Thursday, February 4, 2016



Three books by Albert E. Alejo:

Tao Po! Tuloy! Isang Landas ng Pagunawa sa Loob ng Tao 
(Ateneo de Manila University Office of Research and Publications, 1990) 

Generating Energies In Mount Apo: Cultural Politics In A Contested Environment 
(Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2001) 

Nabighani: Mga Saling Tula ng Kapwa Nilikha 
(University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2015)


Nabighani is one of the most beautiful words in the Filipino language. Google translates it as 'fascinated' but it really is more than this. Nabighani speaks of awe, of being entranced or enchanted by Beauty. 

This is how I feel about the work of Fr. Albert E. Alejo, a Jesuit poet, philosopher, antropologist, activist/peacemaker, advocate for indigenous peoples' rights. Nabighani ako when I first heard him speak at the University of the Philippines as the guest lecturer in Professor Virgilio Enriquez' class. He has just published his first book, Tao Po! Tuloy! and I was just beginning my own academic journey and my personal journey towards decolonization. Sitting in that class, he saw the tears streaming down my face and he asked me why. I told him that listening to him speak in Filipino is stirring up something very old, very deep, very beautiful about myself as a Filipina. I was not even articulate enough at that time to explain the tears. In hindsight, I know now that it is Tao Po! Tuloy! that made me love myself again as a Filipina.

Written in the most poetic and lyrical Filipino language that I have ever read, Tao Po! Tuloy! is a critical intervention in indigenous Filipino philosophy. The concept of Loob -- explored as widely and deeply as he has done in this book -- and along with the work of Virgilio Enriquez on Kapwa and Pakikiramdam, is what gave me the faith to believe that decolonization is a possible project for someone as deeply colonized as I was. Two decades later and several books of my own later, I look back with gratitude to Fr. Alejo or Paring Bert's own love and commitment to making sure that we are always and forever in the embrace of our pagkabighani.

His second book, Generating Energies in Mt Apo, helped me in my ongoing desire to learn about the plight of indigenous peoples in my homeland. I saw parallels in the plight of IPs back home and Filipinos as ethnic minorities in the U.S. and I wanted to thread those connections. At one point, Paring Bert told me that I shouldn't worry about the disappearance of indigenous peoples. "All it takes is for one of them to have a dream and everything becomes alive again," he said. And in this book he writes about how this was true for the IP communities of Mt Apo who were divided by the development of geothermal energy on their sacred mountain. This book talks about 'generating cultural energies' when people feel ashamed for having 'sold out' to development projects. At one point, Paring Bert told me that I, too, can learn how to create energies in the liminal spaces of my whereabouts in the U.S.. And I believe I have. 

Nabighani, his latest book, is a translation of his most beloved poets: from Rumi, Tagore, Gibran, John O'Donohue, St Francis of Assissi, Pope Francis, Thich Nhat Hanh, Teresa de Avila and others including indigenous Obo and Manobo poets. A translation project that is decades in the making, Paring Bert describes this book  as "a poetic theory of the spirituality of priesthood as translation." I wouldn't do justice to try to explain this in my own words but his self-interview at the end of the book shows us why being a poet-philosopher-activist-anthropologist is first and foremost a work of translation. I most appreciate his desire to share his beloved poems with his Kapwa whose ears and heart are more tuned in to the native Filipino tongue than the non-native tongues in which these poems were first written.

This engagement with one of my favorite authors carries with it a deep desire for others to read his books and to know of his many other advocacies and projects that I haven't mentioned here. I am also blessed that over the years he has become a dear friend with a shared love for Lizards, bird calls, laughter, corny jokes, and stories about Loob, Beauty, Kapwa, Peace, and Justice.


Leny Mendoza Strobel is Professor of American Multicultural Studies at Sonoma State University. She is the author of Coming Full Circle: The Process of Decolonization Among Post-1965 Filipino Americans (Giraffe Books, 2001) and A Book of Her Own: Words and Images to Honor the Babaylan (Tiboli Press, 2005). She is the editor of Babaylan: Filipinos and the Call of the Indigenous, published by Ateneo de Davao University Research and Publications Office, 2010. This book is a collection of scholarly essays on primary/land-based babaylans in the Philippines; Kapwa psychology and babaylan practice; babaylan-inspired practices by Filipinos in the diaspora; as well as personal narratives on decolonization as a spiritual path. With Lily Mendoza as co-editor, her latest publication is Back from the Crocodile’s Belly: Philippine Babaylan Studies and the Struggle for Indigenous Memory (CFBS 2013). More information about here is available HERE.  She is also the Director for the Center forBabaylan Studies

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for these lovely reviews, Leny. Paring Bert's books are available from Philippine Expressions Bookshop: