I am always in awe of the resilience, courage and determination of the Palestinian people to resist despite all the odds. For almost seven decades, starting from the 1948 Nakba, they managed to put up a resistance against Israel which is determined more than ever to steal as much Palestinian land as possible. As if, what they have usurped is not more than enough or diabolical and inhuman enough. Palestine is close to my heart first as a human being and secondly as a Moro. One does not need to be an Arab or a Muslim to feel for the Palestinians. Secondly, as a Moro, my people share almost the same history and struggle with the Palestinians, but ours span almost five hundred years of resistance to this very day too! From the first moment that the Spanish conquistadores landed on our shores in the early 15th century, our people defied them until they finally left the “country,” only to be replaced by the Americans and then the Japanese. The proud Bangsamoro did not begrudge their blood to keep our freedom.
In the photo below are proud Moro Tausugs: Arolas Tulawie (left) sporting a pistol and the Sultan of Sulu (rightmost). In the middle is the General Douglas MacArthur of the Second World War fame. This photo was taken around that time. By then, the Moros would havealready been fighting for more than for centuries. Notice how the Moros still held on to their arms (this time a pistol) and see the amused expression of the general. Despite the contempt of the Americans of the Moros, they did acknowledge the unparalleled bravery of the Moros, albeit sometimes stubborn.The Colt .45 had to be invented because the Moros seemed to be unstoppable in their defense even in the light of imminent death. Their fighting to the death has been referred to by the Spaniards as juramentado or mislabeled as running amok. In today’s American-(or rather CIA)-skewed definition, their defense of their homeland would have been easily described as terrorism or suicide missions even though it is the colonizers who invaded them in the first place. For the Moros of old, a battle can only have one outcome for surrender is not an option. Either the opponent dies or the Moro dies.
The colonizers have left the Philippines (physically that is), but they have bifurcated the local people between the minority Moros and the majority Christianized non-Moros. Even after a country was carved out of the group of islands formerly governed by independent sultanates, the Moros have consistently demanded for their freedom from day one. If anything the world can learn from these two parallel stories is that: free people will claim their freedom no matter what it takes and no matter how long it takes. I thought that more than six decades of Palestinian struggle is long enough until I go back to our history and realize that from the time the Moro warrior raised his kris in defiance five centuries ago, it has never been back to its sheath. The pride of the Bangsamoro—maratabat—has sustained us through the centuries, although at times it also becomes our own undoing. It is a fact that among us Moros, that which nourishes and enriches us could have the potential of destroying us too.
The challenge to us new generation of Bangsamoro (Moro nation),whose veins run the blood of proud and brave warriors, is to ensure that our maratabat is focused solely in reclaiming our glorious past and not towards each other or for ignoble reasons.Of course, it is easier said than done but we owe it to the blood of our ancestors that we rise as one Bangsamoro—yet remain as Tausugs, Maguindanaons and Meranaos (not to discriminate the other remaining ten communities for the sake of brevity), if not today, then maybe someday in the future. If we examine our epic Darangen (declared by UNESCO in2005 as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity), we realize that even before the advent of the Western women liberation movement, Moro women had already been trained and actedas leaders and exercise the same privilege, if not more than their menfolk. In fact, our people’s past time was the pursuit of excellence in arts, public speaking, proper conduct, craftsmanship and leadership just to name a few. All of these were disrupted when the colonizers forced our ancestors to take up arms and defend themselves.
