My Dear People of Sulu Archipelago and My Sama Homesea.
I am going on a voyage that all of us must take at least once in our lifetime. From 2000 to 2010, I had gone on similar missions to the heart of the United Nations by air and by land, but often I came home empty-handed.
When I attended the last UN Working Group Meeting on Minority Rights last October 2010 in Geneva, I just saw through until the institutionalization of the working group into a Permanent Forum on Minorities, and swore it was to be my last and final attendance as I realized our battles can not be won there anymore, where minorities would have to shed away their long-held positions and, using the UN Minority Forum as platform of negotiation, plead instead for inclusion and integration into majority-designed development frames and become just an accommodated part of the multitude hoping for the Millennium Development Goals (now upgraded to Sustainable Development Goals) to trickle into their buckets.
I go on this trip again as I’ve gone in previous ones, empty in my pocket, with only one thousand pesos in my ATM which will also serve as my VISA card, plus 5,000 that my daughter will send by money transfer today that I hope will reach me before my plane departs to Singapore where I will board my boat.
But I am full in my heart and one hundred US dollars will take me far. I have waited for this journey by routes that our ancestors have taken — across the ocean. It had come to me many times in my dreams and i have waited since for the Ocean Dream to call at my homesea port.
In this 97th Voyage of the Peace Boat Japan aboard the ship “Ocean Dream,” participants representing at least ten nationalities from Asia will be on board. Many of them were colleagues I met inside and outside of the UN august halls of the past lobbies, and fresh young activists are joining. We are renewing our solidarity as Asians working against racial and religion-based discriminations and intolerance.
Added to that, this voyage is part of Peace Boat Japan’s bigger course itinerary over the Western Asian rim that connects Southeast Asia on to China to explore our colonial past and legacy. and, yes, we will be talking still of human rights, and our sounding cry for the Rohingya and deep prayers for the soul of Burma will be louder than ever…
I have only one message in this trip that I wish you will give me the mandate to bring as our collective voice: my people from Sulu archipelago has been and are still continuously resisting colonialism and our contribution to world peace is how we have modeled through the ages the constancy of resistance of our Malay race, and the unparalleled consistency in resilience of a people battered by waves upon waves of colonial forces attempting to completely take over of our self-hood and self-determination.
Our links to the Silk Road through to the South China seas remains intact to today, either by blood, or by monarchs of bygone times, although several times betrayed by the States and governments of civilized nations they have allied with and collaborated; their authority remains being honored by our people who have forged a covenant to stand by with the righteous servant-leader among them.
Our tradings and crossings in the nusantara around the basins of Laut Sulawesi, Borneo, Malacca and Johore passages, opening all the way unto the Indian Ocean remain active and vibrant. Boats are being built everyday in our shores waiting for the goodwinds to be launched to ply these routes.
By invoking these, I am not endorsing a fundamentalist dogma of return to the days of Vikings and slavery, but i am trying to inspire our Southeast Asian brethren in Cambodia, Vietnam, Pattani-Thailand, Aceh-Indonesia to revisit their past connections and take pride in their centrality in these crossings as the winds to stir their own journeys to peace.
The ecologically-integrative and environmentally nonintrusive life of the world’s only sea nomadic culture among our Sama Dilaut is proof of a maritime culture that our forebears cultivated that was and, if God-wills, will remain sustainable. The perpetual simplicity and patient humility of the Sama Dilaut – their remaining submissive and faithful to the Only One Sovereign, and the unquestioning submission to Tawhid by the mukali and living awliya of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi – are living exemplar of our traditional spirituality.
Others may see us and our stance as seeming disobedience to western ways imposed on us, to some, a defiance of modernity. But these are extant evidences of how successfully we have kept and held on to what by rights and obligation are ours to defend and assert. These are our Asian legacy from a primordial peace of the freeworlds prior to western colonialisms. These are not empty rhetoric and glossy academic discourses of human rights advocates, but are living experiences that our people still practice from day-to-day. But forces of globalization and totalitarian political hegemony want these extant expressions of our freedom curtailed.
As nature and Divine designs would have it, so we have all these backed-up in our hard-heads and bravehearts. The constant wars of aggression that we have to fight and resist against, and the seemingly perpetual state of abandonment and un-inclusion from development priorities by past and present governments and institutions have kept our ancestral memories intact in us. Our past is still our present, as time seems to have stood still, that the four centuries of our people’s resistance seem to have just been yesterday, and we have it all stored indelible and well kept in the recesses of our people’s memories where no conquistador can encroach and disenfrachise.
What we can do with our Asian sisters and brothers together is to reinforce the threads that keep our fragile links by reclaiming back and re-travelling the routes spanned by both time and space, launched in our psychic imagining and in actual bodily journeys, and let it be etched in maps and narratives, especially of the geographies of our minds and hearts, to arrest its risk of complete erasure.
To do that we must decolonize our memories, reclaim our knowledge systems and then again the maritime world of Southeast Asian political-economy and its link to the Silk Road to China can bear re-imagining and become routes and spaces of our shipping Peace once more.
Arung Mucha, Pirate of Sulu Sea. Anangsang s’llog, 04 April 2018.
[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. 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]