What it means to practice and revive our indigenous belief system?
I often get asked what is it I actually practice, what I believe in, and if I practice alone or with a group. These are questions I sometimes ponder myself as I try to reconstruct and revive the indigenous beliefs and practices of the Philippines. Working alone, I don’t have the fortunate privilege of having a community to turn to, to discuss with in regards to Anituo. I have found very few people really interested in our indigenous beliefs and the structure of it. I hope one day there can be a community of like minded individuals where we can practice and celebrate together while sharing stories, thoughts, and contributions to the religion but for now I have to accept it as is.
As someone reviving our ancestors indigenous beliefs and bringing them to the modern day, there is a lot of work and research. Oh yes the constant research. We don’t have any written sources from our ancestors that we have found in regards to religion and folklore prior to colonization. Heck, the only document we do have is the Laguna Copperplate which talks about someone getting released from his debts. As simple as that document is though it does give an insight on what the people practiced as we now know at some point in time the people around the Tagalog regions followed an old Hindu calendar that is still used in India based on the inscription of the Saka year and mention of the month of Waisakha which is the local term for the Hindu month Vaisakha. But other than this we have no other documents written by us prior to colonization that we have found to date. In that regard we must make due with what we do have which are the Spanish historical written accounts of our ancestors. Some notable accounts well worth mentioning are those from Francisco Alcina, Pedro Chirino, Antonio de Morga, Juan de Plasencia, and Antonio Pigafetta, just to name a few.
Reading those various accounts one must take in what they mention about our ancestors beliefs and practices. I have written notes in a notebook dedicated to the research, writing down where the information comes from and by what group of people it was practiced by. Often times a problem that comes with Reconstructionist faiths is that all your time is consumed by research and not actually practicing. In a sense without the involved practice its not a living religion. That has been a problem with me in regards to my practice as I have spent my time researching but not actually practicing. However when there is no book or resource with the information I have learned and gathered readily available it is understandable but something I must also overcome if I want to revive the indigenous beliefs into a living religion in our modern age.
Besides those hardships however I have come to love what I do and what I have learned through all that research. I have learned names of deities that have been long forgotten today. Of rituals for harvests, sickness, and offerings to the spirits of the forests and seas when hunting and fishing that aren’t practiced anymore. Of the spirit houses our ancestors had by the rivers, forests, and outside the villages, that were often given offerings. Of a cosmology that derives from a native point of view coming from our environment living in islands by the sea and mountains, and of our understandings of where we as a people come from. Its this system of beliefs that are indigenous to us that make me continue researching and using that information into a modern practice.
One such example is the celebration of the moon. Our ancestors celebrated every full moon as a joyous and spiritual event as to them it was the time when the Diwata came down to earth. It was a time of feasting and welcoming the Diwata. I have taken this practice and celebrate every full moon as a holiday toward the Diwata. However, what I do that our ancestors didn’t do is that along with celebrating the Diwata, I also celebrate and give offerings to a specific Diwata for that lunar month and the following month another Diwata is celebrated.
For example this coming full moon I will be celebrating the Bisayan Diwata, Banwanun, who is the Diwata of the forests. During this coming full moon not only will I leave offerings to the various Diwata but I will also set aside a special offering to Banwanun of pork and chicken. If I was a hunter and hunted my own food I would give my first catch as my offerings as what was traditionally done by hunters as thanks to Banwanun for providing them game. However seeing as I live in the suburbs and don’t hunt, my humble offerings will suffice for the forest god. This celebration is part of a modern calendar that not only has a historical basis as a day of celebration but has added on something I have personally decided to celebrate as well during each full moon as a holiday for a specific Diwata.
Is it hard to practice Anituo when you aren’t living in the islands of your ancestors where the Diwata & Anito reside? At times yes, depending on the situation. For example, I would love to make a pilgrimage to Mt. Madyaas (or Madjaas) in Panay as it the home of the Bisayan Diwata, the Bisayan version of Mt. Olympus. There are so many myths revolving this sacred mountain, one that this is where some Bisayans go in the afterlife (the other place being in a tall mountain in Borneo). Another belief is that there is a tall tree belonging to the Diwata Si Dapa, that marks the lifespans of every individual once they are born. Another mountain I would want to personally give my offerings to is Mt. Kanlaon, the home of Laon, the Goddess of agriculture & harvests who is also the supreme deity among the Bisayans based on many of the historical accounts, all specifically mentioning that Laon is a woman.
