SE A ST 1 - (Week 2) The Viscera- Sucker and the Politics of Gender

SE A ST 1 - (Week 2) The Viscera- Sucker and the Politics of Gender

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Unformatted text preview: 8 The Visceral-Sucker and the Politics of Gender y day, the viscera-sucker appears as an exceptionally attractive woman with long hair and a fair complexion. By night, she discards her lower torso, hiding it under the sheets, in a closet, or among a patch of banana trees. Having converted her arms into wings by anointing her armpits with a noxious oil and being propelled by her now stiffened hair, she takes to the air, alights on a roof, and thrusts her long tubular tongue through the palm shingles to extract the viscera of her sleeping victims through their mouth, nostrils, ears, anus, navel, or genitalia. She stalks tuberculars and pregnant women because she is addicted especially to phlegm and fetuses, as well as to human liver and blood. After feasting, she returns home to rejoin her lower trunk before daybreak. However, if someone, usually her new husband, rubs any or all of the following—ashes, salt, vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, pepper, and other spices—on her discarded part, reattachment is impossible, and the viscera~5ucker dies fragmented.1 The Most Virulent Type of Evil Witch The self-segmenting viscera-sucker is considered the most virulent type of evil witch or asuang, a term which also includes other creatures of Philippine legendry such as ghouls and vampires as well as shape~shifters like Weredogs and rapacious birds.2 A comparative study of the asuang as a human viscera-sucker in various Philippine soc1eties-reveals its remarkable popularity in lowland Christian commumnes, especially in the Visayan and Bicol regions—~—which {his paper was read at the joint conference to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the sallforma Folklore Society, Los Angeles, California, 28 April 1991. The Viscera Sucker 87 were the first to be intensively missionized during the Spanish colonial regime from the ea'rly sixteenth to the late nineteenth century. However, it is rarely known among non-Hispanized animists of upland Northern Luzon and Mindanao. More importantly for my argument, among these animists and their counterparts in the rest of island Southeast Asia, the viscera-sucker is not gendered and usually appears as a bird or doglike creature. The popularity of the female viscera-sucker among lowland Christians and its virtual absence among animist highlanders prompted me to suspect that the feminization of the self-segmenting asuang was due to Spanish influence.3 In a recent essay in which he takes a structuralist, symbolist approach, Raul Pertierra links the destructive asuang to female asociality. He states that “while [Filipino] women play prominent roles in public areas such as economics and religion, they retain their primary orientation to members of their household,” in opposition to men whose participation in reciprocal and exchange networks marks their principal role as public and political (Pertierra 1983, 319—37). By focusing on the separate, contrastive, and unequal spheres for Filipino men and women—a model which contradicts the well-observed complementarity and balance in the indigenous gender systems of insular Southeast Asia (Atkinson and Errington 1990)—Pertierra also ignores the historical foregrounding of the asuang symbol, which has had a long evolution in Philippine folklore. In our search for cultural specificity, we cannot disregard the historical base of symbolic forms. I therefore place the burden of my interpretation on a historical perspective which, as this essay is intended to show, leads to a different reading of the asuang complex and of the female viscera-sucker in particular. I suggest that this symbol, directly or indirectly, was formulated or transformed as a result of the colonial encounter between the most powerful native women—the bailanes/babaylanes (singular: baylan) or female shamans—and Spanish priests whOse mission was to eradicate indigenous religions throughout the archipelago. From Baylan to Asuang My essay will proceed with an analysis of the traits of viscera-suckers as abstracted from contemporary narratives recorded by different 88 The Viscera Sucker folklorists and anthropologists.4 The analysis will show that the recurring motifs in these narratives stress inversions, which I interpret to be related to the subversion of the shamans’ power and influence. My evidence for this interpretation comes from Spanish chronicles written principally by Franciscan, Jesuit, and Augustinian missionaries, as well as from related secondary sources.5 From these colonial reports, I will show how Spanish friars dealt with recalcitrant female shamans not only as their religious rivals but as females whose sexual powers, in their view, needed to be subjugated under male authority—Spanish and native. Despite the obvious prejudice with which these accounts were written, the female baylan emerges as the main defender of indigenous faith. When Spanish missionaries attempted to enter a village in upland Northern Luzon, these shamans would congregate at the outskirts