Singkil Memories

I loved performing as a child. I learned to dance Singkil from watching my eldest sister practice at home. One time she volunteered me to perform at her school, Dansalan College. I think she made me a substitute for herself. Genius of her. Not sure if she gave me something in return for saving her skin. I am sure I didn’t mind, I loved the crowd. Besides, I wasn’t aware of capitalism at that time. 
I remember it was so sudden and because I wasn’t an onor at all, my Mom wasn’t prepared for a dress. Ah, but Moms are real geniuses. She remembered I had a long gown as a flower girl and bingo, with a hijab and a gown I was ready to perform. Never mind my arms showing. She argued I was just a little girl. They could have forgone with the hijab, I was a little girl anyway but they wanted it hybrid so there I was. 
What is memorable in this “panahon ni Mampor” photo is not only because behind me is the past Dansalan College President Van Vactor and author Peter Gowing (yup that Gowing guy who wrote about Moros), but the story behind their guffaws. 
I vividly remember this because for me, it was the most natural thing to do, in my mind. So I was surprised that the whole theatre erupted in laughter. You see, while I was dancing, I saw the photographer having a difficulty trying to get a good shot of me. The hall was full and he naturally did not have the kind of zoom lens that our smartphones can provide nowadays. 
So, feeling sorry for the guy, I danced towards him and naturally posed in front of him. After he was done, I went back to the bamboos. The hall was hysterical as I went back to dancing. I recall almost being hurt because my clickers, my sister and her classmate were trying to suppress giggling. 
Only one guy did not laugh, the leftmost guy. Maybe he had the same question as I did. When I finished dancing, my sister kissed and embraced me for doing her role for her, but I only had one question: “Inoto siran singa-singa?”

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Remembering the Bangsamoro-Palestinian-Ottoman connection in the land of “Muslim na Mananakop”

Presidential candidate Mar Roxas described the incident in Zamboanga City in 2013 involving some members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) as the “invasion of the ‘Muslim na mananakop’” of the city.   Obviously for some, if not most non-Moros, there is no distinction among us: we are all the same, we are all Muslims, we are all MNLF members or Abu Sayyaf members. It does not matter who does what, if they are “Muslim type” all Filipino Muslims are guilty. This generalisation does not happen with the non-Moros at all. There has never been a “Christian type” criminal, nor should there be. This dangerous sweeping statement spawns the kind of Trumpism happening in the United States right now that demonises all Mexicans and all Muslims.

Let us go back 104 years and look at a significant history in the land of “Muslim na Mananakop” and know that back then, and way before that, Muslims, particularly the Tausugs, Samas and others already inhabit the land of Zamboanga and the islands nearby. As one respected Moro intellectual, Mehol K. Sadain raised, “Kelan pa nagging mananakop ang mga Muslim sa kanilang sariling bayan?” Kawashima Midori’s monograph of the “Petition of Zamboanga Muslim Leaders to the Ottoman Empire in 1912” gives an interesting account of the intersection of the Ottoman Empire, Palestine and the Muslims in the Philippines which I prefer to call the Bangsamoro.

In 1912, under the leadership of Haji Abdullah Nuño, a Balangingi-Sama, fifty-eight Zamboanga Muslim leaders requested that the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet V sends a representative to the Muslims in the Philippines to assist them in religious matters. The petition was delegated through the former governor of the Zamboanga District, American meteorologist John Park Finley and presented to the Sultan the following year. What is interesting about Haji Abdullah Nuño, the son of Panglima Taupan, was that he was captured when he was ten years old by the Spaniards and brought to Cavite in Luzon. He was baptized as Antonio de la Cruz. He somehow managed to return to Zamboanga and went back to his religion Islam and became a leader of his fellow Muslims. The Haji in his name is, of course, indicative of his having done a pilgrimage to Makkah (twice) where he learned more about his religion.