However the Diwata aren’t the only aspects in our indigenous beliefs. More importantly was the veneration of our ancestors and spirits, known as Anito by many groups. There are numerous Anito, comprising of nature spirits, spirits of our dead ancestors, spirits of cultural hero’s, etc. There is an anito of the river, mountain, a specific tree, rock, etc. This belief is very animistic and the belief that there is a spirit in all natural things can be extended outside of the Philippines to nature in general.
Practicing in an environment outside the Philippines isn’t that hard though if you know how to connect with the Diwata and Anito and there are no real holidays practiced collectively throughout the islands besides harvest and planting festivals as well the celebration of the lunar months. Of course harvest and planting times here in the Northeast of the U.S. differs greatly compared to that in the Philippines, but even then there are variations of planting and harvesting times in various regions of the Philippines.
But back to the original question of what does it mean to revive our indigenous belief systems? For me as a Pilipin@-American living away from our homeland, practicing Anituo is something spiritual for me in connecting with my ancestors, nature, the Anito & Diwata, and reclaiming an indigenous spirituality that shaped who our ancestors were and our cultures.
Illustration by Pen Prestado
Apolinario Mabini is unfairly called “Dakilang Lumpo.” If Filipinos only knew that even without polio his greatness in history’s eyes would still be the same, we wouldn’t make such a fuss out of his disability. He never wanted to be treated with special treatment. In fact, none of his works explicitly make any excuse out of this physical limitation of his, other than a simple word at the end of his letters, his sign that says “The Paralytic.”
It has been 150 years since he was born in a humble hut of peasants in Talaga, Tanauan, Batangas. Mabini’s mother, Dionisia Maranan, a simple vendor, wanted his son to become a priest. Records do not say what caused his parents’ passing but we could only guess it was out of life’s hardships.
Mabini was there when Jose Rizal organized a special organization, the La Liga Filipina, “to unite the whole archipelago into a homogenous society.” He then fades into obscurity again in history until he was arrested by the Spanish authorities because of his involvement with the defunct organization. He would shortly be released because of his disability.
Never a cause not to move in the service of his countrymen, Mabini despite his disability, eventually saw the Philippine Revolution as a valid cause, but seeing it so disorganized, he felt burdened to guide the movement by writing articles advising the Filipinos on their next move.
Much to his pamphleteering, Mabini’s well-known Ordenanzas reached Aguinaldo, with recommendation from Felipe Agoncillo, saying that the man would be most useful in the Republica Filipina. As such, as if handpicked by Divine Providence, Aguinaldo who just got back in Cavite from exile, sent for Mabini, who by then was staying in Los Baños, Laguna.
From town to town, amidst scorching heat, the long trek of Aguinaldo’s men began, carrying this unknown invalid in a hammock. There were even accounts that say there was one moment when the men forgot Mabini in his hammock, leaving him there in the heat of the sun as the men were resting. And yet Mabini never complained. When he arrived, on June 12, 1898 at Kawit, Cavite, Mabini arrived late for the Independence Proclamation ceremonies.
Historian Teodoro Agoncillo writes:
"General Aguinaldo, now face to face with the invalid, was assailed by misgivings as to the advisability of employing the services of such a one. What immense trouble was needed to bear this invalid from town to town at a pace which military necessity would certainly require, and require often, considering the rebel situation! Aguinaldo felt that he must have made a hasty decision in sending for the paralytic who was then recuperating at Los Baños. To all appearances, Mabini was useless.
Doubts criss-crossed his mind. He was a bit embarrassed. For a few moments, the General and the Paralytic measured each other without uttering a word. There was tense silence verging on the ominous. Then Mabini spoke.
There was firmness in his words; there was a ring of deep conviction in his voice; there was, so Aguinaldo sensed, a largeness of soul and of vision encased within a weak body of this man for whom hundreds of men labored hard to bring nearer to the General.
As Mabini spoke, the General’s doubts were dispelled.”
(Malolos: The Crisis of the Republic)
Indeed, never judge a book by its cover.
