born again babaylan
A MURAL BY BEKAH BADILLA
424 NE GREENWOOD AVE BEND,OR 97702
SPONSORED BY MACTEK
As a settler on this land, and the descendant of Camiguingnon and Waray indigenous peoples of the islands that are collectively now known as the Philippines, it is my duty and honor to acknowledge this piece resides on the ancestral lands that traditionally and customarily belong to the Indigenous Peoples of the Paiute, Wasco and Warm Springs Tribes. In the 19th century, as settlers began to expand across what is now known as Oregon state, the process of ceasing land and resources and spreading deadly disease, brought about the death of 80%-90% of the Native People. In 1855, the superintendent of Oregon Territory, was ordered to clear Indians from their lands. The Wasco and Warm Springs Tribes ceded approximately 10 million acres to the US government in exchange for 464,000 acres.
I acknowledge this land as distinctly stolen, and honor both the past and current struggle, resilience and excellence of the Wasco, Paiute and Warm Springs Tribes. I acknowledge my own misunderstanding of history (herstory/ourstory) and hope to challenge that with deeper learning, relationships and action.
To read more about the Wasco, Paiute and Warm Springs Tribes you can visit: https://warmsprings-nsn.gov/
To donate to the ongoing water crisis visit: https://www.mrgfoundation.org/the-chuush-fund-water-for-warm-springs/
CONCEPT & QUESTIONS
In this piece, I explore the idea of "American progress," that suggests the human condition will inevitably evolve and improve, through the lens of mixed-race identity, Pilipinx ancestry, and spirituality.
To question "progress," is to strike a chord at the center of our belief system as US Americans. Within the context of progressivism, progress is the idea that the human condition will inevitably evolve and improve through advancements in technology, science, and social organization. It assumes that progress has been made through these means, and therefore will inevitably continue to be made. But historically speaking, progress is a relatively new idea.
The narrative emerged post-enlightenment with the shifting of religion to empirical reason in Europe, and an emphasis on the separation of "nature" and "man." There became a need for a new social narrative to justify and reinforce industrialization, evolutionary thought, settler colonialism and transatlantic slavery, which in turn tied the idea of progress up in patriarchy, white supremacy and capitalism.
While it manifests within US Americans cultural narrative in both positive and negative ways, progress in its most basic form, is an inanntely temporal concept, residing within a linear paradigm that is dependent upon human ingenuity and a positive-trending social morality for it’s success. Since the idea developed and became popularized during distinct periods of European/American colonization and slavery, it is also inherently Eurocentric and defined by those who were and are in power. Culturally and historically, this idea has manifested as the belief that we began as ignorant "savages", and are moving in a series of steps toward a more civilized utopia that will solve our problems. Because the progress narrative is temporal and future-bias, it often looks only for a superficial solution as opposed to acknowledging, reflecting and reconciling the deeper issues of the present and the past.
The concept of American progress laid the bedrock for many colonial and imperialist ventures of the US. This includes (but not limited to) the forced occupation and colonization of the Philippines. Popular posters during the largely forgotten Philippine-American war depict, the "savage" Filipino being educated, civilized and even taking their first bath with the help of the US.
President William McKinley scrubs a Filipino child with a brush labeled “Education” in the cleansing waters of “Civilization”.
Land-grabbing from Indigenous peoples for the sake of industry continues to take place in the Philippines. The Lumad people are currently fighting to protect their land against multinational corporations and logging companies thirsty for resources. Examples in the US of the progress narrative playing out include the 30-meter telescope planned to be built on the Native Hawaiians sacred mountain Mauna Kea, or the Dakota Access Pipeline, which threatens the Standing Rock Indian Reservation water sources, ancient burial grounds and cultural sites.
By separating BIPOC as people "of the past" from the civilized white man of the "inevitable future", and creating a value system measured by the temporal idea of progress, the goals of our society have become endlessly manipulatable and defined by the objectives of the white majority in power. Although a somewhat abstract concept when compared with more situated, familiar and simultaneously polarizing narratives and constructs of oppression within our culture (capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy etc.) the notion of progress remains a foundational and dominant idealogical narrative that many of us share. I believe its important to place this seemingly innate and robust US American cultural narrative (that is most often seen in a positive light) into its historical and cultural context so as to critique, challenge and reflect upon it.
Uncle Sam teaches frightened children representing the "Philippines, Hawaii, Porto Rico and Cuba"
Uncle Sam uses the Philippines as a metaphorical economic stepping stone to China.
As I reflect on my families story and the history of Turtle Island, I've found that history (herstory/ourstory) continues to be rewritten, science deepens age-old mysteries, and violence and oppression prevail today just as they did yesterday. "Progress," is an ever-moving target.
What if we aren’t evolving but merely adapting? How does our hyper-focus on the future, affect our reflection on the present and our reconciliation of the past? How is the idea of progress
violent and oppressive? How is it liberating? How have the Eurocentric powers at be shaped our understanding of time and history/herstory? How does reflecting on the indigenous ways and values of my own Filipino ancestors challenge this linear paradigm?
In the piece, I combine symbols of past, present and future—making the linear construct of time obsolete. Melting out of the glacial ice is the spirit of a Babaylan, a matriarchal leader, spirit guide and warrior prevalent in pre-colonial Philippines. The Babaylan embodies both technology and nature, offering knowledge and guidance not through elitism and brute force but through spirituality, mysticism and ancestral strength.
