There will always be an opportunity to misunderstand each other, or even hate then hurt each other. The same as there will always be a chance for both sides to meet half-way and instead of looking at what makes us different, let us celebrate our diversity. Let nature be our inspiration. What makes a rainbow mesmerizing are the different colors that can be turned into a white light or vice-versa.
I am humbled by the invitation of the Philippine-Australian Association to be their Guest Speaker during the Philippine Heritage Month Celebration last May 30th. Speaking before the mixture of Filipinos, non-Filipinos and Australians was like coming home. It is funny that I feel nostalgic, some sort of a déjà vu, despite the fact that it was my first time in Canberra. Back in those days, I was at the helm of Heritage Month Celebrations in Mindanao State University (MSU), similarly inviting guest speakers for the said occasion. Atty. Trixie Angeles, my colleague at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Committee on Monuments and Sites was the last guest speaker I invited during that time. I went through the same networking, coordinating, and promoting as my host did. The same butterflies in the stomach not really knowing for sure whether the program will turn out perfectly as planned. This time, it is my turn to be the speaker and indeed, it was a long journey for me, in many respects.
Who would have thought that the Torogan I, and several colleagues fought so hard to preserve against all odds is right there in Canberra in its beautiful splendor, amidst all other equally stunning structures from all over the world? Despite all the efforts that sincere and devoted cultural workers like Dr. Jesus Peralta, Eng’r Orly Abinion of the National Musuem, Atty. Angeles and several other colleagues and friends I worked with, the last standing Torogan remained a conservationist’s dream. Sadly, the combined efforts of the NCCA, National Museum and other concerned Meranaos and non-Meranaos (the late Brig. Gen Daniel Lucero comes to mind) were not sufficient enough to convince the owners. However, I could not believe that of all places, Canberra would host the Torogan of the Meranaos which we failed to preserve.Yes, visiting the Cockington Green Gardens is feeling like Alice in Wonderland who is lost in a different world. Roaming around the gardens with the miniature structures featuring famous landmarks such as Stonehenge, Borobudur, the Trakai Castle and the Lahore Gate- Red Fort-Delhi just to name a few made me feel like a giant, despite my height. But, it is looking at the miniature Torogan with its majestic panolong and the okir design that really made me feel like being transported to the time and place of my ancestors.
It looked and felt so real despite it seeming to come out of a Lilliputian world. It appeared ancient but not decaying. Here in Australia, I saw for the first time the Torogan without some parts either lost, broken or discarded. How would I not feel at home when my people and my culture are honored in this faraway place? Indeed, our Torogan is international in stature and can compete with other edifices from the rest of the world. I have seen it side-by-side with other the rest of the world and I have to say, it has its own charm. Going back to the heritage program, the Honorable Belen Anota,Philippine Ambassador to Australia gave the opening remarks and made the event more memorable with her presence all throughout. As if that wasn’t enough, the Ambassador established a deeper connection by telling me that her husband was among the pioneering students of my beloved MSU!
For a while, I had forgotten that I was the guest speaker as I immersed myself with all the other Filipinos. We put up the exhibit of textiles coming from the different parts of the Philippines. The Darangen dolls all made up and donning landaps also made their appearance as if to lend their grace and beauty to the event. What was most memorable to me was not really my talk, but it is more on the connection, the friendship and the breaking of the imaginary wall that is keeping us Meranaos/Moros from the rest of the nation. Sometimes, what is needed, more than speeches is just the reason to bring us together. That fissure to break the ice, maybe not at once, but slowly. One person at a time. One malong at a time.
A group of non-Meranao ladies danced their own interpretation of kapa-malo-malong and the kaseduratan. It is not perfect, but nonetheless a point of dialogue, inquiry, appreciation and ultimately understanding. I see them attempt to portray my culture, and though there is still a room for improvement like any other dance troupe, I felt honored that they took time to learn those and present them to the world. I am happy that they are in fact, “speaking” for us Meranaos. I think that there are instances when being spoken for, especially when the intention is sincere, should be welcomed. It is still a starting point for some conversation nonetheless.
I ended my talk by using the malong as a metaphor and with its 1001 uses, I showed to them how it can be very versatile. It can be transformed in many ways that is only limited by the imagination. I showed the volunteers how to use the malong and promised myself that I will send them malongs soon. In the end, I transformed the malong into a vinta with me and the volunteers us as passengers. Yes, it matters who we are. What we call ourselves. Whether we are Filipinos, Muslims, Moros or Meranaos or probably immigrants to Australia. But the thing is, as passengers on the same boat, we just have to remember that we are all in the same boat together.
Now, I am back to Melbourne, to my beloved husband and darling daughters. But memories of my Canberra trip still linger on my mind. I have gained more friends, real and FB friends that is. There are budding friendships that I want to cultivate and keep forever. I know also that for some, the imaginary wall that is dividing us Moros from them is beginning to show some cracks. I know that a tiny cleft will not immediately take down a sturdy wall. But a crevice it is, and soon it will break. It does not have to be now. Maybe tomorrow. One at a time. One person at a time. One malong at a time.
Those who have been a part of the success of the affair have all touched my heart. Going to Canberra and being with all of you will be among my most treasured memories while being a temporary Melburnian—another layer to my many malong transformations. You are too many to mention, but again, here is what I want to say to you: Sanggibosalamat.