to prevent their entrance. They frightened local chiefs who had acquiesced to the foreigners by making “dire predictions and throwing fits.” They also accompanied their warriors to battle to incite the men into fighting fury and to hurl invectives at their foreign enemies. In one instance, an “amazon priestess” directed the defense herself, taunting Spanish forces to shoot her. Although many of her men died, she stood unharmed—a circumstance interpreted by a chronicler as a sure sign of her “direct covenant with the Devil” (Scott 1974, 194, 87)}3 Some native chiefs, ,tempted by promises of political power that accompanied conversion, ignored the “grumbling old women” and even chased them away from the village entrance. However, the resisters persevered. Even when the village leaders, who were male, had agreed to the missionary’s plan for a community celebration without “the presence of either the pagan priestess or her idols,” the resident shamans would not permit it. One stared the Spaniard straight in the eye and said, “If you’re the priest of the Christians, so am I of the Igorots, and if you have your god, I have mine” (Scott 1987, 121). Among the Kalinga~Buaya of Northern Luzon who occupied an area most impervious to Spanish penetration, the prophetess, until recently, was the social equal of the headhunting warrior-chief. As the religious leader, she presided over all major Ceremonies, determined the time and place for a headhunting raid, and threw the first spear to commence the attack. Her magical powers, like The Viscera Sucker 89 the headhunter's heroic prowess, attracted many lovers whOSe fate she directed in the headhunt. She exemplified the sexual freedom of native women, which the missionaries regularly denounced. Other Kalinga women, like most bailanes today, were herbalists and midwives, and although they had less prestige than the prophetess, they were extremely powerful, for they determined life or death for the individual with their esoteric knowledge of medicines and poisons (De Raedt 1969). Traits of Inversion of the Amng From this brief sketch of the baylan, I will now proceed to my analysis of the traits of the viscera-sucker. In the majority of the narrative texts, her most striking quality is her propensity for human fetuses, internal organs, and bodily discharges. A common episode graphically describes a self-segmenter attaching herself like a bat underneath the slatted bamboo floor awaiting the sputum and phlegm voided by the tubercular patient lying above (Lynch 1949, 405). With her hollow tubular tongue, elongated thin as a thread when necessary, she drains the fetus out of the womb or, more dramatically, incises a pregnant woman’s belly with her long fingernails to remove the infant. This gruesome image is the most spectacular reversal of the role of the baylan as healer and midwife. The opposition between life taking and life giving, between killing and birthing, is underscored by the self-segmenting process in which the reproductive half is left behind while the upper half is engaged in its death-dealing activity. The night flight for her favorite dishes seems to be a satirical inversion of the trance journey of the shaman for spiritual powers. Likewise, the so~called “mambo—tambo” dance (Arens 1982, 81) before the viscera—sucker kills her prey seems to be another satirical inversion—that of the baylan’s sword dance before she spears the sacrificial pig during major rituals. Other inversions relating to the baylan-asuang opposition pertain to odors and foods. Whereas the baylan, as in the case of the Kalinga— Buaya, is associated with herbal fragrance, the viscera-sucker‘s noxious smell betrays her presence. Whereas the former is allergic to polluting animal meats, the latter is addicted to human flesh or, if unobtainable, she eats raw, unsalted, and unspiced animal meats. Among the long list of preventive measures against the viscera- 90 The Viscera Sucker sucker, noted in contemporary narratives, are the spices mentioned earlier which are requisites of Philippine cuisine, but feared by the asuang. She also abhors fish and crustaceans, which many Filipinos love to eat probably because of their early coastal life-style. A favorite amulet against witches is the tail of a stingray? The viscera—sucker also represents inversions of even more crucial Filipino values—family solidarity and sociality. She has no regard for kinship since she is obliged to cannibalize one of her own family members as an essential step in her initiation as a witch. She detests social groups, preferring to live a marginal, secretive, and lonely life. Although there are several identifying marks that set her apart, one sure way of recognizing a witch by day is to see one’s image inverted in the pupils of her eyes. These inversions strongly point not only to the polarized roles of the shaman and the viscera-sucker but also to the latter’s unnatural and feral nature. The viscera-sucker exists outside the boundaries of human society and culture, or to borrow the classic Levi-Straussian metaphor of the raw and the cooked—ushe is too raw to be cooked. _The Conversion of the Baylan The question, however, remains regarding the extent of evangelical