The Paantu (パーントゥ?) festival is an annual festival on the island of Miyako-jima in Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture.[1]

Every year during the ninth month of the Chinese calendar, male villagers will dress up as paantu, supernatural beingsmeant to spread good luck and scare away evil spirits. The common feature is a wooden mask with a large forehead, small eyes, and a thin mouth, and the spreading of sacred mud onto newly built houses or onto newborn children’s faces. In some villages, the Paantu are accompanied by traditional animist noro priestesses.[2]

In other villages, the Paantu will chase after small children, making them cry, or chase after people who are avoiding having their faces smeared with the sacred mud.

Ethiopia,  hamer-tribe :  african hairdressing for woman

The Hamer tribe (sometimes called the Hammer People or Hamar tribe) live in the Hamer Bena Woreda District of the Omo River Valley in southwestern Ethiopia. The Hamer are primarily pastoralists, tending cattle, around which their society bases their existence. In addition, the Hamer people are famous for their “bull jumping ceremony” in which young men are required to jump over a line of bulls in order to be accepted as adult members of Hamer society. Officially the Hamer tribe is Muslim. However, in practice they are animists, believing that plants, animals, and even inanimate objects have spirits that can supernatural powers over human beings. Many of the more traditional African tribes practice animism similar to the Hamer tribe. The population of the Hamar tribe is approximately 43,000 people.

What it means to practice and revive our indigenous belief system?

I often get asked what is it I actually practice, what I believe in, and if I practice alone or with a group. These are questions I sometimes ponder myself as I try to reconstruct and revive the indigenous beliefs and practices of the Philippines. Working alone, I don’t have the fortunate privilege of having a community to turn to, to discuss with in regards to Anituo. I have found very few people really interested in our indigenous beliefs and the structure of it. I hope one day there can be a community of like minded individuals where we can practice and celebrate together while sharing stories, thoughts, and contributions to the religion but for now I have to accept it as is. 

As someone reviving our ancestors indigenous beliefs and bringing them to the modern day, there is a lot of work and research. Oh yes the constant research. We don’t have any written sources from our ancestors that we have found in regards to religion and folklore prior to colonization. Heck, the only document we do have is the Laguna Copperplate which talks about someone getting released from his debts. As simple as that document is though it does give an insight on what the people practiced as we now know at some point in time the people around the Tagalog regions followed an old Hindu calendar that is still used in India based on the inscription of the Saka year and mention of the month of Waisakha which is the local term for the Hindu month Vaisakha. But other than this we have no other documents written by us prior to colonization that we have found to date. In that regard we must make due with what we do have which are the Spanish historical written accounts of our ancestors. Some notable accounts well worth mentioning are those from Francisco Alcina, Pedro Chirino, Antonio de Morga, Juan de Plasencia, and Antonio Pigafetta, just to name a few. 

Reading those various accounts one must take in what they mention about our ancestors beliefs and practices. I have written notes in a notebook dedicated to the research, writing down where the information comes from and by what group of people it was practiced by. Often times a problem that comes with Reconstructionist faiths is that all your time is consumed by research and not actually practicing. In a sense without the involved practice its not a living religion. That has been a problem with me in regards to my practice as I have spent my time researching but not actually practicing. However when there is no book or resource with the information I have learned and gathered readily available it is understandable but something I must also overcome if I want to revive the indigenous beliefs into a living religion in our modern age.

Besides those hardships however I have come to love what I do and what I have learned through all that research. I have learned names of deities that have been long forgotten today. Of rituals for harvests, sickness, and offerings to the spirits of the forests and seas when hunting and fishing that aren’t practiced anymore. Of the spirit houses our ancestors had by the rivers, forests, and outside the villages, that were often given offerings.  Of a cosmology that derives from a native point of view coming from our environment living in islands by the sea and mountains, and of our understandings of where we as a people come from. Its this system of beliefs that are indigenous to us that make me continue researching and using that information into a modern practice.

One such example is the celebration of the moon. Our ancestors celebrated every full moon as a joyous and spiritual event as to them it was the time when the Diwata came down to earth. It was a time of feasting and welcoming the Diwata. I have taken this practice and celebrate every full moon as a holiday toward the Diwata. However, what I do that our ancestors didn’t do is that along with celebrating the Diwata, I also celebrate and give offerings to a specific Diwata for that lunar month and the following month another Diwata is celebrated.

For example this coming full moon I will be celebrating the Bisayan Diwata, Banwanun, who is the Diwata of the forests. During this coming full moon not only will I leave offerings to the various Diwata but I will also set aside a special offering to Banwanun of pork and chicken. If I was a hunter and hunted my own food I would give my first catch as my offerings as what was traditionally done by hunters as thanks to Banwanun for providing them game. However seeing as I live in the suburbs and don’t hunt, my humble offerings will suffice for the forest god. This celebration is part of a modern calendar that not only has a historical basis as a day of celebration but has added on something I have personally decided to celebrate as well during each full moon as a holiday for a specific Diwata.

