A UNESCO Links Project: Loggot Tebba maka Gotom (prolonged lowtide and hunger spell)

 Impact of Climate Change, the Resilience of indigenous tradition and adaptive capacities of Sama Dilaut

Mucha-Shim Quiling Arquiza

Lumah Ma Dilaut

 

 

ABSTRACT/EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

 

In 2010, the UNESCO-LINKS project supported this one-year participatory action research that sought to collate cases of climate change impact and indigenous people’s adaptive capacities as observed in events of massive migration and dispersal among sea-faring communities of Sama Dilaut in southern Philippine provinces of Basilan, Zamboanga and northern Sulu.  Data randomly collected in 2001 through 2009 through community narratives and participatory observations were updated by confirmatory spot-checks and triangulated with current key informant interviews (11) and focused groups (7) that discussed and shared during two organized consultative assemblies of elders and community leaders. Results account of rapid and periodic incidents of population and demographic changes as a consequence of migration as the ethnic community’s immediate course of adaptation. At the same time, results attested to its resultant catastrophic and alarming effects on self-instituting indigenous social structures that threatened the sustainability of subsistent economic and social practices of sea nomadism, especially in eroding the integrity of traditional social networks and endangering traditional knowledge systems by rendering extinct the long-cherished body of wisdom that used to be naturally preserved through periodic practice of living traditions. These communal resources that had always been accessible in living memory of local women leaders and elders, priestesses and female shamans, used to be readily available as survival tools for the indigenous population. Its sad demise in recent time, especially in life in diaspora and migration, however, had furthered the communities’ vulnerability and in the long term in fact may decrease their capacity for resiliency and future adaptability to the impact of worsening climatic conditions.

With discussions and analysis of results and findings separately presented in autonomous academic papers (Annex C), special reports and media articles (Annex D) presented to varied audiences and taken as advocacy stances in national and international conferences; salient results all affirm and unanimously brought into focus one of the serious and the immediate impacts of climate change that is migration and forced sedentarization of sea-nomadic communities. While migration is considered an adaptive measure, its resultant effect of  massive dispersion and diasporization of the sea-faring communities has been noted to be disastrous and detrimental to the survival of indigenous practices and living traditions, one of negative consequences being the disintegration of social networks among indigenous women and the loss of centrality of women in ritual functions, these being critical factors in the transfer of traditional wisdom and the perpetuation of living traditions. Case studies in the villages of Simariki (Zamboanga City), Tampalan (Isabela City, Basilan) and Dilaut kasamahan (Puerto Princesa, Palawan) support the findings.

===============

COMPENDIUM OF EXCERPTS FROM REPORTS OF RESULTS AND FINDINGS

Introduction: Environmental migration and climate change

In most scholarly literature and government policy papers the phenomenon is described as environmental migration or the tendency for mass movement of people and evacuation of communities as collective response to climatic change. Asian Development Bank (2011 draft) affirms that there remains a confusion and fuzziness in defining and developing exact typology for the phenomenon of peoples’ movement en masse, be it voluntary or forcible, in reaction to climatic changes.

Loggot tebba maka gotom: The Sama Dilaut in traditional homeseas

[Excerpted from the advocacy article “Treacherous Riptides, Discordant Seas: Sama Dilaut children in diaspora navigating ethnoreligious and cultural identities with Lumah Ma Dilaut”[1](Annex D)]

The Sama Dilaut

The Sama Dilaut, known generically in Southeast Asia as Bajau or Bajo, have been traditionally plying the Sulu-Sulawesi-Bornean waters. Where the Orang Bajo of Sulawesi and Borneo are noted to have been fully integrated into Islamic communities and, mostly having managed to move upstairs socially, now lead affluent lives, meanwhile, those in the Philippine seas remain to be the most marginalized and the least profited from agricultural and industrial economy because of their wide dispersal and nomadic existence. By their traditional dwelling in Sulu seas, the Sama Dilaut have been ethnographically classified as belonging to the thirteen [13] mostly Islamized ethnolinguistic groupings collectively referred to as the Bangsamoro people. The Bangsamoro people used to enjoy a lucrative and world-competitive maritime economy and an advanced form of governmentality under the two grand empires of the sultanate of Sulu and sultanate of Raja Buayan-Maguindanao from the 11th century. The Jolo and Buansa (Maimbung) ports of Sulu were global trading rendezvous, while the various provinces and principalities in mainland Mindanao enjoyed a sophisticated centralized form of governance under Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat. This was the setup, until the triumph of American colonialism in the early 20th century, hence, the present struggle for national identity to reclaim the right to Bangsamoro self-governance from the mainstream Philippine national body-politik remains to be the crucible in the present forty-year old conflict in southern Philippines.

‘Religion’

The Sama Dilaut’s variant of Islam may be tentatively described as syncretic, often considered by prejudiced members among mainstream Muslims today as ‘pagan’ and ‘unislamic’ owing to a highly hybridized admixture of indigenous monistic and pantheistic belief and ritual systems and extant forms of Indo-Malayu mysticism. A less passionate viewer, however, would probably be more appreciative of the Sama Dilaut as an epitome of multi-religious followership, albeit in a more ‘pristine’ sense, as they practice a curious type of ‘multiple religions’ for the same pragmatic reason as other religious minorities elsewhere in Southeast Asia have re-coursed to in a form of cultural adaptation for economic and social survival in order to negotiate modernity and to accommodate the challenges of an expanding seamless society. For instance, the kejawen and abangan in Indonesia or other groups in Southeast Asia who still hold on to agama suku (indigenous faiths) are noted to have blended indigenous traditions into harmonious syncretic practices with mainstream religions of Islam, Catholicism or Protestant Christianity, where they have officially affiliated as a matter of government regulations.

Sama Dilaut diaspora: trade, war, and god

Subgroups of Sama Dilaut orient themselves according to a specific sea-centered locus, although not so much diversified in ethnic and material culture, their geographic specificity render some variations to their cultural and religious practices. In recent times of conflict, an increasing number of Sama Dilaut have been forced to abandon their traditional lifestyle to adventure into dry land where, living in lahat hangkut (i.e. resettlement or hamlet villages) they are converted to the mag-sandes (i.e. ‘Sundays’) who are protestant evangelical sects of either the Baptist, Alliance church or born-again Christians such as the JIL (Jesus is Lord) as these Christian denominations have been actively proselytizing among Mindanao-Sulu indigenous populations and offer handsome incentives such as free housing, cash capital to start-up a livelihood, schooling for the children or sometimes even a motorized boat (bangka maka malkina) – an ultimate dream for a Sama Dilaut – to allow him/her to pursue the old trade of fishing, or in these times where marine resources have become scarce and maritime trade is risky, at least, to engage in anuhun or diving for ‘rejects’ or scavenging for garbage refused and dumped to the murky waters by commercial mariners and coastal residents; or the boats can also be useful in their forages into the generous pockets and purses of benevolent passers-by and ships’ passengers on a begging venture called angedjo i.e. an infinitive verb corrupted from the term ‘hey, joe!’ indicating that the trade’s clients used to be exclusively foreigners, specifically, American GIs, the Thomasites and Peace Corp that were aplenty during pis-taym (peace-time) starting around the turn of 20th century.

Mitigating and adapting to impacts of climate change: Sama Dilaut in Lahat Hangkut

[From “Climate change and Cultural Insecurity as threats to Diversity of Indigenous Communities: Tossed out of the navel of Mother Sea; ripped apart by rising tides of change” (Annex D)]

In contemporary situation, the intermittent and protracted war escalating is aggravated by equally devastating and disastrous impact of climatic changes where most of the mooring areas have experienced bouts of sudden surges of hightides and prolonged lowtides resulting to extensive hunger spell, a phenomenon, though much recent, but is not completely unknown to the sea-nomads as local legends and divinations has predicted this occurrence as ‘loggot tebba’ (prolonged lowtides or draught) and ‘gotom’ (hunger spell). Compounding the periodic incidence of violent conflicts, these have been resulting to mass dispersal, turning into a highly insecure and mobile populations the conflict-prone Muslim Mindanao region whose villages, islands and cities are at the same instance constantly militarized and, as matter of government’s counter-insurgency policy, periodically hamletted into lahat hangkut (i.e. forcibly evacuated or relocated en-masse) causing massive displacements and severe disintegration of many ethnically-formed kampongs (traditional villages and clan-based communities).

The desperate search for food and secure habitat  has been sending socially fragile and dispersed nomadic societies like ethnic communities further into the fringes and, for many, force them to move into newish villages where they are not only dismembered from familiar kin-groups but are also forced into sharing fences with traditionally feuding clans or ‘tribal enemies’ and dreaded ethnic groupings like the more dominant Tausug (i.e. a non-Sinama speaking ethnic grouping probably originating from Bornean peninsula that social-anthropologists consider a migrant to Sulu waters during the expansion and dispersion of the Malay sultanate in the 15th century).

An almost uniform phenomena is repeatedly observed in many traditional Sama Dilaut mooring villages today from the north of Basilan to the peninsula of Zamboanga down south to the islands of Sulu. Where waves of migrations from conflict-affected areas surge, population of warring ethnic groupings, who are often of a more dominant and aggressive strain, grow, and their once makeshift resettlement structures are built more permanently. When this happens, a new way of life takes shape and new culture rules as standard, usually in the form of mainstreaming of purist Muslim practices as the norm of ‘moral’ and ‘civilized’ lifestyle. It also becomes the signature for the ‘modern’ and ‘elite’ who have the opportunities to attend school, go on pilgrimage to Arabia or to engage in leisure tourism. Since religion and sociopolitical affinity become major bases for communal cohesiveness, consequently, religious intolerance also rises, hence more and more Sama Dilaut choose to leave their flotilla-houses and flee to lahat bisaya (i.e. Christian land) and there get converted to other faiths.

