Musings Monday: Nanay Myrna Pula


Photo taken from the Manila Times:…/…/. Image description: A smiling brown-skinned woman with black hair wearing beaded and hand-stitched regalia.

The word “Nanay” means “mother”, and is a kind of honorific when referring to Nanay Myrna Pula. She is a tribal Elder of the T’Boli people, a culture bearer, and storyteller of epics. She has been preserving and translating the work of her people, having been one of the few folks in her tribe that was sent to Western school but returned to continue the indigenous way of life.

She’s been recording the work of the chanters, priestesses, and other Elders of her tribe through audio tapes and written papers, and, with the help of generous sponsors like myself and my patrons on Patreon, she will be able to digitally transfer and preserve the work for future generations.

Nanay Myrna Pula also hopes to begin a School of Living Tradition where she can gather some of the last living Elders of traditional ways and arts in her tribe, and have them live under one village compound to teach the next generation of T’Boli before, after, or as an alternative to going to Western school.

But why is she everybody’s “mother”? I’ve only spent time with Nanay Myrna Pula in person twice– in a week-long gathering in Mindanao in July 2015, and in another week-long gathering in Luzon in July 2017, both called Pamati.

Before my second meeting with her, I had a dream sent to me by my Ancestors that I would receive a talisman to remind me of my purpose, and I would receive it during my next trip with indigenous Elders of the Philippines. Sure enough, one day as I was walking around the meeting area of the Pamati 2017 Gathering, Nanay Myrna Pula came up behind me and slipped a beaded gong necklace around my neck, and would not take money for it.

At another point in the gathering, after many diasporic Filipino/Pilipinx delegates (especially myself) had wept and explained the loss of their culture and connection to the land and mentors to guide them, Nanay Myrna stood and proclaimed that she would be mother and grandmother to us all, that we could dry our tears and lean on her. It is that kindness and generosity of spirit, both to her own tribe, and to us youth and diasporic peoples of different nations than her own, that, for me, has earned her the honorific of Nanay.

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