The Shaykh al-Islam of the Ottoman Empire did send an official named, Sayyid Muhammad Afandi Wajih al-Jilani (Wajih al-Jilani al-Nablusi) from Nablus, Palestine who arrived in the Philippines in 1914, thirty-four years before the Nakba when the Palestinians themselves would also have to continuously fight for their land, religion and freedom until this very day. Wajih al-Jilani al-Nablusi’s visit was well received by the Muslims and he was given the position equivalent to Shaykh al-Islam in the Philippines. This is according to an account of Sheikh Ahmad Bashir, a Meranao scholar. The latter even considers the Palestinian’s visit as the starting point of the Islamic education movement in the Philippines. This demonstrates the interconnectedness of the Muslims in the Philippines—what happened in Zamboanga had a ripple effect in other parts of Mindanao and Sulu. Wajih al-Jilani al-Nablusi, accordingly returned a second time to the Philippines using his own money when the Shaykh al-Islam of the Ottoman Empire stopped his salary and did not want him involved in the Philippines any longer.   His journey paved the way for other Arab and Malay scholars to go to Mindanao and Sulu and acted “as stimuli for some Philippine Muslim intellectuals” in the years to come, according to Midori.

What was the significance of the American Finley’s participation in this petition to the Ottoman Sultan? Well, apparently because Finley “believed that a ‘good Mohammedan’ is also a good citizen.” As a matter of fact, Nuño’s letter requests for an emissary who can help them combine “[their] customs and laws and… that of the principles and laws of the American government.” So, even when Muslims in Zamboanga were already colonised by the Americans, they were considering making their religion work with the new set-up of government. Nuño’s ready acceptance of the American colonisers was because the latter were not trying, at least openly, to interfere with the religion and the customs of the people.

Some Filipinos might have forgotten their history, or might not want to remember history at all, but the Bangsamoro do not forget their history. In fact, appropriating the word Moro, despite its negative and colonial meanings is part of their remembering the past—a consciousness that they belong to a wider community of Muslims. We were called Moros by the Spaniards because we reminded them of their almost eight hundred years of struggling for independence from Moorish rule. As Midori, writing of the American government then in Zamboanga, says:

” What the America officials could not bring under their control was the        transmission of memories and information regarding al-Jilani’s [al-Nablusi] visit. The gifts from the Ottoman Sultan were kept and displayed at the Taluksangay Mosque to serve as a reminder of the link with a winder community of Muslims.”

The gifts of the Sultan may no longer exist, nor the Taluksangay Mosque, nor

Zamboanga as the Tausugs, Sama and others had known how it used to be–but histories, memories and stories remain etched in our minds and hearts. Every time we are made to defend who we are or who we are not, we go back to our over half a millennium history and remind ourselves of our proud history and pass it on to the new generation. How can we forget? Most of these events were inked with our blood.

convention of the Moros

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Convention of Moros at the Moro Exchange at Taluksangay on May 15-17, 1911. (1) Datu Sakaluran; (2) Datu Gogo; (3) Haji Abdullah Nuño; (4) Missionary Lund; (5) Governor Finley; (6) Datu Mandi (7) Imam Antasari. John P. Finley Papers at the Archives of the U.S. Army Military Historical Institute, Carlisle Barracks, PA, USA. Source: Kawashima Midori

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15 Important Muslim Women in History


This post, the first of several on the topic, intends to highlight the various contributions of Muslim women throughout medieval and early modern history. While many people may be familiar with the accomplishments of contemporary Muslim women (whether heads of state, scholars or activists), the fact that women also played a pivotal role in the pre-modern Muslim world as intellectuals, poets, mystics, rulers and warriors tends to be less appreciated. By sharing a handful of biographies of a few of these luminaries from Islamic history, it is my hope that this will help dispel certain problematic stereotypes (among both Muslims & non-Muslims) about the historical role of women in Islamic societies and spark further interest and inquiry into women’s history in the medieval and early modern Islamic world (as well as in pre-modern history more generally).  

