BAGOBO DREAM CULTURE – The Vanishing Herbal Wisdom of the Babaylans (Medicine Men) * eastwind

The Vanishing Herbal Wisdom of the Babaylans (Medicine Men)
eastwind journals
by Bernie V. Lopez,
Facebook Page/Timeline – ‘Eastwind Journals
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Mount Apo in Mindanao, tallest mountain in the Philippines, is home to a prehistoric mountain tribe, the Bagobos, who consider it as the sacred domain of their god, Apo Sandawa, keeper of the mountain, spiritual healer and guide. 
As a journalist, I discovered the mystique of the Bagobos thru Datu Hirang, warrior and Babaylan (‘medicine man’ or herbalist-healer). He showed me a volcanic stone wrapped in cloth, hidden in the ceiling of his tiny hut. It was black, shiny, and smooth as glass, very heavy, perfectly egg-shaped but bigger in size. I began discerning the essential Bagobo through immersions and interviews.
He said Apo Sandawa told him in a dream to look for the power stone. After a year of roaming thru the rainforest, he found it lodged in the roots of a Balete tree, exactly as in his dream. He said Apo gave him the stone as a gift so he could heal people. One day, his stone was stolen by a jealous Babaylan. After a week, he came back, knelt before Datu Hirang and asked for forgiveness. Then did his week-old fever finally vanish.
I sat with Datu Ito, visionary and healer, for half a day as he walked me through quickly across centuries of Bagobo oral history. He said Apo Sandawa talked to him in dreams, giving him advice on how to handle crisis with lowlanders. The Bagobo dream culture awed anthropologists.
The sophisticated Bagobo herbal culture is ancient wisdom. They have herbs found only in Mt. Apo for all kinds of ailments, including cancer, they claim. Datu Ito complained that the herbs were vanishing fast due to the wars between soldiers and rebels. The soldiers would set forest fires to deny cover to the rebels. Some rare herbs unique to Mt. Apo are now extinct. 
I suggested that I look for funds for a series of Bagobo safaris to collect endangered herbs, and put them in a nursery run by Bagobos. He was quick to warn me that Bagobos, for centuries, fear being invaded by lowlanders. If the lowlanders knew the secrets of their medicinal herbs, they would take over the mountain. Their ancient herbal science is handed down orally in utter secrecy only to direct descendants. There are no documents.
Datu Ito said the Bagobo herbal culture was dying because Babaylans were a vanishing breed. Their herbal knowledge die with them. The children they want to teach go to lowland schools and never return. I convinced Datu Ito to take the risk of written documentation, as long as they are held only by Bagobos. I wished I had the money and time to interview the last Babaylans scattered across around Mt. Apo and Mt. Kitanglad in Bukidnon. He said Apo Sandawa would be pleased if we could save centuries of herbal wisdom. 
As Datu Ito rattled off herbs and the ailments they cure, I took notes feverishly. I suddenly stopped, realizing I was doing the first written documentation, defying centuries of tradition. I asked if it was alright. He smiled and said he trusted me.
Hit-and-run journalists like myself are eagles roaming the rainforests. Without institution or resources, we are helpless. Alas, I failed to raise funds. That was 30 years ago. Datu HIrang and Datu Ito must be dead by now, as most other Babaylans. That notebook of precious notes, a tiny portion of a vast wisdom, is now lost.
But who knows. Perhaps it is better that way, to save the Bagobos and their sacred mountain from lowlanders, rather than save their herbal culture. But eventually, I knew the crowded world would swallow or kill them. Like their herbs, the Lumads of Mindanao are an endangered species.
Datu Ito said Apo Sandawa was pleased with me as a friend of the Bagobos. My sudden intimacy with the thousand-year-old Bagobo mystique made me feel I was part of them. (Read sequel on the healing hot spring of Mt. Apo.) 

by Bernie V. Lopez,
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