Decolonizing Bodies - Motherland is Me

Communal medicine-making with pandan / NYC, April 2017

Communal medicine-making with pandan / NYC, April 2017

"Colonialism is in our bodies. The plants help us Re-member." -Angela Angél

I just closed out an energizing and inspiring circle of learning led by sister Herbalist, Medium and Healer, Angela Angél, as she brought her Philippine Folk and Herbal Medicine Workshop to New York City. I was activated in a new way of understanding my decolonizing work - seeing the plants, the land, Mother Earth, as allies in the process of decolonizing the body. For many years, my work has been rooted in looking deeply at the way we store the experiences of this life and of ancestral planes of existence in our bodies and in our mentalities. In these past years, I have deepened this work with an understanding of what we carry of ancestral stories in our energetic beings. I have examined the importance of allowing ourselves to acknowledge what lives upon, in, and through us, rooted from our ancestors. And I've used my artistry to release these stories, messages, and memories into the world. If we are willing to look at these messages and memories, stored away inside of us, we may find that traumas held persist because we forget what came before them. Colonialism has hidden away the truth of Medicine within us, just as it has done to our ancestral bodies of land and all the power and magic that pulsates in the Air, the Waters and the Earth. Through Angela and the gathering of Kapwa and Plant ancestors, I was reminded.

The plants are messengers, they are healers, they are mediums that bring us back to our whole beings. They make us look at what we do not want to, in our own bodies and also around us. The plants make us confront the unspoken, they grow more persistently when we need them most; the land provides everything that we need to survive, if only we let her lead us in our re-membering. Every plant that comes from motherland, when exported to another place in the diaspora, still carries with it the memories of where it came. They are specific teachers that tell us of our peoples, what makes them thrive, what they need to survive, the common illnesses that they may suffer, what keeps them sustained and nourished.

The author and her grandmother in Los Angeles, March 2017

The author and her grandmother in Los Angeles, March 2017

When working with the Malunggay (Moringa) in both our workshops my eyes welled up and my spirit shook. I was brought back to moments pulling leaves of Malunggay from their stems with my grandmother in our backyard in Hawaii. My grandmother learned to go to this plant to be fed and to be nourished, and she learned to plant and grow Malunggay and pass that learning to her children and grandchildren - a lineage of relation between Human and Plant beings.

The smell took me back, and spoke to me of remembrance. My grandma showed up in my heart and mind during our work with the Malunggay, and the way her body has been nourished by this tree, how our ancestors before her were nourished by Malunggay, and how in return they helped to protect and grow this ancestor plant to its fullest. Now, the Moringa plant is being claimed as a superfruit in colonial/capitalistic society. The term “superfruit” becomes a key to let consumers that there is something special and highly nourishing that comes from that plant being. Our ancestors knew this truth because they communed with these plants, they grew and cared for them, they were energized and lived because of them, they gave gratitude to the Creator(s) for them. Now they are packaged and promoted for purchase and mass consumption. Our ancestor plants have been stripped and extracted from the land, been claimed for the exclusivity and use of those who can afford to exploit them. The same way our labor and our bodies have been reaped and raped by colonial rule.

Malunggay / Photo cred: Astig Vegan

Malunggay / Photo cred: Astig Vegan

Some of the many Malunggay products aimed at western consumers

Some of the many Malunggay products aimed at western consumers

The more we recognize our interrelation to our motherland, the more we reclaim our knowing and understanding of her and all her Medicines, the more we liberate ourselves, and learn to care for ourselves in a good and powerful way. Our Mother Earth knows our bodies, as she knows the bodies of all the living beings that share in this existence with us. We have forgotten to listen to her lessons, we have forgotten to see her for all she is to every living being.

I think so deeply on the interconnectedness of decolonizing our own bodies, by decolonizing the body of the Motherland - that by understanding how to re-member her medicines and gifts from the Earth, the first womb, that we can give of those learnings to the re-membering of ourselves. We are connected to the land. She has always provided what we need to live, to thrive, to become. I believe she knows more of what we need than we allow her to tell us. And that instead of being humbled and grateful when we do uncover her givings, we exploit her; we take more than we need and we counter her medicines with greed and gluttony. We make artifice of her gifts, and commodify them where only some can benefit.

Western medicine and health care is led by colonial teachings and structures. It makes our health and wellness conditional. It creates trauma in the process of exchange with practitioners, in diagnosis, in prescriptions that are made of often poisonous compounds and hyper extractions and manipulations of Mother Earth's natural medicines. Many of us struggle to even be seen by a doctor, to afford it. So we are conditioned to take on an unhealthy relationship with Western healthcare and in turn, an unhealthy relationship with our own bodies.

Western medicine limits us from seeing the power within ourselves, and in relation to Mother Earth, to heal. The ancestral relationship we have to the land was taken from us from our colonizers, because what makes their culture and their societal structures stay intact is that they have created systems of dependency. By masking and controlling our ability to remember our relation to the land, they control our ability to heal ourselves and our communities. They control our Mother Earth, set divisions and territories to claim some divine ownership of her and all the Ancestor plants and minerals that live on her, so they can justify how they pillage and destroy her for their benefit.

Altar at Philippine Folk and Herbal Medicine Workshop / NYC, April 2017

Altar at Philippine Folk and Herbal Medicine Workshop / NYC, April 2017

All of this came to me from the Plants speaking through Angela’s workshop, and have opened a channel to speak to Plant Ancestors like never before.

In the process of decolonizing self, we must collectively decolonize our Motherlands, and return to them with humility, gratitude, and an intention to listen deeply to all she has to give to our physical, mental and energetic/spiritual beings. I think on how much these ancestral beings hold of wellness memory.

I am walking away from Angela’s workshop with the intention to use these new lessons of decolonization in relation to Plant Medicine in my examinations of the physical body and how it holds Colonization not only within it, but also upon it. I am walking away valuing the need to re-cultivate this allied relationship, where we care for the healing and re-membering of the Motherland and Mother Earth as a means to heal and re-member self.

I am so thankful to Angela for her time with us, for her giving of lessons and messages in relation to our Ancestor Plants. She shifted my spirit to commune with theirs in a powerful way. Look out for her movements in the world and how she is sharing and offering space to commune with our Ancestor Plants throughout the US.

 

If you're in the Bay Area, check out Angela's 8 Week Folk and Herbal Medicine Series Ninunong Gamot: Philippine Ancestral Medicine from April 23 - June 25, 2017, which focuses on Philippine Herbal Medicine, Medicinal Foods and Healthy Traditional Cooking,Ancestral Healing and Creating Personal Practices for Wellness, and Hilot (Massage and Chiropractic Care). Sign up on her website otherwaysofseeing.com and if you're not able to attend, make sure to sign up for her newsletter!

 

BY JANA LYNNE "JL" UMIPIG

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pronouns: she/her/JL

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.