influence on the formulation of the viscera-sucker as the reversal of the shaman-healer—midwife. The first set of evidence which I derived from the narrative texts consists of traits which can be clearly linked to Catholicism. (I have discounted, at least temporarily, such motifs as anointrnent with special oils to enable air travel which also appear in Spanish folklore because of their possible worldwide distributiOn.) Catholic influence is most obvious in the methods of deflecting or containing the asuang's power. For instance, sprinkling holy water, burning incense, displaying blessed palms or the crucifix, and praying are believed to paralyze a witch. To capture a viscera-sucker, one should cast a priest’s cincture or belt around her body to make her powerless, or drive a nail into the ground while reciting the Apostle’s Creed (Lynch 1949, 405). My second set of evidence comes from the Spanish chronicles mentioned earlier which clearly indicate how the “extirpators of idolatries” contributed to the demise of female priesthood. Using a The Viscera Sucker 91 strategy identified by Carlo Ginzburg as a conspiracy, Spanish friars denounced the shamans as primitive, unchaste women, practitioners of a fraudulent religion, and above all, as priestesses of the devil.a They burned their idols and sacred groves in an effort to eradicate what in their opinion were the two greatest sins—sexual license and alcoholic indulgence, which supposedly climaxed during shaman- led rituals the Spaniards called abuses. The conversion of the baylan, therefore, was crucial to the success of the Philippine mission. The chronicles are replete with such conversions, which understandably the writers highlighted in their reports to their superiors in Spain. The Jesuit Chirino (1604:, 39, 68, 71) boasted that in a town where there were so many priestesses— three or four to a street—all were converted. Furthermore, their success was such that the natives (indios) started to take their sick to church to be healed. However, mass conversions by baptism did not eradicate the indigenous religions. More vigorous attacks were then launched against the shamans. If these leaders admonished their people not to abandon their deities, Spanish priests quickly countered with Masses and processions, as well as with blatant destruction of any signs of animist faith. Recalcitrant shamans were made to wear the Agnus Dei scapular; relapses were “cured” by confessionals and sermons.9 No physical tortures are reported in the chronicles. As in Mexico after 1571, The Holy Office of the Inquisition had jurisdiction only over Spaniards and mestizos, not indios who were, after all, infidels or recent converts (Rios 1583, 256—73; Medina 1899; Behar 1987, 34—54). However, given the fact that Spanish priests punished the natives with beatings for sexual excesses and other infractions such as going topless, for which women received fifty lashes, it is hard to believe that the priestesses escaped physical torture. Moreover, the chroniclers proudly report how with constant psychological harassment, even the most stubborn leader of “a band- of worthleSS women” finally converted after relentless rites of exorcism (Chirino 1604, 271—75). Spanish Influence on the Awang Symbol In the mind of the Spanish clergy, as Father Plasencia’s 1589 report indicates, female shamans and the self-segmenting “cannibal 92 The Viscera Sucker asuang” were of the same species. Reports about poisonings of priests and about a Spanish notary whose intestines were torn out through the anus attempted to link the baylan with these extremely malevolent beings (Plasencia 1589, 192). Propaganda against these powerful women was peppered with the discourse of European lnquisitors and exorcists. “Compact with the devil,” “the devil incarnate," “slaves of the devil” were favorite phrases. One Franciscan missionary wrote that “the devil [entered] the priestess’ body, assuming'her shape and appearance, filled her with so great arrogance . . . that she seemed to shoot flames from her eyes [and her hair stood on end.” The last traits duplicate those of the viscera- sucker whose hair stiffened when ready to take off and whose eyes turned red hot in order to penetrate a woman’s womb and detect a fetus.10 Further evidence that Spanish evangelical fervor actually influenced the formulation or reformulation of the asuang symbol can be seen in the rituals to remove the se1f-segmenter’s source of power. As reported in the narratives, her craving for viscera comes from a bird which is lodged in her stomach, and which, in some versions, becomes her avian scout. Before the chick matures, an asuang can be saved. However, the procedure is sheer torture. She- is strung up by her heels, with her head down, lashed continuously, and fumigated until she vomits the chick. It is then thrown into the fire before it can hop back into the woman’s mouth (Ramos 1971, 7, fn. 17; Lynch 1949, 414). An illustration originally from Samuel Clarke’s Martyrology, 1651, and later published in The Enryclopedt‘a of Witchcraft and Demonology (1959} shows a suspected European witch hung by her heel and smoked by Inquisitors. Other sketches in this book illustrate other Inquisitorial