One of the legends about Sarimanok has it that a heavenly being fell in love with Sari, the beautiful daughter of the Sultan. He turned into a beautiful rooster to attract the princess and then took her away with him, never to be seen again. The distraught Sultan had the artists carve a likeness of the rooster to remember his daughter by, and people eventually called it Sarimanok. That is supposed to have started or explained the Meranaw’s artistry in okir design or carving. There are other legends about Sarimanok though, but this story about Sari, the MSU Mascot is different. It is also a story of love, beauty, joy, and courage, but with added elements of diversity, unity, and bravery. It is not a story of abduction or non-abduction ala Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen.
Sari, the MSU Mascot was launched during the Golden Jubilee celebration of Mindanao State University (MSU) in 2011. A group of student artists worked together to draw the first ever Mascot of MSU which we decided to call Sari, the Sarimanok, the MSU Mascot. Sari’s main colors — maroon and yellow or gold –reflect the university’s colors. The multi-colored eleven feathers of Sari correspond to the eleven campuses of MSU.
One of my closest batch mates (the gorgeous and proud Igorot “crush ng bayan” from Baguio City, yes we do have alumni as far north as that city) loved the idea of Sarimanok coming home to its birth place, Lanao. That is, after flying all over the world in beauty pageants, TV networks, paintings, and magazines to name a few and asked a common friend, a highly successful College of Business Administration (CBA) who was a powerhouse debater back in his college days for support. The Sari, MSU Mascot needs no debating however, and he donated all the expenses to make it a reality, provided his assistance remains anonymous.
We recruited ten Sari boys, five of them taking turns in being the mascot and the rest are Sari’s entourage. Most of the original Sari boys are from the College of Forestry, some of them are now successful Foresters, one even landing in the top ten of the board exam. Today, Sari boys are “endangered species.” Only one of them remains. He proved to be the toughest of them all. He could withstand wearing the costume for several hours.
Beyond the grit, is a caring and soft-hearted boy. A non-Meranaw, he was born and raised in Raya Madaya, Marawi City. His family also lives in Marawi City and is among those who also lost their house and everything. At first, I was not sure if he still wanted to appear as the mascot knowing he was hurting inside. But his answer all the more convinced me that Sari, the MSU Mascot should indeed welcome the students as they return on that historic day of 22nd of August:
“Appearing as Sari means a lot to me. I know it is a Meranaw legend, and it is my privilege and honor to represent that legend before my fellow students…Gusto ko lang po iparamdam sa mga MSUans na safe ang campus maski may giyera at di ito hadlang para ipagpatuloy ang edukasyon. Because there is still always a rainbow after the rain.”
He did not know that I shed some tears with his answer. I knew it in my heart, Pantaw a Mareg has indeed raised her children, her native and adopted children, so well that they would all stand for and with her side-by-side AT ALL COST wherever they are.
22nd August 2017. Like a light house that beams direction and projects hope, Sari, the MSU Mascot towered above the MSU students as they all eagerly took selfies with him in his loving embrace. For a moment, there were smiles, joy, and excitement in the familiar symbol of Sarimanok, an identity that has long been associated with the Meranaws, the People of the Lake and the place itself. It is a symbol that inspires unity with its many colors and majestic beauty like the rainbow that appears after the rain.
1st September 2017. Eid El Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) celebration and MSU 56th Foundation Day. The Sari boy was not sure he could appear during the Foundation Day. I teased him that he will not be “slaughtered” as a giant chicken, besides goats, cows, and carabaos are usually slaughtered for meat distribution to needy people. He was simply being culturally sensitive. It was a lucky coincidence, if not providential and symbolic, for the Feast of Sacrifice to fall on MSU’s Foundation Day.
After over a hundred days of fighting, once again MSU opened its grounds for a congregation prayer. It seemed like things are like it used to be, although, it will never be. Some things are lost forever. But there are also lessons and realizations that will be made evident only when put under test.
MSU’s students and alumni have played a historic and decisive role in the survival and reclaiming of the campus, if not the city itself. The MSUans are our strongest evidence that co-existence under an environment of academic excellence without sacrificing culture and identity is possible, real, and can be (re)imagined.
The Sari boy wore the costume for the longest time ever and even carried the plaque for the guest speaker, Lt. Gen. Carlito G. Galvez, Jr. I asked him how he managed the heat. He said: “Being an IDP in the very hot Iligan City for so long made the wearing of the costume bearable. Lahat po kasi sila masaya kapag nakikita ako, bata, matanda, faculty, studyante, pati nga mga sundalo, kaya masaya din ako na ako ang dahilan ng kasiyahan nila.”
We will soon have to scout for new Sari boys because this last one is graduating, but I am not worried. I know there will be more MSUans who will take up the honour of being the next Sari boys. I am just equally privileged to have been part of the life of this last Sari. I believe, he is also the noblest of them all too. After his performance, he and his entourage realized that they left the huge bag for the costume at the Isidro Hall. Rather than carry the latter like dismembered chicken parts, he wore it again and walked the long distance back to the hall in character, much to the delight of the students with their ever ready mobile phone cameras.
Nobility. That too, defines House Sari, the MSU Mascot.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Elin Anisha “El Anisha” Guro of Marawi City is Director of Mindanao State University Press and Information Office, on study leave to finish her PhD at the School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne in Australia. She finished her MA Media Studies at the New School, New York City as a Fulbright Scholar)