Invisible and perennially marginal: Sama Dilaut of Zamboanga, Basilan and the Sulu and Tawitawi seas

[Excerpted from Arquiza, M.Q. (2008) Towards Equity in Development Financing for Minorities in Southern Philippines: A Case Study on Appropriate Education Program for the Sama Dilaut of Western Mindanao]

The Sama Dilaut has always been classified as the 13th Moro ethnolinguistic grouping, not so much by consensual self-identification but because of their traditional dwelling in the reefs and waters of Sulu islands, a predominantly Moro territory. Majority of the Sama Dilaut are animists although a sizeable number have been integrated into the mainstream religions of Islam and the Christian faiths. The Sama Dilaut considers Sulu and Borneo (Sabah state of Malaysia) as their ancestral home-seas. By “Sulu”, they refer to the unified Sulu of the pre-Martial Law era that included the islands of Tawitawi, Palawan and Basilan (i.e. in 1973, in the bid to contain the Moro uprising in Sulu, Pres. Marcos divided Sulu into three provinces of Sulu, Tawitawi and Basilan; in 1978, Tawitawi was dismembered when the Palawan strip and the Turtle islands, then fast progressing into an eco-tourism area, became part of the National Capital Region).

H. Arlo Nimmo (2001) has estimated the population of southern Sama Dilaut at 5,760. But this is based on very modest estimate. In Bongao, Tawitawi alone, Nimmo reported them to be at least 1,500, scattered among five different villages in Luuk, Tulay, Tungkalang, Lamiun, Tungbangkaw and Lioboran . In Sibutu group of islands, the Sama Dilaut population numbers approximately 3,500 heads while those in Sempurna (Sabah, Malaysia) who are predominantly house-dwellers have a combined population of 660 (Sather 1997 in Nimmo) in three communities. However, estimating population of Sama Dilaut in the rest of the northern islands in Sulu, Basilan and Zamboanga has been a very difficult task. Not only because Sama Dilaut tend to be highly mobile in this region to be conducive for a good headcount, but because of the grave prejudice and the pariah position of the Sama Dilaut, government censuses make most statistical reports on the Sama Dilaut highly unreliable. The Philippine National Statistics Office (NSO), for one, reports only demographic characteristics such as “language spoken at home” which has been arbitrarily interpreted to represent ethnicity. In the Sulu demographics, for instance, populations are asked whether they speak Tausug, Samal (sic) or other non-Suluan languages. Therefore the Sama Dilaut are more often than not lumped together with the other Sinama-speaking ethnics such as the land-dwelling Sama, Jama Mapun, Sama Yakan and Sama Palawanun, all of whom speak the Bahasa Sinama. But even then, because of existing Tausug ethnic-superiority and chauvinism against the other groups, non-Tausug population tend to report “Bahasa sug” (or “Suluan language”) which is taken to mean the “Tausug”as their mother tongue. In Jolo town, for instance, in the NSO census of 1995, of a population of 76,948, about 52,903 were reported to be speaking “Bahasa Sug” (or Tausug) and only 28 were reported to be speaking the “Samal language” (sic), despite the fact that Jolo town is home to at least three big Sama Dilaut villages and to quite a sizeable population of Sinama-speaking ethnics. Another way of estimating the Sama Dilaut population is by looking at the figures on religion. In Sulu census of 1990, where there was a total 468,856 heads, 97.66% (457,866) were reported to be Islamized while only 0.18% (867) were “Lumad” or indigenous. During the same census year in Tawi-tawi (total population of 227,731), where 92.24% of its population were classified as Muslims, only 48 people (representing 0.02%) were reported as indigenous (Rodil, 2000).  The figures from Basilan is no more encouraging with only 53 (0.34%) of 208,006 reported to be indigenous. (Note that the Zamboanga Sama Dilaut population can not be projected using religion as basis since there are also other indigenous and animist groups such as the Subanen in the province.) The Sama Dilaut communities in Tawitawi are believed to be the most advanced and sedentarised and Sama Dilaut are noted to be mostly Islamized while in Basilan island Sama Dilaut settlements tend to be less permanent with largely mobile semi nomadic populations mostly oriented towards the coasts and waters.  Just looking at the population of Sama Dilaut children alone, one could already lost count in the swarm. Nevertheless, if government figures are to be believed, there are a little less than 1,000 Sama Dilaut existing in 1990 and in 1995 in the provinces of Sulu, Basilan and Tawitawi. So that would place a very rough estimate of less than 6,000 Sama Dilaut all in all (from south to north) now living in their original home-base in southern Philippines and eastern Borneo. But rather than quoting gut-level hunches and estimates and, of course, the controversial NSO figures on religion and language spoken, it is much more accurate to say that the Sama Dilaut are invisible in the government censuses.

Although the Sama Dilaut are identified by a variety of local names, throughout the Sulu archipelago, they are known as Sama Dilaut. The dominant Moro tribe, Tausug, call them “luwa-an”, a derogatory Tausug word meaning “to spit-out” or outcast. Another local name is ag’pala’u or palau, Sinama term referring to their houseboats, as Sama Dilaut are known to be sea-dwelling nomads. Bajau is also a common referent used by anthropologists. Bajau or Sama Bajau is not very popular among the Sama Dilaut of Sulu archipelago, but is common in eastern Borneo (Sabah state of Malaysia) to identify the boat-dwelling Sama, as well as all other Sinama speakers in that area (Sather, 1997 in H. Nimmo, 2001). In the Philippines, Sama Dilaut has been reported as far north as Pangasinan and Baguio City. Beggar colonies are scattered in the Metro Manila port areas and in Cavite and Batangas in southern Luzon. Not surprisingly, the most progressive Bajau communities are to be found in eastern Borneo and in eastern Indonesia. As Harry Nimmo concluded, “The greatest test (to Sama Dilaut) for survival,however, came in the 1970s with the introduction of seaweed aqua-culture and the secessionist war between Sulu Muslims and the Philippine national government that resulted in massive population shifts in the archipelago. Tawitawi Sama Dilaut culture did not survive the changes resulting from those events. The Sama Dilaut who fled Tawitawi for eastern Borbeo have retainbed their traditional culture for a few more years but those who remained in Tawitawi are being rapidly absorbed into Sulu Islamic culture”. The faith of the northern Sama Dilaut found of Sulu, Basilan and Zamboanga have been no more brighter, severed from their nuclear family and primordial ties, many have left the waters for dry-land where they join the marginalized masses and continue to roam as dispersed and diasporic herds in the highways begging for society’s refuse.

CASE STUDY – Sama Dilaut Migration: from coasts to dumpsites

[the author is indebted to Lumah Ma Dilaut center for living traditions for these information and analytical report]

BARANGAY RIO HONDO and BARANGAY MARIKI (Zamboanga City)

Barangay Rio Hondo is a coastal district of Zamboanga City. Like most Muslim populated districts in the city, it traces its beginnings to pre-Spanish period when the Sama Sambuwangan, a tribe considered aboriginal in the area (delos Reyes, 1995) and the migrant Muslim traders from Sulu and the southern islets of the Moro province met and exchange (bartered) their wares.  Rio Hondo is known as “Pueblo Viejo” in hispanic-time Zamboanga (Orendain, 1978).

Mariki is a reclaimed area of Rio Hondo and was formally constituted as an autonomous Barangay in 1978. The barangay was planned to be a resettlement area for Muslim evacuees from Sulu, Basilan and nearby islands at the height of the Moro rebellion in the ’70s.

While Tausug informants claim that the early appearance of Sama Dilaut (Bajau) lepa or boathouses was only in 1960’s, the Sama Dilaut themselves claim to be originally inhabiting the coasts and mangrove areas as early as the pre-war times prior to the “incursion” of Tausugs to Rio Hondo. Although there seems to be no way of verifying these conflicting claims, early historical sources (Combes, Warren, delos Reyes and Malcampo) suggest of the presence of boat-dwelling Sama-speaking groups manifesting the features and lifestyle of the Sama Dilaut mooring along the coasts and mangrove areas of Zamboanga, especially in Rio Hondo, Arena Blanco and Taluksangay, as early as pre-colonial times. However, anthropological sources (Nimmo, Arong, Kurais) account for an observed massive exodus of Bajaus up north into the interior islands of southern Philippines during the 17th and 18th century after the Spanish blockade of the trading port of Jolo in 1770’s (Blair and Robertsons, 1903)          ).

Perennially Migrant

The present community of Sama Dilaut still consider themselves as “migrants” in Rio Hondo and Zamboanga City despite their claim of the early ancestors already frequenting the coastal Zamboanga as early as pre-colonial times. This is because, to the Sama Dilaut, their only known home-shore is the Sulu seas. Most of the respondent families trace their roots to “Tanah Suk” or Jolo island (note: the entire island of Jolo as well as the islets surrounding are generally referred to by the Sama Dilaut as “Tanah Suk”. Present geographical division consider “Jolo” as only the town of Jolo which is only about one-eight on the whole island.). Otherwise, respondents identify specific islands such as Laminusa, Kabingaan, Siasi or Tawitawi as places of origin. Not a few of the families also claim to be originally from Basilan province. However, earlier studies (Arquiza, Alojamiento, Enriquez 1999) observed that even supposed Basilan-based Sama Dilaut were originally from the southern islands (Jolo and Tawitawi).

Key informants relate that the first settled families in Rio Hondo and what is now Mariki were Sama Bangingi families of Hadji Tahir, Hadji Latif and Hadji Umar. They were supposed to be the ones who have built the first mosque on piles of rocks. Hadji Tahir’s clan were from Taluksangay who decided to build a small settlement in Zamboanga (Rio Hondo) as market-place with bartering people from the sea. Those who bring in farm products from Basilan (most likely of Yakan or Sama Bangingi group) also temporarily landed in the shores of Rio Hondo.

During the MNLF uprising in 1968- early 70’s, Rio Hondo became a hotbed of insurgency as armed elements were suspected to have sought sanctuary in the community. Rio Hondo also became notorious as the “backdoor” for piratical and smuggling activities, guns and illegally imported goods were brought in by high-speed boats and sometimes motor-less outriggers in the dark cover of the night. In time, the peace-loving Sama Bangingi were driven back to Taluksangay and Arena Blanco, others went back to Basilan or sought refuge in the urban district of Zamboanga. The Sama Dilaut were, of course, the first one to move out upon smelling danger. It was only in the late 70’s when peace slowly resettled in Rio Hondo and the Sama Dilaut and Sama Bangingi started to return in trickles hoping to rebuild their homes and regain old commerce. But, by this time, Tausug families had started putting up semi-permanent settlements in the area and started their own commercial activities. Since then, Sama Dilaut claim that Rio Hondo and Mariki have never been the same as in the olden days’ district. Outright oppression and discrimination against the Sama Dilaut by the Tausug are happening. Sometimes open conflict ensued.

The once majority Sama Bangingi population have also thinned and have become marginalized. The economic life has since become dominated by Tausug, such as the in the Partida system, most of the capitalists are Tausugs. Another important development during the post-MNLF rebellion is the increasing number of Christian (Chavacano, Ilongo and Bisayan) settlers most of whom are also evacuees from Jolo and Basilan islands.

From 1980 to 1990, Rio Hondo experienced a negative growth rate of at least 35 per cent. NSO report shows that from 9,226 in 1980 Rio Hondo population dropped off to 6,034 in 1990; while Mariki from 4,739 in 1980 to 2,973 in 1990. One of the reasons of this was the feuding between contending Tausug families and politicians.

Part of the Marcos administration’s Rebel Returnee Rehabilitation Program was the Diwa ng Bagong Lipunan project of the First Lady. Rio Hondo was a beneficiary of the Bagong Lipunan Housing project, but even this has not totally lured the old inhabitants with their old lively commercial activity in the district back to normalize life in Rio Hondo again.

Occasional family feud, problems with smuggling and drug-trafficking have been causing massive evacuation of residents since 1990’s. Many a times, ruling local politicians are linked to drug-syndicates and illegal activities in the area. Rio Hondo and Mariki became notorious and reputed to become perhaps the most dreaded district in Zamboanga City. [From Lumah Ma Dilaut files (2005-2007)]

 

SPECIAL FOCUS – Adaptive capacities of Sama Dilaut women

The gender issues and concerns became most apparent in this study since most of the endangered indigenous practices, beliefs and knowledge encountered in the study were traditionally women-centered, that, naturally, the negative impact of climate change (i.e. forced migration and sedentarization of sea-nomadic communities) sharply brought other gender-related issues into focus – where process of globalization and urban-modernity rendered more power through mobility to men, women and children, on the other hand, became the first and ultimate family structures to be domesticated and sedentarized and hence immobilized by modernity (see islam, childhoods and identity negotiation). This was also true, since indigenous women were keepers of tradition and propagators of both tangible and intangible heritage of the community (see for instance case study of woman shaman and healer in migrant land).

In the same case study, it is also made apparent that forced migration from sea-based (rural) to city-based (urban) environments resulted to the regrettable shift from ‘folk’ ways to more cosmopolitan individualized religious practices that removed the centrality of women and rituals mostly performed through food and embodied rituals where women are focal and primary agencies. These also signalled the shift from religious heterodoxy to orthodoxy in which men-and-scripture have replaced women-and-nature as manifestation and agencies of indigenous spirituality.

The new insights and findings in the study coincidentally brought gender issues into focus as partly evolved out of the research process, for example, as discussed in details in one of the academic papers (i.e. islam, childhoods and identity negotiation) were gender and identity are interlinked and affirmed, as one of the major finding showed, that as one drastic impacts of climate change is migration (as form of adaptation) and forced sedentarization, which have in turn brought negative consequences such as the shift from domestic/subsistence economies (actively participated in by women) to industrial and global economies that now relied more on the resources and skills provided by men. On the more positive aspects of such changes (i.e. again, see featured case study of indigenous women migrant workers), initial data also point out that with the ecological and environmental changes in topography is also the complementary changes in demography where in facing new culture and new environment women appear to be more resilient and easily adaptable than men (and children than adults/elders), especially as concerns the adaptability to new ways of life, to technological innovations, and, because of the multiplicity of womanly skills and their psychical pliancy where women appeared to be less resistant, less prone to violent and antagonistic reaction and, hence, less inhibited by a new environment (as men do). Hence, women are easily able to establish amicable relationship with strangers and easily able to ‘domesticate’ strange environment. In this sense indigenous women appeared to exhibit more resilience and adaptability in the face of change against men.

Other major findings of the study:

— Out-migration of key sectors of society during droughts or similar catastorphic onsets of Climate Change may alter the demographic and social composition of communities they left behind, resulting in an overall decline in adaptive capacity to the impacts of climate change (see McLeman et.al. 2008) – [case of Hongkong village of Si mariki]

— …climate adaptations by women in many cultures is very different from that of men, and any changes in the composition or resilience of social networks in which women participate can have significant impacts on overall household and community well-being (Nelson et.al. 2002) – a case in point is the practice of ‘Pagsanda’ among Si Mariki women [story of Janna Maria and Rosita as documented by Sattol Abba 2008] and ‘Pagtuhon’ and ‘Pagtarget’ among subsistent fishermen and women of Tampalan.

— since learning of traditional skills in migrant places is no longer possible, adaptive capacities for climate change is eroded because children no longer get the opportunity for renewing social ties and participating in social and economic activities that are usually conducted as a community activity during particular seasons (e.g. fishing season; pag-maulud; pag-omboh). Yet more positively, in case where innovation and change is inevitable, children and women appear to be more pliant and adaptable to changes…

–population demographic change- before: more younger people with almost balanced distribution of male and female; after: more elederlies with more women being left in the homeshores and more men in migrant communities resulting to a shift in social activities…less food-rituals are being conducted; male-dominated communities tend to omit most of the elaborate rituals and are more and more becoming scriptural (male priests and Muslim imams are valued more to take a central part in ceremonies over women prisetesses and shamans) — case of Omboh Kuraysiya in Tulay-tabako and Omboh Bissiya and Antanani Felicitos in Mambaling, Cebu.

–traditional and historically long-drawn discrimination against the ethnic communities makes collective action less promising and makes it imperative that indigenous communities  stick together and rely on each other or train to be more individually self-reliant.

 

By Mucha-Shim Quiling Arquiza

30 April 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Presented at the International Conference on Islam, Childhoods and Building Culture of Peace in Southeast Asia, September 29-30, 2010, Balay Kalinaw, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines.

Advertisements

THREE TAKES On Climate change and Cultural Insecurity as threats to Diversity of Indigenous Communities

Leggot tebba maka gotom [1]:

Tossed out of the navel of Mother Sea; ripped apart by rising tides of change

 

Mucha-Shim Quiling Arquiza[2]

Lumah Ma dilaut center for living traditions

Zamboanga City, Philippines

 

 

In the obscurity of Mambaling in industrialized city of Cebu[3], out from the ashes of burnt slum rose for countless time this colony of tiny make-shifts erected out of garbage and human refuse. As recent migrants into this popular tourism capital in central Philippines, time and again, Sama Dilaut or Bajaus had been tossed in waves of ‘disastrous calamities’ either human-made or decreed by abruptly changing nature. They desperately swam upshore and clung to that much contested piece of the dump. Each time they were chased away, driven out or razed to the ground, they had always striven to reach land; and rehabilitated and re-built from scratch, they subsisted on begging and scavenging. As it was usual, on the heels of disaster followed alternate groups of missionaries of Baptists, protestant alliance church, Born-again and various stripes of Christian sects whose bags of relief goods and used clothes ‘fished-out’ the victims from the black murky mud of burnt asphalt and clay. These relief missions were also there to stamp the religionists’ respective seals and stood their crosses among the flimsy beggar installations. To eager missionaries, the itinerant indigenous people must have seemed like vomited out of Muslim-dominant south, and, by fate, washed into the benevolent Christian shores where they now populated its break-waters almost over-night.

Years of efforts seemed to have finally born fruit as one could now see a chapel and an apostolic center cum Sunday school becoming permanent fixtures among the Bajau shanties of Mambaling. It came to pass that more Bajaus who had chosen to stay long enough, were recruited, developed and graduated into catechists and missionaries. Unsurprisingly, they would then be denying their ancestral origins and refusing to be called Sama Dilaut anymore. Now staffing and maintaining the offices, young Bajaus also assisted in the holy gatherings in the chapel.

Among the Bajau converts was Antanani, a young man of early 30’s, who was fluent in the local language and repeatedly emphasized his claim to be ‘Cebuano’ (or ‘from Cebu’) by birth. Antanani introduced himself as the tribal chieftain of that particular Sama Dilaut colony, where his two adult sisters, Pasitas and Milba, were serving as catechetical instructors and ministers. The girls were also currently enrolled in the local university as scholars of the pastors. Antanani’s mother, Omboh Bissiya, lived alone at the far end of the village with an old tubby-cat in a dinghy dwelling of sticks and stacked-up carton and tattered old sack for her roof. She was the only living octogenarian then and had been considered priestess and midwife by older members of the clan. But strong criticisms and open repudiation by younger Bajaus shamed the crone, causing her to retreat to her hermitage. Prevailed from displaying her shamanic craft and banned from practicing the ancestral rituals called pag-omboh, only on very rare and closely kept secret occasions did the old recluse heed urgent requests of clan elderly to heal the sick and drive away pestilence’. As a panday , she still attended to most birthing and burial rite for women since health services remained minimal in that village. But Antanani, the Christian pastor, was evasive to confirm or answer questions from visitors pertaining to his mother, and as the local chieftain, he forbade that outsiders should see and talk to Omboh Bissiya.

Concealed in lumps and mounds of amalgamated carton boxes, styrofoam and polythene crates and bags, scrap metal, discarded sack, cloth, wood and human excreta, similar colonies such as this have also sprouted up in many other parts of lahat bisaya or Christian-dominant lands, from the northern-most Pangasinan province in Luzon down the dip of General Santos City in southern Mindanao. In Mindanao city of Iligan, a Bajau enclave up-to-now capped the heap of Tambakan or garbage dumpsite in Pala-o market; while Cagayan de Oro city was once an indifferent host to a growing slum of Bajau stilt-houses conveniently facing the wharf, along the jetties of Tulaytabako, whom some informants in hushed interviews revealed to be also haven for drug-trafficking and gun-smuggling[4].

The coasts and beach-fringes of Philippine’s largest city and famed multicultural Metropolitan Davao had also been sanctuaries to a number of this tribe’s clan-communities. In fact, varied groups of itinerant indigenous communities surging upland from the islands and rolling downhill from hinterlands have converged into the valley afoot of Mount Apo that was Davao City. Their waves continued swelling, promising no let-up so long as ostensible forces of human and nature uprooted them from the vowels of ancestors where food had become scarce, shelter insecure and ecological environment devastated both by the drastically changing climate and intermittent armed conflicts.  In migrant lands, resettlement villages were built usually through initiatives and resources of civic organizations or religious missions who, unabashedly proud of their successful projects, enthusiastically ‘rescue, rehabilitate and convert’ the indigenous people who are presumed to be pagans.

In early 2000’s, one such community came upon a coastal district of Davao City that, just like any modern industrial housing projects, was plugged as the New Jerusalem for the Bajaus. The civilizing mission celebrated and launched a sanctuarium of sparklingly clean streets and neat row of freshly-nailed bamboo and palm thatches mimicking traditional Bajau stilt houses in the south. Awed visitors would have sworn that those displays of jubilant yet idyllic lifestyle were for real, especially as seemed confirmed  by a parade of bathed and powdered children trooping to their catechism classes that Sunday, and by well-combed women smartly dressed in newly-sewn traditional garb appearing hardly-ever-sweaty under that mid-day sun. They contentedly idled their day weaving straw mats and bags that visitors might take away as souvenirs to decorate their airconditioned homes or offices. In between smiles poised for the cameras, they candidly chatted with visitors – who were, as they must have been briefed, to be potential donors and benefactors of this fantastic project.

‘We become sea-sick when travelling by boat’, they had reported, while fretting and feigning shock when asked if they would still go out fishing or would they still be observing the seasonal gathering of crustaceans and sea-plants, old-time leisure which were supposed traditional for Sama Dilaut. Yet, one could never have traced any fakery when teen-aged girls giggled and cried in unison, seeming unembarrassed and proud to declare that they didn’t know how to dance the igal and had never been taught how to play the kulintangan – traditional instruments that accompanied the dance. Every old cultural master had all long gone to their graves before they were even born. As even older women had already forgotten both art and science of living at sea they felt it no longer important to learn old wisdom, especially now that everyone were happy and seemed contented of the comforts that all these educational activities, ‘loans’ and entrepreneurial projects provided by their benefactors had brought. In contrast to those of their kind who remained stuck in the homeseas, these teeners, both boys and girls, dreamt of getting and finishing some education in the hope of becoming employed wage-earners. For now, their immediate wishes were for benevolent groups to install potable water and bring electricity into their households so that they would never have to read their textbooks under the sooth of lamps lighted only by kerosene; some had begged for television sets or computers wired into their learning centers and installed in their homes so as ‘to learn about the world out there’; and, as if on an afterthought, ‘clean and decent toilets, please!’.  No doubt, mirages and facades of appeasement and contentment, pretentious projects and showy homesteads as these were also aptly titled. It was the Ahon Badjao (Fish-out the Badjaos) and Badjao Hope in Zamboanga City. Some had livelihood and education projects to boot, as ‘Lifting-Indigenous-People-from-Indignity’ (LIPI), that never attempted to be subtle or hid its condescension. But most patronizing was that newish village in Davao’s playa boldly baptized as ‘Good-Jao’ village. Often, the magic of dreamville would not last very long, however, to see to the last of Bajao soul of the clan turned godly prosperous. Restless and heeding the memories of the sea, in trickles, one family after another, and on pretext of burying their dead or observing maulud or to fulfil some mundane tradition, soon came the usual excuses to go home. They packed whatever they could carry, gone back to their lahat sama and never to be seen or heard in Good-Jao or projects promising hope ever again. One could only wonder if perhaps they had taken back to fishing and gathering crustaceans afterall, or by-chance, maybe anchored upon a new shore, in another lahat bisaya, for sure, or snared into their nets yet another school of benevolent charities elsewhere where relief goods were aplenty and loan projects more generous.

Animated by faceless and nameless people, lahat hangkut or artificially resettled villages are never documented in government censuses, for two very obvious reasons: one, they are eye-sores and, two, they are invisible[5]. Yet they do exist and continue to multiply in the jetties, coasts and dumpsites in major cities of the country to this day and would most likely be of Sama Dilaut clans from Sulu, Basilan or Zamboanga. They are captive villages of whose only trace of the rich and colourful historic past and memory of ancestors would probably be contained in a rectangular relic of two-by-three feet icebox or styrofoam baul or chest where various paraphernalia for conducting the ritual of pag-omboh or ancestral reverence would be lovingly kept by the oldest of the women, the clan’s shaman. Omboh Kuraysiya of Tulaytabako used to hold on to that baul, wrapped and tied in her one and only new batik sarong, that she also carried to her grave. And so did Omboh Bissiya in Mambaling who had vigiled in the night crouched inside her scrappy tent and hugging her plastic crate to her side, when rumors went around that arsonists would strike back. Babuh Nunuk, was also one such woman trustee and spiritual leader in her early fifties, who attempted to revive tradition and had her mother’s baul  secured as she sailed away with the last remaining relative in 2007 from Hongkong, a floating village interior of Si Mariki, Zamboanga City where scores of Bajaus, young and old, had silently vanished after gotten tired of threats of being gutted down and of being periodically harassed by local thugs and toughies allegedly commissioned by disgruntled local officials who had blamed and lashed at the Bajaus for a supposed big infra-structure project to be funded by Japanese ODA (i.e. official development assistance) that was botched and disengaged by the agencies. So the constant fear made the Bajau families decide to flee and disperse into various corners farther north. Babuh Nunuk’s clan sailed on for weeks and finally pulled up shore in Puerto Princesa in Palawan.

The Sama dilaut used to ply the waters of Sulu, Basilan and southwestern Zamboanga provinces in western Mindanao. They were semi-nomadic and had houses called lumah ma dilaut built right in the middle of the sea, propped up on stilts above the waters, or stuck on piles of coral reefs and rocks. Until the early 1990s many of the Sama Dilaut in western Mindanao were still ag-pala’u or lived in boat houses. For instance,  moorages were still observed spending some nights letting the monsoon pass by along old Cawa-cawa boulevard and some pitched their stilt- tents in the coves  of Zamboanga City’s waterfront before everything was bulldozed and developed into plush La Vista resorts and golf course. Even then, the only permanent structures that they would have constructed and returned to on land were the lumah mehe or spirit houses and the pagkubulan burial gardens. Most of the Sama Dilaut were animists and practiced ancestral reverence called pag-omboh and performed propitiations to the forces of nature and offered food and buntings in thanksgiving to the generosity of the sea and land. Since Sulu, Basilan and Zamboanga were also home to various ethnolinguistic communities of mostly Islamized Moro people, many Sama Dilaut also observed Islamic rituals. In fact, other  traditional Muslim ethnic groups like the land-based Sama in these provinces used to revere their ancestors, too, through special and elaborate rituals and by their litany of clan genealogy and remembrance of their forebears during prayers. They honoured their ancestors and sought for their intercession in sickness and pestilence in rituals easily integrated and harmonized into the Islamic sufi beliefs of the silsilah or ka-usulan, a practice of ancestral respect that was later branded by modernist puritan Muslims as innovation (bid’a), albeit permissible to some, was considered as ‘folk’ belief and later generally discouraged. In Sulu, for instance, ethnic clans who were devout Muslims observed holy days such as the maulud, nisfu Sha’ban, and fasting during auspicious months and at the same time used these occasions to conduct the pag-omboh, pag-tangas [6] and pilgrimage to graves of local saints or pag-suh ni kubur. As relationships among sea and land-based ethnic communities galvanized, some members of Sama Dilaut clans joined regular Muslim congregational services in the langgal[7] where a number of them had converted to Islam and followed its five pillars. With that change, too, had to be the decision to abandon sea nomadic life and live on land forever. Anthropologists and sociologists who came to study and were mostly foreigners and non-natives  whose informants were usually educated and economically well-off  members of affluent families of Sama and Muslims later reported that the Sama Dilaut were also Islamized like the land-based counterpart, and arbitrarily classified them as the 13th Bangsamoro ethnolinguistic grouping.

Yet even in their home seas amongst Muslim communities the Sama Dilaut, as Bajaus of Philippine seas were called, could not have always been assured of their security and their practices and traditions were not always appreciated and recognized. Much lesser were they respected and protected from sporadic violence and onslaught of aggressive forces of cultural chauvinism and religious intolerance.

[insert par on the impact of climate change and food insecurity in the home seas]

In contemporary situation, intermittent and protracted civil war have been turning into a highly insecure and mobile populations the conflict-prone Muslim Mindanao region whose villages, islands and cities are constantly militarized and, as matter of government’s counter-insurgency policy. Populations are periodically hamletted into lahat hangkut (i.e. forcibly evacuated or relocated en-masse) causing massive displacements and severe disintegration of many ethnically-formed kampongs (traditional villages and clan-based communities). Conflict situations have been pushing socially fragile and dispersed nomadic societies like ethnic communities further into the fringes and, for many, force them to move into newish villages where they are not only dismembered from familiar kin-groups but are also forced into sharing fences with traditionally feuding clans or ‘tribal enemies’ and dreaded ethnic groupings. It could also be that populations of warring ethnic groupings, who are often more dominant and aggressive are indiscriminately relocated by government rehabilitation and resettlement programs into traditional settlements of nomadic Sama Dilaut, there, makeshift structures give way to more permanent ones, and subsistence fishing is replaced by more rigorous market-based livelihood and the demands of more permanent and seasonal agriculture dictates and moulds a new lifestyle shaping-up a new culture that rules as standard, usually in the form of mainstreaming of purist Muslim practices. External symbols of being devout Muslim in dress and day-to-day rituals also become the signature for the modern and elite who have the opportunities to attend school, go on pilgrimage to Arabia or to engage in leisurely tourism. Since religion and sociopolitical affinity become major bases for communal cohesiveness, consequently, religious intolerance and socio-cultural chauvinism arise, resulting to more and more Sama Dilaut choosing to leave their flotilla-houses and fleeing to lahat bisaya (i.e. Christian land) and there get reconverted to yet another faith. ###

 


[1] This paper is partly based on an ongoing action research of Lumah Ma Dilaut on Leggot tebba maka gotom: mitigating the impact of climate change and indigenous peoples’ adaptive capacity through use of indigenous wisdom supported by UNESCO-LINKS (2010)

[2] Born in Laminusa island, Sulu, Philippines, this author is an ethnic Sama and is founding directress of the Lumah Ma Dilaut School for Living Traditions.  A community organizer and cultural worker advocating for culturally-appropriate and liberating values-based education , she is also a UN lobbyist, she has attended and spoken at the UN Working Group meetings on Minority issues (now UN Forum on Minorities) in Geneva, Switzerland championing the issues of nomadic and pastoralist communities, indigenous/ethnic and religious minorities in diaspora and interrogating the appropriateness of mainstream development paradigms and human rights frameworks.  She holds a Master’s degree in Communications from the Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines, and currently working on a PhD in interreligious studies at Gajah Madah University, Indonesia.

 

[3] From 2004 through 2007, Lumah Ma Dilaut center for Living traditions, in cooperation with various charities including the UN Voluntary Fund on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Minority Rights Group International and OXFAM-Great Britain, embarked on an action research attempting to initiate a ’return-reintegrate-regenerate cultural energy’ project for sea nomads in Western Mindanao as alternative to the classic ‘rescue-rehabilitate-convert’ schemes by religious missions and charity groups. Mambaling in Cebu City was one of the sites of study. Other lahat hangkut visited were in Pagadian City, Cagayan de Oro City, Iligan City and Davao City, all in Mindanao, Philippines.

[4] An interesting account of the Sama dilaut of Tulaytabako by HAGS, Inc. in 2002 is published in MSUAcademic Journal.

[5] cite CSO figures from report of NCIP as quoted by LMD

[6]  A ritual of public display and blessings of ancestral heritage or pusaka with incense, food offering and prayers

[7] Prayer hall

Treacherous Riptides, Discordant Seas: Sama Dilaut children in diaspora navigating ethnoreligious and cultural identities with Lumah Ma Dilaut

Treacherous Riptides, Discordant Seas: Sama Dilaut children in diaspora navigating ethnoreligious and cultural identities with Lumah Ma Dilaut[1]

 

By Mucha-Shim Quiling Arquiza[i]

 

 

There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Julius Caesar Act 4, scene 3, 218–224

 

Treacherous tides

In broaching up the subject of changing or re-constructing identities, I think it appropriate to start with the metaphor of death and dying, for in the following stories that I am about to share, physical death or perishing of lives has not only been a periodic phenomena, but is a mass experience, where death is no longer something personal and individual, but is a collective experience. Among indigenous societies such as the sea-borne Sama Dilaut, experiencing the process of dying as a community has been both physical and metaphysical. It is a painful witnessing of torches of lives snuffed-out as the old and elderly, dying one after another, perish and carry with them the community’s material culture, the pride of identity, and their precious wisdom to their graves. Today, before our very eyes, we may be witnessing the Sama Dilaut’s journey as a mournful passing away of tradition.

The Sama Dilaut considers the subject a taboo and seldom speaks about death or of life in the hereafter. If they did, it is always shrouded in hushed mystery and only on solemn occasions. Always cautious never to offend both living and dead, ‘death’ and ‘life-after-death’ are regarded with both dread and awe. In one such traditions they speak of a metaphysical abode where spirits dwell after they pass-on from this worldly existence.

Like most Islamically influenced communities, the Sama Dilaut worldview speaks of the inseparable and inter-penetrable a’lam (cosmos and existence) as both of physical and spiritual domains, and in most of their beliefs, affinity and identification to the sea are hallmarks and among their most profound experiences.

The ethereal world is described to lie at the biring-biring langit, in the ‘edge of horizon’. There, a mist or invisible veil separates the living world from the spirit world that if one journeys far enough to reach the edge and wanders about listlessly one might be drifted and carried away by treacherous riptides or strong current to this other world and would be met by the spirits of dead kins and loved ones who have ‘gone on the trip’ who shall lure or inabiyug  the living to join their world or otherwise the vagabond traveler would be misled and deluded by the shaytan (i.e. underworld entities) and would go aliyaw  or banished.

Every day, in yet another context, another seam is broken and trespassed. For those who have remained traditional, venturing out into un-trodden paths like wandering away into foreign lands or getting attracted by alien culture, too, is alluded to a risky voyage to the biring biring langit, except that this alluring journey is often willingly and excitedly pursued by the young and adventurous, often unaccompanied by their elders, they brave it out, fueled only by their dreams of an affluent and comfortable life out there waiting.

Indeed, it should not be difficult to understand why adaptation to new lifestyle is metaphorically framed as a journey to that unknown edge of the universe. To the Sama Dilaut, the process of modernity is a crossing-over of boundaries, a trade-off from the familiar to the alien. And that sacred gate, its thin veil long secured and guarded by tradition and taboos, has been mercilessly ripped away by the recent phenomenon of globalization and rapid modernity, the fused horizons having now rendered the worlds seamless and mutually permeable.

In the given context and situation of changes that the Sama Dilaut have been risking, adopting to modern life has indeed been a plunge to one’s death and, for few lucky ones, sometimes a painful re-birth to completely new and alien identity.

 

The Sama Dilaut

 

The Sama Dilaut, known generically in Southeast Asia as Bajau or Bajo, have been traditionally plying the Sulu-Sulawesi-Bornean waters. Where the Orang Bajo of Sulawesi and Borneo are noted to have been fully integrated into Islamic communities and, mostly having managed to move upstairs socially, now lead affluent lives, meanwhile, those in the Philippine seas remain to be the most marginalized and the least profited from agricultural and industrial economy because of their wide dispersal and nomadic existence. By their traditional dwelling in Sulu seas, the Sama Dilaut have been ethnographically classified as belonging to the thirteen [13] mostly Islamized ethnolinguistic groupings collectively referred to as the Bangsamoro people. The Bangsamoro people used to enjoy a lucrative and world-competitive maritime economy and an advanced form of governmentality under the two grand empires of the sultanate of Sulu and sultanate of Raja Buayan-Maguindanao from the 11th century. The Jolo and Buansa (Maimbung) ports of Sulu were global trading rendezvous, while the various provinces and principalities in mainland Mindanao were united into one kingdom that until the American colonial government turned over to Filipino hands in 1947 was called a unified Moroland or Moro Province (a province or principality with reference to the colonial administration of United States of America). Moroland enjoyed a sophisticated centralized form of governance under Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat, in Mindanao, and a succession of Suluan sultans in the island provinces of the South. This was the setup, until the triumph of American colonialism in the early 20th century, hence, the present struggle for national identity to reclaim the right to Bangsamoro self-governance from the mainstream Philippine national body-politik remains to be the crucible in the present forty-year old conflict in southern Philippines.

 

‘Religion’

The Sama Dilaut’s variant of Islam may be tentatively described as syncretic, often considered by prejudiced members among mainstream Muslims today as ‘pagan’ and ‘unislamic’ owing to a highly hybridized admixture of indigenous monistic and pantheistic belief and ritual systems and extant forms of Indo-Malayu mysticism. A less passionate viewer, however, would probably be more appreciative of the Sama Dilaut as an epitome of multi-religious followership, albeit in a more ‘pristine’ sense, as they practice a curious type of ‘multiple religions’ for the same pragmatic reason as other religious minorities elsewhere in Southeast Asia have re-coursed to as exigent form of cultural adaptation for economic and social survival in order to negotiate modernity and to accommodate the challenges of an expanding seamless society. For instance, the kejawen and abangan in Indonesia or other groups in Southeast Asia while being devout Muslims, at the same instance still hold on to agama suku (indigenous faiths). Theyare noted to have blended indigenous traditions into harmonious syncretic practices with mainstream religions of Islam, Catholicism or Protestant Christianity, where they have officially affiliated as a matter of government regulations (i.e. panca sila).

 

Sama Dilaut diaspora

trade, war, and god

Subgroups of Sama Dilaut orient themselves according to a specific sea-centered locus, although not so much diversified in ethnic and material culture, their geographic specificity render some variations to their cultural and religious practices. In recent times of conflict, an increasing number of Sama Dilaut have been forced to abandon their traditional lifestyle to adventure into dry land where, living in lahat hangkut (i.e. resettlement or hamlet villages) they are converted to the mag-sandes (i.e. ‘Sundays’) who are protestant evangelical sects of either the Baptist, Alliance church or born-again Christians such as the JIL (Jesus is Lord) as these Christian denominations have been actively proselytizing among Mindanao-Sulu indigenous populations and offer handsome incentives such as free housing, cash capital to start-up a livelihood, schooling for the children or sometimes even a motorized boat (bangka maka malkina) – an ultimate dream for a Sama Dilaut – to allow him/her to pursue the old trade of fishing, or in these times where marine resources have become scarce and maritime trade is risky, at least, to engage in anuhun or diving for ‘rejects’ or scavenging for garbage refused and dumped to the murky waters by commercial mariners and coastal residents; or the boats can also be useful in their forages into the generous pockets and purses of benevolent passers-by and ships’ passengers on a begging venture called angedjo i.e. an infinitive verb corrupted from the term ‘hey, joe!’ indicating that the trade’s clients used to be exclusively foreigners, specifically, American GIs, the Thomasites and Peace Corp that were aplenty during pis-taym (peace-time) starting around the turn of 20th century.

 

In contemporary situation, the intermittent and protracted war escalating to violent conflicts have been resulting to mass dispersal, turning into a highly insecure and mobile populations the conflict-prone Muslim Mindanao region whose villages, islands and cities are constantly militarized and, as matter of government’s counter-insurgency policy, periodically hamletted into lahat hangkut (i.e. forcibly evacuated or relocated en-masse) causing massive displacements and severe disintegration of many ethnically-formed kampongs (traditional villages and clan-based communities). Conflict situations push socially fragile and dispersed nomadic societies like ethnic communities further into the fringes and, for many, force them to move into newish villages where they are not only dismembered from familiar kin-groups but are also forced into sharing fences with traditionally feuding clans or ‘tribal enemies’ and dreaded ethnic groupings like the more dominant Tausug (i.e. a non-Sinama speaking ethnic grouping probably originating from Bornean peninsula that social-anthropologists consider a migrant to Sulu waters during the expansion and dispersion of the Malay sultanate in the 15th century).

 

The ritual of death is almost perennial, uniformly and repeatedly observed phenomena in many traditional Sama Dilaut mooring villages today from the north of Basilan to the peninsula of Zamboanga down south to the islands of Sulu are waves of migrations from conflict-affected areas surging; and then the population of warring ethnic groupings, who are often of a more dominant and aggressive strain than the indigenous communities grow exponentially; and where once there were makeshift resettlement, more permanent structures are being built, forcibly demolishing the old. When this happens, a new way of life takes shape and new culture rules as standard, usually in the form of mainstreaming of purist Muslim practices as the norms of ‘moral’ and ‘civilized’ lifestyle. It also becomes the signature for the ‘modern’ and ‘elite’ who have the opportunities to attend school, go on pilgrimage to Arabia or to engage in leisurely tourism. Since religion and sociopolitical affinity become major bases for communal cohesiveness, consequently, religious intolerance and socio-cultural chauvinism arise, resulting to more and more Sama Dilaut choosing to leave their flotilla-houses and fleeing to lahat bisaya (i.e. Christian land) and there get converted to other faiths.

 

Childhoods, ethnic identities and socio-religious consciousness

 

In migrant communities, the ‘new life’, ironically, does not necessarily translate to a happy change and the comfortable life falsely premised in being ‘modern‘ remain a dream. In time, the much-anticipated affluent lifestyle reveals its true nature as in fact a mere mirage in the desert, nightmarish to many, as more often than not, new life is merely experienced as radical shift from traditional sea-based self subsistent existence into a harsher life of urban poverty saddled in a sad state of multiple-marginalization in their becoming not only socio-economically poor but socio-politically disempowered and ethno-religiously discriminated lot.

 

Of the few lucky ones who might survive the cultural-plunge-to-death and are easily adaptable to the changes are children and youth who could have been those perfectly described in Harry Arlo Nimmo’s epilogue in his recent book about the Sama Dilaut  (2001:233)[2], when he wrote his eerie predictions that:

 

the search for [Sama Dilaut]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 the younger generation of Sama Dilaut, children and youth no longer possess the keenness and depth of memories of the past, perplexing and mystifying as they may be to be culturally-binding and sacrosanct, as adults and traditional elders believed, these youth and children might not be expected to hold the same devotion to tradition as elders and adults once did, which, fancy and romantic as they may seem to the cynics, could have been the only safeguard to the integrity and worthiness of their existence and being. Childhood memories of the good old times of a free-spirited sea-faring life may occasionally bring back romantic and nostalgic moments, this is perhaps the best it could go, as far as myths and tales told by the old ones could impact on the present lives of young ones. Beyond that, ethnic pride, familial piety, religious and spiritual devotion and other traditional social glues and markers of identity then might not be valued in the same way that the tradition-bound adults considered dear and vital to existence. [And as I will seek to elaborate later, in the same manner, new emerging markers of identity such as nationalism and political ideologies may not be held worthy of their emulation either if these, too, are not consistent with and satisfying the imagined better life or complementing the younglings’ sense of ideal self-hood].

 

Just like any other youth and children, Sama Dilaut children now define their selfhood on the basis of their daily enterprise with life. Identities are constantly negotiated and contested each time they encounter raw situations and respond to it. Constantly bombarded by contending images of globalized selfhoods, the children’s sense of identities and imagined self is fluid and ever-changing that perhaps the only truth that remains relatively constant is the persistent experiences of marginalization, exclusion, poverty and their vulnerability as part of the reality of their youthfulness or childhood.

 

Yet even the notion of childhood is a contested concept. What it is to be a child? Or to be more precise, to be a Sama Dilaut child? The legal framework defining childhood is provided in the UNICEF declaration where [c]hildhood is said to be “the time for children to be in school and at play, to grow strong and confident with the love and encouragement of their family and an extended community of caring adults. It is a precious time in which children should live free from fear, safe from violence and protected from abuse and exploitation”.  As the same source contends, such childhood “means much more than just the space between birth and the attainment of adulthood. It refers to the state and condition of a child’s life, to the quality of those years[3].

 

As legal construct, childhood is as much cultural and social, and it seems more likely that what the Sama Dilaut child experiences in her social reality and as formed and defined early in life by her cultural matrix negates and clashes with what the legal and institutional construction of childhood is. If the realities and conditions of childhood among indigenous Sama Dilaut children are to be the gauge to go by, they destroy the above UNICEF definition not only as abstract and frivolous, but also, absurd!

 

Discordant seas of contentious identities

 

In the din of political debates and contestations of different voices among the Bangsamoro, the stubborn obsession and shortsightedness over the struggle for nationhood and homogenizing claims for one-Bangsa identity appear to have successfully obscured and conveniently silenced everything else except the exclusivistic politics of belligerency spelled as the quest for sovereign rights and power-hold of the politically dominant and economically elite ethnic groupings. This has  unwittingly trivialized what could be more urgent and crucial issues facing both minoritized and mainstreamed Bangsamoro ethnic communities, namely, the challenges or threats of socio-political homogenization and economic liberalization as the new world  order propelled by proponents of free-trade and open market. To indigenous communities, this infinite fluidity and total seamlessness brought about by globalization could be the dreadful precarious tide, gargantuan in scale and magnitude ever imaginable, and ever to be navigable by relying only on pristine values of tradition or on cultural instinct alone.

 

Meanwhile, we are all embroiled in the vicious politics of containment and resistance that have destined us all in a perennial state of conflict and war that many of us are willingly deluding ourselves into believing that all that matters is independence and statehood, even refusing to tackle the Bangsamoro’s national debacle to its cancerous link into bigger global geo-politics and its metastasized sociopolitical mutations hosted by neoliberalism. In this politics of convenience, minorities and marginal people, like the indigenous youth and children are left with very little choices and have only the diminishing spaces to mould their selfhood. War deprived us not only of the physical abode to anchor on and for our tribes and their progeny to branch out and root in, but also denied us the social-psychological sense of permanence, consistency and continuity, or a sense of completeness to be provided only by undisrupted social history of at least a full generation. Having no permanent roots now to anchor and without a consistent bed to propagate, the indigenous children’s sense of self and notion of identity, at worst, is that of a devastated and frustrated self wallowing in the immediate experiences of poverty and dislocation, or, at its best, a deluded image of globalized ideal constructed by media and modern cultural agents modeled as icons and idols of commercial materialistic and neo-liberal values that are completely detached from their realities, let alone, from tradition. The only reality they know of is the very situation they are born to and grow up with, that is, a state of insecurity in the debilitating experiences of lost of integrity of intimate human and ecological families, their severance from the primordial ties, separation from nuclear groups and peer, and the dismemberment from the kampong or kawman (clan-communities). Constant sights of destruction of familiar spaces and eco-scapes of  immediate neighborhood bomb-blasted into smithereens; and ecological environment carelessly abandoned and left to corporate and foreign entities to exploit, appropriate and deplete; all these delete and sink into oblivion all the symbols and meanings they hold. These are always violent and traumatic processes to be witnessed by a child.

 

Periodic and prolonged war does not only physically destroy but de-sensitizes and dehumanizes. In all, its long-term impact is ultimately to obliterate the community’s limpah tangan, or life-marks and imprints where history, mythology, cosmology, genealogy, the shared communal memory, and practically the entire documentary evidence of life itself that were written there by generations over generations of Sama Dilaut that might have to be foregone with forever.

 

Economically marginalized and socio-culturally minoritized, the Sama Dilaut, children’s identity and selfhood are constantly reconstructed and redefined by their life in enforced-migration, diaspora and evacuation. Formed and nurtured in beggar communities, for instance, children grow-up and become conscious of the burdens of adult-and-parent responsibilities. In being major income-earners they ensure not only the daily family upkeep but also secure the safety of the elderly and de-capacitated in the demise of responsible adults who have been forced to abandon their duties due to migration, plight from unpaid debts or unjustly incarcerated for alleged criminal offenses, or by their untimely deaths. The number of children-headed households is a major feature of urban squatter communities where children have curbed out a career out of child-labor, child-prostitution and as street-urchins.

 

Needless to overstate, indigenous children’s vulnerabilities are multiplied a number of folds over than ordinary children in both urban and rural communities, yet, despite this, indigenous people, least of all, children, remain invisible in policy formulation and decision-making, be it within the formal structures of institutional and legal government, or of traditional social structures or even within purported alternative structures and systems contesting status quo or touted as models of reformed structures of re-engineered social politics

 

Perpetual deferment of self-determination for ‘minorities’?

 

Much as nationalists and liberationist today contend that the Bangsamoro people must identify to a common and homogenous national identity and devote all efforts for the recognition and realization of rights-claims of this nation, the reality among Moro children and youth, especially, among indigenous, minority religious and marginal groups should be a wake-up call as they sometimes negate such imperatives. Without having to belabor the issue, we must recognize and admit collective culpability to the many opportunities for peace that have gone wasted and learn from the failures of, how, for every instance of failed peace, our inability [failure] to secure justice, uphold the rule of law and sustain development, lives and future of children are being put in the line. In the haste to conquer power and to turn the table against alleged oppressors and colonizers, growing political extremisms and cultural and religious intolerance among mainstream and purist Muslims are ugly fall-outs of an armed resistance that have abandoned principle and reason. This must not be allowed to prosper.

