[The Decolonizing Medicine Podcast S01E02. Original release date: June 24, 2021]
Jamee: Mabuhay! You are listening to The Decolonizing Medicine Podcast. We will be exploring the intersections of decolonization and healing work with Black and Brown practitioners involved in a variety of modalities. I am your host Jamee Pineda coming to you from Piscataway territory otherwise known as Baltimore, Maryland. My ancestry is mostly Tagalog and some Chinoy, but I was raised here on Turtle Island. I am also a queer non-binary trans person and a practitioner of Hilot and Chinese medicine. Today's guest is Julz Bolinayan, an Ilocano American, non-binary, queer artist and initiated Hilot Binabaylan. They specialize in ancestral healing rituals through tattoo ritual, divination, serenade, energy healing, and body work. After recording my interview with Julz, I noticed that there was a little bit of missing audio so we added that in during post-production.
Jamee: Well hello, everyone. I am so excited for today's guest. Um, Julz, how are you doing over there?
Julz: I'm doing great
Jamee: Well, I'm so excited to talk to you. Um, Julz and I go way way way back and, uh, they're an amazing tattoo ritualist and Hilot Binabaylan, but I'm gonna actually have you, Julz, introduce yourself a little bit more.
Julz: Great, thank you. Yes, JP and I go way back which is another story I would love to tell you all, that would take up all our time, but my name is Julz Bolinayen Soriano Ignacio. Julz Bolinayen is my first name, but I just go by Julz. I will answer to any and all pronouns. My favorite pronouns are they and them, but depending depending on who you are I'll answer to all. Um, ancestry hails from northern Philippines as far as I know. My recent ancestry is Ilocano and I'm currently living and located in Tongva territory also known as Los Angeles and
as, uh, Jamee said I am a tattoo ritualist, Hilot Binabaylan, and also a haranista, and a singer-songwriter. Yeah, thank you for having me.
Jamee: Well, thank you so much. Also, Julz, you're hilarious and you're also, like, the best person to chika chika with and Julz is the person that I, um, actually went to the Philippines with to learn Hilot. So not only do we go way back, we also have a lot of work that is intertwined and a lot of learning that's intertwined as well. So I just, uh, wanted to get a little bit more background on your work as a tattoo ritualist and the Hilot Binabayalan. Could you define that quickly about for folks who don't know exactly what those terms mean?
Julz: So I call myself a tattoo ritualist. It's a title that myself and Julay, Sacred Spirit Ink, call ourselves or it's...it's what people were calling us and then we took it upon ourselves to just use that term to uh create a delineation between us and tattoo artists although tattoo artists also do trauma-informed work. So just think of us under the umbrella of tattoo practitioners. So speaking for myself as a tattoo ritualist, I consider myself a healing arts practitioner first and foremost and so with tattoo ritual work, it is very much, uh, what I consider to be energy work, body work, I consider it to be grief work, most importantly I'll note that, and so that process of tattoo ritual is definitely more around ritual as ceremony of healing grief and trauma through, or by way, of receiving tattoo. And then Hilot Binabaylan, we are practitioners of traditional Philippine healing arts and sciences. Sometimes shorthand just call us Hilots. Words vary depending on the region of the Philippines that a practitioner might have been trained in. So there's variety there, but we are all doing similar work. I hope that's a good enough definition for both of those.
Jamee: I think that's great and I also just wanted to throw out a few more terms because I've...I've just been hearing from folks who have maybe different interpretations of different words and are conflating some of those terms. So, Hilot Binabaylan is what we use for ourselves. That's what our teachers use for themselves as well and it...the word being a binabaylan comes from the word babaylan, babaylan being one of the terms that was used to describe, um, healer warriors in the Philippines that that were, um, present long before colonization happened. There's other terms in...in different tribes like "Mombaki" is another term, "Katalonan" is another term as well. Um, and the "babaylan" plus "bina" means, like, someone who walks the path of the Babaylan. So we don't necessarily identify as Babaylan. That's a very specific role and it has, like, a very specific lineage and a very specific initiation process, but we are doing some work that is adjacent to that. We are doing some kind of healing work within our communities. Just wanted to put that distinction there because I've...I've been hearing some confusion about that and just wanted to shed some light. Anything else to add to that, Julz?
