Tribute to a ‘babaylan’
She may not even remember this, but I still have a vivid recollection of the first time I met my friend, Pilipina’s eternal babaylan, Remedios “Remmy” Ignacio Rikken.
It was the late 1970s and I was then with the media relations office of the Archdiocese of Manila, then headed by the late, great Jaime Cardinal Sin. The director of the office, my former journalism professor Felix Bautista, brought me along to a meeting with lay leaders of the Archdiocese. After the meeting, “Sir,” as we his “media girls” called Mr. Bautista, offered a ride to Ms Remmy. It was my first time to meet her, but the tedium of the long journey was broken by the stories she told, a virtual retelling of Remmy’s colorful, eventful life.
One of the stories that struck me was her account of why, for the longest time, she had remained single. “I had many suitors,”
Remmy declared, “but I found none of them to my liking.” One of these, she said, had even visited her at home to declare that he had found his “ideal woman” in her. The suitor had even told her that “I have my own house, which is fully furnished, and all you have to do is to move in.” This stuck in her craw, Remmy confided. “I wondered to myself, ano ako, refrigerator (What am I, a refrigerator)?”
Eventually, Remmy would find herself a man who did not consider her a refrigerator, Gerard Rikken, whom she met as a lay church worker and who would build with her a deep-rooted commitment to social change, especially in Mindanao.
A few years later, I found myself joining a seminar on “the women’s question,” and lo and behold who should be one of the speakers and organizers but Remmy? It turns out she was one of four “founding mothers”—the others being Ging Quintos Deles, Irene
Santiago, and Sr. Mary John Mananzan—who had come together during a seminar on development work mainly to discuss what to them was a gaping hole in the seminar’s agenda, the aforementioned “women’s question.” So, they set about holding gatherings of women in various sectors, including the media, to gather ideas and strategies to bring this question to the forefront of social development circles. The result after the series of consultations was the women’s group Pilipina, which to this day has taken to spearheading many an effort to make women’s voices heard and heeded, an urgent need especially today given the leadership’s miserable misogyny.
Remmy in all the years she spent nurturing and shaping women of different generations into homegrown feminists with global sensibilities eventually forged an identity as Pilipina’s resident “babaylan” or shaman. Armed with what she called self-
deprecatingly as her own “batya’t palu-palo” style of spirituality, she invoked the concept of God, of humanity, of saintliness and earthly mission while shaping our dreams and desires to create a world where men and women were not only equal, but active co-creators. A shaman indeed in every sense of the word, a bridge between the earthly realm and the heavens.
Much has already been said about her quirks as a speaker and resource person, the way she left her sentences open-ended, leaving it up to listeners to complete the thought. What I love about her speaking style is how, through simple and even stark language, she manages to weave a complex tapestry of interconnected thoughts that is truly awe-inspiring.
I also love that in all the years I’ve known her, she exemplified the long journey that technology has taken, from the wheeled suitcases she hand-carried containing her stash of transparencies, to various diskettes, CDs, and USBs she employed, even if, regardless of the technology used, she proved to be the most glittering, compelling “exhibit.” (I have no doubt she is now learning how to “zoom.”)
So, it was such an honor to hear her tell me when, after a television appearance speaking in behalf of the party list aspirant Abanse! Pinay, I confessed to feeling a little overwhelmed. “Don’t worry, you got your ideas across,” Remmy assured. “Sometimes, passion comes across much more forcefully than personality.”
That just about sums up Ms Remmy Rikken, she of the seemingly boundless energy and unquenchable passion. Generous to a fault, giving of herself be it in NGO circles, in government (serving as executive director of what is now the Philippine Commission on Women), among international gatherings of development agencies and foundations, or just among us circle of Pinays who basked in her humor and her stories. Even in this tribute to her, by way of consoling her and her family through these tough times and missing her company terribly, I am aware that I have barely touched the surface of her storied multi-hued life. Looking forward to our babaylan’s next grand adventure!
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Rina Jimenez David is a retired journalist and former national chair of the women’s group Pilipina.
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