Wednesday, July 6, 2011

GMA’s Amaya: Fact or Fiction? By: James U. Sy Jr.



Part I: Overall Perspective

GMA’s new epic teleserye Amaya is a two-edged sword. It has its own merits and shortcomings and as to be expected, it received mixed reviews of both praises and criticisms. This commentary is by no means contributory to the raging network wars on cyberspace. Instead it is meant to give credit to what this teleserye means to the awareness of certain aspects of Philippine culture and at the same time, point out certain irregularities in the use, or misuse, of certain cultural and/or historical data in its storyline.

What is most commendable about the project is its effort to present the story based on cultural and historical researched data, something which is unheard of before, or at least not of this caliber. Amaya is both a milestone and a big risk for GMA. As far as is recorded and known, and as GMA advertised it, the teleserye is the first ever on Philippine TV to be explicitly based on pre-Hispanic Philippine history and culture. This makes it stand out immediate among its peer programs. Of course, the saleable programs are those centered on love stories and emotions, as Filipinos are fond of this formula as Korean telenovelas would show us. In essence, GMA is taking a big step by making something that has not been tried and done before. And it seems, they did well. The viewers just love Amaya.

As a native Ilonggo living in Region 6, I am glad and feel honored that the project Amaya took pains in presenting the rich pre-Hispanic culture of Panay, from which majority of the ancestors of the inhabitants of Negros Occidental also came from.

I am a professional and businessman, who in my free time engage in the research, study, documentation (and writing), promotion, and propagation of the various Ilonggo and other Visayan systems/styles of Arnis/Eskrima. While conducting data gathering for my book on Arnis, I traveled to several parts of the Visayas and a few in Luzon and Mindanao. I met the late prominent Ilonggo professor, historian, and author Dr. Henry Florida Funtecha, then the Director of the Center for West Visayan Studies (CWVS) at the University of the Philippines in the Visayas (UP-V). I was so inspired for his call for locals to write their own history and not to be passive to let outsiders do it for them. He believed that such history can be written nearer to its real essence if seen from the eyes of a local who has a fuller knowledge of the inner workings of the subject.

Although he himself had written several books on local Ilonggo history and culture, Dr. Funtecha stressed that much more has not been documented about the rich local traditions, culture, and history and that the work I’m working will be one of the milestones once finished because it is the only academically prepared work in its category in Western Visayas of date. If Dr. Funtecha is only alive today, I know he will be happy to see Amaya propagating Karay-a/Ilonggo culture and history.

It is a mistaken notion that the Philippines has only one culture. Since time immemorial, our archipelago was home to many different cultures. The history, culture, and language that have largely been associated with the Filipino people is that of Luzon, where our capital is located. But in reality this will vary from place to place. In Luzon itself, the Ilocanos and Igorots have their own unique cultures as compared to say, the Tagalogs. Although we have a national language, the Tagalog-based Filipino, the Philippines is home to more than a hundred languages, all except for one belonging to the Austronesian “Southern Islands” (Malayo-Polynesian) family of languages. Amaya is a big step in showing and instilling respect to this diversity of the different cultures housed in what is now known as the Republic of the Philippines.

It is my belief, as well as some of my researcher friends, that before we can be proud to be Filipino, one must first be proud of one’s own ethnic cultural heritage be it Karay-a, Ilonggo, Cebuano, Tausug, etc. Once one’s ethnic identity had been identified and appreciated, then we can join hands and say, inspite of our varied cultures, we are all Filipinos. The Philippines is home to several cultures and that is what makes Filipinos adaptable to different situations.

History is derived from either primary or secondary sources. Primary sources are those that have witnessed the event that took place or have been part of the incident being studied, i.e. written records, fossils, artifacts, and testimony from living witnesses. Secondary sources are those that are not part of the event in question, i.e. magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, typescripts, and articles written about the primary sources (Halili 5). Admittedly, Amaya is not perfect in fully depicting “accurate” historical/cultural details. This would be understandable because obviously, the makers of Amaya relied on secondary sources. While about a year was given to research the details in Amaya, it is not enough to conduct a primary sources search, which in itself is mostly reserved to the most scholarly of scholars. And it would not be practical to do so.