A young warrior is shown edified by their lineage and empowered to fight the battles of their time. The values inherited from the Babaylan hold no consequential utility or materiality by US American measures. Yet, it’s this very same reason they have the power to transcend the linear and shed light on the nature of our present circumstances.
Everything is a symbol of some kind for me. The white flowers springing from the ice reference the Younger Dryas, an abrupt near-glacial period of time 12,800 years ago named for the dryas flowers which thrived in cold conditions. It also reflects a personal connection to my home and the icefields of Alaska. The circuit boards, are a symbol of current and future technology. The white hair of the young warrior, a symbol of the ancestral wisdom, strength and resilience that is always within us. The Babaylan embodied within the glacial ice is a fervent reminder that however displaced, colonized and removed from our original cultures we are, both the earth and our bodies have deep memory and lessons to teach us.
As she floats through the air with her head held high, she leads the murderous western expansion of Europeans across the North American continent. In contrast, the Babaylan, a larger than life ancestor full of ancient knowledge looks the opposite way, suggesting a new path and offering guidance and wisdom that is unassuming, non-dualistic and grounded in the earth.
'Born Again Babaylan' embraces the antithesis of the popular 1872 Manifest Destiny painting, 'American Progress' by John Gast.
(Above) "American Progress" depicts popular Manifest Destiny ideas in the late 19th century.
In many ways, "Born Again Babaylan" embraces the antithesis of the popular manifest destiny painting “American Progress” by John Gast. “American Progress” depicts an angelic woman (or angel) named "Progress", stringing telegraph wire and holding a school textbook that will instill European knowledge.
THE SACRED MYSTERY
How do we navigate the challenges we face today? Can we discover new paths by embracing the nuance between our ability to dictate the future and our inability to control it?
The universe holds both change and cyclicality. As time unravels and each new day reveals itself, I rest in both the vitality and insignificance of this moment within the deep memory of the earth and my lineage. In my path to healing, I find hope in the future, but do not find solace in it. I’m not concerned with action for the sake of linear progress toward an illusive utopia, but more concerned with reflecting, acknowledging and reconciling the injustices of the past and the present. Only from there can the path be revealed. While I face new trials before me, my true strength and hope abides in the knowledge that my ancestors have also faced trials, and although different, they embody the same enigma of being. The wisdom is within. It has survived, it is resilient, it is liberated— and it transcends the linear. I unearth not despair, but power and belonging as I reclaim my culture, re-member history and acknowledge this sacred mystery.
Artist, designer and illustrator Bekah Badilla, explores ideas at the intersection of earth, history, embodiment, mysticism, ancestry and spirituality. Raised in Juneau, Alaska, Badilla draws on place through connection with her home and the earth, seeking wisdom held in natural elements such as ice and rock. From a Filipina/Euro American heritage, her work seeks to liberate, re-member history and facilitate growth through navigating and examining decolonization, resilience and the complexities of a mixed-race experience.
Interested in a mural for your business or home? In addition to bookings for original pieces in her style, Bekah designs murals for any kind of space! For booking inquiries, interviews, or collaborations please use the contact form below.
David Eder, Montague (1932). "The Myth of Progress". D. Eder. 'the Myth of Progress.' the British Journal of Medical Psychology 1932, Vol. Xii, P. 1.. Int. J. Psycho-Anal. 14: 399.
"Progress". Progress definition. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. 2019.
The Myth of Progress
Theodore L. Shay
The Indian Journal of Political Science
Published By: Indian Political Science Association
Strand Book Store. (2018, June 14). The Myth of Progress: Our Most Violent Fantasy [Video]. YouTube.
Vaughan-Lee, E. V. L. (n.d.). The Myth of Progress - Interview with Paul Kingsnorth. Emergence Magazine. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from
RSA. (2013, April 9). On Progress - John Gray [Video]. YouTube.
Sandweiss, M. A. S. (n.d.). Picturing US History - John Gast, American Progress, 1872. Retrieved September 18, 2020, from
Library of Congress. (1899, January 25). American Empire [Illustration]. American Yawp.
Hamilton, G. H. (1899, June 10). The Filipino’s First Bath [Illustration]. Your History Site.
Judge Magazine. (1900). Judge [Illustration]. Lumen Learning.
Warm Springs Community Action Team. (n.d.). History. Retrieved September 18, 2020, from
*It is important to note that other resources, oral teaching, relational and community learning and mutual knowledge sharings have informed my work and ideas.
- Jamie Yancovitz, Darcey de los Reyes. Survival Arts, survivalarts.org/.
- Thoreau, H. D., & Brown, B. (2020). Walden ; and On the duty of civil disobedience. Canon Press.
- Hancock, G. (2020). America before: the key to Earth's lost civilization. Coronet.
- Villariba, Marianita Girlie C. “OneonOne.” Babaylan Women as Guide to a Life of Justice and Peace, vol. No.2, 2006, pp. 55–60.
- Ho, Fred. Principles for the Revolutionary Matriarchy Society, 2012.
- Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne. An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (REVISIONING HISTORY). Reprint, Beacon Press, 2015.
If you have any reflections on the artwork, thoughts on the questions that I've brought up or resources to share please do. I'd love to hear how people interpret the piece, how it makes them feel, what it reminds you of, how its impacted you or just a signature to say that you've seen it…Thank you!