Julz: Yeah, I think that you pretty much shared everything there, you know, and there's a whole other conversation of the lineages and things of Hilot Binabaylan came to be as that practitioner title and role, but, um yeah, it's really good for folks to know the distinctions for sure.
Jamee: So the second question I have is, "How has your work been connected to decolonizing medicine?" and I know that that is a huge topic so I'm wondering if you can hit a few key points on that, um, and I know that there's also some other material where you review spoken to that topic as well. If you could share that, that would be great.
Julz: Totally. So before I dive into that, I just want to share with our listeners that I go a lot more in depth about tattoo ritual, my work as a tattoo ritualist, and a connection to that with being a hilot binabaylan as well through a podcast episode that I can link, we can have linked here, as well as a couple of, um, articles where I spoke more about both of those things. So if folks want to learn more about that because it is, um, pretty long and complex, but detailed. So I just want to name that first. So how my work's been connected to decolonizing medicine, um, such a big question. Well, I will say that first that the fact that we're here, the fact that Jamee and I are here, after centuries of colonization and also today did we mention this already?
Jamee: No, we didn't.
Julz: The 500th year today, April 27, 2021. 500th year of what, Jamee?
Jamee: It's the 500th year anniversary of Magellan's death and defeat by Lapu-Lapu.
Jamee: Yes, so this feels like a very, um, fitting topic to talk about today. Julz: Absolutely. So just harnessing that energy there of the fact that our medicine, our traditional practices, all across the Philippines, the now known as the Philippines, of all of our different medicines, energy work, body work, etc. etc...The fact that it still exists and that we're here today practicing it and and sharing it in diaspora already I feel like is a big part of decolonizing medicine. Um, I can speak to, for example, with...with tattoo how in many cultures pre-western tattooing that tattooing was, um, both the cultural and ritual practice already a lot of it marked rights of passage, death, birth work, um, very much was already connected to spirit and the divine and my role and work as a tattoo ritualist and how that's connected to that is just decolonizing in the tattoo world and the tattoo industry by bringing and resurfacing the spirit of tattooing in those ritual ways because even folks in my life who are tattoo artists, specifically I'm talking about machine and or hand tap, where they may work at shops and do work more on the artistic level, not to remove any... but more in that way they're not necessarily holding a ceremonial space, but the parallels and shared things happening there is the fact that they are holding space, emotional space for for clients, especially folks who may come from similar, um, shared identities or experiences and communities. There is a level there of, like, holding emotional space for our clients and whatnot and the importance of trauma-informed tattooing is becoming more more talked about in the forefront and a lot of that, I'll name my my friend Tamara Santibanez who's who's leading a lot of that type of work with trauma-informed tattooing even with their, um, recent book that came out and so seeing the shared parallels there and even with what I'm doing and what, um, Julay is also doing, all of that I feel like it's part of decolonizing medicine and then connected to Hilot and the fact that it's, it's, it needs to continue to survive and be practiced not just in the Philippines, but in the diaspora, and protecting it, but also practicing it over the last several years where more and more "alternative medicine" or "non-western" "non-allopathic medicine" has either become trendy or is resurfacing into mainstream or to people who want to connect to their cultures and so in that vein of decolonizing medicine just the fact that it still exists, that Hiot still exists, and that's becoming, um, more recognized I hope, but there's still a lot of work to do more recognized and valued by our communities but there's still a lot there's a lot of work to do always.
