Friday, April 23, 2010


This is my first attempt to contextualize poems and poetry acts within the framework of Filipino core values or indigenous values. As a newbie to IKSP( Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices), I’m starting out by locating my work (I chose mine as I'm the least likely victim to complain at this approach which I'm forming as I'm doing/experimenting) through the help of Katrin De Guia’s Kapwa: The Self in the Other. I'm referencing Katrin's book because it’s the first book I’m reading on these issues after the Babaylan Conference widened my eyes inward. Other books, perhaps more primary sources, exist and I hope to share my read of them someday in this blog. I also long have walked with Leny M. Strobel but, with hindsight, can see that I wasn’t ready to really hear/understand all the lessons she’d been gifting through the years—perhaps another one of the messengers of the Babaylan anitos that I’ve ignored.

What this after-the-fact theorizing allows me to do is to explore IKSP on work I’d done prior to being consciously aware of indigenous values—I like this position today as I’m curious, too, on the strength of (my) blood memory. My first exercise in this series, for example, theorizes the implication of a conference performance I gave that concluded with me sharing a fart* with the audience. In my analysis below, my use of IKSP terms is possible only after reading several books after the conference—in other words, theory follows practice (as I usually prefer to be the case in poetry- or art-making).

I also am using my own poetry work as a laboratory for developing indigenous criticism, not because I want to aggrandize myself (though I don’t deny that my ego may find such to be gratifying). I’m undergoing this exercise, too, because I’d like to create a book-length project of indigenous criticism on Filipino poetry in the diaspora (I just finished a draft on another poet’s work, and if I feel it appropriate, plan to see it published in the next issue of
Galatea Resurrects: A Poetry Engagement), and I felt it best to make early errors on myself rather than others. I think it apt that I learn indigenous criticism by doing it--experientiality is an IKSP practice, yah?

Bahala Na. And as I’ve often blathered in the past as a poetics statement: Let’s see what happens!


Babaylan Poetics is a community-oriented poetics. It doesn’t try to avoid the personal “I” (as with some styles of Western contemporary poetry). It tries to make the “I” a “We” to reflect Kapwa—an indigenous value that’s been called the “Shared Self, the "Self in the Other," or the “Shared Life.”

During the Babaylan Conference (April 17-18, 2010), a book launch also was held for BABAYLAN: Filipinos and the Call of the Indigenous, edited by Leny Mendoza Strobel. As one of the contributors to the anthology (with the essay “Dawac/Action: A Babaylan Poetics”), I was asked for a five-minute presentation. I thought about reading a poem, or an excerpt from my anthology essay. Instead, I decided to let how the conference unfolded dictate what would become my presentation. The conference took place over two days, and the book launch was scheduled towards the end of Sunday, the second day—the timing, I thought, would allow me to experience enough of the conference and then have that experience dictate what I would present.

My approach was intended to reflect Kapwa as “shared identity”—I wanted the presence of conference participants in my presentation. As it turned out, my presentation also would come to reflect several IKSP values and practices (see the ending below).

An hour or so before the book launch, I still wasn’t sure what I would do for my presentation. I formulated its underlying strategy, however, after that Sunday’s morning’s plenary speaker presentation by Virgil J. Mayor Apostol. During his speech, he would come to break up his presentation by involving audience members to create a visual movement metaphor for a point he wanted to make. He asked audience members dressed (primarily) in white or black to come up by the podium. He divided them into two color-based groups, then whispered instructions to them.

Then he began the participatory performance. First, he showed the white-clad participants moving back and forth across the stage in flowing, circular patterns. Then, he asked the black-clad participants to walk back and forth in straight lines, making 90-degree turns when they had to turn. Then, with each group at either end of the stage, he asked them to walk towards each other.

For the black-clad participants, the result was chaos as they often had to break their linear patterns of movement when they intersected with white-clad participants. The result was smoother for the white-clad participants as they were more able to adjust with the flow of action, turning in smoother motions or enlarging/minimizing the shape of the curvatures of their walks.