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“Sleeping Lady” Ablaze

I have witnessed the rampaging waters of the Agus River as a child. The current was so strong that only the best swimmers can swim from one side to the opposite bank. I have glimpsed of naked little boys jump from the bridge into the River to show off their swimming skills.
I have also seen one late night at the Mapandi bridge, a garbage truck dump its refuse into the River, assured that by early morning, no visible trace of its deed will be noticeable to the public. The rushing river would have already carried it downstream.
As a young activist, I joined the thousands of Meranaos who barricaded with sandbags the Agus 1 Hydroelectric Dam which forever altered the landscape of Lanao and that of the Lake.
I have seen Meranao leaders literally cry for Lanao and its Lake, and also saw their dedication and commitment for the protection for both petering out like a smoke evaporating leaving most of us in quandary and some in dire straits.
I have laid eyes on an Agus River so emaciated that it looked like Lugasing, may Allah bless her soul. Lugasing was an old lady who used to roam Marawi City clothed with only her malong covering both her hair and body. But, one can see how thin she was. Seeing the boulders of the Agus river jutting out made me think of her who had to fend for herself even at her age, with bones almost jumping out from her skin. She may not have been in full control of her mental faculties, but, maybe if nobody cared for her, losing her mind was her relief if not the result.
Now, I see the same River of my childhood, only that, it has grown older, faster than I did. I never expected the River to be almost reduced to a brook while I am still young. But through this withering life of the Agus River (and the Lake Lanao from where we, Meranaos or People of the Lake derive our name identity), the iconic “Sleeping Lady” or the mountain ranges that comprise Mt. Piyapayongan remained constantly in deep slumber, unbothered by whatever is happening around her. Somehow, her unchanging form is an inspiration that some things will remain the same. Having lived most of my life in MSU Campus, Marawi City, the view of the Sleeping Lady is the first thing that I see as I go to work. Sometimes the naughty clouds hide her, but most of the times she is visible—lying with her long hair flowing, both arms clasping her tummy and with her knees bent.
She remained a silent witness to the many (r)evolutions of the City and Lanao del Sur. From being renamed Islamic City of Marawi from its original name of Dansalan, to its being tagged as the shabu capital of Mindanao, the Sleeping Lady was a constant reminder that another day is a new day, new hope. The sun will rise just the same and spread its rays through the Sleeping Lady, giving us another day of dream.
The Sleeping Lady’s being symbolical as hope for the Meranaos is poignantly captured by Atty. Adom Macarambon as he uploads a daily photo of the rising sun serving as the backdrop to the Sleeping Lady in a spectacular panorama. The daily vista indeed projects an image of hope (and longing for me) every time he posts his circadian photos of the Sleeping Lady. No matter what transpired yesterday, tomorrow the sun will rise to another day. The colours vary depending on the season, but basically the image remains the same—a living painting of the Lake Lanao, the Sleeping Lady and the mighty Rising Sun.
For the first time, however, Adom posted a different photo of the Sleeping Lady. Visible at the foot of the Sleeping Lady is a smoke indicative of a fire which was spotted yesterday January 21, 2016 at 9:05 pm by Sharief Khan who took a photo of the furious fire. There are speculations what caused the forest fire. Some say it could be caused by a kaingin fire or by hunters. One thing is sure, as Adom says, “she is hurt.” People are helpless to stop this conflagration as they can only watch from a distance and post photos of the burning Sleeping Lady and express their frustrations online.
It is obvious, even in her silence, she feels what is going on. Now, she is on fire, maybe it’s time for people to start putting out the flames enveloping her right now. These flames are but the immediate and physical manifestation of the many forms of fire burning her for many decades now. This fire is but the tail end of a long inferno which started eons ago. By all means, let us put it out but let us also extinguish the source. We need a deep introspection to unmask the sources of this blaze.
sleeping lady

The fire at the foot of the mountain very visible from afar. Photo courtesy of Nords Maguindanao.

sleeping lady ablaze

The orange color on the right is not the sunrise, but smoke still billowing a day after the foot of the Sleeping Lady burned. Photo courtesy of Atty. AdomMacarambon

sleeping perfect shot

The Sleeping Lady with a slight ember of the sun as the latter slowly begins to conquer the day. Below is the Lake Lanao, foregrounding the Sleeping Lady as if things are still the same long before Man was born. Lake Lanao is an ancient lake considered to be older than Man himself. Photo by Atty. Adom Macarambon.

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Over-analysing Senator Tito Sotto’s Halloween Costume?

