Sisterhood is Sacred
It began for me in Honolulu, raised by Ilocano Womxn; sisters of two generations nurturing and growing a third that in my early childhood was only me and my own sister, Irene Joy. I grew up in a home where the Womxn were the center: they were the caregivers, the homemakers, the cooks, the keepers of brothers and sisters, the teachers, the medicine Womxn, the healers - they were everything. And because of this, they nurtured my sister and I to take on these roles and traits that have helped me through time re-member the power of being a Womxn. They also made urgent the need for the Womxn to take care of one another, to have a sense of care and connection to each other different from our relationship with the men. A common phrase that was continually used throughout my life as a peacemaking tool between my sister and I came from the lips of my grandmother:
"Ayayatem ta kabsat mo, ta dudua kayo nga ag kabsat a babae /
You have to love your sister, you are the only two girls."
The loving of each other as sister, as Womxn with a special bond, was emphasized above just loving one another as human beings or as family. I witnessed the way she lived those words with her own sisters, my great-Aunts, and taught them also to her daughters, my mother and two aunties. The Womxn would sit together, around the cooking of food, around the nursing of children, around the caring of the home, around the loving of each other.
The sacredness of sisterhood has always lived in my heart, although life has challenged it time and again.
Starting in grade school in the early 90's, where we were taught playground etiquette favored the boys, the value of men by societal standards was thrust upon me, countering the teachings of my grandmother and the circles of Womxn who raised me. I don't know how many times I spoke the words, "Most of my friends are boys - I don't like hanging out with girls." As if it was a badge of merit to be one of the girls who the boys accepted into their circle, that it made me special to be "different" from the "other girls." What false teachings, the ways that society shaped us to forget our sisters for the approval of, the attention of, the love of a man above that of the Womxn in our lives.
Patriarchy was one of our colonizers' most insidious weapons against our people and against all indigenous peoples. It made us unknowingly dismantle the part of our communities that created and enriched the lives of every household, every village, every tribe and every clan: the Womxn's circle. We have been taught to shame Womxn for everything that makes us powerful, unless it is of service to men.
Our minds have been conditioned to focus on thinking like a man, so we can love and serve him well, or so we can outdo him by being like him. I've witnessed so many of my sisters give their power away for the sake of a man's upliftment, to keep the men in their lives satisfied and content. Even in taking on power, we look to the example of the man, adhering to masculine traits and ways of working in the world. We emulate their styles of leadership that create hierarchy. We "think like a man," which has been taught to us as an emphasis on dominance, force, insensitivity, and disconnect with emotion as a sign of strength. Linear thought - lines that create division, lines that create levels of worth, lines that create limitations. We forget the Womxn's circle, that invites us all to aide one another, to hold one another, to see one another. To even see our men in us - as us - as born of us, as raised up by us.
Our bodies have been victimized by the gaze of men's eyes. Our outer selves have been dressed and undressed for the pleasures of men. There is a sense of control of Womxn's bodies, the same as the bodies of land that were once our motherlands. The Philippines has been reaped of its resources, exploited and abused, exotified and put on display. Patriarchy has led the wars for ownership of our lands and our bodies. Our breasts are desired to be seen, suckled and caressed by men, yet shamed into private spaces when used to feed and nourish our sons and daughters.
We are taught to hide away the most powerful parts of our Womxnhood, the reminders of our body's ability to create, nurture and sustain life. Our menstrual cycles, our moons, have been shamed away and made a time that we hide ourselves from others. Even the pain and discomfort of menstruation have been emphasized as a curse or a disadvantage, so we forget that it is our reminder that the power to give life flows through us. In indigenous cultures this time was held as sacred, as a time when a Womxn would be held and cared for, and the blood that spilled from her was held in reverence. Where once we held circles to praise the glory of our bodies as sisters, now we are left to objectify one another's physical beings the same way men have, to judge and compare our bodies to each others.