Whereas the makers of Amaya have consulted two UP professors, let us not forget that academicians themselves have their own fields of expertise or specialization, much as doctors and lawyers do. Some are into indigenous lifestyles, like Dra. Alicia Magos of UP-Visayas, who lived among the Panay Bukidnons and as far as I know, did the most extensive actual and live-in study of the Binukots. So consultants function best in their own field of specialization. It is my belief that the makers of Amaya had to fill in certain details which to them may remain gray areas even after consultation with noted experts.

I agree that Amaya is a good medium to educate but I take exception to what has been said during “The Making of Amaya” that all historical details used has been checked to be authentic. There are certain depictions that are not entirely true (I’ll point them out in the next parts of this article) and the average viewers may accept it as true. A distortion repeated many times ultimately becomes “the truth” and becomes hard to correct. As a researcher myself, I’ve seen this repeated over and over in the dissemination of the history of Arnis/Eskrima. If we want to study our culture and history we need to study it in earnest and with utmost dedication.

So let me give this cavet to all Amaya supporters and fans. Let us not forget that inspite of being based on actual history, Amaya is still historical fiction. History and historical fiction are two different things. Just like when we say “based on a true story,” which is not exactly the true story. GMA is prudent enough to include in their opening this line, “Mula sa original na katha para sa GMA ni Suzette Doctolero.” I don’t know if viewers have noticed this but they should see the teleserye as it is - historical fiction.

Part II: Linguistic Perspective

Renowned historian, professor, and author William Henry Scott, Ph.D., clarified in his classic work “Pre-Hispanic Source Materials for the study of Philippine History” that the only valid pre-colonial source materials for our archipelago’s storied past are archaeological finds, two medieval Chinese accounts, and a comparison of Philippine languages (Scott 139).

Of course, this is not to imply that pre-Hispanic Filipinos did not have a method of writing. Morga wrote in his Susesos en las Islas Filipinas that “almost all the natives, both men and women, write…” This has been echoed in the works of Fr. Collins, Paterno, and Retana. The sad fact is that early Filipinos wrote on barks of trees or on banana leaves, materials that do not stand the test of time (Zaide 29).

The effort of the makers of Amaya to include specific words that are indigenous to the culture depicted in its storyline is one of the reasons I hold it highly as a significant step in making Filipinos aware of their varied native cultures.

Language is a good reflection of the civilization that is using it. It is through language where emotions, abstract ideas, skills, knowledge, and tradition are transmitted by native speakers. It is a manifestation of the sophistication of a culture. The Binukots of Panay, for one, makes extensive use of chanting to transmit culture, at times reaching 33 hours, the longest recorded in our land.

When I was still in secondary school, I often hear of Hiligaynon and Cebuano being called dialects. But when I started my path to research, I found out that they were not dialects and are actually languages. A language is a system of vocal conventional signs characteristic of the interaction of one or two communities of human beings (“Language, Science of”). A language is mutually unintelligible with other people’s speech. A dialect is a regional variation of a language (Scot 33-34). Ilocano and Cebuano are both languages because their native speakers can not understand each other. However, there are languages which share cognates, i.e. words that are present in at least two languages with the same meaning, making their speakers understand each other to some extent. An example of a cognate is bangkaw which in both Cebuano and Hiligaynon means “spear” and balay which in both Hiligaynon and Pamapange├▒o means “house.” Boholano, on the other hand, is a dialect of the Cebuano language, characterized by its changing of the Y to J in Cebuano words.

All the native languages in the Philippines except for one belong to the Malayo-Polynesian subgroup of the Austronesian linguistic family, which is spoken from Hawaiian to Madagascar and from Easter Island to Taiwan. The Malayo-Polynesian family has over 1,200 living languages (“Philippines” 752).

