KISSA AND DAWAT: The tragedy of cultural inaction and reaction

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ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 26 January) – Anak Mindanao (AMIN) partylist congresswoman Sitti Djalia Turabin Hataman delivered a privilege speech last January 23, 2017 in the House of Representatives, touching on a familiar chord – cultural preservation. Those who would like to read her speech in toto, please follow this link. I share in her concern and would like to use the opportunity to reflect on its wider implication.

The task at hand is hard. Her personal advocacy work and that of Anak Mindanao (AMIN) Partylist should be lauded for bringing the consciousness to Congress. It is no easy feat. For that we extend our gratitude as they put forward a bill in Congress for the establishment of the Mindanao and Sulu Traditional Arts Institute.

I am also reminded of Regional Consultation Meeting on Education Resilience and Resilience in East Asia and the Pacific organized by SEAMEO INNOTECH in 2014 where indigenous knowledge systems were also discussed vis-à-vis the contemporary challenges of Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) and Climate Change Agreements (CCA). We heard stories from across the region of relevance, preservation and protection; and we fear that the loss of indigenous knowledge would be a far greater tragedy than just the lost or stolen artifacts.

This is why being “proactive” is better than “reactive”. We have been at best complaining and faulting for ages. Where did that lead us? To nothing. And if there was any gain, it was minimal. By merely reacting, we become negative; we become the villain and antagonist and; we are merely selective and dependent on those that are brought to our attention.

Shredding the Culture of Reaction and Victim-hood

After decades reacting, we should now be proactive. It’s time to shed that “can’t be done” attitude. That “victim-hood” attitude does not sell anymore. It is time to shed these attitudes as part of our cultural awakening. By insisting we are mere victims is to assume we have nothing of strength, value or capacity. We are not victims, we fought, we attacked, our ancestors fought for us even if it was just barong against rifles, panâ against mortars, they fought!

My Bangingi ancestors alone faced devastating tragedy when the last major Spanish invasion into Moro lands targeted their stronghold, our ancestral homeland at Tongkil. They fought to the best of what they could. They fought because they sensed what will become of them. Many were captured and suffered a diaspora – enslaving them to plantations in Cagayan Valley in Luzon and forcing them to attend mass, thinking the best way to disarm the Bangingi is to keep them away from the sea and their religion.

If we want a new narrative – our own narratives to surface – then we need to be proactive. We have our collective energy born of 14 ethno-linguistic groups, more than 400 years of sovereignty and of 5 to 10 million Filipinos. That is too much to be a victim. There are the numbers of victors if we can only be proactive.

Foundations of Proactivity

Let us start by coalescing. Our theology reminds, “And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided…” (Verse 103, Chapter Ali Imran, Al Qur’an Al Majid, Saheed International Translation). As it is now, we are holding different ropes – power, riches, ethnocentricism, etc. The second line in the same verse echoes our pre-Islamic past when we were divided by our own ethno-linguistic identities and admittedly also fought each other for survival and hegemony, “… And remember the favor of Allah upon you – when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favor, brothers.” (Ibid)

To be proactive behooves us to bring our hearts together again. One of our ulama, Dr. Ustadz Alzar Sattar, Undersecretary for Madrasah Education in the Autonomous Region, in one of our online conversations, reminds us that we can start by exploring, uniting and strengthening our collective aqeedah. Aqeedah refers to those matters which we believe in and to believe in them “with certainty and conviction, in one’s heart and soul.” What happened to our liberation slogan – hula (homeland), bangsa (community), agama (way of life)? This is the core of what we believe in.

Let us rally around good leaders: leaders who will pursue the altruism of Bangsamoro at all and any cost, leaders who will be self-less, family-less, clan-less and ethnic-less. Yes, I know it is hard to find just leaders. This is why the cause of Bangsamoro is an intergenerational effort. If there is none in our generation, then let us nurture in the next. Remember we say proactive, not reactive or merely knee-jerk reflex. The answer is not to lower our standard to kakistocracy.

Let us begin to be critical with this culture of impunity and vengeance. Let us stop moralizing violence. Let us stop muddling self-defense with banditry and criminality. Are we willing to bequeath to our children more death and destruction as their inheritance? Let us not be selfish by thinking, after all my family is in Metro Manila, somewhere in the Visayas, in Cagayan de Oro, in Iligan, in Davao, in General Santos or in Zamboanga. Violence is not limited by geography. Western powers and Imperial Manila have wrongly thought and are now more active in mobilizing to prevent because violence these days transcends borders.

We have cultural practices that are good and not-so-good. We are proud of our ethnicity, that is good; but ethnocentrism and clan-centrism are not. There was a time when piracy and slave trading were economic activities. After realizing they are moral wrongs, we scrapped them from our cultural system.

Let us build an egalitarian thinking, a Meranaw is as good as an Iranun as a Maguindanaon as a Tausug as a Sama as a Yakan as a Bajaw and so on. Aside from them, let us remind or educate ourselves, the Moro configuration includes the Kagan, Sangil, Kalibogan, Bangingi, Jama Mapun and Molbog. Even a balik-Islam can be a Moro by ascription. We are all in this together! It is not how many; it is what is right or moral regardless where it came from. This is why Intra-Moro Dialogue is important, another topic that I would like to discuss separately.

From Physical to Intangible Heritage

There is more to our culture than the physical or tangible ones of which many are at risk of vanishing. Tangible ones alert us when we can’t see them anymore or we see them assumed by others. We are alerted by reacting. Yet for all intent and purposes we have failed to be proactive in promoting or sustaining our culture bearers and their artifacts. It would require national agencies recognizing them as living traditions but not in our own localities and institutions. Our own traditional edifices and artifacts are either lost or destroyed by our own hands. Our indigenous langgal (mosque) architecture is vanishing before our eyes as well as our mainland okil or island ukkil crafts. There is an urgent call to protect and make our traditional boat-building sustainable livelihood. One craft that is gaining attention is our loom-weaving which our colorful and artistic traditional weaves taking center stage in the 2016 Miss Universe fashion show in Davao City. The lingering concern is, what will happen to this livelihood craft after the pageant?

But the bigger challenge is our indigenous knowledge system. Identity is not just what we wear, eat, entertain or arm ourselves; it is how we see, act and react; how we learn and view the world around us. Imagine now we are reduced to reacting to things and events; when our ancestors were proactive in creating their own world! They knew astronomy before there was PAGASA (Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration) to alert us about the typhoons. They knew the seas before there were NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and GPS (Global Positioning System). They knew farming the land and sea before there were DA (Department of Agriculture) and BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources). They knew trading before there were DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) and TESDA (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority). They were studying life and death before there were schools. They knew how to govern more than 400 years before this country was born!

They knew a lot and these knowledge resources are dying with them. Not because they were stolen, but because we ourselves did not value them anymore. The way we were schooled, we view them as illiterate, because they do not have certificate or diploma to show and brag about. We realized later that they are educated, highly educated than us – they learned their primary education at home from parents, their secondary education in their own community from elders and craft masters, they earned their college degree to survive, master’s degree to thrive and doctoral degree on the hereafter from the University of Life! This one, fellow Moros, is by far the greater tragedy and we are just beginning to realize its loss!

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Noor Saada is a Tausug of mixed ancestry – born in Jolo, Sulu, grew up in Tawi-tawi, studied in Zamboanga and worked in Davao, Makati and Cotabato. He is a development worker and peace advocate, former Assistant Regional Secretary of the Department of Education in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, currently working as an independent consultant and is a member of an insider-mediation group that aims to promote intra-Moro dialogue.)

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