As I have said in my previous post, apart from the real insult that Muslims, who have appropriated the Arab garb for religious reasons, felt, I knew the true issue is Senator Tito Sotto. For a senator, he has a poor choice that is indicative of his politics. It bespeaks of his scant grasp of cultural understanding and promotion of unity.

1) He claims it was given to him by a Sheikh from Riyadh who loves it when he wears it. That even makes it worse. If you value your friend and his gift, would you honour him by wearing it to a Halloween party that has the tendency to be misconstrued, as it did, as mockery instead of promoting it? I dare Senator Tito Sotto to honour his friend by wearing that Thobe to the Senate. If his intention is pure, why limit honouring his friend by wearing that gift only on Halloween next to the costumes of vampires, ghosts. Ghouls and others? I assure the good Senator that wearing the same garb to the Senate will make those people criticizing him now admire him for his bold statement in the spirit of cultural sensitivity. Granting for the sake of argument that it was given to him by his Arab friend for Halloween purposes, not wearing it on Halloween in consideration of the Muslim minority in the Philippines who consider it as their religious garb is taking the moral high ground for the sake of understanding. He will not lose anything by not using a Thobe and a Sahal on Halloween.

2) He has been wearing it for 15 years, and nobody complained. Fifteen years ago, not many Muslims had access to Eat Bulaga. Where I live in Marawi City, we watch ABS-CBN most of the time because GMA reception is so bad. With social media empowering netizens, people become aware of what is happening even without watching TV. I for one have not watched that segment. But that is beside the point. Having nobody complain for a long time does not give it legitimacy, nor make it right. It means a wrong long been going on.  It also shows that more people are watching Eat Bulaga nowadays because of AlDub.

3) The Senator is right, though. Other people wear nuns, priests and Pope’s outfits for instance, and it wasn’t offensive. Like the cute little toddler who came in the Pope’s raiment at the White House Halloween celebration and won everybody’s heart. What is scary in that? Nothing, of course. Will the Pope be offended or Christendom? No, I don’t think so. I thought that was genius of the parents. But to wear an Arab garb that some Muslims consider as their religious attire to a Halloween party with the theme of “Katatawanan and Katatakutan” in a country with a Muslim minority who have often been subject to unfair stereotypes is being callous. It is unnecessarily igniting tension, as it does now, just for the sake of entertainment, or just a vain display of arrogant power.

As you can see, there are also Muslims, who defended your choice, and some of them claim that they are not offended and will still vote for you. I will not base my vote because you wore the Thobe. It will be based on your merits as a legislator. That should be a reminder to you that you are a Senator not only for Eat Bulaga, AlDub nation, Luzon and the Christian majority but including the minority as well. Parallel to that, it means that your fans also comprise Muslim minorities like us. Believe it or not, my Mom was a big fan of your triumvirate. She had photos with all three of you decades back.

Either you have the magnanimity and the sensitivity to consider the repercussion of your choice, or you don’t. Your choice of a costume is already a manifestation that an apology from you will be empty or that it will be forthcoming. If you have not seen the rationale why not wearing it is the most sensible, honourable and most “senatoriable” thing to do, you will never ever see why there is a need for you to apologize for it in the first place, which is, as I predicted what happened. You said those asking you to apologize have misplaced sensitivities. You may be right. That is exactly the very reason why I wished you had been magnanimous in the first place, as a public official not to ignite the so-called misplaced sensitivities of the Muslims. Our being overly sensitive is merely a reaction of our being overly sensationalized in and by the media to begin with. Remember the “Muslim Type”? Was there ever a “Christian Type”? None. Because it is not the proper thing to do in the first place, not that there are no people of Christendom who equally do the same despicable acts to us human beings.