The primary language used in Amaya is Tagalog, which is the basis of the national Filipino language. The series’ use of deeper Tagalog words is commendable and creates greater awareness for the classic version of the language. The effort to exclude Spanish-derived words in the series is also a big step in realism as the series is set in 15th Century pre-Hispanic Philippines. However, it is noticeable that several Spanish loan words had inadvertently found their way into the script, such as lugar (in the 7th episode), para, sobra, sigurado, etc. The production team needs to look into this closer if they wish to remain true to GMA’s ad that the Spanish loan words had been left out of the series.

For Tagalog viewers who do not speak any of the Visayan languages, it would be prudent to note that not all the words in the series are Tagalog. Many of these “new” sounding words are actually Hiligaynon and/or Kinaray-a, the two major languages out of the more than 40 languages/dialects spoken in Panay, the island from which the cultural foundation of Amaya was based from (Regalado & Ernesto 56). Hiligaynon ranks is the fourth in the 8 major languages of the Philippines according to the number of speakers (Zaide, G. & Zaide, S. 23). Hiligaynon is concentrated in Iloilo and Negros Occidental Provinces as well as in the Panaynon Provinces of Aklan, Antique, Capiz, and Guimaras and many parts of Mindanao such as Koronadal City, South Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat. As a second language, it is spoken by Karay-a in Antique, Aklanon and Malaynon in Aklan, Cebuano in Siquijor, and Capiznon in Capiz.

Noteworthy of these Hiligaynon and/or Kinaray-a words are babaylan (shaman), bakunawa (mythical snake like creature), balay (house), bana (husband), banwa (town), baroto (small boat), bangkaw (spear), baladaw/baladao (dagger), binukot (hideen princess), bulawan (gold), coral/codal (fence), datu (chief), dungan (life force), gubat (fight/warfare), hampang (play), hanagaway (warrior), hanagaway (warrior), himalad (palm reading), husay (comb), iloy (mother), isog (brave), kalag (soul), and oripun (slave) among others.

Baladaw (baladao), Hiligaynon and old Cebuano for “dagger,” is variously rendered as balaraw in Tagalog and baraw in modern Cebuano.

Dungan has been translated in the series as “soul” and/or “willpower,” if I remember it right. Dungan is a very abstract Hiligaynon term which one will have difficulty in finding an exact English translation. The Ilonggo dungan is comparable to the Chinese chi, Japanese and Korean ki, Indian prajna, and Greek pnauma, all referring to the vital life force that energizes the body and gives it life. It is not a soul per se because one can extend it out of one’s body like in healing or injuring another person. The usual usage of the word dungan by Ilonggos is often found in the expression unahan sang dungan, in reference to two people having either a physical or verbal conflict where one could not move or say anything temporarily. In this case, one’s dungan had overpowered another’s. Unahan sang dungan is akin to what is called as aura (of the human body) in Kirlian photography. If one’s dungan is strong, it pushes another’s dungan back before it can be projected outward, thus that person is rendered motionless temporarily.

Gubat is a Hiligaynon word which means “fight.” When used as a verb, gubat becomes mangubat (the name of the evil rajah in the series) or gubaton (a real life surname of Arnis grandmasters in Bago City, Negros Occidental). Another term for “fight” in the Hiligaynon language is away, the root word of hangaway “warrior” and mangaway “to start a fight.” Angaway, one of the characters in Amaya, is a variation of hangaway.

Oripun is obviously Kinaray-a. Its Hiligaynon and old Cebuano equivalent is olipun. Note the difference in R and L. Kinaray-a is the parent language of Hiligaynon. The name Kinaray-a was derived from iraya (ilaya in Tagalog) “people living in the mountainous area.” The Kinaray-a language is spoken by the Karay-a people in interior parts of Antique Province in Panay as well as most towns in Iloilo Province and some villages in Mindanao which traces their origins to Antique. It is said that the Chinese mestizos who lived in the lowlands of Panay could not pronounce the R of Kinaray-a and ended up replacing it with L. A good example is paray to palay and turun-an to tulun-an. The term oripun is found in Dr. Scott’s work.