 

At this point, I must admit to not having the guts and courage and lacking the wisdom to further this issue anymore. Suffice it to note that the perennial wait and deferment of important questions especially those pertinent to indigenous and religious minority peoples of Mindanao and Sulu have been painful and debilitating struggle. For many activists like me, self-censorship and self-imposed gag order is tantamount to self-amputation, a nipping off of the buds of victory before they ever become flowers and bear fruits. To condone by being silent, and to co-opt by pretending to be deaf and blind, is   to subvert the very same right that we purport to fight for – to freely self-determine and define our destiny. Even in most animated discussions among civil society groups, raising up this issue or any other outside of what is in the current agenda of ‘official’ peace-talks brings much discomfort as it is sensitive. Pushing it any further is considered impolite and, by the same token, may even be taken as an affront to the ‘elders and leaders’ and might endanger one to be politically-ostracized or worst be declared an infidel and traitor to the cause. Lumad and Moro activists working among marginal and minority groups, bursting in their frustration, relieve themselves by sometimes jokingly hitting at the subject[4].

 

Patronizing development projects

 

Meanwhile, government development planners are spawning yet another construct of selfhoods and identities for the indigenous and minorities. Development projects with patronizing intentions such as ‘ahon bajau’ (to fish-out the bajau) and ‘lifting indigenous people from indignity’ (LIPI, ironically its literal meaning means ‘race’, perhaps a Freudian slip for its racist intent, one could wonder) are not only reinforcing the denigrated images of indigenous and traditional communities but also constructing new self-images tailored to fit a globally-acceptable commercialized values of modern and good life. Images of a liberal individual is an “accomplished and self-made” social entrepreneur who is freed from the immobilizing roots of culture and tradition, endowed with a completely secularized conscience  cleared of social accountabilities and immune from retributive justice of fate and devoid of faith in the sacred and the divine. The millennium individual  is a “universal soldier” unencumbered by any contract of communal loyalty.

 

Ironically, as Sather (in Bottignolo 1995: vi-vii) rightly pointed out ages ago, religion has always appeared to be important and powerful element in the construction of a new image, as he observed: “part of their [Sama Dilaut] denigration has traditionally been framed in religious terms. Hence, neighboring groups have typically viewed them as a people ‘without religion’(halam ugama)”. [5]

 

 

15 September 2010/06 Shawwal 1431

Daira Sambuwangan

 


[1] Prepared for the International Conference on Islam, Childhoods and Building Culture of Peace in Southeast Asia, September 29-30, 2010, Balay Kalinaw, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines.

[2] Nimmo,  H. Arlo.  Magosaha: An Ethnography of the Tawi-tawi Sama  Dilaut, Quezon City:  Ateneo de Manila University Press, Inc. 2001

 

[3] This UNICEF declaration was cited by Imam that was quoted in L. Mcnee, .The languages of Childhood and colonial policy in French West Africa., African studies quarterly: the online Journal of African studies, 7, 4, 2004

[4] There is an anecdote about the ongoing political processes for the negotiation of indigenous peoples’ self-determination between belligerent groups and the national government as like partaking of a chicken dish, where, according to the principal negotiators who happen to claim to be the ‘vanguards’,  or of ‘having been there first’, or of having ‘led in the struggle for the longest’, minorities and marginal interest groups must keep silent by the sideline and leave it to them to catch and harness the fowl, do the necessary ceremonies, dress and cook the chicken while marginal minorities just patiently wait and be assured that before long everyone will be served. It came to pass that so many cooked chicken plates have been passed around, but only a few choice company partook of the feast, while indigenous people are still waiting by the sidelines eager to find out how fine they taste.

 

[5] Bottignolo, Bruno. Celebrations  With  the Sun:  An  Overview  of Religious Phenomena Among the Badjaos. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila Univesity Press, 1995. 

 


[i] Mucha-Shim Q. Arquiza is founding directress of Lumah Ma Dilaut Center for Living Traditions, a nongovernment not-for-profit peoples’ organization committed to protect and promote indigenous knowledge systems. Together with Lumah Ma Dilaut, Mucha has been doing community participatory action researches in Sama Dilaut villages in the homeseas as well as migrant and diaspora communities aimed at not only documenting vanishing traditions and traditional wisdom but invigorating indigenous structures and systems for such living traditions to continue.

Diversity, Pluralism, and the Politics of self-determination: Prospects for Southeast Asian Ethnic and Religious minorities

Diversity, Pluralism, and the Politics of self-determination: Prospects for Southeast Asian Ethnic and Religious minorities

