Decolonizing: healing the crisis of modern cultures

Creative performances at the third International Babaylan Conference (Sept. 23–25) marks the beginning of a three-day event on the Sunshine Coast, bringing the Filipino community together and forging relationships.

There will be a multitude of presentations and workshops over the weekend to help with the process of decolonization and re-learning the sense of Filipino indigeneity.

“A lot of things that are happening in the world are happening because of history. People are looking for a way to heal, and a vision to move forward,” says Leny Strobel, project director of the Center for Babaylan Studies.

Focus on community dialogues

Leny Strobel, project director of the Center for Babaylan Studies.

Leny Strobel, project director of the Center for Babaylan Studies.

The term Babaylan refers to prominent figures in pre-colonial Filipino society. The Babaylans (who were usually women) were healers, prophets and mediums and served and assisted the community in a similar fashion to shamans, medicine men and the like. They were central figures in the community and participated in the Philippine Revolution in the fight to overthrow Spanish authority in the Philippines.

“I did research on the pre-colonial history of the Philippines, focusing on the Babaylans,” says Strobel. “I wanted to learn from them as revolutionaries and healers, for justice and peace.”

The Center for Babaylan Studies does that and more. Since being founded in 2009, they have hosted conferences and symposiums in Canada, the U.S. and the Philippines.

This year’s conference, co-hosted alongside the Kathara Filipino Indigenous Arts Collective Society, is about Babaylans –
and a lot more.

“This Babaylan discourse is under the broader heading of Filipino culture and practice,” says Strobel. “We’re providing space for people to experience, or to learn about, the process of decolonizing ourselves, getting in touch with your own indigeneity.”

Most of the attendees to the conference are Filipino settlers in Canada and the U.S., as well as people coming from the Philippines and Europe. They’re coming to listen, share experiences and simply enjoy or re-discover their own indigenous culture.

“It’s more than learning,” says Strobel, “it’s helping people experience it. The conference is focused on doing that, and bringing the community together.”

Building and sharing

The Kathara Filipino Indigenous Arts Collective Society was once a performing group, but was incorporated into a society in 2012. It is based in the Lower Mainland and looks to promote the art and culture of the Philippine indigenous peoples, as well as build relationships with the local First Nations.

“Our goal is to form relationships and help decolonize,” says Sobey Wing, a board member of the Kathara Society, “especially given the combined interest of reconciliation between the Filipino indigenous peoples and Canadian First Nations.”

There will be relationships built and strengthened at the conference: with the Squamish Nation and other indigenous groups present and a part of the event. The weekend will begin with a canoe ceremony from the Squamish Nation, as well as an opening ritual. What follows will be dozens of presentations and workshops from a large array of people sharing their thoughts and experiences.

“I’m sharing with a group my own decolonization and story,” says Wing, who will be presenting at the conference, “in a way that I think can possibly shape our role, with and as indigenous people, locally and abroad.”

The presentations are focused on different areas of indigeneity (the preserved customs and traditions of their ancestors): tattooing traditions, healing music, language revitalization, climate change activism, indigenous solidarity in the Philippines, Canada and more.

“This is one of our responses to what we feel is the crisis of modernity, crisis of modern cultures,” says Strobel. “We’re finding a way to respond that makes us whole, which is why we focus on healing colonial and historical trauma.”

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