There was a time in the Philippines where homosexuality was regarded in high esteem. Homosexuals were given the same rights as that of heterosexual folks. In some cases, they held important powers and leadership roles in the community – next to the “Datu” or the chieftain. The records and evidence to support these claims are tied to the traditional concept of the Babaylan.
An Overview of the Babaylan
According to Wikipedia, the Babaylan “is a Visayan term identifying an indigenous Filipino religious leader, who functions as a healer, a shaman, a seer and a community “miracle-worker” (or a combination of any of those). The babaylan can be male, female, or male transvestites (known as asog, bayoc, or bayog), but most of the babaylan were female.
There are two kinds of babaylan: the living babaylan and the heavenly babaylan. The living babaylan are babaylans who are still living in the physical world, who serve people and help to control day to day negative happenings on earth. The heavenly babaylans are the babaylans who directly receive heaven’s messages from the deities. The heavenly babaylans guide the living babaylans, who also receive messages from heaven, but serve people directly on earth. Each babaylan has this so-called gabay. The gabay are heavenly babaylans who protect and serve the living babaylans. Each babaylan has a different designation in the world.”
An ariticle on Filipiknow.net states: “as their name suggests this all important role is reserved for older women hence the term-“Babayi lang” (Only for women)
Marianita “Girlie” C. Villariba, sociologist and anthropologist, said a babaylan is “a specialist in the fields of culture, religion, medicine and all kinds of theoretical knowledge about the phenomenon of nature.”
The Asogs, Bayogs and Katalonans
The Asogs or the Bayogs are males who happen to have the same reputation or charisma as that of their female counterpart. “Asog” and “Bayog” are the terms for the Visayan version, while Katalonan was the term amongst the Tagalogs.
They are mostly members of the “third sex” and according to the Jesuit historian Fray Francisco Alcina, ” Impotent men deficient in the practice of matrimony who considered themselves more like women than men in their manner of living”
Researcher Dr, Carolyn Brewer also stated that, ” being composite of both sexes, their unconventional and gender dualism is a sign associated with the primal creative force “
The Boxer Codex, a 16th century manuscript, also indicated that they are, “priests dressed in female garb…Almost all are impotent for the reproductive act and thus they marry other males and sleep with them as man and wife and have carnal knowledge.”
Over time, the term “Asog” was taken to mean something different. In Aklan for example the term now means “a girl who acts like a man or a tomboy”. The term “Bayot” has become a derogatory Filipino term meaning “gay or queer”.
Libulan (god of the moon)
According to Visayan creation myths, Libulan is one of the four children of Lihangin (god of the wind). Her siblings were Likalibutan (god of the world), Liadlao (god of the sun) and Lisuga (goddess of the stars).
When Lihangin died he left the control of the winds to his eldest son Likalibutan. The faithful wife Lidagat soon followed her husband, and the children, now grown up, were left without a father or mother. However, their grandparents, Kaptanand Maguayan, took care of them and guarded them from all evil.
After some time, Likalibutan, proud of his power over the winds, resolved to gain more power, and asked his brothers to join him in an attack on Kaptan in the sky above. They refused at first, but when Likalibutan became angry with them, the amiable Liadlao, not wishing to offend his brother, agreed to help. Then together they induced the timid Libulan to join in the plan.
When all was ready, the three brothers rushed at the sky, but they could not beat down the gates of steel that guarded the entrance. Likalibutan let loose the strongest winds and blew the bars in every direction. The brothers rushed into the opening, but were met by the angry god Kaptan. So terrible did he look that they turned and ran in terror, but Kaptan, furious at the destruction of his gates, sent three bolts of lightning after them.
The first struck the copper Libulan and melted him into a ball. The second struck the golden Liadlao and he too was melted. The third bolt struck Likalibutan and his rocky body broke into many pieces and fell into the sea. So huge was he that parts of his body stuck out above the water and became what is known as land.
In the meantime the gentle Lisuga had missed her brothers and started to look for them. She went toward the sky, but as she approached the broken gates, Kaptan, blind with anger, struck her too with lightning, and her silver body broke into thousands of pieces.
Kaptan and Maguayan wept at the loss of their grandchildren, especially the gentle and beautiful Lisuga, but even with their powers, they could not restore the dead back to life. However, they gave to each body a beautiful light that will shine forever.
Libulan is the moon god which is why the term today means “moon” or “month”. However, most Philippine myths associate the moon deity with a female character. According to one Philippine myth, there were seven moons in the sky. Versions of the story and names of the moon deity vary – such as Subang, Banolor, Balinig, Haliya, Bulan and Mayari.
Libulan’s cult was composed of cross dressing men who were revered for their magic knowledge – especially in healing and prophecies. These men who worshipped and praised the moon were believed to have the ability to communicate between the physical and spiritual worlds. Libulan, and all the other deities of the moon, were invoked by the male binukot, a boy of beauty in the community who was secluded in a home under the protection of “high society”. The manunugid or pangantohan (narrators and seers) were brought to the fields at night to dance and give praise for a bountiful harvest as Libulan was also the god of farming, fertility,vegetation, procreation and growth. It was believed that farming tasks should be carried out during the “waxing moon” (growing or expanding in illumination).
Malandok (god of war) and his love for Libulan
There is a story where Malandok, the visayan god of war, fell in love with the seven moons and their beauty. He was forever unsuccessful in capturing one of them. Eventually, Libulan came to earth to accept the love of Malandok. He reached the place where the saltwater and freshwater mixed, but before Malandok held his hand to him but Sidapa (the god of death) intervened. Some believe Sidapa’s actions were out of jealousy and a fight between war and death occurred. The islands and seas shook until Sidapa emerged victorious. Malandok promised that he would return for Libulan. The moon god returned to the heavens waiting until the day Malandok’s promise will be fulfilled.
In some versions of the story, Libulan appeared on earth as the small boy, Bulan.
Spanish Conquest and the machismo of modern times
Homosexuality in the phiippines has ties to its ancient past and can be directly linked to the babaylans. These stories, legends and records hold many answers for the questions of today. For instance, the Philippines is considered the friendliest country in Asia for LGBT despite the fact it is predominantly Catholic. There are still instances of discrimination but many believe this is more representative of the centuries of Spanish “machismo” culture and Western inculcation. During the 17th century when the Catholic missionaries saw the animistic rituals, they abhorred it and indoctrinated it as the work of the Devil. Those who defied this new religion brought by foreigners, were stripped of their titles, lands, and even their lives in some cases. It is believed that some Babaylans were dismembered and fed to the crocodles so they would not return after their death. Some dieties were deemed witches, while others were used to assist in spreading Christianity (Bathala=God and Galang Kaluluwa=Holy Spirit). The paganistic rituals were condemned and only practiced in secret. Fortunately, some of them have survived and are experiencing a resurgence. There is a LGBT group from the University of the Philippine named UP Babaylan, and there is a Babaylan Festival in Bagos City, Negros that is being held every 19th of February.