What is Bayanihan?
I have encountered this word way back in my childhood days and as I transitioned to teenage and adult life this seemed to have faded into oblivion. I have no clear recollection of what bayanihan was like except for the unbelievable ability of my kins at my mother side to almost miraculously appear at our house whenever there are big occasions to celebrate. Then I would have a first-hand experience of what it was like to navigate through to a lot of activities happening all at the same time from the slaughter of a boar and some chickens to cooking and cleaning, until eating and washing.
I cannot quite comprehend then what was happening, but having all of my cousins, aunts, uncles and even distant relatives around, the atmosphere was nothing short of a feast. There were endless chatter and laughter as well as loads of bantering around. And where the elders were, interesting stories of their earlier years abound. They have this uncanny way of telling stories that will transport you back to their world with clear and colored details, almost as if you were there yourself experiencing their realities. As a child it was like stepping into a fairytale book and living the adventure.
The feast usually lasts for a brief two days but everything is set and done and cleaned up with no hustle at all. There is chaotic order in every nook and cranny of our house that even the smallest vacant spaces were not spared from this joyful disorder that is bayanihan. What amazes me until today is that things get done in a flash and without much ado, then people go home happy and content.
As I was hurled into the world of adulthood and the more serious side of living, or what was taught to us to be the kind of life adults needs to live, I moved further and further away from things and activities that require people to work happily together and for free. I have learned to work on my own and mind my own business. I have learned even more to look at competition as the new way of life and classified cooperation as a corporate strategy rather than inherent trait of humanity. Bayanihan became a total stranger as I moved deeper into the business realm where wits and cunning were considered prime commodities and volunteerism is relegated to worlds way beyond the corporate structure. Everything has a price and nothing is free. At least in the world I lived before.
It did not take long before a part of me that was searching for something more profound in life started to shoot explosives questions that my puny mind cannot quite answer. My search for meaning and purpose started to dig this abysmal hole in my being that I do not quite know how to fill. A cloud of depression descended and enveloped me. It took many years of work with countless angels I met along the way for it to finally dissipate. It was during this journey back to light where I began to gather the treasures of the soul that is brilliantly hidden in the shadows of fear and despair. Among them is this wonderful most amazing gift that is bayanihan.
I have had many encounters with this gift and never really took a close look at its face and its awesome power to change both the internal and external landscapes of humanity. It was not until our livelihood program at iRelief Foundation took a surprising turn towards assisting the farmers in devastated areas in Capiz where I personally experienced first-hand how glorious its grace is. Picture a farm with an area of about 500 to 1,000 square meters where about twenty four or so people are planting rice for free while engaging in conversations or singing songs or dancing to the music, if not bantering with one another. After about twenty minutes, planting is done and snacks are served to the group. More throwing of jokes and humoring around happen while the group is getting ready to go to the next farm to plant and repeat what they did. This would go on almost every day until the end of the planting season.
Bayanihan: The Gift of Community
From a distance the group would appear like any ordinary ‘pakyaw’ planting where people are paid to do lump sum work, until one gets nearer and feel the different vibrant energy that envelopes everyone who is engaged in bayanihan. There is genuine joy and spirit of community in the group, and a loving energy that dances with us in that space that is changing our core without us noticing it. The collective force is truly powerful that even bystanders and passersby are moved by it. Even farm hands who would substitute for farmer-partners as well as husbands and children get infected by it. This is why one finds it hard to resist a planting invitation and a few very busy participants would move heaven and earth just to be around. Absentees miss out a lot, tons of fun, real conversations, joy and those glorious gifts of collective caring and loving. I have been deeply moved and greatly changed by this force having witnessed and experience its awesome power.
I cannot help but be thankful to the former mayor of Dao who told me that our program’s attempt to rebuild the livelihoods of farmers hand in hand with the revival of bayanihan while lofty and worthy, would amount to nothing, for it helped greatly in building that great desire to make it possible. And in that journey of revival, I have found that bayanihan is not at all dead nor sleeping. It is very much alive and has just turned its back on us as we have relegated it to the shadows of greed and selfishness. But once you have found it and have finally agreed to step out in the light, bayanihan has the most beautiful and breathtaking face that could change your heart forever.