The lesson was simple and clear: indigenous man behaved with flexibility like the white-clad participants, manifesting a harmony with their environment, versus the linear-thinking modern man. The white-clad participants were also showing the effectiveness of “Bahala na”, an IKSP trait that simplistically also can be summed up as an openness to seeing what happens (rather than attempting to control what will happen) and effectively interacting with what unfolds. Certainly, he noted, a wonderful example of the better effectiveness to going-with-the flow is maneuvering through modern-day Manila traffic....

Apostol’s means of communication also was community-based; he involved others in sharing his points rather than simply lecturing at the audience. Indigenous values are rooted in community.

During his presentation, Apostol also frequently made jokes, reflecting a widespread Filipino tendency and which, in IKSP terms, can be described as “biro” (see below). At one point, he remembered another conference he attended where he had to make a speech after a meal involving much beans. Thus, at that other conference, he occasionally felt the need to “pass gas” and then had to pretend to do a relevant tap-dance by the podium whenever he did so in order to hide the sound of a fart. This would come to inform my own book launch presentation, as I describe below.

The other Conference-sponsored event which would come to be of influence was a performance the prior Saturday evening by musical performing artist Grace Nono. The evening ended with most of the audience dancing in the aisles as well as on stage with her. Again, community was manifested—the stage was shared.

I, however, was one of the very few in the audience who did not dance. I might have hitched a shoulder once or twice, perhaps hiccupped, but I basically remained by my seat (though I did stand instead of remained sitting). What is probably significant, too, is that as a child I loved to dance. I was thoroughly into the disco craze in my teens. I even once took flamenco classes in New York City and, while not being very good, nonetheless was able as a result to write a flamenco book entitled Nota Bene Eiswein. Today, I’m still a major fan of the television show So You Think You Can Dance, while tolerating but nonetheless following Dancing with the Stars. But at the Grace Nono performance, I basically just ... stood.

The audience-integrated performances by Apostol and Nono came to dictate my five minute-presentation during the book launch. Reflecting the recognition of signs when one is located in what Filipino novelist N.V.M. Gonzalez (lauded for his notion of the Filipino as the “mythic man”) called “sacred time and space” where, among other things, creativity is unfettered (Guia, P. 4-5), I realized the significance of my own wardrobe during the conference. That is, the first day when I was scheduled to do a panel presentation on “Babaylan Poetics,” I wore a white outfit. That second day, though, I wore black pants, a pale pink blouse, and a black shawl. My choice of colors had been made prior to hearing Apostol speak and utilize black and white as metaphors (“talinhaga” is the IKSP practice whereby one communicates by metaphor).

Thus, for my book launch presentation, I thought of a performance that would utilize Apostol's and Nono's involvements, including the fart. But I was very nervous about it—how would the audience relate to said … fart? To try to elevate my presentation in case it bombed, I decided to bring one of my poetry books, I Take Thee, English, For My Beloved, and chose this poem to read as my ending
Tell me more of the unending radiance
your eyes discovered when pressed

against the hole into a honeycomb.
Say turquoise. Say my uncut hair

coiling around your eyes. Say berry.
Say your finger circled hard around

my toe. Tell me more of the unending
Radiance erupting when eyes pressed

against honeyed wombs. Say my name.
You don’t know my name? Make it

up. Then say our name. Tell me more
of the unending radiance of honeyed eyes.

I hope it’s a sign of my evolution that I thought to edit the last couplet before presenting it; the original (published) version features the phrase “Say my name” instead of what I now feel** is a better outcome, “Say our name.”

I thought to present the poem with some statement over the radiance of Filipina women and audience members, etcetera etcetera, which I thought would be a nice way to “save” a presentation-gone-awry.

Anyway, I went up to the podium and looked at the audience. I was clad in my second-day conference outfit of black pants, pale pink blouse, and a long black shawl; I made sure to draw the shawl around me so that my body looked encased in black.

