I am a proud Meranao. I grew up believing in the idea that I am a royalty. When I was a little girl, it was my family’s ‘idal’ to wear one of our royal titles. My late grandmother wanted me to be enthroned, even if I was just young. She wished to see me crowned while she was still alive. It was my beloved Daddy who said no, arguing that traditional royal titles may just be ceremonial nowadays, but we should equally accept the responsibility in assuming them as much as possible. My father equated ‘grar’ with duty instead of assertion of our having a royal blood. He believed that if we could not see it as a task, then having a ‘grar’ would be un-Islamic and pointless. After all, with traditional titles having lost their appurtenant powers, assuming one will just become a display of arrogance if it is done simply for its sake. Because I was very young, my father believed that my becoming a Bai a Labi would have been a mere ‘katakabor’ as far as our family was concerned.
Just as my daughters now realised, I also learned that there is not a single Meranao who would not claim to be equally royal. I have heard some of my Maguindanaon and Tausug friends say that they are not royal blooded, but I have yet to hear a Meranao declare that he or she is not a “binaning i olo” (yellow headed, meaning royal-blood–yellow being the Meranao royal colour). We could explain this in myriad ways, but I would like to believe that it is because all Meranaos are relatives and indeed descended from one royal family. The ‘pat a pangampong sa Ranao’ comes to mind. The fact that everybody claims royal blood, then we should all equally accept responsibility in bringing the Meranao society to a new and higher level.
My maternal grandmother used to tell me that “aya bangsa o tao na so dadabiatan iyan.” For her, nobility is not by blood, it is how people conduct themselves that make them a royal blood. Unbecoming attitude or actions, just to understate things, negate any claim for royalty not to mention the paradox of being un-Islamic in an Islamic City at worst. Away from home, I miss Ranao so much and seeing this yellow acacia tree burst with yellow leaves reminded me how this tree would have been very appropriate for the yellow-loving Royal Meranaos. I proudly wore my ‘rambayong a malong’ at my Uni to ignite my maratabat so I can finish my studies as soon as possible and go home to Ranao. However, reading the posts of my friends about a fresh wave of senseless killings back home made me ruminate. Earlier, the death of the little Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi made me feel as if I myself lost a son. The death of four vendors in Marawi City made me equally feel I am the murderer myself. Few weeks ago, a young Meranao girl was violated then burned by drug-crazed Meranaos who equally received swift justice by execution. I am no longer sure what should I be proud of as a Meranao nowadays.
Should we keep mum about what is going in our backyard to protect our image? One Facebook user appealed in a page that we should be keeping shameless issues limited to ourselves and write in Meranao so nobody would understand except us. First, with social media, there is no hiding things. We have all become global citizens whether we are ready or not, whether we want to be part of the world or not. Second, if it is the answer to the plummeting spiral of the Meranao society then by all means let us keep our silence, after all silence is golden and therefore, yellow and royal too. Lastly, I am a Meranao and I cannot be not a Meranao. If I can feel for Aylan Kurdi as if he was my son, how could I ever not grieve for the people whose blood run in my veins? Every golden colour is a memorandum of my people and the place I call home. A yellow tree evokes so many memories in me of an embattled ancient tribe unable to find its rightful place amidst contending forces, ideologies, identities and interests. The Meranao people have been at war for half a millennium, ever since the Spaniards set foot on our shores–until now. The incessant warfare did not destroy our tribe; our physical presence is a testimony to our people’s bravery and endurance. That we were already Meranaos long before the colonisers came and Meranaos still long after they were forced out of our lands is an indication that the we Meranaos will persist. But we badly need to look inward and question to what end? After all the spilled blood of our ancestors, to where is the Meranao society headed? Our Lake Lanao, from which we derived our identity as Meranaos or People of the Lake, is like a cadaverous mother begging for nourishment while her children are pre-occupied with killing, drug addiction, drug trafficking and politicking—anything but taking care of her. (I know of course this is a generalisation and my apologies to those who are not otherwise).
I am writing this not because I have the answers; I do not. I have more questions than answers. What I do know is that, since all of us Meranaos claim equal royalty, then it is incumbent upon all of us to assert that nobility by being equally accountable for our society. As the first king Diwata Ndaw Gibon of our mythical Iliyan a Bembaran advised us in our epic, the Darangen that:
Na inao mga lombay
Na aya ki’ a kandato
Na bangka lilinoga
A kawaraw so marandang
Ka an ka madandam o taw
Na o ba ngka ki’ koyangi
Ka masayana’ ka dato’
Ka masiringan so kota’
Na madibaloy so pandi’
Na mabarembad so kampong
Ka ganatan ka iran den.
I leave you to find your own meanings and interpretations of the above poetic lines from the Darangen which most of us, including me, do not always understand. We have lost the language of the Darangen, so have we also departed from its valuable teachings on leadership, responsibility and true maratabat.