KISSA AND DAWAT: Last hurrah for heritage

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 02 June) – May is National Heritage Month. About two weeks ago, I wrote in this column about “Bangsamoro is Integral to Filipino Heritage[1]”. I wrote this piece on May 31 as my final hurrah for heritage.

A visit to this city reminds me of the diversity within the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), beyond the 13 ethnolinguistic Moro groups and far from the outsider’s stereotype that BARMM is one homogenous culture.

It is true that BARMM is largely Moro, it is also home to non-Moro indigenous groups like the Teduray, Lambangian and Dulangan Manobo and settlers’ descendants like the Cebuano, Waray, Ilonggo, Negrense, etc. We also have the Lannang, descendants of the early Chinese migrants; Anak Milikan, descendants of early Caucasians; Anak Arab, descendants of early migrants from the Middle East, including the Ashraf, those claiming descents from the Prophet’s clan; Anak Bombay, descendants of early migrants from South Asia; and those who look just like us, descendants of Indonesian and Malaysian migrants in our midst. That is far from homogenous and monolithic. Aside from out ethnic and cultural diversity, we now have diverse religious groups even among Moros, a product of infusion from the larger Muslim Ummah.

When we are able to look beyond the binary majority-minority lens, we are beginning to build the foundation for social inclusion and respect for diversity. Given that one of the rallying points of Bangsamoro is its unique heritage, we should be able to see the emergence of institutional support promoting this diverse and heritage. For one, we have observed within the region that social peace and prosperity are more often associated with inclusion and diversity. As examples we point to Upi and Cotabato City in Maguindanao; Wao in Lanao del Sur; Lamitan City and Maluso in Basilan; and Bongao in Tawi-Tawi. Where we are moving towards homogeneity, i.e. losing inclusion and diversity, we see stagnancy or turtle-slow in local peace and development.

In short, community becomes robust when it is underpinned by inclusion and diversity. When we talk about Bangsamoro heritage, we are not referring to one or few cultures, but to all that are present within the BARMM. This has strong argument for social peace and economic prosperity. Diverse peoples guided by unifying policies, become the region’s inexhaustible capital for development.

Further, how this subject is treated will have repercussion on how fellow Moros outside of the BARMM will be treated and progressed as a minority. Thus, as big sibling to those Moro communities outside of the region, if BARMM will treat and allows its own minorities to develop and prosper safely, then it will have strong moral ascendancy to call for reciprocal treatment of Moros in other areas. While historical injustices need to be addressed, it cannot serve as raison d’etre for BARMM to treat her non-Moro residents unfairly. BARMM is now in the position for moral ascendancy and to look forward to creating an inclusive society.

It is high time that BARMM passes a legislation that defines the recognition of our heritage beyond just historical and political, i.e. political history of individual leaders, monuments, art-aesthetics and architecture, but the broader idea of human creativity – both tangible and intangible[2]. As we lament the loss and ‘westernization’ of our tangible heritage, we should all the more lament the loss of our intangible heritage, like the indigenous knowledge systems.

Another point we need to consider is that our ancestors have evolved their lives based on environmental reality challenges. As part of humanity, we are now forced to confront climate change, er, climate crisis[3]; and without taking stock of our indigenous knowledge systems and natural history, we may not be able to mitigate properly the ongoing climate crisis consistent with our identity and culture. In fact, we may increase the risk of repeating mistakes that our ancestors have learned the hard way.

Natural history? Certainly yes. It is not just a part, but a foundation of our identity and culture. Meranaw emerged out of Ranaw, the lake; for if they have emerged out of a riverine environment, they could have been like the Tagalog who emerged as “taga-ilog”. The Maguindanaons emerged from Danaw, the flood plain environment. The Sama-Bajaw is defined by its marine and maritime environment. One origin theory from scholars like Otley Beyer and Macario Tiu alleges that the Tausug emerged out of an epic journey from northern Mindanao, their point of origin, through the Pacific Ocean and Celebes Sea before finally arriving in Sulu and when people saw them for the first time, they were acknowledged as “Tau Sug”, people who came via the sea current. Thus, the surrounding environment defined, constricted, molded and expanded people’s consciousness and culture.

For the BARMM to acknowledge and give importance to the region’s multicultural heritage, I believe, is by way of creating a ministerial agency that mimics and put us ahead of the Senate Bill No. 1528 filed in the 17th Congress proposing the creation of the Department of Culture.

Imagine a BARMM Ministry of Cultures that will promote, protect, preserve, regulate, manage and develop the totality of the BARMM’s peoples’ creativity, both tangible and intangible. Imagine further that ministry bringing in under one roof what is the regional manifestation of the following national agencies like the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), National Museum of the Philippines (NMP), National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), National Library of the Philippines (NLP), National Archives of the Philippines (NAP), Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino (KWF), National Parks Development Committee (NPDC), Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), National Book Development Board (NBDB) and Design Center of the Philippines (DCP).

Furthermore, imagine at the provinces, there is a heritage hub, where we can bring all of these functions under one roof. Imagine BARMM residents visiting the library with children reading colorful and animated books about our past, learning about our past in the museum, visiting a nearby historical structure, watching performances from our epics and learning traditional skills crafts at the demonstration center, and so on.

Under Senate Bill No. 1528, there is a proposal to call this provincial hub as ‘Rizal Center’. We have nothing against Jose Rizal, but we do need to make our hub reflective of our culture, so we can refer to our heritage hub as ‘Risalah Center’ or ‘Pusaka Center. Risalah is Arabic word for message, and Pusaka is local term for heritage or inheritance.

Heritage is not static; it is organic and dynamic. It is a priceless[4] and often hidden[5] asset. It requires a conscious, collective decision both at the institutional and social level to use it for positive gains, and help define and build the future. In the World Cities Culture Report, it says “cultural and creative sectors are increasingly recognized as critical to the success of leading cities around the world, with many contributors talking about the role that culture has in creating shared spaces and bringing people together”[6].

This is the challenge for the current BARMM leadership and the people.

(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).

[1] “Bangsamoro is Integral to Filipino Heritage” (May 22, 2019) –

[2] “Dimensions of Heritage Value” (2015) –

[3] “No more climate change: it’s now a crisis” (May 24, 2019) –

[4] “Culture is priceless asset in the life and success of cities” (2015) –

[5] “Culture, The Hidden Asset. Mapping of Cultural Assets in Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan” –

[6] “Culture is priceless asset in the life and success of cities” (2015) –