Jamee: I would agree with that. I think that the decolonization, the work of decolonizing, is both an external process where you're, like, working with larger systems and then also an internal process where you have to decolonize yourself, decolonize your own mind, decolonize... do decolonizing work, like, within your family and within your community. Which leads me very beautifully into my next question which is, "What are the challenges you've experienced as a healing practitioner in a white supremacist, capitalist, colonial culture?"
Julz: Big question.
Jamee: That's a huge question! Sorry, not sorry.
Julz: It's like part a, b, c, d, e, f, g, um, and, uh, yeah...I just...all of this has me thinking a lot about how, um...Oh I lost my train of thought. Ah! Well, I was thinking a lot about value, right, and how we value one another, how we decolonize ourselves, right? And I think a lot about how we have been initiated as HIlot Binabaylan and walk the way of the Babaylan. It makes me think a lot about, um, some of my teachers or elders here who are from Turtle Island and how they they speak about, um, you're living your life on the Red Road and it's...it's very much this this idea, not just an idea, it's just living your way of life, your way of life of decolonizing, of living the way of your, um, culture or your ancestors or your traditional and or indigenous ways of being. And so, it's very much, like, how are you living your life, you know? All of us, any of us honestly, right? We can go get...go study something, or what have you, and we can stay in an intellectual level and never really, like, fully holistically, like, do the work to embody all of that and decolonize ourselves. It's a lifelong process, of course and so when I think about, like, the ways in which I live my life, I try to live my way...live my life in the ways that I've been taught through all these are teachers and what I now understand to be our traditional ways. And how do you do that in this society, this current world we're in? This white supremacist, capitalist, colonial culture is hard. Of course I'm, like, well it'd be so, well it's not easy, but in my mind and heart it feels really lovely to be able to...to just provide and be in service to my communities, to do healing work, to tattoo, to do body work, energy work, to do Hilot. I love doing energy work with plants through like providing Hilot in that way and whatnot and combining that with the bodywork that we've been taught, but I can't even do that because 1) Covid, 2) Uh, we live in this society and I recently had to pick up like a day job again because I can't sustain myself and that's...that's definitely because of capitalism and all the things, but it's also because we are just not in a place as communities where we value healers, um, and there needs to be a shift there to take care of one another and then it's in similarity even though it's a different modality, I think about artists too, right? Like, people don't really value artists enough either. And so, um, how do we reconcile that? How do we value the healers in our community so they can sustain us so we can sustain ourselves and continue to do this work without getting burnt out, without having to pick up a day job? Because my job, "my job", should be doing healing work, but I can't do that right now because I have to pay my bills. Yeah.
Jamee: One of the characteristics of colonial culture is the inability to actually perform one's calling, one's function in community, and, like, the prioritization of just working a job, working in nine to five just to provide needs, but that doesn't necessarily, like, serve community in the same way. It doesn't help us perform our silbi. So, uh, silbi is, like, our, um, our life's purpose. It's a Tagalog word for life's purpose and when we are not able to perform our silbi, or we don't know what that is, it can actually, like, I was taught that it can actually cause disease. We are divorced from our purpose in life. So I just find it very interesting that, you, how you were talking about that, um, and I also liked that you brought up artists and how much they are not valued as much as they should be because I got to tell you, like, art is what is getting me through the pandemic. Like, I don't care if you, like, are on Netflix all day binge watching just to get through it, like, that's art. Like, people making memes, I would consider that art. People making, like, TikTok videos that make you laugh, like, that's art, too. Varying kinds and...and, like, varying amounts of effort go into them, obviously, but, but that's like what is getting to that's what's getting me at least through through a lot of this shit. Um, yeah.
Jamee: And Julz we didn't talk about this, but, I mean, you're also an artist. You are at an intersection of both being an artist and a healer which I think is a very interesting perspective.