In the July 6 episode, malipayong adlaw was muttered twice, by Marikit and the punong babaylan. Malipayon and adlaw are Hiligaynon words for “happy” and “day” respectively. The addition of G in malipayon is obviously based on Tagalog grammar, as when we say maligayang padating “happy arrival” from the root word maligaya. The hilgaynon convention is to put a “nga” between malipayong and adlaw, i.e. malipayon nga adlaw.

It is also important to note that some of the Visayan words that have been used in Amaya were among those recorded by Antonio Pigafetta, Ferdinand Magellan’s chronicler, during their landing and stay in Cebu in 1521, and some are also cognates that are found in the Hiligaynon language. Among these old Cebuano words (modern Cebuano equivalents in parenthesis) were Abba (God), bulawan (gold), baladao (dagger - baraw), and campilan (cutlasses - kampilan) (Pigafetta). Amaya also made use of modern Cebuano words (older versions as recorded by Pigafetta in parenthesis) such as bangkao (spear - bancan), baroto (small boat - boloto ), rajah (king - raia), and ulipon (slave - bonsul) (Rubrico).

In the July 6 episode, the Cebuano word kauban was used with the meaning katuwang. Kauban can be more closely translated as kasama in Tagalog.

In at least two instances, when Datu Bugna was training the young Amaya, Cebuano counting was introduced i.e. isa, dua, tulo. Since the setting of the story is Panay, I was expecting the counting to be in Karay-a, i.e. sara, darwa, tatlo, or at least in Hiligaynon, i.e. isa, dua, tatlo.

Bagani is the word for “hero” in a language in Mindanao the name of which escapes my mind at the moment while lumad is a Cebuano word for “indigenous people.” Lumad is the same as tumandok of Hiligaynon.

During the first few episodes Bahasa Indonesia “The Indonesian Language” was used in a scene where Dian Lamitan was talking to Malay traders. In another scene where she was selling Dal Ang to Chinese merchants, the Sino traders spoke the Hokkien dialect from Southern China. During the pre-Hispanic period, Malay was a widespread medium of communication in trade. Even the earliest Spanish expeditions to the Philippines used Malay interpreters to communicate with the locals.

The different Philippine native languages had assimilated many loan words from various languages spoken by merchants who traded with pre-Hispanic Filipinos, among them Sanskrit, Chinese, Malay, and Arabic. This is best exemplified in Amaya when Bagani said to Amaya “Ikaw ang aking buwan, ang aking tala.” Buwan (buan) “moon” is the Tagalog rendition of the Malay bulan; it is also bulan in Hiligaynon (Pelmoka 52) and Cebuano. The Tagalog tala “star” was derived from the Sanskrit tara. Diwata “fairy,” raha “king” and kudyapi “guitar,” are some of the words used in Amaya that trace their origins from Sanskrit dewata, raha and kacchapi.

Another thing I’ve noted is that the pronunciation of some words is incorrect, like those in kama-kama and kataw (July 6 epissode), iloy, bugay. Obviously this comes to no surprise since the actors and actresses are not born speakers of these languages. But aside from this shortcoming, the effort to integrate these words into the storyline are noteworthy.

More can be said about the language component of the epic teleserye Amaya because linguistics is a very broad and interesting topic but due to space restrictions, I will wind up here and will consider adding some more inputs whne the time warrants.

Part III: Hoplological Perspective




Since Amaya is set at a time where piratical raiding is the norm of the day, fight scenes are therefore a major part of the script. And from a theatrical point of view, this is the icing of the cake which action enthusiasts are waiting for. Thus, it is only proper to have a hoplological commentary on the realism of these fight sequences.

Hoplology is a new science started by the late Donn F. Draeger, a high ranking Japanese Martial Arts (JMA) master, scholar, and author. Hoplology is the study of human combative behavior. The way humans fight will largely depend on their geographical location, culture, religious, philosophical, and other beliefs, technology, political climate, social structure, and a host of many others.

