the project can still be revived in spite of many herbs now extinct. There is still a lot to save. Sol and Datu Ito are now dead, but there are new contacts and hopefully a few herbalists are still alive. If there is anyone out there interested to help the Bagobos, just email me please.


I was fascinated with the dream culture and herbal science of the Bagobos of Mt. Apo. I told myself to avoid romanticizing them, to stick to the facts of my interviews, and avoid verses. But I cannot write without emotions for my heart is with them, Sol, Betty, Datu Ito, Datu Hirang, the beautiful Bagobos I met. The inspiration and wisdom I learned from them are priceless. They are the window to the forgotten vanishing realm of ancient Austronesians.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
come, blessed of My Father
inherit the kingdom prepared for you
since the beginning of time
for I was hungry and you gave Me food
I was thirsty and you gave Me drink
I was naked and you clothed Me,
ill and you cared for Me
amen, I say to you whatever you do
for the least of My brothers you do for Me
halikayo sa Aking tahanang
hinanda para sa inyo
buhat pa noong unang panahon
kayong mga nagpakain sa Akin
noong Ako ay gutom
nagpainom noong Ako ay uhaw
nagbigay ng damit noong Ako ay hubad
nag-alaga noong Ako ay may sakit
amen, ito ang pangako Ko sa inyo
anumang ang inilaan ninyo
sa Aking mga dukhang kapatid
inilaan niyo na rin sa Akin
Matthew 25:35-45
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
behold I shall rescue them from oppression in the north
I shall gather them from the ends of the earth
the blind and the lame in their midst
and the mothers with child
they shall all return as one vast nation
they departed in tears but I shall console and guide them
I shall lead them to brooks on level ground
so that none shall stumble, for I am the Lord God of all
Jeremiah 31:8-9
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
st francis of assisi would pray 8 hours a day inside his hut
his prayer consisted of five one-syllable words
‘my Lord and my God’
he would say this repeatedly
for 8 hours with different emotions
‘my Lord and my God’
from awe and reverence
to contrition and penitence
‘my Lord and my God’
it would fill him the whole day
and at night his hut would glow
from his intense halo
‘my Lord and my God’
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
of what use is your vast empire
if your home lies in ruins
of what use are your endless conquests
when your empire has conquered you
of what use is your fame and fortune
when you lose your immortal soul


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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filipino genesis01 Aug 2014 02:37 am

THE SURVIVOR AS FILIPINO austronesian roots

The Pinoy’s Austronesian Roots


Filipino Genesis 02
By Bernie Lopez
Permission is granted to re-publish with credits and notification.
Disclaimer – the views in this article are those of the author’s alone.


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The genesis of Filipino spirituality can be traced to events that started 10,000 BC. At the end of the fourth and last glacial period, a momentous human dispersal that would encompass half the globe and take five thousand years, began from the area now called Burma in the china mainland.


Archeologists call it the Austronesian dispersal. They are the ancestors of present-day Filipinos, Indonesians, Malaysians, and Polynesians, or more popularly known as the ‘brown race’. They were ancient mariners, the first boat people of human history, free spirits obsessed by wanderlust. Centuries before the Phoenicians roamed the calm Mediterranean in the first known wooden ships, the Austronesians were probing the inhospitable South China Sea in their tiny makeshift boats (balanghay in Pilipino), spreading out to the vast Pacific as far as Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa.


Hugging the Vietnamese and Indonesian coasts in the absence of celestial navigation, they headed south towards Borneo. In one theory, the dispersal split into two. One group headed north towards the Philip­pines, the other east towards Celebes. In another five millennia, they would reach Micronesia and every nook of the vast pacific. The dispersal was so complex and spanned eons that there are today varying theories on migration patterns.


The essence of the Filipino is then primordially nomadic. He avoids ‘rules’ that inhibit his freedom. He is a traveller and adventurer, taking unreasonable risks casually. That is why we have millions of overseas workers, who are unmoved by warnings of wars in the Middle East. He is extremely adaptable, that is why he is the first choice as overseas workers. He speaks English well. He is a genius in improvising when resources are meagre. He is a survivor in times of crisis and want. During the lean summer, the Mangyans of Mindoro eat ‘stones’ as if it were chocolate. They are actually hardened lime-based clay rich in mineral.


The series of articles on “Filipino Genesis” will focus on stories and anecdotes about the ancient primordial Filipino emerging into the 21st century. This is the second of the series.


Filipino Genesis 01
filipino genesis24 Jun 2014 07:15 pm

THE WISDOM OF ANCIENT NOMADS tribute to the badjaos

A Tribute to the Badjaos or Sea Gypsies of Sulu
Filipino Genesis 01
This is the maiden issue of a new series entitled ‘FILIPINO GENESIS’
By Bernie Lopez
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Permission is granted to re-publish with credits and notification.