Julz: Yeah, actually, I think I'll talk about that a bit, too. Um, during this pandemic that obviously we're still in, but, um, as I was trying to make ends meet and what have you and all of that, in addition to providing Hilot virtually, just like Jamee has been doing as well, I was also creating a lot of music. I created a Patreon. I'm still creating content for my Patreon even though I have this nine to five because I was like I need something still. I still want to be around even though I can't do any one-on-one, um, work with any clients right now, but, uh, a lot of what brought me joy and that clients and or community members or whatnot people who enjoy the music I was doing was that I was...I was creating medleys, um, arrangements of popular songs that I loved or people were were commissioning me to put together medleys or original songs for, um, for their partners or loved ones. And that was really fun for me. I really love music, but I don't talk about that as much. People don't know me these days as so much as a musician as they do, uh, a tattoo ritualist or Hilot Binabaylan, but that's that's where I feel like I can be less serious Julz and I can be more of my other parts of me: the romantic, very, uh, very bakla Julz, um, and-
Jamee: The haranista
Julz: The haranista, which I miss doing and yeah.
Jamee: I actually met you back when you were doing only art.
Jamee: So all the healing stuff the tattoo ritual, that came much later in our friendship.
Julz: Yeah that's true. I was a musician first. It's, like, my first love. Yeah and it's still, it's still there. When I, when I do ritual with folks, virtually or in person, I'm always singing something. I will open with a song, um, sing throughout ritual, too, especially people who are going through some hard grieving during their tattoo ritual I'll sing to them and it is definitely part of my, I would say, it's part of my power, uh, and gift or what have you gifts, um, that is particular to how I do Hilot.
Jamee: Where can folks find more of your music?
Julz: Folks can find my music on Patreon because I post, um, a video every month of, like, a new medley or song. They can find it on Instagram. I have my Linktree. That's there and that can also be posted on the show notes here. I have a Bandcamp as well. All of that's on my Linktree and on my website there's some videos from my album release show back in...that happened in March 2018, spring equinox 2018.
Jamee: Oh, I love that album. Didn't you just drop a single recently?
Julz: I did drop a single recently with Kimmortal. We're in a little crew, our little duo band. We call ourselves Full Moon in Scorpio. I know, very gay, very queer. And our first single is called, "Ampalaya". The song is about being bitter, but it's also about eating your bitters not your bitter - don't eat your bitterness! But eating your bitters for your liver to get through the bitterness, yes.
Jamee: So for those who don't know what ampalaya is, could you describe it?
Julz: Yes! So, oh I love nerding out about plants, but here we go. So, it's a bitter melon. If you want to get technical ampalaya is the Tagalog word for the bitter melon that is the light green long bitter melon and there's also the small dark green ones, which you could call ampalaya, but I know those to be known as parya in Ilocano. And those are more bitter. They're, like, dark green and, like, they can look like they have more spiky ridges. And then there's, like, the white bitter melon which I grew up eating in Okinawa, but they look like the dark green ones,
but just white color. The texture looks the same. They all taste the same. They're all bitter.
Jamee: Yeah that is some - it is some good medicine. It is really good for cleaning out the liver. In Chinese medicine, we would use the bitter flavor to drain fire so if someone has a lot of heat in their body, I recommend eating bitter things.
Julz: I definitely need more.
Jamee: Julz, how can folks continue supporting this work either your art or your healing work or other folks that are in similar fields?
