Gods of Precolonial Filipinos Mesmerize in International Festival
The Southeast Asia Queer Cultural Festival 2021: “Be/Longings” is a virtual festival that reclaims, reimagines, and insists on LGBTIQ belonging in the region. It features more than 30 works, performances, and events by LGBTIQ activists and artists from all over Southeast Asia.
Among the artists representing the Philippines are Renz Botero, Natu Xantino, and Ram Botero. The artists reimagine the deities of Philippine mythology in their virtual exhibit titled Diwata, which highlights gender fluidity throughout Philippine mythology.
“Just as mythology is not historically accurate, our reimagination of precolonial deities transcends history to represent true experiences. It is a celebration of our boundless capacity to transform,” wrote the trio on their virtual exhibit page.
Research group The Aswang Project reinforces this, stressing that precolonial Filipinos regarded their deities manifesting as different genders and interpretations, but it was only in the 20th century when Filipinos “locked themselves into specific genders for these deities” when stories were documented.
Below are some of their stunning works featuring some of the most powerful and beautiful gods of Philippine mythology.
Sidapa, God of Death
One of the most popular beliefs circulating about Bulan, an adolescent moon deity, is that he is the lover of Sidapa, the god of war. Many sources attribute the two as the patron deities of homosexuals. (Further research on their love story revealed it could be a form of “modern fiction”).
Oryol, the Snake Woman
According to the Bicolano folk epic Ibalong, Oryol was a demigoddess who possessed inhuman beauty and seductive prowess. In one of the tales surrounding Oryol, she was cursed by a jealous diwata who turned her into a serpent woman. She became the guardian of the forest and her horde of monsters.
Babaylan, the Priestess
The babaylan is not a goddess, but a powerful ritual specialist with the power to influence the weather and tap the various spirits in nature. In the precolonial Philippines, women were regarded as equals of men. The babaylan was one such evidence of the powerful and central role that women played in society at that time. Although the datu was perceived to be very powerful, this power was equally matched by the babaylan.
"Various iterations of mermaids exist in Philippine myths. In Bicol, they are called Magindara, guardians of the sea, though they are also believed to prey on humans," wrote the artists.
"The Sama Dilaut believe mermaids to be omens of catastrophe, while the Manobos who dwell at the foot of the Pantaron Mountain Range call them Alimugkat, guardians of the great rivers."
"Makapatag-Malaon is the supreme deity of the pre-colonial Waray society. Unlike the gender-ambiguous creator Bathala of the Tagalogs, Makapatag-Malaon is both man and woman simultaneously," wrote the artists.
To view the full exhibit of Diwata, visit this link.