DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/03 Oct) — Stories on relationships, struggles, and self-discovery and self-acceptance find home in an new anthology by young Moro writers.
Rays of the Invisible Light, published by Bidadali Press, had its Davao launch on October 1 at the Silingan Art Space (it was launched in Cotabato City in mid-September and will have a Manila launch soon).
The book brings to the table stories and voices that highlight vulnerabilities of young (yet forward-thinking) Moros who, like everyone else, are struggling to find their place.
Each story, carefully edited by writer and filmmaker Gutierrez “Teng” Mangansakan II, gives readers a glimpse into the lives of “millenials” in Mindanao that not everybody gets to hear from. The book features works of Mohammad Nassefh Macla, Sahara Alia Silongan, Kristine Ong Muslim, Arifah Macacua Jamil, Diandra-Ditma Macarambon, Reinna Bermudez, Loren Hallilah Lao, Datu Shariff Pendatun III, Iyyah Sinarimbo, Pearlsha Abubakar, Janesa Mariam G. Ladjiman and Teng himself.
Rays is a sequel to a 2007 book called Children of the Ever-Changing Moon. Teng said that having this new book published this year could not be a better time. He felt that it was “necessary to speak our minds and tell our stories—for our voices to be heard.”
“Suddenly we were evil, suddenly were bad,” he said in reference to the events after the January 25 Mamasapano incident this year. Through the book, he said he hopes to enlighten people about the struggles of the Moro—that they’re not any different.
“When you speak of the Moro or the Muslims, you attach a certain rigidity to that label — that they should be strict, pious, or strong. “In this book, each of the writers question themselves with high levels of skepticism about identity, and even about religion,” he said. “Self-doubt is universal — even Muslims doubt themselves sometimes. This ambiguity isn’t a sign of weakness but of strength.”
“This book is for anyone who can’t go to Mindanao but wants to read and know about the Bangsamoro,” Teng said. “It’s one thing to read about Moros in history and political books. It’s another thing to read literature that expresses human voice.”
The books about Mindanao that are currently in shelves are mostly written from an academic or scholarly perspective.
Rays of the Invisible Light digresses from the rather stiff nature of Mindanao books and instead delves on what is human and the vulnerability of each Moro writer who wants nothing but change, acceptance, and freedom.
“I think [the message of the book] is really about accepting Moros as part of society — that their identities shouldn’t be romanticized or exoticized,” Teng said. “They’re just like everyone else — young people finding themselves in a sea of dreams and aspirations.”
Teng is hopeful that people will soon come to realize that there are many voices to be heard when discussing the Moros. “And that young Moros have a valuable contribution to deepen discourse in identity and self determination,” he said.
Teng said that while the book explores depths of relationships, there are stories that come to the reader as insightful and fun.
One is written by Janesa Mariam Ladjiman. Janesa did not grow up in a “strict” Muslim environment—and this is where her struggles lies: “frinding where I am now, where my identity has grown from, and why does it take so hard to live like a Muslim.”
Janesa wrote a piece titled “Haram” which is a self-exploration on lifestyle and faith. More specifically: the rigors of why she can’t eat pork.
Teng described the young Moro writers to be really proficient in their craft because of today’s easier access to writing tools and good literature.
Stereotypes restrict relationships
Teng confessed that his struggles dawned on him in the late 1990s. He said that before that, he hated being identified as Muslim. But as things became clear to him, he said that struggles made him yearn to find out how he can contribute to the discourse.
The rigidity associated with being Muslim, he said, struck some confusion into him. He remembers his mom wearing ordinary clothes (even short pants!) and putting on a ponytail, contrary to the typical hijab-wearing, fully covered Muslim woman.
Common portrayals of Muslim (that each should be strictly devout to religion, specific lifestyle sets and dress codes) led him to question how these stereotypes could potentially restrict creating meaningful relationships.
Writing to return home
Zakiyyah Sinarimbo, a 20-year-old creative writing student in UP Mindanao, shared that writing about her faith and about her culture helps her go back home to her roots.
She said that growing up, she never self-identified as Moro but only as Muslim. But to her labels do not matter. “At the end of the day, we are all humans,” she said, mentioning how we should do away with discrimination because there isn’t anything special about it.
When speaking of heritage and identity, this girl of Iranun and Maguindanaon descent from Cotabato City put it simply: “Don’t be ashamed of where you come from, but don’t be mayabang. Focus more on being a good person.” (Jesse Pizarro Boga / MindaNews)