Is it hard to practice Anituo when you aren’t living in the islands of your ancestors where the Diwata & Anito reside? At times yes, depending on the situation. For example, I would love to make a pilgrimage to Mt. Madyaas (or Madjaas) in Panay as it the home of the Bisayan Diwata, the Bisayan version of Mt. Olympus. There are so many myths revolving this sacred mountain, one that this is where some Bisayans go in the afterlife (the other place being in a tall mountain in Borneo). Another belief is that there is a tall tree belonging to the Diwata Si Dapa, that marks the lifespans of every individual once they are born. Another mountain I would want to personally give my offerings to is Mt. Kanlaon, the home of Laon, the Goddess of agriculture & harvests who is also the supreme deity among the Bisayans based on many of the historical accounts, all specifically mentioning that Laon is a woman.

However the Diwata aren’t the only aspects in our indigenous beliefs. More importantly was the veneration of our ancestors and spirits, known as Anito by many groups. There are numerous Anito, comprising of nature spirits, spirits of our dead ancestors, spirits of cultural hero’s, etc. There is an anito of the river, mountain, a specific tree, rock, etc. This belief is very animistic and the belief that there is a spirit in all natural things can be extended outside of the Philippines to nature in general. 

Practicing in an environment outside the Philippines isn’t that hard though if you know how to connect with the Diwata and Anito and there are no real holidays practiced collectively throughout the islands besides harvest and planting festivals as well the celebration of the lunar months. Of course harvest and planting times here in the Northeast of the U.S. differs greatly compared to that in the Philippines, but even then there are variations of planting and harvesting times in various regions of the Philippines.

But back to the original question of what does it mean to revive our indigenous belief systems? For me as a Pilipin@-American living away from our homeland, practicing Anituo is something spiritual for me in connecting with my ancestors, nature, the Anito & Diwata, and reclaiming an indigenous spirituality that shaped who our ancestors were and our cultures.

Illustration by Pen Prestado

I have a Furby (batteries removed, of’c) sitting on the box I put my accumulated loose change in. When I first started doing so, I joked that the Furby was guarding a box of treasure, and that the money inside was its hoard. (Oh, innocence!) Everytime I put money in the box, I’d pat the Furby on the head and tell it what a great job it was doing guarding the hand sized box. Whenever I needed loose change for something, I would apologize to the Furby about raiding its stash.

Silly me, right?

One fine day, my mother decided to take up all the loose change in the house and convert it into something easily spendable. She raided the Furby’s box and took every last coin.

What could possibly go wrong?

I discovered the theft when I came home, long after anything could be done about it. The first clue something was wrong was listening to my mother explode about “that demonic toy” in my room and how it was staring at her with “evil hate” and she had a mind to take a hammer to it but then that would unleash the evil spirit hiding in it and she has had nothing but trouble since taking the coins it was sitting on and…

"Did you apologize to it for taking its money? And did you give some money back? You always said it was an evil thing to take someone’s last dime. If you emptied the box, then you’re the one doing evil here."

"I didn’t say…"

"You’re the one describing the toy like it’s a sentient thing. If you’re feeling guilty about taking the money, then perhaps you should give it back, or at least put some coins in there so it’s not completely empty.” I swear, I should take up professional poker playing. That my family still thinks I’m hostile to anything spiritual or woo is hilarious. “Isn’t there some family story about house spirits guarding caches of treasure or something? If anything, I have a right to be upset with you because I need loose change for vending machines and shit. So, yea, you owe me some money, if nothing else.”

My mother would give up all her gold to the Devil himself before she admits she has done wrong by me. She harrumphed loudly and dug into her purse for four coins. A quarter, a dime, a nickel, and a penny. She slammed them on the table beside me. “Here! Give that devil its due! And I won’t ever touch your shit again! I’ve had nothing but problems all day since I turned in that change!” She started going on a rant about how the coin counting machine reset twice on her and how the ticket was printed bad so the cashier wouldn’t accept it at first and how careless I am about leaving loose change out and several more hundred words that I wasn’t paying attention to because I was trying not to laugh out loud.

I scooped up the coins and went to the Furby. I had left the eyes open because a good guard is always aware, right? Someone had forced the eyes closed and turned it towards the wall. I couldn’t hold it any longer. I let all my mirth escape. Loudly. That only set off another round of expletives from my mother about demon toys and various urban legends she has heard about Furbies. I opened the eyes, kissed it on the head and made many gestures that would soothe even a anxious Chihuahua, told it that it did nothing wrong, and all the consolations you tell a person when they have been overwhelmed by the circumstances.

