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LGBTQIA+ History Month: Queer magic and pre-colonial Philippines

October observes LGBTQIA+ history and Filipino-American history.

"The Progress of Philippine Medicine", painted by Carlos V. Francisco, depicts the evolution of healing practices from pre-colonial Babaylan shamanism to modern medicine, according to the National Museum of the Philippines.

We were queer, divine feminine before the colonizers came – we should turn back to our roots to find freedom.

Note: I will not discuss queer pre-colonial Philippines from a western lens, but will provide insight connected to western values.

The Babaylan, for example, is considered a "shaman" of femininity – but this does not fully encapsulate the importance of their role.

In western terms: the Babaylan is viewed as a powerful cisgender or transgender woman. There was no gendered language or binary system before Spain, Japan and the United States invaded.

To understand Indigenous Filipino ideas, you must forget every binary confinement.

Decolonize your thinking.

Babaylans always grasped the power of femininity and had access to the spiritual world. They were present for marriages, exorcisms for the ill, they helped with pregnancies and knew of herbal divine lore.

"Pre-colonial Philippine societies, they were mostly animists," TED talk orator France Villarta said in The gender-fluid history of the Philippines.

Animists believe that all natural beings share a soul or an importance. The mountains, earth, animals and humans are all living and sacred.

Spanish Catholic colonialism stripped the Filipino people of Babaylans and portrayed them as evil witches, terrified of their powers of nature, spirit and queerness.

Colonizers taught young boys to be violent toward Babaylan villages, unlearning the teachings from their Indigenous culture of 700,000 years.

Decolonization theory has much to do with getting rid of this fear.

According to Belfi and Sandiford, "Decolonization is about 'cultural, psychological, and economic freedom' for Indigenous people with the goal of achieving Indigenous sovereignty — the right and ability ... to practice self-determination over their land, cultures, and political and economic systems."

There were words our ancestors once used to show how special and important queer people were – now those words are used as derogatory slurs.

Habitants of pre-colonial Philippines could marry anyone (meaning homosexuality was accepted), given a Babaylan's blessing. Even the deities and myths are queer.

Babaylans still exist today fighting for peace and queer equality in the Philippines.



Opinion Editor

Featured image courtesy of National Museum of the Philippines

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