Song of the Babaylan: Living Voices, Medicines, Spiritualities of Philippine Ritualist-Oralist-Healers
Author: Grace Nono
Editor: Carolina "Bobbie" Malay
Book Designer: Felix Mago-Miguel
Record Producers: Grace Nono and Bob Aves
Publisher: Institute of Spirituality in Asia
Year: 2013


Responding to claims that the babaylan (Philippine shamans/ritualists-oralist-healers, mostly women) were eliminated by the histories of Spanish and American colonizations of the Philippines, Song of the Babaylan: Living Voices , Medicines, Spiritualities of Philippine Ritualist-Oralist-Healers (Institute of Spirituality in Asia, 2013) shows us that they continue to thrive in the present time, as testified, among others, by their songs, rituals, and healings that continue to be performed today.

Based on over eight years of empirical research with babaylan and people they work closely with, the book details the lives and practices of over ten babaylan from Tuguegarao, Kalinga, Benguet, Batangas, Palawan, Cebu, Camiguin, Agusan, Maguindanao, and South Cotabato, Philippines. It presents ritual ethnographies, babaylan stories and conversations, oral/aural chant recordings, and interdisciplinary discussions relevant to issues in indigenous studies, religious studies, gender studies, ethnomusicology, and anthropology.

"Grace Nono's book about a profound tradition of Philippine shamanism is an archive of what must not perish, and a song to what will never arise without a respectful encounter with the best of what has gone before. Nono mobilizes the descriptive precision and unidealizing attention of a formidable scholar, yet her work is purified of the researcher's tendency to feel just a little superior to the researched by the unwavering recognition that her subject, the babaylan, are carriers of an immemorial transmission of human intensity, embodied knowledge and sacrificial caring that can never be adequately fathomed with the scholar's tools. Her understanding that the current of genuine tradition is ever-fresh allows Nono to look with equal generosity on the babaylan who refuse foreign influnce, all the while responding to the changing demands of a unique time and situation, and those babaylan who mingle Christian or Islamic convictions with their shamanic prowess, without compromising either. St. Thomas Aquinas endless insight that all being, insofar as it has being, is good, will and must find new realizations through the ages. The goodness of the being of the babaylan, and of other indigenous ways, implicated in partiality like all human manifestations, provide a gravity that helps assure that humanity, stumbling and surging forward, will remain and become inheritors of the earth. The tribute Aquinas bestowed on Aristotle by enriching Christian doctrine with the Greek philosopher's ideas gave Dante the warrant to draw from all the compelling sources he could find to immeasurably deepen his Christian classic, The Divine Comedy. This globalized world, thrown into an unprecedented and potentially wondrous confluence of cultures and human ways, is in danger of becoming seriously bored with itself, unless it defies homogenization by reveling in the reciprocal learning coming from enlivening cultural differences at the heart of human affinity. The world awaits new classics, written in the heart and marrow, in intercultural gusts of human feeling, and on computers, where indigenous wisdom serves as the foundation and honored partner in dialogue with other forms of wisdom. And the world craves the autonomous, deep-rooted sounds emerging from the babaylan tradition, coexisting lovingly with different sounds from other traditions, of the kind Grace Nono offers, for she is a great singer as well as scholar."
-- Martin Cohen, Boston College Honors Program; Co-Chair for the Philosophy, Poetry and Religion Seminar of the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University

"For the first time in Philippine babaylan studies, we have a scholarly, comprehensive and artistic work which integrates strong advocacy and features the Philippine babaylan (babailan, ma-aram) as an arist-singer, aside from her/his being a rich source of ethno-medical and spiritual knowledge. I consider this book a "must" reading, not only for the Filipino scholar, artist and cultural worker- but for all other scholars and researchers interested in indigenous studies."
-- Alicia P. Magos, cultural anthropologist; advocate for the revival of Philippine indigenous cultures; University of the Philippines-Visayas professor emeritus; former director of the Center for West Visayan Studies, author of The Enduring Ma-aram Tradition: An Ethnography of a Kinaray-a Village in Antique"