Julz: I really want to, I'm pleading, I'm begging with you all, please take some time to reflect around, um, what it means to you to value your own healing because from there you will see the value of valuing healers in your life and artists in your life because really it's it's not really about us, yeah? We're the practitioners, but we're here to, like, fulfill our purpose, to support everyone, um, who's meant to to to meet up with any of us, but it's very much about do you believe that you deserve healing? Do you believe that you get to have this, that that you are worthy and deserving of of healing? And the answer is "yes," but do you believe that? Because if you don't, why would you value any of us who are here to support you in your healing? And so I really feel like it starts with you, you as in the listener or whatnot community member. And if you value your healing, right, then you value the people around you whether it's me, Jamee, or any other person who is a healing arts practitioner. And that's really how we're gonna be able to be supported is because you believe that you deserve that healing, the next person does, the people around you, therefore you're going to value the people supporting you because its all interconnected. But when you want, when you believe, that you deserve healing and you believe in this medicine because it's actually inside of you, we're just here to support you. You know we are the practitioners, but it's up to you. You know, like, Jamee could give you a tincture, I could do bodywork on you, but it might feel like a band-aid or it might not work if you don't believe in it and if you're not doing the work to be consistent or valuing it, right? So, it's also how you are interpreting it and taking it in for yourself. Um, and so that's, that's my ask of you all. That's how you can support us is by supporting yourself, too. So I hope you see what I mean by that how it's all interconnected. Jamee: Wow. I really, I really appreciate how you framed that because it's true. I mean, as a healing practitioner I can't heal for someone. That that engagement really has to come from that other person's end and then and.. then we help them along on the process, but I can't do the healing for someone. And then you know, like, also as me as a patient or client, like, I have to be I have to be the one who is healing. That is, that is a hard thing to relate to. And I think coming from, like, lineages that were impacted by colonization and white supremacy, we're told not to-that we don't deserve those things. That it's, like, totally normal for us to continue suffering. Julz: Yeah, I think, I did not say this you know, I've heard this from many different people so I can't even quote this, but I feel like I've heard from many artists and healers that it's really hard to allow ourselves joy, right? It's easier, not that we want to, it's like we know suffering so well it's hard to even be present with joy or anything that isn't that. So that's a whole other conversation, but it's a whole other conversation. Jamee: That's a whole other conversation. That's true. Please keep making those medleys.
Jamee: And dropping singles about bitter gourd Julz: I mean i want to. It's going to keep me, it's going to keep all of us, you know, less bitter I hope.
Jamee: Yeah. Well Julz, um, do you have anything else that you want to add before we close our conversation?
Julz: i just want to give, um, my gratitude for you, for knowing you, and our ancestors bringing us together this lifetime. I want to give thanks to, um, all the spirits of all the different places that have taught me and helped me throughout my life and give thanks to my ancestors and guides, the ocean and the volcanoes, and thank you for to everyone who, um, is listening to to this podcast.
Jamee: Thanks so much, Julz. Thanks for being your fabulous self and sharing your stories and your insights with us today. Thank you.
Jamee: That was an audio clip from "Ampalaya" by Full Moon in Scorpio. a collaboration between Kimmortal and Julz Bolinayen. Check it out on Bandcamp. When I asked Julz who they wanted to shout out for this episode they immediately named Ale Abreu for her birth work and herbalism with the Canoe Journey Herbalists. The herbalists support the Intertribal Canoe Journey with free offerings of plant medicine and herbal healing. Canoe Journey Herbalists is currently raising funds to buy land to steward so check them out on Instagram @canoejourneyherbalists for more info on their work and how to support them. I am thrilled to share that have updated my Patreon benefits to include the Decolonizing Medicine Patreon Community on Mighty Networks. Members can now access self-directed educational modules on Chinese medicine, Hilot, and magic as well as seasonal live q and a's. Patreon members help me cultivate three important things: wellness offerings that are more accessible to QTBIPOC, the revival and reclamation of Hilot, my ancestral medicine, and a decolonizing approach to medicine, like with this podcast. If this calls to you visit, patreon.com/jameepinedahealingarts. Maraming salamat for listening to The Decolonizing Medicine Podcast. If you want to support this work via Patreon or apply to be a guest on the show go to linktr.ee/jameepinedahealingarts. We'll also link to that in the show notes. Music is by Amber Ojeda, Hed Kandi, and Rocky Marciano. Big thanks to Laurenellen Mccann, my sweetie and fabulous audio engineer, and all our listeners and supporters out there. Ingat!