Part 1 of 3: Buwaya In Our Dreams, Baybayin, Weavings, Tattoos and more!
|Images courtesy of Baybayin.com and PinoyTravelBlog|
Crocodile is “buwaya” or “buaya” in Filipino. Throughout the Philippine islands the buwaya evokes fear and awe. Unfortunately, many contemporary Philippine references to buwaya today are negative, pertaining to greedy politicians. The coming of European ideals and thinking rendered the buwaya to its narrow depiction of predators and killers and, Western rationalism relegated the beliefs of being connected to the buwaya in spirit or Life to the realm of superstition and ignorance. Colonized, “civilized” and re-educated Filipinos began to be ashamed of their native beliefs, hid them and then forgot them. But if we are to dig deeper into ancient beliefs from around the Philippine islands, we will find that the buwaya is a symbol of power, courage, fertility and strength and indigenous beliefs enabled the natives of pre-modern times to live in peace and respect with the crocodiles that were prolific in the islands.
I learned the crocodile is a significant symbol by talking about dreams with my kapwa Filipino… The buwaya began to appear in my dreams and the dreams of my friends at around the same time a couple of years ago.
In January 2010, when preparing for the First International Babaylan Conference of 2010, CFBS organizers were in retreat and while in an evening meditation given with healing music and rose tea, given by my dear friend Lizae, I had a waking dream. This type of experience has happened to me only a few times before during deep meditation in the past. The vision first showed a very vibrant blue lizard with vivid yellow spots, very close to my face. Then the dream revealed a small baby crocodile wrapping its small body around the tray of rose water tea that was on the coffee table—it was showing off its jagged spine and curling its tail upwards. I took note of the vision and shared it with my companions saying that when I figured out its meaning I would share it. In the ensuing weeks my friends sent me notes and their own findings on the deeper meanings of crocodile around the world. I’ll share these with you later in 3rd and last part of this series…
|Varanus bitatawa – blue with yellow spots.|
What were the significance of these creatures that appeared to me in a dream, or as the ancients believed— from beyond the veil? First, I need to talk about the colorful lizard before I begin to talk about the crocodile. The vibrant blue and yellow lizard later became known to me a couple of months later, and just a few weeks before the conference. The lizard was the varanus bitatawa, a species of vegetarian monitor lizard, that can grow as large as a man, located in northern Philippines and recently identified and catalogued into books by Western scientists. I realized that the lizard of my dreams was of this very species when the lizard’s coloration was described and I finally saw it’s photo — blue with yellow spots. The lizard in my dream had highly vivid colors and larger spots, but the coloration was the same.
Then a couple of weeks just before the conference, Venus Herbito, graduate of the Indigenous Mind Master’s program at Naropa University, spoke about the Varanus bitatawa saying:
“Interesting for this spectacular relative of ours to appear a week before the opening of the Babaylan conference… anyone taking note of these synchronicities? Here’s a quote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer: “It is an important species for the Philippines, especially since it is a forest species. It highlights the need for us to preserve its habitat. Otherwise, we might lose it as well as the other species. It highlights the fact that the Philippines has a very unique and very complex biodiversity.” Lizard/Buwaya=Sacred Ancestors=Forest=Life (emergence of New Life)“
And with her words, the message of the colorful varanus bitatawa who visited our little group was made complete — Lizard/Buwaya=Sacred Ancestors=Forest=Life (emergence of New Life). It was necessary to uncover that which is ours, our ancestral beliefs, our traditional symbolism, in order for New Life to emerge, for the cycle of Life to go on. So baybayin symbols are important for the modern day Filipinos who are looking to be connected to their heritage. And the crocodile is another one of the symbols we need to work with.
I learned this when Virgil Mayor Apostol, a keynote speaker at the conference and author of Way of the Ancient Healer, gave me the final key when he explained to us who have dreamed of the crocodile (and wondered at its symbolism) that the buwaya is considered, in indigenous Philippine traditions, to be our ancestor.
And this sequence of events was the beginnings of discovering the messages and spiritual significance of these ferocious and mostly-feared creatures of the Philippines… the buwaya.
In the past year and months since that time, and as friends continued to send stories, myths and scholarly papers my way, I learned that a few tribes in the Philippines, the Kalingas and the Maguindanaons, call themselves the “buwaya” and continue to believe that the crocodiles are their ancestors. A tradition that continued from generations and generations beyond.
Over a year after the conference, I and close friends continued to ponder upon the meaning of the crocodile/buwaya, Letecia Layson my close friend, colleague at Center for Babaylan Studies (CFBS) and a Sacred Feminine leader and spokeswoman at international conferences, said:
Buwaya are returning into view everywhere! I feel they are here to remind us of the resistance that is vital for our humanity… all of humanity… And for you my dear sister…the way in which you bring wisdom through beauty so we can hear difficult truths is so important!
|CNN: 21 foot monster crocodile caught|
Buwaya in the news
But, the crocodile has been a fearsome and powerful symbol in mythology throughout humanity’s existence and it is the same in the Philippines. Buwaya is a significant symbol in among indigenous people in the Philippines and just might have made its appearance in one of the baybayin symbols.
|Courtesy of Akopito|
From the collection of Virgil Mayor Apostol.
Page 233 of Way the Ancient Healer.
Sinaunang Habi: Philippine Ancestral Weave,
by Marian Pastor-Roces. Pg. 86.
Bagobo fabric with imagery of the crocodile as if seeing it from above.
