ANGAY-ANGAY LANG: Pamalandong sa Sama Dilaut sa pagbasa ng Magosaha

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews / 18 September) — Dito sa Iligan City, matagal ng nagkaroon ng maliit na komunidad na umiikot sa siyudad, mula pa noong pumutok ang giyera sa pagitan ng AFP at MNLF noong martial law (1972). Kumalat sila sa iba’t ibang siyudad sa Mindanao, sa Visayas at sa Luzon. Tingin sa marami  nagpapalimos para mabuhay. Pero sa akin, batay sa aking karanasan sa kanila sa Jolo, para sa mga Sama Dilaut, tahanan nila ang kanilang bangka, masipag manguha ng makakain mula sa dagat. Ang magbigay o mag-abot sa kapwa ay natural sa kanila. Ang manghingi ay natural din sa kanila. Ang pangit at mali sa kanila ay ang pagnanakaw o makipag-away.

Ang pagbasa sa libro ni Nimmo ay isang nakakaaliw na karanasan. Heto ang napulot ko, sa ingles.

  1. Arlo Nimmo. 2001. MAGOSAHA An Ethnography of the Tawi-Tawi Sama Dilaut. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press. 281p

If I wish to remember how this book by H. Arlo Nimmo’s has affected me, I would easily recall his observations about the Sama Dilaut’s  songs and dances.

Virtually every Sama Dilaut is a singer of songs,” Nimmo notes.   “They have songs for almost every occasion.” (p.183).

Other communities sing, too. What I find most unique is that they can sing their anger, misgivings and complaints, letting everyone in the community hear it without fear of any social sanction, without breach to Sama Dilaut etiquette.  Nimmo leads the reader’s imagination to this powerful and touching image.

One evening, I heard a young wife sing loudly to the entire moorage about the injustices she suffered from her in-laws. The moorage listened sympathetically and several people later chastised her in-laws for their behavior. Within days, the in-laws rectified their behavior, partly because of the moorage’s reaction to the woman’s song. No one cares to hear his faults sung to the moorage, then partly because of this, one is careful not to offend others.” (p.185)

Equally compelling are his observations about men’s dances. I especially like his description of how the kuntal or fight-dance becomes a socially accepted outlet for repressed anger between disagreeing parties.

Someone usually suggests that two men dance the kuntal, a fight-dance. Peers coax the reluctant men, who have probably had a series of disagreements over the past weeks, into the dance arena. As the orchestra plays, the men pretend to fight in dance movements by striking at one another in slow motion without making body contact. With  increased tempo of the music, the dancers make light physical contact with their strikes.  As the tempo accelerates further, they strike one another soundly with closed fists, but always to the beat of the music. The dance evolves into a serious fight as the combatants hit one another in earnest, sometimes falling down but always getting up and resuming the fight to the beat of the music. Eventually someone decides the fight has gone far enough and signals the musicians to stop playing, at which time the kuntal ends. Sometimes, however, the men continue to fight and must be separated by others. The dance serves (also) the important function of allowing men with a history of disagreements to resolve their conflict in a culturally sanctioned way. If the men engaged in a fistfight in the moorage, they would be chastised and probably fined by the panglima, but it is culturally appropriate for them to fight out their differences in the kuntal.” (pp.204- 205)

These details tell us much about the Sama Dilaut as a people, about their values, about their social relations, about how they resolve their conflicts, about their own sense of identity and dignity.

Nimmo’s book is about the nomadic boat-dwelling Sama Dilaut of Tawi-tawi, mainly from his field trips in the 1960s. He was there, in his own words,   “from June through December of 1963,” then “in September and stayed through May 1967.” He returned for short trips  “in the summers of 1977 and 1982 and in the fall of 1997.”

Speaking of the book’s title, Nimmo states:

Magosaha  does not mean simply looking for livelihood. Perhaps it can best be defined as wanderlust conditioned by a lifetime of travel, as well as a very real necessity to continuously searching the seas for sustenance.” (p. 1)

The book is not the usual account of an  anthropological trip. True, the massive data is impressive, testimony to the author’s  thoroughness as a researcher-scholar.  One will easily sense this as one leafs from one page to another—testimony to solid scholarship. But most important to me,  and this to my mind is the greater challenge, is how a researcher can communicate such mass of data in flowing, engaging style.  His ability to give life to his characters, even to his description of the material culture of the people seems so natural. I have labored in other anthropological reports before, but here, I must confess, there was no labor involved. I enjoyed reading the book from cover to cover.  Not a single dull moment.