Our spirits have been limited to praising men's figures, to glorifying man as God. We forget the Womxn who have been central in communicating, exchanging and wielding the powers and connections to the spirit world. We were fooled into forgetting the Babaylan, forgetting her way of channeling and healing in ceremony and ritual. We have forgotten how to see creation around us as miracle, and ourselves as miracle and magic in a world where Womxn are seen as weak and worthless in comparison to man. Although it was Womxn who wielded heavens at their fingertips and connected them to our motherland. We have let religious colonization take hold of the truth that would allow our Womxn to rise in spiritual leadership.
But today, we have been reclaiming all that Patriarchy has taken from us of our power as Womxn, and the most powerful reclaiming of all is our Love of each other: the sacredness of sisterhood. And so I re-member. I re-member ancestral teachings that invite me to Love my sisters; my sisters by blood, by circumstance, by life connection; and that have told me to Love them because they belong to me as I belong to them - in sisterhood.
When we allow the Womxn in our lives to create circles, we honor creation, we honor nourishment, we honor the mind, body and spirit being freed; we honor life of all.
This piece is to honor that Sisterhood is Sacred and that it is more vibrant than ever before. I have walked in my daily life with the intention to uphold the sisters that have come into it. I pray that all the Womxn who I have built in circles with throughout my lifetime have felt that I hold them as my sister. I pray my sisters have felt me care for their rising in connection to my own. I pray my sisters have felt every invitation of presence and exchange to be one of mutual enjoyment and betterment. I pray my sisters know that I see their magic and know how privileged I have been to bear witness to and be touched by the power of their being. I pray my sisters know that each time I have misstepped in my role as a sister, I have sought to heal those ruptures and to better our relationships further. I pray my sisters know that I love them.
I am writing this in recognition of all the Womxn who I have called sister, and who have uplifted my existence by their mere presence, even if for just a moment in my life. And particularly, I breathe deeply in the truth that my life from its beginning has been upheld so tremendously by a continuous spiral of Powerful Pinay Womxn circles who all individually and interconnectedly, with each breath they take, carry, inspire, nurture, love and empower their families, loved ones, and communities to rise with them. I think on the sister circles of Pinay Womxn I have built with throughout my lifetime: in Kababayan at UC Irvine, Gabriela Network/Af3irm, Damayan, Ugnayan, FIRE/GABRIELA, The Journey of a Brown Girl, Raised Pinay (1st and 2nd Generation), The Center for Babaylan Studies, Kapwa Kollective, Hella Pinay, and the countless Pinay Artist Circles I have built with throughout my lifetime.
I feel our AnSisters celebrating the way we all rise each day. I have witnessed how we rise with purpose and power, and that they are freed each time we walk with Love of ourselves and belief in each other for what we create and grow in this existence, for ourselves, for each other and for the many movements we support and are often at the center of.
I admire, respect and am moved by all of them and their names echo honoring in my heart every day.
To close, I call the name of my Mother and her two sisters, Rose Umipig, Faye Sebastian and Madeline Wilson, and also my older sister the Matriarch of our generational line Irene Joy Caldetera-Umipig. I call their names and the name of my grandmother, Nena Caldetera, who taught me to Love my sister and all the sisters that would enter my life in the future. I celebrate you all and who you have raised me to be.
I celebrate you Sisters, all over the globe, and throughout time and spirals of existence. You inspire me with your power every day. I hope we find a way to celebrate our Sacred Sisterhood circles everyday. Happy Womxn's History Month, this existence would be emptied of its magic without you!
Jana Lynne "JL" Umipig is a multidisciplinary artist, educator, and activist who seeks to elevate the narratives of Pilipina wom*n as a reflection of her own life's journey toward decolonizing, re-indigenizing and humanizing self. She is the creator of the acclaimed Movement Theatre production "The Journey of a Brown Girl" which has been noted as a "transformative human experience through the lens of the Pinay Narrative." She is a core member of The Center for Babaylan Studies, an Inner Dance facilitator, and founder of Butikaryo mga Babae, which creates sacred space for Pinay Womxn Healers seeking to learn and remember healing practice and knowledge connected to our ancestral traditions.