For example, the fight scenes in Amaya are fast paced since it is mostly fought on the seashores which are level plain. This may not be the cause when the same conflict will be fought on rocky, mountainous, and uneven terrain, on snow, or in muddy rice fields or swamps.

A good example of how religious beliefs may influence combative behavior is that the Christianized and Islamized population of the Philippines do not practice headhunting. Of the more than fifty tribes of the Philippines, five have been identified to practice headhunting, in order of their importance: the Ilongots, Kalingas, Ifugaos, Igorots, and Tinguians, all of whom are found in Luzon, particularly in the Cordillera, Sierra Madre, and Caraballo, which are situated in Ilocandia and the Cagayan valley (Anima 1).

It is noticeable in Amaya that the female oripuns do not carry weapons nor women of nobility, including the Binukots. If fact, when Datu Bugna was teaching the young Amaya how to use the kampilan it came to a surprise to both Amaya and her half sister(s) because a Binukot is not meant to be a warrior but the better half of datu or a ginoo.

Which brings us to the first point I want to raise from a hoplological perspective. As previously stated by my good friend, colleague, and fellow researcher Dr. Ned R. Nepangue, co-author with Celestino Macachor of the best selling book “Cebuano Eskrima: Beyond the Myth,” and I concur with him, the kampilan is a heavy sword, a detail made clear by the fact that even muscular men hold it with both hands. So, it would be difficult physically, if not entirely impossible, for a young lass to handle it with ease and efficiency. The kampilan was specifically designed for the male physiology. The current Director of the Center for West Visayan Studies (CWVS) at the University of the Philippines in the Visayas (UP-V) also stressed that a Binukot is a princess, not a warrior.

The statue of Lapu-Lapu in Mactan shows him holding a kampilan.

A review of history texts will reveal almost no distinguished women warriors of the pre-Hispanic Philippines. One may come across the legendary warrior princess Urduja who is said to only marry the man who can beat her in personal combat. While the legend of this princess has been taught in schools before, today many historians agree that she is an unhistorical figure.The story of Princess Urduja reportedly came from Muhammad Ibn Abdullah Ibn Batuta a.k.a. Ibn Batuta (1304-1378).

So in the spirit of accurately educating the viewing public, it should be remembered that Amaya is a historical fiction and although it is based on historical and cultural data, it has to twist certain details to make the series meatier. On the other, GMA must be prudent enough to only make justifiable claims so that the viewing public may not be confused in believing that what has been offered to them are all historically accurate.

The first fight scene of the series showed Rajah Mangubat killing a datu using only his index finger. I strongly believe that this is not a Filipino technique and concept but that of the Chinese Martial Arts (CMA), more commonly known as Dim Mak “Death Touch.” In my research of the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA), I haven’t come across such technique as part of our martial culture, unless it has been introduced from another source, in this case Chinese Kung Fu. It is also important to note that piercing the human body with just a finger is a long standing belief in the martial arts world although to date it has not been medically supported/documented.

Also during that battle scene, as well as the one where Rajah Mangubat attacked the banwa of Datu Bugna, it was depicted that the warriors were in certain formations, like the shield men and the archers. This seems to be a western military concept, like the Greek Phalanx, which I believe is not well developed in pre-colonial Philippines because the conflicts in the archipelago at that time were not large scale wars like in Europe considering that the barangays were very small units, consisting of anywhere from 30 to 100 families. And sad but true, the Spaniards were more advanced in military discipline, tactics, and technology that inspite of their few numbers managed to conquer the then fragmented Filipinos.

I have also noticed that the archers of Rajah Mangubat shoot their arrows even if their enemies were not that close enough. Under normal combative conditions, archers would wait for the charging enemies to close in before shooting.