"Grace Nono has written an important study on living babaylans in our country, a difficult yet very timely subject to tackle. Her book, Song of the Babaylan, shows good original research as well as thorough knowledge of the babaylan's roles as healer, chanter, ritualist and embodiment of spiritual qualities. Grace Nono has given Filipinos a precious gift by sharing with us her knowledge of a deep spiritual tradition still alive among our people and women."
-- Leticia Ramos--Shahani, teacher; writer; former senator; diplomat; former Chair for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

"Song of the Babaylan is a milestone in Filipino Traditional Medicine. Excellently documented by the Philippine Studies scholar and singer Grace Nono, the thousand-year oral traditions of women healers of the Philippines have now seen print and their voices recorded. Filipinos move a hundred steps forward in further understanding the Pinoy soul and spirit in healing and wellness. I enjoin every Filipino health professional to read this book to rediscover our heritage and wisdom in health, healing and wholeness."
-- Jaime Galvez-Tan, professor at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine; former Secretary for the Department of Health; grassroots community health worker; former UNICEF Regional Adviser in Health and Nutrition for East Asia and the Pacific Region

"Mahinungdanon kaayo kining gisulat mahitungod sa babaylan, labi na diha sa pagtugkad sa personal ug esperitohanon nga relasyon. Hangtod dili nato maabot ug masinati kini nga relasyon, ang atong kinabuhi sa kalibotan makaangkon sa dako nga kakulangon. Tinuod nga usa ka 'healing' ug 'reconciliation' ang pagtuon sa kahimtang sa mga babaylan, (ilabina) sa mga kakulian nga atong giatubang, lakip na ang corruption. Mao kini ang pondasyon sa kalinaw, kaangayan, hustisya ug kalamboan nga kinahanglan atong makab-ot dinhi sa kalibotan." (This work on the babaylan is of utmost importance, in relation, most especially, to fathoming the relationship between the personal and the spiritual. Until such relationship is intimated, life on earth will remain greatly deficient. It is true that understanding the ways of the babaylan constitutes healing and reconciliation, especially in the face of challenges that we currently face, including corruption. Such understanding is the foundation for peace, justice, and development, which we aspire for on earth.)
-- Datu "Migketay" Victorino Saway, Tala-andig and Philippine indigenous leader from Lantapan, Bukidnon, Northern Mindanao; author of " The Ulaging Epic and Survival of the Tala-andig People "

"This is an invaluable book for all seekers of our babaylan roots. For the first time we not only read about, but hear the actual voices of the babaylan right in their home grounds. This makes it an enlightening and empowering book for our nation in need of spiritual healing and renewal."
-- Fe B. Mangahas, feminist historian, teacher, author and co-editor of Centennial Crossings: Readings on Babaylan Feminism in the Philippines

"Grace Nono is a master artist in the highest sense: a vocalist, scholar, and activist for the arts and cultures of indigenous peoples. She is in the vanguard of socially responsible artists who courageously stand for the values and expression of peoples long disrespected, marginalized, and categorized by the colonial and neo-colonial forces that have shaped the world. Her groundbreaking and cutting-edge book speaks as a powerful voice that is rooted in people's bodies, hearts, and minds, and also eminently contributes to scholarly knowledge of global culture and its expression. The Song of the Babaylan is itself a song and cry of identity, history, and spirit that is unique in its scope, honoring in its method, and deep in its message. The world needs to hear Grace's voice, and through hers, the voices of peoples of our spiritual family."
-- Royal Hartigan, world music artist; ethnomusicologist and professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth; author of Blood Drum Spirit: Drum Languages of West Africa, African America, Native America, Central Java, and South India; researcher of Philippine music traditions