Now more than ever, it is our moral obligation to speak for ourselves, write for ourselves and negotiate for ourselves. We should no longer be mere token chapters in Filipino history books, because it is our history that proves that there is more to the country than the year 1521, that our history did not start when Magellan landed on our shores, that we were already cultured long before Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492 and before her new migrants later on came to our shores to “educate” us. Philippines will never move forward as a country until all her citizens—Moros and non-Moros alike—are made equal stakeholders. Until the Moros and their history are given their proper places in the national narrative, the warrior blood in us, is also always ready to activate. History and experience have ensured that the Moros will never let down their guard, despite their longing for that era ofs elf-government under the Sultanates. Let us track back a bit before our colonial history though. Before we became warriors, we were great orators,poets and story-tellers and indulged in what could be called in today’s parlance as performance arts. Our ancestors did not merely sing and or chant our long epic from memory—whose poetic language is already lost among the young generation—they also perform the stories in them. The sound of the kolintang ensemble was a genuine community activity that brings together members of the Moro community for entertainment, communication, socialization and cultural transfer and/or sustainability. Unfortunately in today’s transnational culture, the sound of the kolintang has oftentimes been sounded to an audience with a touristic gaze towards an “exotic” culture rather than a means to hand down a valuable tradition from an old generation to the new.
Our pre-colonial cultural capital—symbols, stories, epic and dances among others—have been used by non-Moros to represent the Philippines in the country and abroad and most of them have had considerable success. It is an irony that the Moros are left holding only the kris while the legendary Sarimanok perched on his other hand flew away. The non-Moros on the other hand became the non-Moro Moro artists as they take the world by storm through their famous cultural performances telling,interpreting, showcasing and sometimes misrepresenting our Sarimanok, legends, stories and dances, to name a few.
I am reminded of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat when he said: “I come bearing an olive branch in one hand, and the freedom fighter’s gun in the other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.” The Moros have always held their freedom fighter’s weapon for the longest time and somehow we realized too late that our Sarimanok has already taken its own flight allover the Philippines and perched on many “foreign” lands. Subsequently, our Sarimanok also became their cultural symbol as well, albeit only temporarily, even though they may have the least idea what it was and its significance. (I remember being asked by a non-Moro if I have a “Muslim costume” she could borrow to represent the Philippines in a beauty pageant. Despite explaining to her that it is not a Muslim costume but rather a Meranao or a Tausug costume, she kept on saying “Muslim costume.” I wonder how she can adequately represent something she has no clear idea about.) Maybe it is providential that the Moros are not holding an olive branch but a mythical bird which has the ability to fly on its own. Maybe we can take inspiration from the Sarimanok: its different colors are what makes it unique and attractive and can therefore symbolize unity in diversity. After all, in today’s globalized world,no country will ever be homogeneous unless one insists on becoming like Israel and therefore engage in ethnic cleansing and massacre. Both the Moros and the Palestinians have proven that nope, we indigenous people of the land are hereto stay on the lands of our forefathers, massacre or not.The photo below, the Battle of Marawi took place in three stages: 1639, 1891 and 1895 which indicates our peoples continuous battle to defend our homeland.
The Sarimanok’s flight away from home and the embrace of the non-Moros of our cultural symbol, for whatever purposes whether it be artistic, financial, cultural or even a sense of belonging provide a different paradigm for those like me who is an amalgam of several identities: a proud Moro, a Meranao, a Filipino, a New Yorker, a Melburnian and a Palestinian at heart and a Muslim by religion. I am defined by a lot of things. Among them are my birth, blood, education and religion and even the places I have lived in (New York and Melbourne) and the place that only my heart has been to (Palestine). I feel a sense of belonging to New York and now Melbourne. I feel just like any Palestinian activist regardless of religion, creed, sex or race, that there is a Palestinian in all of us: we want freedom and desire the same for the Palestinians and other people as well. These are acquired identities that I cannot undo nor would ever dream of dismembering from myself. For every layer of identity or sense of belonging I experience, I add to the multi-colored feathers of my Sarimanok and call it my own. Maybe our Sarimanok has taken flight, but it is rooted in every single Moro, for as our old pre-Islamic beliefs would have it, it is our twin spirit. We can coo it back home, summon it or persuade it to perch on the roofs of our old Torogans once again, but we have to prepare the rich, colorful, artistic and royal Moro physical and cultural playground that it was used to adorn. Only then can we have the right to reclaim our beloved Sarimanok.