John Ray Hontanar is a literary scholar, visual artist, feminist, and LGBTQIA+ advocate. Born and raised in the magical island of Panay, he holds a master’s in Comparative Literature and specializes in babaylanic studies, indigenous culture, and queer writing. He is currently teaching Literary Theory and Art Criticism as an assistant professor at the Division of Humanities in UP Visayas. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Locating the Ma-aram: Animism and Indigenous Memory in Kinaray-a Agi Poetry
Abstract: This paper analyzes Agi Poetry written in Kinaray-a, using the Panayanon concept of power (gahum) as its framework. Philippine gay literature has unfurled after the publication of the anthology Ladlad and continues to reach higher grounds. However, gay criticism has been too focused on the discourse of the Manila bakla and not much has been said about indigenous models of queerness in the regions. The agi is an indigenous articulation of homosexuality in Panay in Central Philippines. This paper traces the connection of the agi’s attendant performance (kaagian) with the indigenous ma-aram tradition (also known as babaylanism). The strong presence of ma-aram imagery in agi poetry unravels the connection of kaagian with a pre-colonial form of power called gahum, which is deeply attuned with the animist spatiality of Panay. The babaylan or ma-aram is a shaman, culture bearer, and political leader that embodies physical and spiritual powers that go beyond the human realm. Gahum is best exemplified in the ma-aram tradition because it harnesses animistic forces that guide and safeguard indigenous communities. By exploring the interconnected concepts of kaagian, gahum, and babaylanism, this critical study reveals that there is power in pre-colonial belief systems that can be used to subvert colonial-imposed hegemonies in order to decolonize and liberate the agi identity.
Keywords: ecocriticism, animism, queer poetry, Philippine gay literature, decolonization