"I am sure our ancestors throughout the archipelago are singing an analogous jubilant chant, "Dongdong-ay sidong-ilay, insinali-dumma-ay, dongdong -ay sidong-ilay, insinalidumma-ay" because Grace Nono, with her co-researchers, our wise 'babaylans,' have achieved a most evocative cultural undertaking. I am glad there is a renewed consciousness on the sacred ways of Indigenous Peoples and empathy towards other cultures. When one sees clearly, there is an intangible wealth with our being indigenous Filipinos that even the dominant cultures, however advanced, do not embody. Here, we appreciate without a doubt, diversity as an element of our national strength. Mabuhay ang lahing Pilipino!"
-- Genevieve Balance-Kupang, indigenous Kankana-ey woman from the Western Mountain Province; researcher & faculty member of St. Paul College-Pasig; facilitator for workshops on peace education, indigenous peoples issues, and social teachings of the Church; author of "Mandala as a symbol of the Self, Spirituality and Wholeness"

"By the grace of Allah, we now have access to this book, Song of the Babaylan. Read it, if to be reminded that we've veered away from our own indigenous wisdom, which the "digital natives" ought to bring forward into the emerging global humane consciousness seeking redemption from the tsunamis of hectic modernization and pervasive pop culture. Slow down, listen to the song, to be able later to say "Hear! Hear!" Sing it, it's yours to own. Read and listen to this treatise, it's authoritative. Alhamdulillah."
-- Usopay Hamdag Cadar, ethnomusicologist; Muranao music artist; author of Context and Style in the Vocal Music of the Muranao in Mindanao, Philippines

"Song of the Babaylan feeds my hunger for primary knowledge about our living spiritual and cultural traditions as embodied by the babaylans. Anyone who hears the call of the indigenous in one's bones, heart, and soul, would do well to read this book so that the journey may be enlivened by the immanence and radical presence of ancestral spirits in the midst of our modern lives. This book reminds me to always be aware that Babaylan is not a discourse, not an archetype, not a new-age-spirituality trend - but a living tradition rooted in the primary babaylans' relationship to the Land, her spirit-guides, and her communities."
-- Leny Mendoza Strobel, teacher of multicultural education, postcolonial and indigenization studies at Sonoma State University; Director for the Center for Babaylan Studies; editor and co-author of Babaylan: Filipinos and the Call of the Indigenous

"Maphod ta nunpanomnom ee Grace Nono an iliblu na nan a-char chi mumba-ee (babaylan). Nan ta-mo na ya bumadchang hi bumango-nan chi nitagu-wan chi aapu tuuh chin nadne. Achi miwalong chi uga-lin chi aapu ti nitanum hi achor tuun mata-gu ya tun lu-tan nunhituwan. Gu-lat, boon nan topeng chi payon chi Ipugo ya aboh chi nitucho-an chi uga-li chin nahup, ti wa-cha goh nan ba-ee an miha-pet, migopah, ya miya-lim. Impati-gon ten liblu an ta'on hi natino'on chi ha-pet nan munpunba-ee hitun natino'on an buble, mo napapadchung chi pangayag cha linna-wa—hey ha-pet cha." (It is good that Grace Nono was inspired to document the knowledge of the babaylan [mumbaki in Ifugao]. Her work will help awaken the wisdom of our ancestors in us. It is impossible to eradicate the ancient ways of life because they are embedded in our bodies and living environments. Ifugao history, for example, is written, not only in the stone-walls of the Ifugao rice terraces, it is also found in the rituals that are recited, chanted, orated, and sung. This book illustrates how the babaylan from the different parts of the archipelago share a common way of communicating with spirits—with their voices.)
-- Mamerto "Lagitan" Tindongan, Mumbaki (indigenous Ifugao priest) based in Athens, Ohio; wood sculptor; multi-modality healer