To the man who became the Philippines’ first Prime Minister, and its foremost great political philosopher, who never fought with arms, but fought with conviction by the use of the mind and pen, this is your day.
Happy birthday, Apolinario Mabini!
More posts on Mabini HERE.
The Philippine government has launched a commemorative page on Mabini on his sesquicentennial. Visit gov.ph/mabini150 for awesome history maps, articles and more historical goodness.
*PHOTO ABOVE: A photo of Mabini, imprisoned by the Americans in Anda Street Prison Intramuros, digitally colorized by the Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office.
PAINTING ABOVE: “Sublime Paralytic Crosses a River” by Rudy Herrera
Studio Salimbal's art topic “Philippine themed magical girl”
her theme is a combination of Sampaguita (national flower) and Pearls. with her whip resembling the look of both pearl necklaces and sampaguita garlands
@heyksantos waiting for her cue. #AsikGirl #PAMANAcanada #Singkil #Filipino @pamanacanada
When you think of Buddhism one doesn’t really think of the Philippines as a nation with a history of the religion. Today Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion of the country followed by Islam. Due to Spanish colonization, missionaries brought Christianity into the islands and over the 333 years of colonization the majority of the people converted from their indigenous beliefs to the new faith. However prior to the colonization, there is a history in the Philippines that is relatively unknown, that is the influence of Buddhism and Hinduism. We have no awe inspiring monuments like Borobudur in Indonesia or Angkor Wat in Cambodia that indicate that Buddhism was prevalent. However we do still have evidence through the oldest document in the Philippines, the Laguna Copperplate, and various recently discovered artifacts. One of these artifacts is the Golden Tara, also known as the Golden Agusan Image, one of the only deity representations recovered in the Philippines.
In the words of UP scholar Dr. Juan Francisco, he described the golden statue as, ”One of the most spectacular discoveries in the Philippine archaeological history.” But how exactly was it discovered and who discovered it? In July of 1917 a flood and storm swept through Agusan Del Sur in the barangay Cubo Esperanza. After the storm a Manobo woman named Bilay Ocampo was on the banks of the muddy Wawa River where she eventually found the figure where it washed up from the river. The 21-karat gold figure dating to around 850 to 950 C.E. weighs 4 lbs and depicts a woman sitting in the lotus position in Buddhism, is ornamented with jewelry on her body, and wears a headdress. This figure turned out to be a representation of the Bodhisattva Tara. It is said that the Golden Tara after her discovery was handed to the former Deputy Governor Bias Baclagon then it was passed to the Agusan Coconut Company, because of a debt. It was then being sold and was purchased for 4,000 pesos by the wife of American Governor-General Leonard Wood, Faye Cooper-Cole, who was the curator of Chicago Field Museum’s Southeast Asian department. They then donated the Golden Tara to the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois, USA where it is currently held in the Grainger Hall of Gems. Dr. H. Otley Beyer, known as the father of Philippine Archaeology and Anthropology, tried to encourage the government to buy the artifact however all attempts failed due to lack of funds.
The story goes that when Bilay Ocampo found her, she decided to keep it as a doll. However she was told to give it over to Baclagon because they believed it was a diwata. Because of this it was previously called Buwawan ni Baclagon or Ginto ni Baclagon. However according to Bilay’s granddaughter, Aling Constancia, the Golden Tara wasn’t handed over but it was stolen from her lola.
Manila, Philippines: Protest in solidarity with Gaza, July 18, 2014,
'Hey Israel and USA, how many kids have you killed today?'
Lakota girl, ca.1875
This isn’t a Lakota girl she’s a Filipina mestiza de sangley
Bah! way to erase the woman’s identity.
Check your sources, gdi. *glares*
And her portrait is one of the most famous old portraits and recognizable among many Pilipin@s. The photo, which is called Mujer de la clase rica, was indeed taken in 1875, but not of a Lakota girl but a Filipina/Chinese mestiza by Dutch photographer Francisco van Camp who was well known during the 19th century for his refined portraits in the Philippines.
The fact this post got so many notes with misinformation, poor research, and thus erasing her ethnic identity saddens me.
I’ve been itching to share this for a while now. My last project was Cinderella, and since there’s already one version of Cinderella for Far Faria, I decided to do a Filipino version version just to mix it up.