There had been several presenters before me and we were ensconsed in the various ways to celebrate the launch of Leny’s latest and marvelous project. Dramatically, I began by announcing (words to the effect of, since I never specifically wrote down a speech),

[insert pause]


Having grabbed much of the audience’s attention, I then went on to explain that I was so SAD because, during the prior evening, while many in the audience were dancing about the auditorium to Grace Nono’s music, I was one of the few just standing there like a dead coconut tree (okay, maybe I didn’t say dead coconut tree—but you get the drift). Twice, I stepped out from behind the audience to illustrate my posture the prior night: in black clothes, I stood there still for a moment, entirely rhythm-less.

Returning to the podium, I then explained that, as inspired by Virgil Apostol’s plenary speech, I would first throw off the black shawl (this metaphor for how modernity had stultified my indigenous soul). With much ma-drama, I shook off my shawl and flung it towards the middle of the stage. Well, it didn’t actually end up in the middle of the stage as it got snagged by one of the tree branches from the art-altar created for the conference by none other than Katrin de Guia, the artist-author of the Kapwa book with which I'd come to spend much time. With hindsight, I now see how the snagging of the shawl physically manifested a connection with this author whose writings have so swiftly become important to me.

Oooops, I thought, even as I felt-heard a few snickers as the snagged shawl made me blanch. But I persevered. I knew most of the audience understood the significance of how I then stood before them in a light-colored outfit. I dramatically announced, “To celebrate this book, I shall now—in my post-black(ened) body, …

The audience erupted in laughter which only rose as I slowly walked out from behind the podium towards the middle of the stage. The hoots and hollers continued as I slowly turned my back to the audience and then, flung both hands up as I farted!

I didn’t apologize to those seated on the front row as, to more laughter and loud applause, I returned to the podium. Clearly, what someone would later call my “theater” was a resounding success. As an aside, this performance would later cause me to be accosted by two beautiful people—a young stud of a man and a woman my age (moithinks I’m a perpetual baket)—who would offer their willingness for a ménage a trois; but I digress…

As I reached the podium, the emcee Perla Daly approached to whisper I had “one second” left. Obviously, I didn’t have time to read a poem, but its role also was made unnecessary by the audience’s positive reception to my … gas. So I ended with the impromptu announcement (which, actually, is frequently tossed about my house whenever someone in the family unexpectedly belches or farts): “I hope that was as good for you as it was for me…”


Well. What happened in terms of my blood memory rising during the Conference? Note that I hadn’t thought about and was mostly ignorant of these practices whose terms first were developed through Sikolohiyang Pilipino, Filipino Psychology (much of it articulated by the work of Virgilio Enriquez). But my book launch presentation would come to manifest them (unconsciously on my part in terms of how I wasn’t creating what I presented from a paradigmatic approach aware of IKSP practices, core values and behavior patterns associated with such values):

Kapwa: shared Self or Shared identity

Pakiramdam: a “shared inner perception” that complements Kapwa and is a participatory event (Guia)

Bahala Na: long misinterpreted as passivity when it actually challenges people to act in their best capacity regarding problematic situations. Involves taking a risk in the face of possible failure and accepting the nature of things. Operates in uncertain and uncharted situations. Improvisational nature. Correlates with fields of chaos and complexities rather than with linear predicitona dn control. (These paraphrased phrases from Guia. Note to self: also see P. 31, 85, 86, 87-88, 102)

Pagkatao: Interconnection

Biro: joking around. Second nature to Filipinos, and is not just kidding around—it’s a playful tendency of teasing and joking acts as a psychological defusing mechanism, e.g. to reduce tension in arguments. A “surface value” reflecting the core values of Kapwa (shared identity or shared Self).

Talinhaga: the use of metaphor to communicate. A link HERE.

There undoubtedly are/were more things going on as I created my impromptu, improvised presentation. But I’ll stop here for now, except to note: I am quite early in articulating the role of indigenous values so feel free to let me know if I mis-use terms.