"A gathering of spirit and human voices, performers of indigenous instrumental music and song, experts in traditional medicine, symbols of decolonization; the babaylan are all of these things. In this finely detailed and highly interdisciplinary ethnography, based upon nearly a decade of fieldwork, Grace Nono names names. She introduces us to a community of listener/speakers who have maintained an audile technique now lost across much of the world; the babaylan hear and speak for worlds now inaudible to much of humanity. Their "medial subjectivity"- between the self and the other (the speaking spirit)-serves as an allegorical model for cultivating a radical empathy. For what hope is there of hearing others if we cannot hear the voices within ourselves."
-- Andrew McGraw, ethnomusicologist and professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Richmond; composer and performer; researcher of contemporary and experimental musics in Southeast Asia; author of Radical Tradition: Reimagining Culture in Balinese Contemporary Music

"At once singing and sobering, magical and harsh, esoteric and simple. Welcome to the inclusive universe of the babaylan! Step into that realm that this gem of a book succeeds in transporting us into--via a spirit boat or a golden swing if you're lucky!
The sincere voice behind this tour de force of a book is unmistakable. After this book, never again shall we be so careless as to cast the babaylan in an image that serves purposes other than her/his song's. Treasure this book from our indigenous spirit for it is a rare gift."
-- Agnes Miclat-Cacayan, Mindanawon feminist; author of The Shaman Woman's Dream: How Can We Worship God without the Forest?

"The word babaylan is now so often bandied about in women's circles. "You are a babaylan!" someone points a finger, "she is a babaylan. I am a babaylan!" It seems almost a blasphemy to those who have studied the babaylan more deeply. Grace Nono's book on the subject is an exhaustive research on this old Filipino spiritual calling. The existing babaylan (which may not include you or me) have been painstakingly documented and accorded the respect they deserve."
-- Gilda Cordero-Fernando, publisher and co-author of The Soul Book: Introduction to Philippine Religion

"I am grateful and happy that Grace Nono presented the voices of the indigenous babaylan as her book's centerpiece, not as data for the appendix, where standard scholarship had relegated them for a very long time. Indigenous peoples, especially women, have been marginalized and denigrated too long. Grace's book, Song of the Babaylan, challenges us to reclaim our kadaanan (ancient ways), our peoples primal faith and cosmic spirituality, towards the promotion of ecological wholeness."
-- Rosario B. Battung, RGS, indigenous Ibanag eco-feminist theologian; member of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians with special focus on indigenous theology; author of "Kako and the Women Healers of Capatan"

"In Song of the Babaylan, Grace Nono's attention to music as social practice makes the role of the babaylan audible and visible in relation to Filipino history, identity, medicine, and music. The interdisciplinary and international lens through which she writes and conducts her research also brings the babaylan into conversation with the emergence of global Indigenous music studies. This balance between local, national, and international concerns makes Song of the Babaylan a significant contribution to contemporary music scholarship."
-- John-Carlos Perea, ethnomusicologist; professor at the American Indian Studies, College of Ethnic Studies, San Francisco State University

"Song of the Babaylan: Living Voices, Medicines, Spiritualities of the Philippine Ritualist-Oralist-Healers is, indeed, a song of a soul-searcher named Grace Nono. In our present fast-paced, globalized, consumerist world, this scholarly and spirit-led work brings to the fore the inner connectedness of the Filipino Soul to the God of Life and Love that has been with us before the coming of the Spaniards. This is an inspirational reading for those who seek, as well as those who wish to affirm their Indigenous Spirituality and their rootedness as Filipino."
-- Erlinda "Arlene" Natocyad, indigenous Kadaclan woman from the Eastern Mountain Province; professor and senior researcher at the Asian Social Institute (ASI); modern-day healer-ritualist whose practice is rooted in her indigenous lineage; author of "Indigenous Healing, A Journey Back to Our Indigenous Root," and "Re-enchanting the Rituals of Everyday Life"