When reading through anthropological narratives I normally do a quick scan of the parts on material and economic culture and concentrate on the social and spiritual realm. But not this book. I went through the details with him, savoring every little detail.

I thought that maybe it was because I had a special motive for choosing to read the book. As a teacher of Mindanao History I must go out of my way to really get to know the various peoples of Mindanao, if not in person, then at least through researches like this one.  But he is different. He lived with the people. He became one with them. And to a certain extent he also succeeded in drawing me into his realm, the Sama Dilaut world. I felt what he felt.

I agonized with him when he noted that his Sama Dilaut have disappeared from the Tawi-Tawi moorage. They left “because of the great influx of outsiders, especially Tausug, onto the reefs of Tawi-Tawi and Sibutu.”

They were displaced by the bloody war between the Government troops and the mujahideen  of the Moro National Liberation Front in the early 1970s.

Those who fled Tawi-Tawi for the more peaceful region of eastern Borneo have retained their traditional culture, “for a few more years but those who remained in Tawi-Tawi are being rapidly absorbed into Sulu Islamic Culture,”  Nimmo wistfully noted.

In the sphere of the arts, Nimmo observes, that “the pop music of  the rest of the outside world is now the preferred music of Sama Dilaut youths who have forgotten their traditional music. The demise of fishing and sailing has brought an end to the traditional songs associated with those activities. The influence of modern medicine has diminished the use of kata-kata chants for curing, and Islam has discouraged the traditional mourning songs at funerals. The only traditional songs I heard during my 1997 visit were lullabies.” (p. 229)

Apart from its being a descriptive account of Sama Dilaut life, this book is also a brief but poignant history of how these boat-dwelling people succumbed to the forces of the fast-changing world. Because of the increasing influence of Islam in their life, Nimmo predicted that within a generation or two, “most of them will lose their Sama Dilaut boat-dwelling past and become part of Muslim Sama cultures.”

In the first six lines of his last paragraph, Nimmo  closes with these touching words:

The Tawi-Tawi Sama Dilaut still magosaha, but their search for sustenance has taken them to new currents very different from their past. These currents are without boats and are flowing toward an uncertain future that will test the survival skills they learned as boat dwellers. Their unique boat-dwelling culture is now part of the realm of the mbo’, or ancestors. The loss of that culture is a loss for Tawi-Tawi, the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and ultimately humankind.” (p. 233)

I can resonate with Nimmo’s closing remarks. The Sama Dilaut experience from the war of the 70s has been a diaspora of sorts. I have seen with my own eyes how, since the late 1970s, numerous Sama Dilaut families have traveled as far as Cebu, Tagbilaran, Pagadian, Iligan, Cagayan, Butuan, Davao, even Manila, fast turning themselves into urban dwellers, earning their livelihood by begging with their children in tow. Even their infants must bear the filth, pollution and noise of urban life and learn the art of begging before they even knew what it was all about. The local population is largely not sympathetic to their mendicant ways.  It is not exactly an inspiring story. Certainly not one that  would  inspire respect for Sama Dilaut personality and identity.  If anything, their presence in Bisayan-dominated communities has given birth to a new meaning to the word, “Badjao.”  A very negative image. It now means filthy, lazy, beggar, ignorant, etc.

Sama Dilaut as boat-dweller and Sama Dilaut as mendicant are two worlds apart. What is common between the two is their songs and the music that emerged from their pvc pipe–cum rubber drums. Gone is the identity and dignity of the hardworking boat-dweller.

Reading Nimmo’s book can be a touching experience, living with the Sama Dilaut, as it were,  as they used to be. It can also make the reader realize that, wittingly or unwittingly, he may have contributed to the making of the modern dehumanized Sama Dilaut. [Si Prof. Rudy Buhay Rodil ay aktibong historyan ng Mindanao, tagapasulong ng kalinaw (Bisaya sa kapayapaan). Kilala siyang espesyalista sa paghusay ng mga gusot sa Mindanao-Sulu. Naging Komisyoner noon ng Regional Consultative Commision sa siyang nagbuo ng draft organic law ng Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao noong 1988. Dalawang beses siyang naging miyembro ng GRP Peace Negotiating Panel. 1993-1996, pakikipag-usap sa Moro National Liberation (MNLF), at noong 2004-2008 sa pakikipag-negosasyon sa Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Naging visiting propesor sa Hiroshima University, Oktubre-Disyembre 2011. Nagretiro noong Oktubre 2007]