4) This brings me to my last point. You said, “If that’s the way they think, I am now having second thoughts on my support for the BBL.” This proves my earlier point that the real concern is not whether you will apologise or not, or that you owe an apology or not. Your poor choice is a manifestation of your flimsy and merely superficial if not insubstantial grasp of the plight of the Muslims in the Philippines. Sadly, because you are a Senator, your actions or antics, will have a direct impact not only on the AlDub nation but the Filipino nation. I wonder now who has really misplaced sensitivities. Governor Mujiv Hataman’s alleged misplaced sensitivities and the Muslims he represents will soon dissipate, while yours will determine the fate of not only the Bangsamoro but the nation. Please support the BBL or oppose it, based on its merits or its alleged limitations and not because some Muslims including our governor demanded for your apology. The BBL has the real potential of affecting the lives of all Filipinos. By all means endorse it, or oppose it, but please, do it by concrete and sound reasoning and not because your sensitivity is equally challenged.  That is insulting to all those who have poured  a lot of effort   and put their lives and careers on the line in  crafting  the BBL for the sake of peace–Muslims, Lumads and Christians alike–  and even to those questioning  its viability based on sound concerns. It is a disservice to the nation  in its quest for a lasting peace, if the efforts at finding a solution  will be judged based on  whosoever’s misplaced sensitivities and not on concrete  and valid grounds. May God Almighty bless and guide you to think and act for the benefit of this country.


Photo from

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An Open Letter for Sen. Tito Sotto and Mr. Joey De Leon

Son of the Plains

Mr. Joey De Leon (Left) and Sen. Tito Sotto (Right) wearing the national costumes of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during the Halloween special of Eat Bulaga.

Dear Sen. Tito Sotto & Mr. Joey De Leon,

I am writing you this letter in behalf of the entire Moro / Muslim community who were upset on your chosen “halloween costumes” during Eat Bulaga’s October 31, 2015 episode. You chose to wear the national costumes of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; an attire worn not only by Saudi nationals but by millions of Muslims and well-respected Islamic scholars all over the world.

Based on my understanding and your projection of the show last Saturday, your halloween costumes are prepared in order for you to be funny, to be creative or to be scary (as what this celebration is all about). All of these reasons to wear such attire are, well, insulting.


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The need to teach us Meranaos our Meranao language

Meranao, Meranaw, Maranaw, Maranao, M’ranaw, M’ranao. It is confusing, but we all know it means the same thing. But, it is not easy when we write in Meranao because the confusion will become real. I prefer to use the word Meranao although in other instances I would use the letter “w” instead of “o.” But, that is just to be consistent with the most popular spelling of Lanao which should have been Lanaw. For both words, I think I would like to make a special exemption. After all, the English language has so many of those weird spellings too that we accept, which more than often become a gauge for our alleged “education.” Social media heightens our need for a Meranao orthography that should be made popular and standardized or we end up becoming more confused and not be able to understand each other. Take a look at this gem of a piece of advice:
This is not to point an accusing finger at anybody, after all, ours in an oral culture. However, social media has also been embraced by us Meranaos and I honestly appreciate the fact that there are those who post in Meranao rather than our borrowed tongue(s). But the urgency of a Meranao orthography is real and immediate.
For Meranaos like us, we have no trouble understanding the above statement. After all, our kirim is also written that way, no stops and pauses. It is up to the reader to decipher what she is reading. However, if we have to preserve our language and make the younger generations eventually embrace and appreciate everything that goes with it–i.e., customs, traditions and legends–we have to make it easy for them. Most of us, I included, write in English or even Tagalog because our language is not only difficult to write down, but because there is really no set standard how it should be written. All of us have our unique way of writing Meranao words and I do believe it is now imperative for us Meranaos to come up with a standard orthography.
As an example, what does “rkao, rakno, kn” mean when removed from their context? So, if a non-Meranao speaking Meranao kid who grew up in a diasporic community wanted to learn her native language, how could she make heads or tails of our posts? A dictionary will not be much help because “rkao, rakno, kn” and many other examples of two or three Meranao words that we write as one will not be among the entries. Putting all the three or four words together may have been a legacy from our Telegram days. It is not easy, but it can be done. It should be done. Now that some of us have learned English and others the Arabic language, we need to take a break and learn our language, while it is still our time to teach ourselves our language. Very soon, we will have to learn our language from non-Meranaos who will know more about it than we do. I strongly believe that we should go back to kandarangen for real and for good.
Aooooooooo. Aoooooooooo. Or maybe awwwwwwww, awwwwwwwww.
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