Snow White lay dying after having eaten of the poisonous apple given to her by her ugly step- mother. The seven friendly dwarfs with the best of intentions looked on helplessly, sad and melancholy. And then appeared Prince Charming, and as soon as his lips touched the cheeks of the pale Snow White, the pink of her cheeks returned. Snow White opened her eyes, completely resuscitated. And they lived happily ever after. Kisses in quite a few fairy tales like the one above are shown as bringing about healing. However the kiss that I would like to talk about is no mere fairy tale but rather is a true life experience during our summer exposure this year.
Our exposure in Arakan brought us very close to the lives of the indigenous people called the Lumads. We accompanied the staff of TFPDCI (An organization to develop the indigenous people in the Philippines on various outreach programs. The programs consisted of Literacy seminars, Workshops on different schemes and medical outreach.  During one such medical outreach we visited a Lumad community in a place called Tumanding.
The staff animator who brought us there was Jasmine (Ging-Ging) Badilla. Gingging is a midwife, a dentist, a surgeon, a physiotherapist and an acupuncturist all rolled in to one. I was very impressed by her work in the various communities that we were to visit throughout the month long exposure. Though the primary activities of the medical outreach were survey, tooth extractions, circumcisions and a general clinic, the Lumads approached Gingging for a host of other problems as well. Some came for medicines, others for a simple chat; some wanted to get a message through, others to ask about recent happenings in the program; some came to help in the clinic and others to cook our lunch; and Gingging responded to all of her patients with patience and understanding. It’s a great feeling to alleviate someone of his/her pain. The relief that one sees on the person’s face, whose bad tooth has been extracted or the excitement of the young boy who wants to be circumcised does indeed fill one with joy. There is also a timeless quality to Gingging’s work. Timeless in the sense that her patients come to her in the early hours of morning before going to the field as early as five o clock and there was at least one occasion when Gingging was taking a patient’s blood pressure as we slept in the night.
In Tumanding we were introduced in to the life of the Lumads on a very personal basis. In a house where the community had gathered to meet Gingging, we also joined the meeting and were able to ask questions about the Lumad way of life. We learnt that Lumad have a system of belief in which the spirit world is very important. The Supreme Being for the Lumad is called Manama and there are hosts of other spirits governing the rivers, stones, the seasons and sickness etc. We also were informed about some of the rituals and traditions of the Lumads especially the traditions regarding the harvest festival, marriage and death.
A Lumad community has at least three centers of leadership. First and foremost the leader of a community is the Datu. A datu is the judge, the presider over meetings and the spokes-person of the community. He settles disputes, receives guests and safeguards the internal order of the community. The second order of leadership is the Babaylan or the traditional healer. He is charged with the worship, rituals and the knowledge of herbs and procedures to protect against and remove a physical or a spiritual suffering. The third center of Lumad leadership is the Bagani or the warrior. He is the one who is in charge of retributions, defense etc.
As the discussion regarding the Lumad worldview was gathering speed there was a stir among the people to whom we were talking. We heard the children and the ladies saying, “Apo (Grandfather) is here”. We too wanted to find out for ourselves the cause for such excitement. As we looked out of the house we saw a spectacle that seemed to be as if a fairy tale had come to life. Right there in front of us approaching the house was the Babaylan of the Tumanding community. He was dressed up in the traditional garb of the Lumad healer, which consisted of a tight fitting shorts and a Jacket. The dress was brightly colored with compact designs and embroidery in different equally bright colors. In addition to the clothes the Babaylan was wearing numerous beads on his feet, his waist, his hands and around his neck. Hundreds of multicolored beads, which in their graceful movement gave a dance-like momentum to the Babaylan’s advancing steps. To complete the symphony there were small bells attached to the beads, which made up the musical accompaniment to the Babaylan’s movements. The immediate mark of his authority was his head gear which was a scarf again covered with beads and horse hairs.. If the attire was not enough to fill us with awe, the Babaylan’s deep red lips caused by the chewing of the betel nut indeed brought about that effect. The Babaylan really looked as if he had jumped out of a fairytale
We respectfully exchanged the customary pleasantries with the Babaylan and resumed our discussion. We were told that the Babaylan could diagnose various illnesses and cure them, even illnesses like malaria.  Being very curious, we requested the Babaylan to consider us as his patients and give us a demonstration of his abilities. The Babaylan assumed a grim gesture as he held our wrists and checked our pulse, some of us were diagnosed with having a infection in the intestine or blood but nothing very serious. Once the sickness was identified it was time for the cure. The procedure was very simple: the Babaylan would locate the malady in our body and literally suck it out of us. Yes, it was some sort of a healing Kiss. The Babaylan put his lips on our backs, our stomachs, our chests and very forcefully sucked out the disease. He even spat it out in front of us to show the different colors our infections had. This kind of color coding for diseases was very new to me. I will not comment on the efficacy of the healing kiss of the Babaylan, however it was quite an interesting experience.
It is not only the healing kisses, the exotic dresses, the traditions and rituals, the kinds of leadership that give Arakan its mystical touch, but indeed the whole landscape intertwined with mountains with greenery all around that make Arakan a real-life fairy tale. It is the simple lifestyle of the people, the weekly markets, the motorcycle rides on mountain roads, the simple farming tools, the Carabao carts, the horse fights, the simple food generously shared with the visitors, that make Arakan an unforgettable experience. Arakan also has a very grim side to it, especially since the mountains are a hideout for violent gangs which cause hostilities and evacuation. It is also a place based on agriculture where a drought makes people go hungry. It is also a challenge for the Lumads who have been marginalised and victimised by the mainstream society to start once again asserting their identity and place in the society. After having seen, experienced and reflected on all these aspects of this magical land, I sincerely hope that the ending line of the story of Arakan will be “… and they lived happily ever after.”