Discerning  the Spirituality of Ancient Nomads
To nomads and wanderers, like the Badjaos, the best way to fight violence is with a calm peaceful spirit. To them, material survival is peripheral, spiritual survival essential. To them, territory is nothing compared to freedom. They will not fight for a piece of land, but simply seek new edens in their wanderlust. The spirit of the Badjaos or Sea Gypsies of the Sulu Seas has been elusive to the best anthropologists, whose perspective has been boxed by civilization, education, and intellectual condescending bias.
in our superiority complex
we want to educate ancient people
we forget that they can educate us
in their ancient wisdom
It was rush hour. I was riding a jeepney in Alabang. A young girl, about 15 years old, hopped in. She had dirty clothes and un-shampooed hair. She gave an envelope to each passenger, now a new trend in begging. It was better than the hard-sell stretching of a hand. When a passenger did not accept the envelope, she simply put it on his or her lap. I found that irritating and rude. To avoid getting the envelope, I waved my hand and gave a non-verbal facial expression to show my irritation. She just smiled, turned away, and finally sat behind the driver.
She sang a strange song softly, hardly audible in the din of traffic. But I knew from the tune that she was a red-blooded sea gypsy of the Badjao tribe. I have been to their area as a journalist. They come from remote islands in Southern Palawan and the Sulu sea, the backdoor to Borneo. Extreme poverty has forced the Badjaos to the big cities hundreds of kilometers away to beg. Badjao children swim in the violent swirl of giant ships maneuvering in urban ports to dive for coins thrown by passengers, as shown in this old photo.
Badjao boy diving for coins dangerously close to a giant passenger vessel. Cebu City.

The driver cursed and shouted at her to get out of the jeepney. He hit the steering wheel violently in anger, and made a move as if to go down and drag her out just to scare her. The girl simply smiled, not embarrassed, and stood her ground. She was used to being treated that way in the cities. Her gentle spirit was beyond the reach of the angry driver. No one could hurt her unless she willed it. The cruel outside world was at the tips of her finger. She stopped singing out of respect for the angry driver. She had no grudge against him. The angrier the driver, the calmer she became. No one could touch her soul. The other passengers looked at her with amazement. My irritation instantly turned into awe.
Finally she stood up. I frantically searched for a coin and found a five peso piece. I gave it to the Princess of the Sulu Sea, no envelope. She hardly looked at me and simply nodded slightly to show her thanks. Other passengers started filling up the envelope with coins. It was a big haul, if I may say. One old lady gave her a twenty peso paper bill, a jackpot for a beggar. The driver did her a big favor.
And so it was that thoughts lingered as I walked home. I had done extensive research on Badjaos years ago. Together with the Agtas of the Cordilleras, they were the last remnants of a vanishing race of pure nomads, people who have not shed off their wanderlust. They are the Filipino’s ancient forgotten heritage. The Agtas were the nomads of the mountains. The Badjaos were the nomads of the sea. The Princess was the nomad of the city.
I saw the glint of wanderlust in the Princess eyes. I could sense her adventure spirit. She could not have come here hundreds of kilometers from where she came from without money if she was not adventurous. Badjao children normally stow away in crowded passenger ships. In a sense, she was caught between two forces, two conflicting worlds – her spiritual world of nomadic hunter-gatherer survival and the material world of income survival she knew nothing about.
Among the Eskimos of the Aleutian islands, the nomads of the icy tundras, survival dictated that the first to eat were the hunters right in the kill zone. They got the best part of the still-warm meat and ate the best parts, the heart, the liver, raw and bloody. Among the Badjaos of the Sulu Sea, the survival logic was the exact opposite. The hunters were the last to eat the fish catch, after the women and children had their fill. For the Princess, survival was pooling all they could beg for among her small group into an evening banquet of rice and, say, almost rotten tomatoes with salt. They live for the day. Long term meant a week and they do not even think of that. One step at a time, that was how they survived.
What was amazing was their resilient communal spirit. They knew individualism was folly and communalism was wisdom and the key to survival. Together, this small band of Badjaos under the leadership of the Princess, partook of a quiet dinner in a dark corner behind the huge mall.
The Badjaos were so peaceful that if warlike Tausugs or Samals encroached on their turf, they simply left. I saw this in the Princess when confronted by the violent driver. The Badjaos valued peace and freedom more than the land. They will not fight for it. They had no sense of territory because their ancestors were bred for eons by vast unchartered seas. Now that the world was getting crowded, they have not adopted to territory and are in crisis. They roam freely forever and become victims of crowdedness. They have no place to go, yet they like it that way, even though they have become extremely poor in a crowded world of settlers. The material world was peripheral to their spiritual survival.
Badjaos live in makeshift houseboats. In Sitangkay, a tiny island close to Borneo, they run during a storm to the ‘safety’ of their boats rather than the safety of the land. The only time they stay on land was to bury their dead and to play basketball in the courts of the Christian settlers.
Once I asked a Badjao boatman how long it would take to get to our island destination. He dipped his hand into the sea, feeling how strong the current was, then pointed to the sky. I guessed he was trying to say we would get there about 2 p.m. Crude but sophisticated, wordless but crystal clear, ingenious celestial and ocean-tide navigation. Pure nomadic wisdom.
Anthropologists have gained little headway in learning about the Badjao mystique. They are hard to educate or influence. They are not really stubborn, only different in the way they view the world.
There are valuable lessons the Princess gives us in our extremely materialistic world of cellphones and computers, of anger and violence. The Princess is giving us a message, this beautiful girl cloaked in dirt with a radiant smile, a soft song, and a peaceful spirit that defied violence. Never be fooled by externals. Dig deeper into her inner world. She is a Princess. We just have to somehow open ourselves and understand. She and her small band of followers are children of the universe.
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