"Song of the Babaylan gives voice, heart, spiritual wisdom, and academic depth to the Filipino quest for cosmic connectedness and community harmony. The intense and detailed research records, for the first time, the words and thus the conceptual framework for further understanding how individual holistic wellness around the archipelago is timeless and spaceless."
-- Felice Prudente Sta. Maria, essayist; cultural education advocate; author of A Cultural Worker's First Manual

"The story of Grace Nono's continuing journey of rediscovery and appreciation of her babaylan roots is a contribution towards, and a mirror of, a global trend: the Return to the Feminine. The 'goodness and beneficence' she saw 'buried under the rubble of colonization and modernity' is the hallmark character of this new emergence."
-- Serafin Talisayon, professor of Knowledge Management at the Technology Management Center of the University of the Philippines-Diliman; author of 99 Paradigm Shifts for Survival in the Knowledge Economy: a Knowledge Management Reader

"The transformative path of Grace Nono's research is truly inspiring, liberating and healing!"
-- Rosalinda "Moon" Maglana, Chairperson for AKKAP Alternatibong Kalamboan Katilingbanong Panglawas (Alternative Community Health Development)

"Getting to know the babaylan is a lakaran (pilgrimage). I want to say something profound about it, but actually it is nothing but every man's and woman's journey throughout life. Sometimes all we need to do is listen to the babaylan's song and sing with our fellow travelers-that we are really all one in this - naglalakaran lang."
-- Teresita Obusan, writer, publisher, teacher based in Bahay Nakpil Bautista; editor and co-author of Roots of Filipino Spirituality; co-editor and co-author of Pamamaraan: Indigenous Knowledge and Evolving Research Paradigms; author of Mystic or Mistake: Exploring Filipino Mysticism in Quiapo


Song of the Babaylan is available at the Institute of Spirituality in Asia at, 63 2 412 2715 c/o Fr. Gabriel Dolotina or Boyet de la Torre (Philippines); and at the Philippine Expressions Bookshop at, 1 310 514 9139 c/o Linda Nietes.


The Shared Voice: Chanted and Spoken Narratives from the Philippines
Author: Grace Nono
Editor: Carolina "Bobbie" Malay
Book Designer: Felix Mago-Miguel
Record Producers: Grace Nono and Bob Aves
Publisher: ANVIL Publishing and Fundacion Santiago
Year: 2008


The summation of over fifteen years of sustained interaction with Filipino oralists and personal practice of a number of Philippine oral traditions, it is the fruit of the journey toward self-understanding and meaning for those who may recognize their voices in this rich and diverse material. A book that echoes the life journeys and insights of ten Filipino oralists from different Philippine ethnolinguistic groups in Luzon and Mindanao; oralists who cut across lines of faith, gender, class, and generation.

"This book by Grace Nono is indisputably significant among today's various efforts to retrieve and protect our racial memory. The tau lemingon, ma-ba-diw, ma-temmo, ma-badjog, manug-ambahan, manug-urukay, benud-uman, manod-omay, tau hulung tolu, onor, mataw-dayunday, oral traditional chanters-poets interviewed in this book are like national living treasures and repositories of indigenous cultures developed by their ethnic groups. We should thank Grace for re-introducing them to us and reminding us about our forgotten springs of memory. I read with sadness their common concern about the neglect they and their societies have been experiencing. The next major project then is recording their songs and voices, SOONEST, before we lose the precious pieces of Filipino heritage known only to them."
- Virgilio Almario, National Artist for Literature

"When Grace Nono started singing fifteen years ago, she gained a cult audience among cultural workers anxious to create original Pilipino music, not as a derivative of our western musical training, but an eclectic outgrowth of our ethnic tradition. Our folk music, like our folk culture, does not flow from the classical traditions of Asia. But we are beholden to use it in our creative endeavors. Grace persevered, and now sings authentic Filipino-- an authenticity not so much the result of creative innovation alone—it is strengthened by rigorous scholarship, by passionate involvement with our own roots sunk deep in the native soil, often ignored, often demeaned by those who are alienated from their own origins. If only to understand ourselves better, Grace Nono should not only be listened to more—those who want to know themselves better, who want us to evolve into a nation, should now also read her."
- F. Sionil Jose, National Artist for Literature

