By Peter Jaynul V. Uckung

      It is still a popular belief that Jose Rizal’s epitome of the Filipina in bloom is Maria Clara. At least, not physically, as we all know she has reddish hair and cotton white skin, Caucasian features that cannot be denied (she is a daughter of a Spanish priest), but fundamentally in character – religious, virginal, loyal, patient, loving and elegantly graceful in manner.

      If she really is Rizal’s model of womanly virtues, why then is Maria Clara’s life written to end up in the deepest pits of depravity, behind the dark and damnable walls of the nunnery. And Maria Clara’s religiosity and loyalty, it must be remembered, proved to be easy to manipulate and is preyed upon to the fullest by Padre Salvi, who blackmails her to give up her love to Crisostomo Ibarra and some letters from him (which are then used to convict Ibarra). This in exchange for some scandalous letters written by her mother.

      Maria Clara, in spite of her supposed virtues, succumbed to the dark forces that will eventually father a revolution.
      Another character of the Noli, though seldom considered as a contender for being a model of womanly virtues, is Salome. She is clearly described as young woman who lives alone in a nipa hut. Simple in her attire and “not beauty to strike the eye at first glance…..whose beauty can be appreciated only after a careful examination”. Seemingly euphemistic in his description, Rizal unravels her character slowly, with her every action. At the end of the chapter, she will be wholly described as romantic, confident, sensitive, in-love, assertive and independent of mind.

      Her presence in the novel is fleeting, as there is only one chapter on her (and Rizal excluded this chapter to lessen the cost of Noli’s publication), but it paints a different color and perspective of the Filipina mystique. What makes her stand out among the  female characters of the Noli is that she figures  with Elias in a conversation devoid of inhibition,  picturesquely romantic, and compelling in portraying a woman in the early stage of independent thinking.

      During the domination of the Spaniards in the Philippines, a woman with independent thinking was rare, and often curtailed by a colonized society. This state of society curtailment even became the norm for awhile.

      Rizal was aware of the pre-Spanish culture of Filipinos, as he had annotated Morga’s book about Philippine history and probably read about Filipino women’s assertive nature. The Filipinos have never been alien to strong-willed women. There are lots of evidence to bolster this fact.

      It is a fact that religious leaders of pre-Spanish era Philippines were called Babaylans or Catalonans and most of them were females. They were highly respected and people were accustomed to fearing them. They presided over rituals and ceremonies.

      Just what kind of rituals were they presiding experts could only deduce, base on evidences and reports of Spanish chroniclers.

      In 1917, a 41-pound golden female deity was discovered in the bank of the Wawa River in Agusan (near the town of Esperanza). Now in the Chicago Museum of Natural History, it has an ornamented headdress, cross-legged, as if contemplating. There were many theories as to the origin of the golden statuette (now known as the Golden Tara).

      There is a belief that it is a Buddhist image belonging to the Indo-Javanese Kingdom of Majapahit (1200’s A.D.), based on the flame-like projection in its ornamented headdress. Others suggest that the image’s likeliest affinity could be in the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, as shown by its manner of sitting, calmness of facial experience, elongated ears and halo around the head. Still others claim that it was probably made during the Sri Vijaya era, during the Buddhistic rule of the Sailendras (900-950 A.D.), based on the headdress and other ornaments.

      Others likened the image to a Sivaite goddess. Siva is one of the supreme deities of Hindusim, representing the principle of destruction. He also represents the reproductive or restoring power. His symbol for this matter is the linga – the phallus.

      Considered unconventional by most Hindu and Buddhist practitioners, the belief in the esoteric practices invoking yoga and meditation for the fulfillment of earthly and spiritual ecstasy is known as Tantrism and was practiced extensively in Southeast East Asia, and perhaps including the Philippines, before the coming of European colonizers In Tantric     belief achieving the highest transcendental ecstasy involves the methodical use of the sexual union. 

      Hindu Tantrism declares that the nondual absolute reality has two aspects:  Shiva (male) is pure consciousness and transcendent passivity, while Shakti (female) is energy and mental activity. The psychosexual ritual of the Tantra can be realized metaphysically within the yogi’s own body, or physically between a yogi and a female partner.

      In Buddhist Tantrism, the female is the passive one, the male the active force. The Buddhist Tantric female represents wisdom. The yogi practitioner seeks to unite the male and female aspects through psychosexual rites at the psychic centre in the genital region. This produces the seed of enlightenment called bodhicitta, that will eventually bring in transcendental ecstasy   and the realization of the non duality of absolute reality.

      Tantrism is Southeast Asia has been recorded by a Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, I-Tsing,  in 671 A.D., specifically in the Srivijaya Empire.

      A controversial pre-European era Indonesian king, Kertanagara, introduced the religion based on Tantric Shiva-Buddha mixture. He was reported to have been busy in a ritual ceremony when he was assassinated. Kertanagara was supposed to gain magical power to fight threats from within his kingdom and against the Mongol invasion.

      His heir, Prince Vijaya, eventually drove the Mongols out, and founded the Majapahit Empire in 1293 A.D.

      The Philippines is believed to have been part of the trading outposts of Sri Vijaya and Majapahit empires, and may have been influenced by Tantric practices prevalent during that time.

      An observation by Antonio Pigafetta written in the 1500’s tells of Cebuanos having their “penis pierced from one side to the other near the head, with gold or tin bolt as large as a goose quill. In both ends of the same bolt, some have what resembles a spur, with points upon the ends; others are like the head of a cart nail…In the middle of the bolt is a hole, through which they urinate”. Pigafetta was told that native women “wished” it so, and sexual union was refused by the women with men without the genital paraphernalia.

      Women’s rights were gradually written off with the coming of the Spaniards. The Babaylans and the Catalonans were demonized and condemned. In the 300 year- Spanish colonialistic rule of the Philippines, native women lost their ancient social and religious supremacy to be replaced by Spanish clerics with absolute power in religion and domestic affairs.

      Clerics possessing power far beyond their ecclesiastical duties, which ultimately corrupted them and catalyzed Jose Rizal to write a novel of revelation on colonial priestly rapacities.  The revelation became the battle cry of a revolution.