Baglan, Ablon, and the Indigenous Healing Ways of the Ilokanos
Aurelio Solver Agcaoili
All over the world, there is that renewed interest in the things of the old, such as the old ways of looking at the world, and the old ways of how to deal with the day-to-day challenges of life.
In Hawaii, for instance, the indigenous ways of the Hawaiian people have found a place in academic discourse, even if there is more to be done in pushing for it to become part of everyday public discourse.
The public space accorded to the indigenous ways is a deployment of a political symbol.
It means, among others, the recognition that the ways of the indigene, when properly understood, are as legitimate as the ways of anything western, including that almost hegemonic reference to western knowledge based on the science of theory-making, proving under controlled conditions, concluding, predicting, and repeating.
The problem with indigenous knowledge is that it is not predicated under those terms of western knowledge.
It is also human knowledge, but is not western knowledge if by knowledge we mean here a system of understanding the human being, the world around her, and her relationships.
We take the case of the Ilokano baglan.
Somewhere in history, the baglan before the coming of the Spanish colonizer was the revered and esteemed religious leader and community healer.
She was way above the ordinary, able to commune with the forces of the universe, and like the mangngagas, she could commune with the elements, the mountains, the seas, the plants, and the animals.
The Spaniards, unable to understand the ways of this indigenous healer called her the baglan that is weird, insane, imbalanced, psychotic, among other terms that survived when today we tell that someone is ‘agbagbaglan’: ‘Ania man ti kukueen ta baketen ta agbagbaglan manen iti puon ti kayo?’ (What is that old woman doing that she is again doing the baglan at the base of the tree?)
I think of this baglan now—and I think of the ways of the old, the primal ways, the ways beyond the reach of the capitalist interest of pharmaceutical companies, and profiteering motives of the health care industry, and how we all become beholding to this external force we call health insurance.
In our overly Americanized lives, we fall prey to this scheme, and we become believers of the religion whose maxim is that if you have no health insurance you are doomed in America.
Which is true.
But if we scratch the surface of this logic of our irrational lives, we see interests galore, the interests of an industry we call simply ‘health’ and the system it has spawned.
And we have no control, except to say Amen!
Which brings us to the baglan, the indigenous healer that, across history, and in order to get away from the hold of the Spaniards, metamorphosed into so many forms, from the Hispanic herbolario to the negative understanding of what he is in the sense of being a quack doctor through the farcical rendition of his name as albulario, erbolario, or elbolario, and the same farcical rendition of him as a man with a cone-shaped handkerchief tied like a pyramid on his head and muttering inaudible, sometimes pidgin language no one among his hearers understand.
The baglan is cousin to the ilot, mangngilot, or agil-ilot.
The baglan is twin to the mangngagas.
But the baglan is twin as well to the mangngablon, the terms ablon and baglan perhaps coming from the same stem. The phonetic relationship is too close to even doubt: when said, uttered, ablon and baglan sound so close they might be the same.
Which leads us to the our diasporic lives.
The questions begging answering is this: Have we lost the baglan? Have we lost the mangngilot? Have we lost the mangngagas? Have we lost the mangngablon?
There are two answers to the question.
Yes, we have lost them.
They is no such thing as ‘alternative’ medicine in the United States, not in the way we understand what legitimate medical practice is all about.
No, we have them around.
They metamorphose into the indigenous healers of our neighborhood, the same people who give as those relieving ritual touch and relief-giving language we no longer hear even as we lead our busy, too busy lives.
In a linguistic sense, the baglan is the mangngablon now more legit, more above ground.
Because the baglan had to go underground in order to survive, she had to come to the surface with the tacit blessings of those who can command what reason is acceptable in the currency of power and what it does.
Yes, indeed, we still have them around.
And they ought to remain around in the eternity of Ilokano time.
From the Lecture Notes on the Philosophy of Ilokano Language, Christ the King Graduate School of Philosophy, 2000.
Also: Observer, March 2012