MOORISH AND MOORING IN TAWI-TAWI REEFS:  Religiously Plural, Cosmopolitan and a Sama (Part 1)

Is Bai Tan real or fiction? But maybe when I meet a real one, she shall be a Sama, specifically, a Sama min-dilaut. No, not going by the royal-sounding Bai, who lives a land-away min-danaw. She is “rayang-rayang-rayOnnng!”, but not dayang-dayang. And no affiliation to affluent Tan. Her only privilege is location; her power is authenticity.

So to do a surgical reconstruction of PN Abinales’ Bai Tan [Mindanews.2017/06/ Cosmopolitan-islam-will-defeat-islamic-fundamentalism/], we call up the stage Dalmata Intan, probably Sama min Simunul or most likely a Sama mindilaut. She will be Muslim, perhaps not by your book standard, but she will be steeped in spirituality and culture of Muslims who have inhabited these islands whose ancestors were Austronesians who had crossed the south seas since the age of navigation in the 300 CE. She will not be your contemporaneous “Moro-Chinese” of “Moro Mindanao.”

While in Sabah en route to Tawi-tawi, she may carry a passport legitimizing her as citizen of the Philippines, at the same time, holder of Malaysian IC Kosong Tiga or a kertas Jalan yellowed and crumpled stashed away in her purse. At the market where she trades and transacts business, she usually experiences two states of nation-being which she also socially assumes when she enters the Masjid or rides the bus to her village on a day-to-day basis, now a Suluk, now a Bajau. These, the documents of her citizenship inadvertently could not attest. And having to straddle both in her diasporan identity she prefers to just be comfortable and is rightly familiar as being Sama.

In the 1970’s there was once our grandmother, ‘Mbo Dayang Hubbah. Suk, Sama and Ilanun blood flowed and raged in her aged veins. She had been in her prime, barely 50s, when war broke out and she had to become the sole breadwinner for her children who remained in Isabela de Basilan with her. She would charter a kumpit from Balanguingui, Tongkil that would pass-by Sibutu strait laden with her cargo of dry goods consisting of shoes from Marikina, bundles of Baclaran RTWs, shirts and denim jeans and the freshest releases of Tagalog Komiks. These were to be consigned and peddled in Payung-Payung market of Sandakan. By and around the fortnight she returned with boxes of canned goods, condiments, noodles, dried and processed shrimps, garlic, onions, rolls of batik and cotton textile and reams of Champion cigarettes which she dumped in her stall in Zamboanga’s supermarket.

On the next trip, she also had panyam, baulo, ja, patulakan and the Lamitan home-roasted and ground coffee packed into her sacks and ‘taro’ (emptied cooking oil) tin-cans. Those were “for the boys”. Her husband, an ustadh and a local imam, together with four of her sons were MNLF pioneers who self-exiled in Jampiras.

On occasions, the kumpit called on the port of Dungon, Tawi-Tawi, and there, mothers of poverty-stricken families caught up in the wars lined down the water-edge of Bongao, hopeful and on a lookout for kindly ladies like ‘Mboh Dayang or Bu’ Husna, our elderly aunt, as “panumpangan”, a travel companion whom they could entrust and send off their young daughters to find their fortune by mortgaging their future in North Borneo.

Coming from various mostly Christian ethnics of Bisayan, Ilonggo, Zamboangueno or Cebuano, how those mothers had begged ‘Mboh Dayang to please help find the daughters some placement in Chinese coffeeshops or Indian clothes-stores in the shores of her destination. They did not call this human-trafficking those days, and ‘Mboh Dayang herself would have to take in these girls, now assuming an economic migrant identity in Sabah as ‘Day-Day’. She had to care for them as of her own, living and sharing in her transient home in Sabah until they would meet some men who would propose to love them, took them for wives and housed them. Every fortnight for months thereafter, Bu’ Husna would be handcarrying letters and money exchanged between mother and daughter. These were all done without extracting for any fee.

By the standards of her time, ‘Mboh Dayang Hubbah would well qualify to be classified as Muslim fundamentalist in her being part of a family of freedom fighters in a religion-based movement invoking tradition calling to liberate “Hulah, Bangsa, iban Agama” (homeland, ummah and faith).

A little offbeat from the usual path taken in expert analyses by postmodern erudite, this one then takes to that route that finds it inaccurate to immediately assign a tugging contention between being “cosmopolitan” and “fundamentalist” in Dalmata Intan’s and ‘Mboh Dayang Hubbah’s performance of their Islam.

To the contrary, the assimilation of both fundamental orthodoxy and contextual fluidity of orthopraxy in the same instance could also define the religiosity of a cosmopolitan Sama. To be precise, it is the same cultural plurality and interreligious tolerance that make the Sama able to navigate both waters.

At that point where the two seas meet, it is possible to be fundamentally Muslim yet still be keeping to the exercise of autonomy to resist being huddled into one boat of extremist hegemony. Here, so-called Islamic fundamentalism is but one in the multitude that can exist among other religious possibilities.

[Mucha-Shim Lahaman Quiling considers herself a cultural translator and political interpreter who has chosen to hover in the margins and live in diaspora. Having no permanent residence and academic affiliation for the last ten years, her searching allowed her to experience roaming and transiting in the littoral rims of NE Indonesia, and here at home, from Basilan strait to the waters of Sulu and Tawitawi, simulating as close as possible the traditional homes of Bajau and Suluk nations of Nusantara (maritime Southeast Asia).  Arung Mucha is a hybrid of the Sama and Suk; a daughter of the clan of Panglima Saipuddin from Laminusa island, Siasi, Sulu; with mixed-ethnic grandparents, of Suk minSilangkan, and Suk-Ilanun of Luuk, Sulu]