Cheers….and I hope this paper was “as good for you as it was for me.”

* Did I actually fart or not? I’m not telling. But, everything I do is perfumed….

** "I feel" versus "I think" reflects a long-time tendency that, once, I thought was simply a more modest way of proclaiming something (for example, when one inserts "For me" before presenting an opinion. I now understand that knowing-through-feeling (Guia) is actually an IKSP value.


At the Conference, we also celebrated the book launch with a cake designed to mirror the beautiful cover of the BABAYLAN anthology designed by Perla Daly:

Left to Right: Perla Daley, Lily Mendoza, Venus Herbito, Leny Mendoza, Lissa Romero, Eileen Tabios, Karen Villanueva and Maiana Minahal.


Cynthia said...

Hi Eileen, IKSP is swesomely interesting. Discovering the
knowledge and understanding of
other cultures is very important
in my life.

I'm fascinated by writers and thinkers such as yourself who
"write down the heart".

In my class the students as well
as myself are learning about
oral history and folklore and
the important place both play
[their function] in our current
everyday life.

Brava, on your presentation Eileen.
You truly went with the flow and
your audience was rewarded.

EILEEN said...

Thank you, Cynthia. When one is indigenized, one can even accept ... a fart !

(though I shouldn't speak for those on the receiving end)


Gura said...

Hi Eileen, I've heard of healers that would burp as they worked on someone. They described it has a way of expressing the blockages that they were removing. I can only assume a fart is similar. In order for the healer to protect themselves, they must be able to transform or transmit the "negative" energy as it were. Thus, burping, crying, symbolic washing, connecting with earth and/or water to cleanse, etc.

I'm still not sure if the adverse reaction to bodily functions is a Western thing or not. Some people consider farting a test of the intimacy they have with another person because it's so publicly offensive.

So you simultaneously did some cleansing and opened an intimate space for everyone to enter.

EILEEN said...

Hi Gura,
Ah--maybe that explains how one audience member exclaimed after afterwards, "Well--that cleared the air!"

As a test of intimacy? Aren't there, uh, better ways...?

But, hey, what do I know? Some people out there (I hear) fetishize the fart....

I feel full of winks today ;)


EILEEN said...

This is an email from the big fart himself -- wait, should I call him that? He's an expert on weaponry and martial arts, isn't he? Well, puuut. Bahala na...! Here's his *other* contribution to the discourse:


Hello Eileen,

I laughed my head off reading your write up! Wonderful!

The tap dance actually occurred in Mexico City when our host fed us beans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When it came time for healing work, that's when the gas would slip out, forcing me to attempt to cover up the sounds by tapping my heels on the floor. That evening, one of the hosts got up from the dining table and said, "Virgil, you think you're sly...", then began to make farting sounds followed by his rendition of my tap dance.

My purpose was not only to bring in some humor to the audience, as well as to illustrate the need of humor for health reasons, but to also illustrate the ability of laughing at ourselves.

Warm Regards,

Virgil J. Mayor Apostol
Rumsua: Ancestral Traditions

EILEEN said...

HI Virgil,
Thanks for writing. I'm convinced I'm a student of yours in a former life -- in this current life, I often laugh at myself.


EILEEN said...

Gura Michelle,
One of the best things to come out of the Conference is how it energized Mom into starting to write a series of memoir-vignettes. She just finished the first one entitled "Dawac," about a healer's process on one of her brothers when they were teens. And I just read it, after your comment above. In the story, Mom mentions that after the healer finished healing her brother, he had a glass of water and then a big belch. Apparently, said belch had to do with cleansing, as you similarly described...

One has to be careful of body as repository!

BagongPinay said...

eileen, was it leny who called your new poetry work "poot-ry"?


EILEEN said...

Hmmmm. I guess that goes in line with having been called "pu-wet" in the past....


BagongPinay said...

i'll let you do the sniffing. I'll let the pu-wet-ic perfume dissipate a bit more before i take a breathe.