Dr. Juana J. Pelmoka wrote that the ancestral religion of the pre-Hispanic Filipinos was not paganism. The word paganism was derived from the word pagan, which itself was derived from the Latin pagus and referred to all religions who adored a false God. Under this definition, Judaism and Islam can not be called paganism because they believe in one true God. In the same manner, ancient Filipino religion can’t be called paganism because it believed in one true God (Pelmoka 111-112). Perdon pointed out that pre-colonial Filipinos were animists (Perdon 20).
This one true supreme God is known as Bathala, Maycapal, or Bathala Maycapal by the Tagalogs, Lauon/Laon by the Visayans (writer - particularly the Ilonggos), and by other names by other ethnic groups. Bathala came from the Sanskrit bhattara (Scott 40). Of the different names for the Filipino supreme God, Bathala is the one most often found in Philippine history textbooks. Bathala has also been known to have been used by the Cebuanos and Boholanos.
Amaya chose to use the name Abba to refer to the ancient Filipino supreme God. Abba is actually another term for Bathala. Abba was also among the old Cebuano words recorded by the Spanish chronicler Antonio Pigafetta in 1521 (Pigafetta).
Although Amaya mostly used the word Abba, it also made reference to Laon. In one scene, Dian Lamitan did mention the God Laon. In another scene, during the June 29 episode, when Amaya rose from the dead, an alabay who witnessed the event muttered, “Mahal na Laon!” The Panaynons used this name and later, with reverence, was applied to what is now known as Canlaon/Kanlaon in the mountainous regions of Oriental Negros. The original name was actually Kang Raon/Laon “For Raon/Laon (Kinaray-a).” It should be noted that even up to the present day Canalaon still holds a very esoteric part of Negrense life. Many have pilgrims to Canalaon every Holy Week in search of anting-anting and other esoteric powers or to simply comply with the yearly panumpaun “vow (Hiligaynon)” for those who own such magical items.
Bathala or Abba was supposed to be the creator of the universe and all things. Thus, he was superior to all other deities (Agoncillo & Alfonso 50; Pelmoka 119). The pre-Hispanic Filipinos had other lesser deities who had limited powers and their own functions or specializations, not unlike the Greek and Roman Gods. Magwayen, the Goddess of the Other World, was featured in one of the episodes of Amaya where the lead character was crossing the spiritual river after her death.
The pre-Hispanic Filipinos also believed in the Diwata who were spirits who dwell in nature. The word Diwata was derived from the Sanskrit devata and was well known for its distribution throughout the central and southern Philippines. Both Bathala and Diwata were variously applied to Gods, spirits, omen-birds, and idols (Scott 40). Diwa, the root word of Diwata, means “God, spirit” (Luengo 18). Pandaki, the righteous babyalan diwata, fought Magwayen for Amaya’s soul.
Archaeological finds show that ancient Filipinos practiced a local form of ancestor worship, which is an influence from the Chinese (Halili 51, 58). This would come to no surprise since the pre-Hispanic Filipinos had commercial relations with Sino traders since time immemorial and archaeological excavations show that Chinese porcelains are scattered all over the archipelago. Some other cultural influences by the Chinese, which were shown in Amaya, will be discussed in a future part of this series of articles.
In his La Antigua Civilization Tagala (1887), Paterno wrote that the soul of the dead was called Nono or Anito (Paterno 148). Note that the Tagalog word for ancestor is ninuno. The Visayans called their ancestor spirits umalagad, from the root word alagad “follower.” The spirit in the kapid “twin (Hiligaynon)” snake of Amaya is an umalagad. Paterno and Agoncillo likened the ancestor spirits to the saints of the Catholic Church (Paterno 148; Agoncillo & Alfonso 50-51). The early Filipinos believed these spirits could defend them before Bathala (Leogardo 29).
The pre-Hispanic Filipinos believed in the immortality of the soul and in life after death, much like Christians do. The Visayans believed that the soul of the dead went to either Ologan for good souls and to a place of doom called Sulad for bad souls, a concept very similar to the Catholic heaven and hell. The equivalents of Ologan and Sulad in Tagalog are Kawalhatian “State of bliss” and Kasamaan “Evil” (Agoncillo & Alfonso 50; Halili 58, Zaide 24; Pelmoka 120).