Sinaunang Habi: Philippine Ancestral Weave,
by Marian Pastor-Roces. Pg. 284.
“The Kalinga, known as the “peacocks of the mountains” because of their elaborate clothing and ornaments, dress their hero in the beaded G-string and plumed headdress of a renowned headhunter:
Lo! Kanu, he put on / his rich apparel / his finest wearings. / All of them he put on: / scales of a crocodile / a tuft of yellow plumes./ How fear-inspiring he now was! / All of them he did tuck in / green feathers of kulasisi-birds / with nacre discs of cicada wings. / How fear-inspiring he now was! / Lo! Kanu, he took / his kumbawa-shield / his finger-cursing spear / his sharpened ax…
The refrain, “How fear-inspiring he now was!” is meant to terrify the Kalinga’s enemies as well as to impress them with his wealth and social status. Banna, the Kalinga ullalim hero, is “of beauty exquisite” but also “a terrible crocodile” with frightening tattoos all over his chest..
In fact, the Kalinga call themselves the Buwaya—the Crocodile People—after the animal that inspires the greatest fear among mountaineers.”
|Sketch of pre-hispanic, Philippine “Langi”
tattoo by Lane Wilcken. Page 60
in Filipino Tattoos: Ancient to Modern.
The Kampilan is a heavy double pointed sword with a rich history in the Philippines.The kampílan is a type of single-edged long sword of the Filipino people. Being ancient origin, it has been used in the Philippine islands of Mindanao, Visayas, and Luzon for centuries, used for head-chopping. (Wikipedia)
As maintained by tradition, the Kampilan is about 40″ to 44″ with a carved hilt with a single edge. Kampilans were widely used as “head-hunting” swords on enemies in the southern Philippines. The handle is shaped like a jaw of reptile lizards and alligator makes this sword unique in appearance. In the past, strands of hair are attached to the pommel of the handle for a more appealing and intimidating look. (Traditional Filipino Weapons)…the “kampilan,” the weapon most favored by the Moros (Muslims) of Mindanao, Philippines is solely meant for battle… It is a two-handed, single-edged sword, about 42 inches long, noted for its fearsome look. The hilt is quite long to counterbalance the weight and length of the blade. Most hilts are made of various native hardwood, invariably with a pommel shaped in an animal’s wide-open mouth, like a crocodile, or the tail of a bird… the “kampilans” cut a wide swath of death and destruction in many raids and battles waged by the Moros of Mindanao. (The Fighting Weapons of Filipino Martial Arts by Jay de Leon)
|Filhistory.com kampilan image.|
|Filipino weapons at Macao exhibit|
The place-name “Buayan,” located in Maguindanao, is believed to have derived from buaya (crocodile) due to its great population of crocodiles in the river and estuaries of the past. Because many great datus (chieftains) were descended from Buaya, it is said that early artisans selected the crocodile form for the kampilan [sword] hilt as a tribute to the proud warriors of this territory. (Moro Swords, by Robert Cato; Way of the Ancient Healer by Virgil Mayor Apostol.))
…warriors, for example, show a reverential attitude toward their weapons; it is not simply the physical object of a metal weapon but a blade that possesses the soul of a blade. The soul of that object is what makes it hard and strong, whose strength would be revealed during battle. Thus, warriors give names to their personal weapons not as ownership of the object but in recognition of its animism. Forging the weapon then becomes not an ordinary, but a sacred, activity in order that the soul of the blade may not depart from it. (The Soul Boat and the Boat-Soul: An Inquiry into the Indigenous “Soul” by Maria Bernadette L. Abrera, Ph.D. )
In the Philippines, indigenous communities still believe they are intimately related to crocodiles. The Maguindanaon in the Ligauasan Marsh, for example narrate that “after the datu (male royal) was born a small crocodile emerged from the mother’s womb to the surprises of the couple. Believing that the creature was their son’s twin, they kept it in a separate cradle besides that of the infant datu. As the datu grew so did the crocodile. The couple showered it with the same care as the did with their son. When the datu was an adolescent, the crocodile was so enormous it could no longer fit in a cage in the house. After much thought, the couple decided to free the crocodile in the river.”Also the Manobo, the indigenous tribe inhabiting the Agusan Marsh, think people are born with a spirit crocodile twin. The Tagbanua on Palawan believe crocodiles will aid their human relatives in times of distress. And the Kalinga in the northern Sierra Madre on Luzon tell stories of enchanted crocodiles “A mother gave birth to a girl and a crocodile. They grew up together. But one day the father got angy with the crocodile and tried to kill it. The crocodile escaped but his tail was chopped off. You can still see this twin crocodile without tail in the river. We call him putol. The crocodile regularly visits and protects his sister.“
Mangasakan II, Gutierrez. (2008). “Crocodile symbolism in Maguindanaon culture.” National Museum Papers 14: 133-139.
Part 1: Buwaya In Our Dreams, Baybayin, Weavings, Tattoos and more!
Part 2: Buwaya In Canoes, Rituals and other Ancestral Traditions
- In the Kingdom of Rajah Buwaya and Princess Waling-Waling, Mga Kuwento ni Percival C. Cruz
- Glossary: Crocodile at Quests of the Dragon and Bird Clan by Paul Kekai Manansala
- Laura W. Benedict, A Study of Bagobo Ceremonial Magic and Myth (Leyden: E.J. Brill, 1916)
- Casiño, Eric. The Jama Mapun: A Changing Samal Society in the Southern Philippines. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1976.