"I am happy to have this rich compilation of the rich oral traditon of different ethnic culture specially the contribution of Princess Sindao Banisil to this collection as edited by Grace Nono."
- Lucresia Kasilag, National Artist for Music

"A must-read for those who are interested in Filipino oral literature, particularly the teachers who handle makabayan subjects in schools."
- F. Landa Jocano, anthropologist

"The Shared Voice is a strong piece of poetic scholarship. It brings me deep into the springs of a
culturally-rooted and musically-embodied kind of worship. I personally admire Grace Nono for
undertaking such a daunting research on the haunting chants of Filipino oralists like Mendung Sabal of the T'boli and Henio Estakio of the Ibaloi. And the way she records their dreams with reverence, the way she weaves their songs and stories into her text, and the way she draws insights from her very own experience of communing with our heroes and mystics through music---all this reveals that Grace is definitely one of them. The bonus is that we, like her, in this day and age, can also drink from the same source of indigenous energies that continue, despite the odds, to nourish our collective will to live with dignity. A Shared Voice sings the divine in us as a people; it is a rare book that is meant to be shared."
- Albert E. Alejo, SJ, poet, priest, anthropologist

"I congratulate Grace for breaking new grounds in creating knowledge that is deeply rooted in the histories and cultures of Philippine society, knowledge mediated by the narrations of women and men oralists. The multiplicity of voices, including her voice, alerts the readers to the creative possibilities of theorizing about culture changes, social tensions and everyday events, without committing to hegemonic and totalizing narratives."
- Carolyn I. Sobritchea, feminist scholar

"This study of ten Filipino oralists representing a cross-section of the country is a significant contribution to concretizing Filipino identity. The author, who considers herself as a "secondary oralist", typifies the journey of alienated Filipino artists who have been confused of their national identity because of colonial influences. After understanding her life's journey, the author concludes that she "comes [to her] own authentic voice and identity—an authenticity freed from associations with fixed, static and totalizing traditions, an authenticity reflective of the continuing historical processes" of what makes her today. She continues: "It has given me a renewed commitment to my [Filipino] community—which like me, can profit much from the knowledge and practice of oral tradition." This study opens doors to further researches."
- Fr. Leonardo Mercado, author, philosopher, priest

"Grace Nono found her life's mission not only in the performance of ethnic songs but in her deep immersion with the scattered singers who still carry these traditions. This charming book is its fruit—readable and scholarly, the latest contribution to the definition of Filipino."
- Gilda Cordero Fernando, author, publisher

"In her singing as an oralist-poet with me in celebration of the 2006 Printemps des poetes and Week of Francophonie consecrated to the eminent Senegalese poet Leopold Senghor; and now made to read her deepest study of sister and brother oralist-poets from out of our archipelago's hinterlands into the halls of the academe, I imagined Grace Nono as a reborn sari-manok. That legendary bird flying gracefully; a fish out of its watery depths on to land; a creature aerial, marine and terrestrial all in one when depicted in meshed, flowing arabesques by tribal artists. She incarnates the many roles of an oralist-poet as she examines each character as an empathizing scholar, only to become like them- an original oralist-poet, not an impersonator; a celebrant, a healer, an entertainer, a diviner, and anointed guardian of tribal secrets. But in one more bird-song, a T'boli bird "with mirrors for wings and needles for claws," when a greedier world, attempts to trap, cage, and then mimic badly, the souls of original bird-songs of oralist-poets."
- Virginia Moreno, poet, playwright, film director



The Shared Voice is also available in the Philippines in selected National Book Store
and Powerbooks branches



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