MOORISH AND MOORING IN TAWI-TAWI REEFS: Hold on to the Sambuwan in Flooded Sambuwangan

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ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 15 September) — Zamboanga is inundated by the overflowing tears of river Nawan because it has broken its covenant and lost its link to the sacred line of its sharifin ancestors. Here is Sambuwangan’s tarsila:

Datu Tumanggung Salip (Gen.) Vicente Alvarez – son of Alejo Alvarez – son of Gregoria Alvarez y Atilano – daughter of Dominga Atilano y Montal Bad-de – daughter of Sharifa Felipa and Datu Pedro Estrada de Montal Bad-de – son of Sharif Felipe Macombong Santiago Tongab – son of Sharif Kabungsuan (Raja Bungsu of Sultanate of Sulu) and Princess Nayac (daughter of Timuay Sarangan of Bud Pulumbato)..

Sambuwangan present-day leaders’ grudging acknowledgment of Datu Vicente Alvarez as a hero and Philippine revolutionario is gravely ignorant and uninformed of this great man’s ancestry. By clinging to an honor of a colonial feat and false pride, self-claiming instead as Latin City is tantamount to committing a blasphemous act of rejection and abandonment of tradition, as Zamboanga turns its back from the very bloodline that Datu Vicente fought and died for. Be it a blessing or a curse, this city has reneged from its ancestry and shunned its sharif forefather into a dark alley. Flung and banished into obscurity, little wonder that the cityfolk’s memory of its hero is nada.

A street named after him is practically deserted and – quite a relief to say – virtually undiscovered by panopticonic socmed and millennial selfie-maniacs. Well-loved and patronised by mostly lowly market hawkers and hardlaboring traffic enforcers and amulet-strapping pulis Suluk, and perhaps known only to sinug and sinama-chatting Kahawa drinkers, Vicente Alvarez, the hero and the street, still contains memories to afford the transiting diasporan like me to relate with a story or two. Yet such potency too is vulnerable and inviting the foraging cosmopolitan imagination to construct narratives as well as myths of newish identities.

Since 2013, after the infamous “Zamboanga Siege,” the once slumbering Vicente Alvarez street a.k.a. “Joloano alley,” has slowly risen-up, stall-by-stall, building itself and fashioning an alter-culture of its own, gradually awakening into an array and bustle of kadday serving the famous Kahawa Sug and sending in tray upon trays of assortment of bangbang sug. Of course, the all-weather favorite and mainstay remains to be the nasty below-povertyline fare invented by the Sama dilaut of Rio Hondo – the rated PG (Pantawid Gutom) fare of bihun-bihun now washed and repackaged for the elite’s palate, wrapped in a pastil casing hence had given birth to — for the moment, let us tentatively baptize as — pastil-bihun. I know the gagandilans would squirm and protest claiming pastil is pastil of Lupahsug. But, hey, wait, we are dissecting here the genealogy of Sambuwangan-born bihun-bihun, it is of Sama origin — to be exact, Sama Bajau min dilaut — forcely interred into the polite and civilized skin of perfectly serrated pastil Tausug. Satisfied? Ok. So here we have the perfect cosmopolitan and hybrid poorman’s food that you partake drowned and downed in floods of chili-ed vinegar sauce bearing all the bittersweet tastes of frustrations and triumphs, of armed and disarmed struggles, of beauty and madness, and, in one big gulp, you take in blood, sweat, and tears, then stand and proclaim: that was one hell of One Bangsa Sug! So, there, you get only authentic memory of food and how they are cooked and called. You sip ‘tiyula’ itum – not ‘chola itom’ – with the right bite of hot, which means, “hottest”. The genuine Ja crunches, and, as Lokot-lokot, crackles in your mouth, not like the pretentious crumbling of ‘Zamboanga roll.’

