potet POTETJP at
Sat Jul 21 19:45:07 UTC 2001

Dear Paz, dear Penelope,

Very puzzling. I couldn't find *baylian > belian > *bilian in my Tagalog
dictionaries.It don't think it is a Tagalog term. It sounds Visayan, doesn't
it? Otherwise it could be an adaptation of Span. bailar "to dance" [*bailar
> *báyla > *baylaán > *baylán > *belán > *bilán]. Could you please tell us
where you found it, and what its stress pattern is,  Penelope? Thanks.

The Tagalog term is katalúnan.

These priestesses were either women or effeminate men. During ceremonies
they fell into a trance, and uttered pronouncement while being possessed by
a spirit. A pig was offered to the spirit. The chief katalúnan, who wore a
crown, kille it by throwing a spear through its heart. Unless I am mistaken,
the head was left untouched while the pork was broiled or cooked and
distributed among the faithful.

Could a katalúnan be also possessed by the supreme god /God?
God was called Bathála? < Sans. bhat.t.a:ra "lord" (Monier-Williams: 745)
or Panginóo(n)-ng Maykapál < panginóon "supreme lord" -ng [linker] +
maykapál "creator [owner of kapál]".
Kapál itself is obscure. Among the entries in N&S - thickness, shaping,
divination for the discovery of a theft, tree leaf - the most probable is
"shaping", and there again we find the metaphor of God as a pot-maker,
shaping clay into living creatures, food for ethnologists's thought.

"Divination for the discovery of a theft" is my interpretation of the
Spanish "Un abuso para descubrir el hurto" [an abuse in order to discover
the theft] because the term "abuso" is often used to refer to non-Christian
practices. If my interpretation is correct, "divination" is semantically
derived from "shaping". This does not necessarily mean God was asked to
possess the katalúnan and answer questions. Indeed I read somewhere that a
common divination technique used by the Tagalogs consisted in dropping hot,
liquid, candlewax into a plate full of cold water, and observing the shape
taken on by the piece of cold wax thus obtained.

My opinion is that we have here two coexisting religious systems : an
animistic one with a multitude of spirits and another one with a unique god.
The unique god had no temple, no representation, and was too far to be
approached through a medium / a shaman / a priest.

Conversely, the spirits were represented as statuettes kept on a small altar
in private homes or, sometimes, in a basket. These statues were often
ornemented with gold feathers or leaves. I suppose that by the end of the
16th c. they were disguised as statuettes of Christian saints to prevent
Catholic priests from burning them - they did that a lot at the beginning of
the Spanish occupation and seized the gold to make holy vessels for mass -
then, after a couple of generations, merely replaced by actual Christian
statuettes. For solemn oaths, the Tagalogs would bring out a statue
representing a "monstrous figure" (probably like the temple guardians in
Siam, the deities in Bali, or the tipi in Oceania). Needless to say nothing
remains of these sacerdotal items.

Twenty years ago I lived for a week with a Tagalog family in Pagsanhan,
Laguna. They had an altar that looked like a small  table with statuettes of
saints in one of the first floor [UK] / second storey [US] rooms. I asked
permission to examine them. These wooden statuettes were old, and must have
dated back at least to the 19th century. The oldest had a carved hollow in
the back, like an oblong box. I asked the parents what it was for, but they
did not know. I think  this box was meant to contain a symbol or a statuette
representing a native spirit.

Tagalogs also loved / feared and worshipped their ancestors. Fortunately
Christianity - probably thanks to open-minded priests who knew when to turn
a blind eye - has not been able to wipe out this praiseworthy moral and
religious tenet. The following year, I had the rare opportunity to eat dog
flesh in a village near Carmen, North Luzon. The dog was killed,  and
prepared exactly like a pig. Its blood was fried the way we do with fresh
pig's blood in Burgundy, France (the rest is used to make _boudin_ [blood
sausage]). The whole village was invited to partake to the feast held in
honor of the father of the inviting family, who had died the year before.
Now, at one moment, the eldest son took small pieces of cooked pork, placed
them on a plate, and put the plate on a small table inside the hut along
with an open bottle of beer and a lighted cigarette in an ashtray. Above the
table, hanging on the wall, were a picture of the Virgin Mary and a
photograph of the defunct.

I am sorry if I was a bit longish, but I thought these anecdotes could be
useful to ethnologues.


Jean-Paul G. POTET
B. P. 46

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