In the difference fight scenes, action had been blurred. Understandably this is for the safety of the actors so they can do their sequences in slow motion and speed is just adjusted mechanically. However, this will diverge from the excitement that a clear fight scene would give its viewers, considering that this is the icing on the cake. This became very apparent during the fight scene between the white Goddess Pandaki and the black Goddess. In the fight between Amaya and Angaway portions of the scene were clear enough though. Angaway, in that fight, assumed a fighting stance with the weapon in the rear, which is not ideal unless one has a taming “shield.” Amaya used a kris knife, a wavy blade generally associated with Muslim warriors of Mindanao. The Panay Bukidnon, from whose Binukot Amaya was inspired, used the blades talibung and sanduko; these are the blades displayed at the Museo Iloilo, together with the bangkaw and taming.

Since the fight scenes make use of blades, it would be nice, just to be in line with GMA’s claim to authenticity, if the production crew does not show edge-to-edge sword fights that are most often characteristic of stage combat. Skillful sword fighting makes proper manipulation of the sword so there is no, or at least minimal, edge to edge contact. This phenomenon is a unique trait of edge weapons, unlike impact weapons, such as sticks.

In one scene where Rajah Mangubat was sparring, he did a side kick, a fighting technique that is obviously of Okinawan origin, not Filipino. What’s worse, the side kick is designed for empty handed combat, hence Karate “empty hands.” The body alignment and movements for empty handed and weapons (more so on blade) fighting differ. A side kick is not compatible with movements for the use of a kampilan, remembering that it is a heavy sword. Every time a person raises his leg, he needs to shift his weight to the remaining foot. Things are complicated by the added weight of the sword in the hands. And every time a kick is thrown, the executioner of the technique risks his leg being cut off. And a cut from a kampilan can do more damage than a kick can.

Marian Rivera (Amaya) is also seen doing roundhouse, crescent, and spinning kicks in a promotional video which shows her training for her fight scenes against multiple opponents. The types of kicks she were doing were obviously derived from Korean Taekwondo, another empty handed fighting art. The same argument applies.

It should be noted that the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) are primarily weapons-based systems even if they have their own arsenal of empty handed techniques. This makes our fighting arts unique from other Asian Martial Arts which starts training empty handed and later progresses to weapons. A soldier goes to war with weapons, as the Samurai class of Japan and the knights of Europe would show us. This is no different from the hangaway of pre-Hispanic Philippines.

In the scene where Datu Bugna was training Amaya, and in his fight with Rajah Mangubat, Raymund Bagatsing explicitly picted the left bantay kamay “guard hand” that is so indispensible in most Arnis systems of our archipelago. Bagatsing is a karateka but he gives justice to the movements inherent in a weapons fight. Also in the training scene, it was accurately depicted that sticks are primarily used for practice, especially for a child.

And most importantly, I am happy that the makers of Amaya did not adopt the term Kali to refer to the fighting art of its characters. While the term Kali has grown in popularity in the US over the years, it has never been used as a traditional term for the martial arts of the Philippine archipelago. The earliest record of the term Kali was in the 20th Century, in a book written by Placido Yamabao. In comparison, Arnis was used by Francisco Balagtas in his Florante at Laura in the 1800’s and church records show the use of Escrima as late as the 1700’s. Kali is essentially a modern term passed on as an ancient term for the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA). No historical basis can be found to prove its myriad of claims.

It is also commendable for the makers of Amaya for not using either Arnis or Eskrima, inspite of the fact that they were historical terms used by the Filipinos for their fighting arts. Both Arnis and Eskrima are Spanish-derived words that would be inappropriate in a pre-Hispanic setting. Not giving a name to the pre-Hispanic Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) and just referring it by the weapon used, i.e. kampilan, is an accurate depiction, just like when an Ilonggo says “bastonon ta karon (I’ll beat you with the stick)” or when a Karay-a says “yamingon ta ka (I’ll beat you with the stick).” In this case, baston (Sp.) and yaming (Karay-a) are terms for the weapon used.

Part IV: Religious Perspective



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.

TO BE CONTINUED...


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