Walking down its paved sidewalk, one is transported back into the nostalgia of yesteryear ‘Zamboanga Hermosa’ when la ciudad still felt better and its friendly air was breathable. None was the hostility and paranoia over the black stockinged and veiled. None was the homophobia of the white robed and the bearded. And, albeit somewhat undeserved now, the slow stroll unfurls before the eyes a diorama of historic canvas unashamedly painted with patches of red and green and gold, on first impression, a seemly welcome to the cold ber-season, yet in fact, is stained both by the bloody graphic thoughts of recent– and obviously provoked — arson and carnage. And the muted asphalts patiently listened, strewn with expletives splatted out in betel chewed. Lately, a newish traveller inn has joined the foray with its 24/7 round of fully-booked signage, hosting stranded inter-island passengers of mostly Yakan speakers. As for this enigmatic Tagimahe people, i reserve another full story to tell…

So, for those yet to discover this hidden moorish nook, look for that once-upon-a-garbage-heap tucked between a snobbish Jollibee and, a spittle throw away, of a mostly Bajau-queue eager and desperate to come home.

On to their sixth year now stranded in that ‘paradahan’ with an ogler’s worm-view at the castillan edificio de officiales, when needled, an interview- fatigued Bajau could still muster her cheerful friendliness to bear yet another intellectual-prospector ‘ anebba-pikilan’ gleaning and picking into her Bajau-mind reef. She hesitantly offered that the only string that has kept them hanging in there was the new ‘job’ that has long replaced their traditional fishing livelihood. In a blue-collar sort of occupational arrogance, she proudly claims, no, they no longer beg for a living. And although they hardly remember the nametags or the offices, all thanks go to the social welfare agencies, but “mag-la-en” is everybody’s new found work now. That is, of getting paid and earning for “lining-up.” The social tableau of queuing for anything from getting ‘soplay’ (foodpacks), permit to bury the dead, or to periodically refresh the government “computer memory” (their term, not mine) to remember that this Panglima was appointed tribal leader by NCIP (National Commission on Indigenous Peoples) or this and that office, and not that newly cropped-up name again — Bajaus have perfected the art of hustling to form their bodies into human-lines. “Mag-la’en” it appears have given the Bajaus affordances to be sent-out from the cobwebs of invisibility, to be seen and counted, and not only that, for their efforts of no effort at all, as this Bajau girl-mother now wondrously prided, they could make the ATM cough out instant cash just by feeding its slot their 4Ps plastic. So the researcher may now list “mag-la-en” for the new bluecollar occupation.

Righting all the Bajaus that have been wronged — by giving them back their freedom and allowing them the exercise of their intuitive indigenous wisdom without meddling with their minds and bodies; finding heroes and ancestors their proper burial places; keeping garbage knowledge and fake intelligences segregated from authentic memories and traditional knowledge. These are but few of the many things that Zamboanga and the flood-prone metropolitan spaces have to deal with to assuage nature and appease ancestral ghosts from sending in its curses.

To redeem themselves, Sambuwangan’s sons and daughters might as well better their lot by performing the ‘tawbat’ and ‘kifarat’ to cleanse themselves of the busung, murka’ and subah that had begun creeping down from the progeny of Dona Dominga, the royal daughter of Dona Felipa de Montal Bad-de, as great-granddaughter of Sulu Sultan, when she refused the marriage offer of her grand-uncle Sultan Muhammad Khayr al-Dīn (Amiril) Mamini Camsa (Grandfather of SultanDhul Al-kharnain) of Tamontaka, to protect the integrity of royal heritage and preserve the Ilanun-tausug domain of Linug (Linuc) kingdom consisting of Punta Flechas and Nunuyar (now Zamboanga peninsula) from Spanish incursion. Regretfully, she had instead committed a treasonous act by running-away with the Spanish naval officer, Inocencio Atilano, this, through the hissing advises and approval, and treacherous facilitations of Spanish friars whom she regulaly confessed upon and given away her closely-held royal family secrets.

(Mucha-Shim Lahaman Quiling is of mixed Sama-Tausug-Ilanun ancestry. She was born in Laminusa Siasi Sulu. She is a researcher and advocate of Traditional and Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Processes for the past 10 years. She served as social science researcher and lecturer for 15 years at the Ateneo de Zamboanga University and has led projects and research-based programs for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), Zamboanga City State Polytechnic College, University of the Philippines and Mindanao State University for projects in Sulu, Tawi Tawi, and Zamboanga City. She is lecturer at the College of Arts and Sciences, and briefly designated as director and senior researcher for the Sama Studies Center, both in Mindanao State University-TawiTawi College of Technology and Oceanography in Bongao, Tawi Tawi. She was Minority Expert for the United Nations Working Group on Minorities from 2004 to 2010).


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