By: Roma G. Velasco
“To uncover the indigenous in our souls is the work of decolonization. But even as we decolonize, it is not enough; it is merely a beginning. The work must continue to deepen until the body, mind, and soul, become one.” -Leny Mendoza Strobel
In my reality, work and life are not separate worlds that I step in and out of daily. They are intertwined and integrated. So, the projects I have in my personal life also inspire the projects I have at my work at Integrated Work. What I thought was just a “research” process so that I can spark creativity within me as I work with our team on our JEDI [Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion] products, programs, and initiatives, is now becoming a journey to self-discovery and decolonization.
I may not show it or speak about it often, but JEDI work and conversations bring a whole slew of feelings and emotions for me. For me, this is part of generational trauma, and they exist in peoples and lands who were injured and are continuously being injured by colonization, and their colonizers. One of the impacts of colonization is burying, hiding, and forgetting our indigenous roots, the ways and being of our ancestors, so we may fit in in this civilized and modern world. Because of this, I struggled with how I can free myself from thoughts and feelings of being a victim, instead of a survivor of colonization and our colonizers.
I thought decolonization meant fighting against our colonizers. I thought decolonization is about wanting, needing, and demanding that the offspring of our colonizers learn, understand, accept, and reparate for the actions of their forefathers. I thought being angry was part of the process of decolonization. I thought decolonization meant all this and more, and that did not feel right to me. I felt greedy, empty, lost, angry – I felt as though I was losing my authentic self even more. I thought to myself, this is what colonialism and imperialism are about and what these structures want me to become. As much as I feel the pain of witnessing the continuous impact of colonialism and imperialism on my motherland and her people and being gifted this life because my ancestors were “lucky” enough to survive almost four centuries of genocide and colonization, the feeling of acting and speaking with anger about that pain hurts me even more. So, I started searching for answers and discovered that they’re all within me, gifted and passed down to me by my ancestors through Filipino Indigenous concepts of personhood. I needed to return to my roots, the foundation of my Filipina personhood, and I would love to share my findings with you.
Kapwa [shared identity] means that “I and the Other are One.” Indigenous Filipinos believe in the shared identity with other human beings, suggesting the inclusive, open, welcoming nature of Kapwa.
“In Philippine culture there is an underlying belief in the shared identity of human beings. Individual existence is only apparent and relative for all we exist within a cosmic matrix of being at the deepest center of which is a creative living principle or energic process. This implies a unity of creation – oneness of inner and outer reality, of noumena and phenomena – that is essentially an Asian concept yet distinctly Filipino in its recognition of the vital principle, especially in people…” – Prof. Felipe de Leon, Jr. [Kapwa Conference 2008]
Loob [shared humanity] – according to Fr. Albert Alejo, SJ, Loob can have the same meaning as Aletheia [Greek, truth revealed], Tao [Chinese, The Way], or Zen [Japanese, unnameable], and that Loob is our perennial philosophy. The three elements of Loob are Abot-Malay [consciousness], Abot-Dama [deep empathy], and Abot-Kaya [will to act].
- Abot-Malay [consciousness], is about our efforts of becoming fully human through open and interconnected consciousness, attaining wisdom and knowledge through conversation with others, relating with others, and self-reflection. Alienation [tiwalag sa loob] obliterates these efforts, causing us to lose our whole selves and being.
- Abot-Dama [deep empathy], understanding the feelings/emotions of everyone and everything around us is as important as the knowledge we have in deepening the meaning and purpose of our relationship and interconnectedness with the world, our fellow human beings, and our Creator.
- Abot-Kaya [will to act], these are the songs of hope and freedom from our Loob that help us fulfill our vision; get us through anything and everything in life; and gives meaning, power, and strength to our everyday struggles – so that we may endure.
Finally, Damdam/Pakiramdam [shared inner perception], the basic perceptual mode of knowing, is the ability to empathize with our Kapwa. It is a well-developed tacit sensing of context, content, and emotion when dealing with our Kapwa. It is our desire to maintain balance and harmony in the universe and our relationship with anything and everything around us.
I hope that these Filipino Indigenous concepts of personhood, an integral part of our pre-colonial system and practices, guide you as much as they have guided me, to heal from the past so that we may become our whole selves again. As I think about self-love, I realized that self-love is loving myself and others. It is forgiving myself and others. It is accepting myself and others. It is understanding myself and others. Self-love is about me as much as it is about others, and how I am interconnected with others, even our colonizers. Kapwa tao, kapwa tayo! We are fellow humans, we are one.
Alejo, Albert, SJ. 1990. Tao Po! Tuloy! Isang landas ng pag-unawa ng loob ng tao. Quezon City, Philippines: Office of Research and Publications, Ateneo de Manila University Press.
Mendoza-Strobel, Leny, 2010. Babaylan: Filipinos and the Call of the Indigenous. Santa Rosa, California: Center for Babaylan Studies
Image and Artwork Credit: Ancient Filipinas by Nina Martinez