methods of torture which are similar to such techniques of the asuang as incising women‘s stomachs and eviscerating her victims. As mentioned earlier, the indios were not subjected to Inquisitorial investigation; however, the fact that Spanish priests in the Philippines were grounded in the culture of the Spanish Inquisition must have influenced native folklore. Furthermore, rituals to cure victims of witchcraft liberally borrow from official Catholic rites of exorcism, which were used in colonial times to exhort shamans to break their “pact with the devil” (see also Guazzo 1974; Russell 1972; Plaidy 1960; Cirac Estopanan 1942). The Viscera Sucker 93 Disenfranchisement of the Most Powerful Women As a final point, Spanish attempts to discredit female shamans also targeted their sexual powers. Spanish priests reared in Mediterranean machismo were culture—shocked to discover the sexual freedom that the baylan, as well as other women, enjoyed. The chroniclers noted, for instance, the frequent divorces when “on the slightest occasion wives abandoned their husbands who displeased them.” They also wrote frequently about female adultery and the lack of societal concern for virginity (Chirino 1604, 251—64; 285—86; Loarca 117—19). Thus, according to Phelan (1959, 39), “one of the major goals of the missionary enterprise was to make Filipinos adhere more strictly to standards of premarital chastity and marital fidelity.” Obviously, however, missionaries targeted native women more so than native men whose sexual behavior conformed more closely to European male standards. In their zeal to dampen female sexuality, they even forced the men to abandon the penile rings which, despite their own discomfort, the latter wore because their women had insisted on the use of this device to enhance female sexual gratification (Morga [1890] 1971, 278; Loarca [1582] 1903—1909, 116; Boxer’s Codex in Jocano 1975, 234—35.“ Furthermore, Spanish friars taught religion to young boys and adult males so that they could have better control of their women—thus granting to men a privileged position as head of household in accordance with European mores. At the same time, native male elites, who once were warrior-chiefs, became the local representatives of the colonial government. As Blanc-Szanton (1990, 362) points out, “The Spanish colonial government progressively carved out a public domain defined by politics and religion and drew men into it, while attempting to fashion a domestic domain in the image of Mediterranean Spain.” By the revolutionary period, the great majority of leaders of millenarian movements that challenged Spanish rule were all male. [n Bicol and the Visayas, especially, the new warriors also appropriated shamanistic roles. Female shamans in the Hispanized lowland communities were reduced to curers and midwives. No longer did they lead community-wide rituals nor exhort their men to fight. Religiouspolitical leadership became a male prerogative. It was no mere coincidence then that once known for their tradition of female priesthood, Bicol and the Visayas gained a reputation as the home of viscera-suckers. 94 The Viscera Sucker In conclusion, a historical perspective enables us to contextualize symbolic forms with greater specificity than otherwise possible. Viewed historically, the viscera-sucker represents a process of disenfranchising the most powerful Filipino women and a politics of gender that has deep roots in the Spanish conquest of the Philippines. 9 .Talz‘smam'c Magic and Political Leadership E vents in the Philippines during the past twenty Y1 dramatize the importance of understand culturally determined concepts of the nature of power. Charism leaders—Ferdinand Marcos, Corazon Aquino, and “Grin Honasan—have seized center stage, with Aquino toppling Man in a spectacular “People Power Revolution” in 1986, and Lieuter Colonel Honosan leading a series of coup attempts against Aquino government. Their charismatic authority, as defined by]! Weber (1947, 329; see also Willner 1968} derives largely fr traditional ideas ofpotency and power, as concretized in the am eating, 3 Tagalog term which subsumes amulets and talismans. 1 essay examines talismanic magic as a symbolic system, articulatir complex of political thought and behavior. I argue that possession of amulets and talismans not only gives magical protect but also determines power relations, and therefore is a pot signifier of political leadership. The Anting-Anting and Its Acquisition Although different ethnolinguistjc terms exist for nesting- ant its meaning does not vary considerably cross-culturally or historic; Most Filipinos are familiar with its types, uses, and forms acquisition. From various ethnographic reports, we have following examples which can be classified into material obje animals, human beings, and substances. Objects are usually wort protect their owners from human and supernatural adversaries, 2 This paper was read at the American Folklore Society Annual Meeting, 17—21 October 1 Oakland, California. ...
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SE A ST 1 - (Week 2) The Viscera- Sucker and the Politics of Gender

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