"Look what she gave back. A quarter, a dime, a nickel, and a penny. It’s not the loot, I know, but it’s something. I promise I’ll never take all of your coins, even if I desperately need them. I’ll always make sure you have at least one of each kind." If I knew then, what I know now…

I emptied my wallet and purse of loose change and added to the Furby’s miniscule hoard. It barely covered the bottom of the box and made for a very sad sight. I set the Furby back on its box and patted it once more because this Furby is a good Furby.

A few days later, I had more change to add. The box was a third full. I started to ask my mother about it, but at the mention of the word “Furby”, she flew off into a rage denying that she had taken anything out of that box and that the toy was demonic and all sorts of predictable but entertaining phrases. Everyone else in the house claimed ignorance of the additional change.

A week later, the box was half full.

Some time after that, I needed quarters. All the quarters. (Saving someone’s ass from their mistakes again.) I apologized to the Furby as I sorted through the stash coin by coin removing the required denomination. But as I remembered my promise, though I still needed quarters, I made sure that two (one for the promise, and one for good luck) quarters went back into the stash and that they went to the bottom of the box away from casual glances. As I placed the guardian back on the box and patted it in another apology, I got the feeling that it was cross with me for raiding it, but not really angry. It understood.

A week later, I went to add some change and the box was two thirds full. The new additions were mostly quarters.

What. The. Hell.

No one else in the house confessed to adding the change. My mother and my daughter each had their own loose change container, and my father dumps his in a water bottle for future turn-in.

When the box becomes full, and if I feel the Furby is okay with the plan, I’ll take two thirds of the box and convert them to cash for various purposes. But no matter why I’m raiding the box, I will not take the last quarter, dime, nickel, or penny. If I have to raid the box for a particular denomination, within a week, the count of that type of coin will have multiplied in the box.

Maybe it’s just me not noticing what coins I put in there, as I do try to keep a light wallet. Maybe it’s my mother trying to buy a clean conscious behind my back. I dunno.

But that box and its contents belongs to the Furby sitting on top of it.

The box is currently so full, the lid barely fits. The extra coins are piled up in front of the box as a spillover.

The Furby looks so happy. So filled with glee. There is a sense that it knows I will have to do something about the growing pool of coins eventually, that its dominion is limited to the box it sits on. But for now, its cup runs over, and there is a sense of joy about it.

It reminds me of a dragon. A very happy and content dragon.

Would that I could be that happy.

My piece for Light Grey Art Lab’s “Animystics” show, which is opening on the 25th, I am assuming i can post this because it is up on their site hahaha.

Please consider purchasing a print i believe I wrote that 60% of all my sales should go to the Human Society here in the twin cities. I picked the Human Society because that is where I got m rabbit fromOr buy a print from one of the other amazing artists, a portion will go to  a charity of their choice. If you happen to be in Minneapolis on the 25th I have some signed prints (one framed) that will be for sale at the show. I signed them in gold leaf so they are pretty special, just saying.

ask an animist...

Person: Why do you pick up roadkill?
Me: I feel a connection to all animals, and like to help where I can. 
Person: But these ones are dead. 
Me: That does make it easier to help them. It’s trickier when they’re alive, if they’re not domestic, I mean. 
Person: ……?
Me: Because they’re not afraid anymore. Besides, wouldn’t you want your body to be cared for if you died?

A mausoleum in Tikala village, Tana Toraja regency, South Sulawesi province, Indonesia. The photographer explains its cultural significance thus:

Christian and animist traditional elements mix freely here; the site is an exemplar of the modern Torajan cultural synthesis. The Christian mausoleum, with its modern hyper-realistic effigy, is associated with a traditional standing monolith, photo right, and a traditional boat-shaped bier, photo left. In Torajan funerals, the wooden bier, upon which the corpse is carried to its final resting place, is kept at that place of final interment until it eventually disintegrates to become one with the elements.

(Photographer: Michael Gunther)

Indeed, since the Council (Vatican II) launched the novelty of “inter-religious dialogue,” the “representatives” of precisely those religions characterized by a “magical view of the world and… superstitions”—literally everyone from the Animists to the Zoroastrians—have received personal invitations from the Pope himself to form motley assemblies with Catholics and Protestants at Assisi in order to “pray for peace.” At the same time, precisely as a long line of pre-conciliar Popes had warned—warnings the Council resolutely ignored in its almost fatuous proclamation of the “joys and hopes” of “contemporary man”—former Christendom has completed its descent into the “silent apostasy” even John Paul II was forced to recognize after decades of hailing the “new Pentecost” of Vatican II.