Ologan (or what was termed as Saad in the series) and Sulad were depicted in Amaya with visual distinction. The scene where Amaya was riding a baroto “small boat (Hiligaynon)” with Magwayen reminds me of similar scenes in old Greek-themed movies where souls of the newly deceased aboard the boat of Charon (Kharon) cross the rivers Styx and Acheron, which divides the world of the living and the world of the dead.
Amaya correctly depicted the spiritual leader of Rajah Mangubat’s banwa as a babaylan since the setting of the story is in central Panay. Babaylan is a term used in the Visayas and according to a Tausug friend of mine, is/was also used in pre-Islamic Mindanao. The priestesses of the pre-Hispanic Filipino animistic religion were variously known in different parts of the archipelago. Among these names are/were balyan or balian, baylan (Bagobo), baglan (Ilocano and Pangasinan), catalonan/katalonan (Tagalog), dawac, mambunong, mammalian (Pampango), mangngallag, and mumbaki (“Frequently Asked Questions”). It must be noted that while these priestesses may exercise similar functions and gifted with similar powers and skills, they must have differed from their other counterparts in certain aspects due to regional necessities and culture. So the use of the term babaylan is appropriate.
The babaylan had several functions: healer (hilot, herbalist), fortuneteller and diviner, shaman, ritualist, chanter, spiritual medium, sage, keeper of oral tradition, philosopher/adviser, etc. Because of the wide scope of natural knowledge the babaylan had, she had great influence in a barangay, just as was shown in Amaya where even Rajah Mangubat could not go against the words of the head babaylan.
The babaylan of pre-Hispanic Philippines were mostly females, usually elderly, just as was depicted in Amaya, which goes to show that women in those times held a an important status. A man can become a babaylan if he acts, dresses, and speak like a woman or if he is a transvestite (Chirino; Boncan et. al 78). In later centuries male babaylans were recorded to have led revolts against Spaniards and even against the Americans.
When the Conquistadores came they forcibly uprooted the babaylans from the Filipinos’ cultural foundation as to be displaced by Christianity, a move the babaylans opposed. Our history records that a number of revolts were led by Babaylans, noteworthy of these babaylan leaders were Tamblot of Bohol (Tamblot Uprising, 1621-1622), Tapar of Oton, Iloilo (Tapar Revolt, 1663), Ponciano Elopre (nom de guerre: Dios Buhawi) of Negros, and Dionisio Magbuelas (nom de guerre: Papa Isio; a.k.a. Dionisio Seguela & Dionisio Papa y Barlucia) (?-1911) of Himamaylan, Negros Occidental (babaylan rebellion, 1896-1907) (Halili 113, 118; “Philippine Revolts Against Spain”; “A Chronology: The Ilonggo Nation”; Bauzon 37; “Papa Isio Marker Unveiled”; Cuesta). Note that these babaylan leaders were males. Another uprising, Bankaw’s Revolt in Leyte (1622), was led by the aged chieftain of Limasawa Bankaw with his sons and the native priest Pagali (Halili 113).
In essence, Amaya infused life into these religious beliefs and practices gathered from our storied past, interpret it within the framework of the storyline, and present it in pleasing visual terms so viewers can internalize it better than if it were just in plain script in history textbooks. The visual presentation definitely helps in ingraining the data into the viewers’ subconscious. The broadcast media is without a doubt a powerful tool to convey ideas. It is in this way that Amaya differs from the average soap opera on TV.
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Boncan, Dr. Celestina P., May Dorothy dl Jose, Jerome A. Ong, John N. Ponsaran, and Dr. Grace Estela C. Mateo. Philippine Civilization: History and Government. Manila: Vibal Publishing House, Inc., 2006.
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“Frequently Asked Questions.” Center for Babaylan Studies (CFBS). Retrieved: 5 jun. 2011
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Pigafetta, Antonio. "First Voyage Around the World (1519-1522)" Document 15. Documentary Sources of Philippine History. Gregorio F. Zaide. Manila: National Bookstore, 1990. 81-210.
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