Mucha Shim Quiling Arquiza[1]
Lumah Ma Dilaut Center for Living Traditions

Interrogating Cultural Diversity, Pluralism and Multiculturalism

In the current search for appropriate alternatives, post-modernist frameworks much lauded and celebrated by academics, development experts and of mostly ‘class-repugnant’ upper and middle-class elite activists have been banking in the much valorized and glorified ideologies of cultural diversity, pluralism and multiculturalism as the panaceas of the new millenium. Arguably, even these so-called ‘third ways’ out of authoritarian Marxism (i.e. Stalinism) and hegemonic capitalism (i.e. totalization and individualization of neo-capitalism) however must be held suspect and interrogated, as it could fall short of its promises. When operant in extremely functionalist-utilitarian economic mode of neoliberalism that is still replete with chauvinism and patronizing attitude towards indigenous culture and compounded by its debasing regard for marginalized peoples’ life as cheap commodities disposable and marketable; this stunted view of ‘pluralism’, ‘diversity’ and ‘multiculturalism’ could thrive only within the delusions of free market where only those cultures and identities who could sell the most could survive as the fittest.
As sociological concept, pluralism has been developed as counterpoint to both extremes of essentialism and hegemonism, and as an antidote to the dangerous tendencies of reductionism and absolutism. Theoretically, the idea of pluralism is to be a middle ground, and it should be desirable as its consequence is tolerance and acceptance of diversity, which are essential steps towards cultural harmony and unity. When put into practice however, it is as problematic [i.e. as other opt-abused modern political notions such as democracy and civil society are] as it could manifest ambiguous tendencies that may render pluralism untenable as principle for dialogue and inter-cultural understanding.
Real life situation is not always the ideal assumptions as neatly laid out by theories. Neither by constructs of sociology nor anthropology could we be assured that people and their habitus and culture are pliant, rational, and uncomplicated categorizable objects and phenomenon. To the contrary, real life is fraught with mysteries and double-meanings embroiled within the complexities of politics and is nothing but tensions of power relationships, where, according to the monist thoughts of Deleuze and Guattari [2] ‘life’ has no primary forms or identities but is a perpetual process of configuration and variation, where politics is an art of composition, an art that affirms the variation and creation of life “, hence, “politics precedes being”, that is, politics is immanent and primordial before selfhood and identities.
The first point of ambiguity in pluralism is rhetorical. Pluralism has a power-context. It is a privilege of the dominant center and of majority. It must be stressed that dominance is both psychical and physical dispositions where I differentiate psychical dominance as denoting socio-cultural centrality from physical [i.e. economic] dominance as numerical or economic power of majority. In both instances, dominance invests the ‘major’ group a status of political majority .
Oftentimes, dominance of number also begets cultural centrality, but this is not always dialectical, as there are numerically minor groups that maintain historically-inherited or assert recently-configured cultural dominance. This is the case where small groups could effectively exercise political dominance even over a bigger group because culturally [i.e.socio-psychically] they belong to or are more similar to the numerically dominant group, hence, also become the politically mainstream. A classic example is that of religious extremist groups who, although few and inferior in number, may be able to exercise dominance and assume greater political clout because they are conferred, at least socio-psychically, with a certain ‘legitimacy’ while sharing commonality with the status quo or prevailing majority culture and politics than other groups who may be bigger in population but are greatly dispersed and socio-psychically marginal. To render this illustration more bluntly, one could take the various cases of small pockets of religious extremists such as the Abu Sayaf Group, Hizbut Tahrir or the Jemaat Islamiyah in Muslim societies in Southeast Asia. Their psychical blanket of legitimacy is drawn from the fact that they are identified as ‘Muslim’ and belonging to a ‘majority’ (meaning, universally-classified Muslim) cultural group. This status-conferment is compounded and perpetuated by the mere exercise of indifference of majority non-political (and apolitical) Muslims that regrettably happens to be the mainstream majority whose passive attitude renders its majority voice ‘mute’, thereby ‘coop-ted’ or ‘colluded’ into the extremists’ loud and angry politics, providing the latter a certain kind of coddle or ‘protection’, hence conferring it ‘sociopsychical legitimacy’. And so even as there are occasional oppositions from Muslims against extremists’ intolerance and luke-warm denunciations of attacks and targetings of minorities [i.e. Christians and atheists], these oppositional voices become ‘minority’ voices seeming muted and silenced as off-stream, thus a shroud of impunity vests untouchability to extremists and perpetuates extremism.
On the other hand, minor populations of religionists, atheists, ethnically marginal groups, who are numerically inferior and culturally peripheral, are also socio-psychically minorities on account of their political marginality. They are presumably the one who is the object of toleration and acceptance, yet can never invoke the same pluralism and be privileged to exercise tolerance of majority and mainstream, simply because, that does not make sense where in the first place the power of choice is not their’s ‘to be tolerant’, when they themselves are the direct object of toleration. In grammatical logic, they are the ‘receiver’ of action and can not be the ‘doer’. Hence, minority-majority status conferment and its perpetuation is a socio-political categorization that renders pluralism as mere rhetoric. A dialogue between ‘un-equals’ that effectively immobilizes and cancels-out active mutual exchanges between conversants, also renders the other party (read as: minority), passive and disempowered.
The second manifestation of its ambiguity is in the practical governmental function of pluralism. Respect for diversity and pluralism have been conceptualized and attempted to be useful concept for governing [i.e. managing and controlling] people by a State or governmental and civil society institutions who envision inclusion, participation and integration as desirable end of society. Notable, however, is the notion of ‘inclusion, participation and integration’ as power-loaded and as defined according to position and role in a power-relationship. A patron-client relationship is implied, where power-relations hinges on the benevolence of one party, as the ‘beholder’ of power, and of begging, on the part of ‘recipient’ of favor.
Moreover pluralism as an ideology for integration and mainstreaming can be manipulated as technology of control and normalization akin to Foucauldian political technology of biopolitics[3]. In the framework of State program of managing and controlling population and citizens, integration and mainstreaming is based on the assumption of the value and desirability of belonging [i.e. as population and as citizenship] as a natural process of normalization. In a peaceful and orderly society, social organization is desirable. Belonging to a particular social category is deemed the standard to be ‘normal’. To belong to a group and be normal, population or citizens are required, first, of visibility or recognizability under the banner of a clear identity. Corollary to this requisite is the ability of having attributes; and thirdly, that these attributes can be clearly categorized. Accordingly, being un-nameable is to be unclassified and unstable category, thus, un-integrate-able and non-mainstream-able. What can not be integrated and mainstreamed is by the same token deviant, anomalous, and abnormal. Multiplicity and fluidity of identity, for example is one such abnormality[4]. Paradoxically, in every project that purports to respect diversity and plurality, what is in fact sought at is supposed individuality in a totalitarian sense of normality from the perspective of majority and order from the interest of where power to define ‘order’ emanates. Despite all sincere intentions, advocates of pluralism thereby, wittingly or unwittingly, forces the ‘multiple’ and ‘multitude’ [5] to gather itself into one; and, for the unnamable to name itself. Here is where pluralism becomes a tool of coercion and may be abused concept by the majority, whom as I mentioned earlier has the privilege of deploying its utility to advance the interest of politics of majority.
The place and role of religion: ‘normal’ and ‘mainstream’ as sacred order?
But what about the ‘uncategorized’ minor ‘religions’? Where do they fit into the frame? Minor systems of beliefs and spirituality, first of all, should be able to pass the hurdle of conceptual definition, that is, they first must name themselves and be classifiable as ‘religion’. Secondly and thirdly, they must be able to enumerate their attributes according to laid-out system of categorization that institutionalized religions have clearly cut-out and well-defined as the dogma, rituals and institutional structures. So to qualify and be ‘privileged’ object of this pluralism, what the ideology of pluralism and the proposed standard of diversity actually wants to promote is for the various indigenous ethnic and culturally-defined and similar systems of beliefs and spiritualities who have been existing since time immemorial, even pre-dating mainstream and organized religions, as autonomous multitude of unnamable traditions, to be reduced, essentialized and themselves identified as ‘religions-of-sort’ and at the same time to be generalized/universalized enough as to be capable of being taxonomized according to the defined parameters of institutionalized religions such as Islam, Christianity, etcetera.
In the final analysis so-called pluralism subverts its very own intention as an alternative paradigm to reductionism and absolutism. Being such, one of its most hardly-hit victims of religious intolerance and extremisms has been those so-called subaltern communities and peoples living in the margins, i.e. ethnic and religious minorities, who defy identification, categorization, and standardization and institutionalization. One such stark examples are the widely dispersed and highly mobile group of sea nomads and varied-ly hybridized multi-cultural communities of Sama Dilaut navigating the turbulent political seas of Southeast Asia.
Sama Dilaut diaspora: marginalization and abnormalization through trade, war, and god
The Sama Dilaut, known generically in Southeast Asia as Bajau or Bajo, have been traditionally plying the Sulu-Sulawesi-Bornean waters. Where the Orang Bajo of Sulawesi and Borneo are noted to have been fully integrated into Islamic communities and, mostly having managed to move upstairs socially,some communities now lead affluent lives, meanwhile, those in the Philippine seas remain to be the most marginalized and the least profited from agricultural and industrial economy because of their wide dispersal and nomadic existence. By their traditional dwelling in Sulu seas, the Sama Dilaut have been ethnographically classified as belonging to the thirteen [13] mostly Islamized ethnolinguistic groupings collectively referred to as the Bangsamoro people.
The Sama Dilaut’s variant of Islam may be tentatively described as syncretic, often considered by prejudiced members among mainstream Muslims today as ‘pagan’ and ‘unislamic’ owing to a highly hybridized admixture of indigenous monistic and pantheistic belief and ritual systems and extant forms of Indo-Malayu mysticism. A less ‘religious’-ly passionate viewer, however, would probably be more appreciative of the Sama Dilaut as an epitome of multi-religious followership, in their practice a curious type of ‘multiple religions’ for the same pragmatic reason as other religious minorities elsewhere in Southeast Asia have re-coursed to as cultural adaptive mechanism exigent to economic and social survival.
Subgroups of Sama Dilaut are oriented to specific sea-centered locus, although not so much diversified in ethnic and material culture, geographic specificity render some variations to their cultural and religious practices. In recent times of conflict, an increasing number of Sama Dilaut have been forced to abandon their traditional nomadic lifestyle to adventure into dry land where, living in lahat hangkut (i.e. resettlement or hamlet villages) they are converted to the mag-sandes (i.e. ‘Sundays’) by protestant evangelical sects or born-again Christians groups that have been actively proselytizing among Mindanao-Sulu indigenous populations. To convert, they are offered handsome incentives such as free housing, cash capital to start-up a livelihood, schooling for the children.
During intermittent and protracted civil wars, indigenous populations are periodically hamletted into lahat hangkut where, forcibly evacuated and relocated en-masse, ethnically-formed kampongs (traditional villages and clan-based communities) are displaced and ties severely disintegrated. As conflict situations aggravate, socially fragile and nomadic societies like the Sama Dilaut are furthered into the fringes at the same time also sedentarized into newish villages where they are not only dismembered from familiar kin-groups but are also forced into sharing fences with traditionally feuding clans or ‘tribal enemies’ and other dreaded ethnic groupings.
It could also be that the population of warring ethnic groupings, who are often more dominant and aggressive are indiscriminately relocated into traditional settlements of nomadic Sama Dilaut, there, makeshift structures give way to more permanent ones, and subsistence fishing is replaced by more rigorous market-based livelihood and the demands of more permanent and seasonal agriculture dictates and moulds a new lifestyle shaping-up a new culture that rules as standard, usually in the form of mainstreaming of purist Muslim practices. External symbols of being devout Muslim in dress and day-to-day rituals also become the signature for the modern and elite who have the opportunities to attend school, go on pilgrimage to Arabia or to engage in leisurely tourism. Since religion and sociopolitical affinity become major bases for communal cohesiveness, consequently, religious intolerance and socio-cultural chauvinism arise, resulting to more and more Sama Dilaut choosing to leave their flotilla-houses and fleeing to lahat bisaya (i.e. Christian land) and there get converted to other faiths.
Nationalism and Struggle for Self-determination: Perpetual deferment of self-determination for ‘minorities within minorities’
Many political observers agree that Sama Dilaut may not have any stake in the present contentious Bangsamoro idenitity politics[6] that has been much focused on homogenizing claims for one-Bangsa and, lately, of advancing aspirations of purist Muslim identities and struggle for nation[state]hood that has seems more and more morphing into an exclusivist politics of claiming and securing power-hold for the politically dominant and economically elite Bangsamoro Muslims. This has successfully obscured and unwittingly trivialized more urgent and crucial issues facing both minoritized and mainstreamed ethnic communities – the challenges or threats of socio-political homogenization and economic liberalization as the new world order propelled by proponents of free-trade and open market.
Yet, time and again, realities among indigenous, minority religious and marginal groups have been negating exclusively nationalistic imperatives as, in many instances of failed peace settlements and in the haste to conquer power and to turn the table against alleged oppressors and colonizers, growing political extremisms and cultural and religious intolerance among mainstream and purist Muslims have become ugly fall-outs of an armed resistance derailed away from principled activism, and a wayward ideology cannibalizing on its own faithful.
Patronizing development projects
Meanwhile, government development projects with patronizing intentions such as Ahon Badjao (fish-out the Bajau) and LIPI (i.e. ‘lifting indigenous people from indignity’) -where, ironically, Lipi, literally translates as ‘race’, perhaps a Freudian slip, subliming its racist intent – not only reinforce denigrated images of indigenous and traditional communities but also construct new self-images tailored to fit a globally-acceptable commercialized values of modern and good life. Images of a liberal individual is an “accomplished and self-made” social entrepreneur who is freed from the immobilizing roots of culture and tradition, endowed with a completely secularized conscience, cleared of social accountabilities and immuned from retributive justice of fate and devoid of faith in the sacred and the divine. The millennium individual is a “universal soldier” unencumbered by any contract of communal loyalty.
Ironically, as Sather (in Bottignolo 1995: vi-vii) rightly pointed out ages ago, religion has always appeared to be important and powerful element in the construction of a new image, as he observed: “part of their [Sama Dilaut] denigration has traditionally been framed in religious terms. Hence, neighboring groups have typically viewed them as a people ‘without religion’(halam ugama)”. [7]
References
Arquiza, M. Knowledge and Power in Bangsamoro Identity Politics: Intersectionality of ethnicity, religion, gender and kinship as determinants of identity (A KonsultMindanaw policy brief). Davao City, Philippines: CBCP, 2009
Bottignolo, Bruno. Celebrations With the Sun: An Overview of Religious Phenomena Among the Badjaos. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila Univesity Press, 1995.
Deleuze and Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press. 1987
Lemke, Thomas. The Birth of Biopolitics: Michel Foucault’s lecture at the College de France on neo-liberal governmentality’ in Economy and Society Vol.30 Number 2. May 2001: 190-207.
WCAR 2001 Declaration of Asia-Pacific NGO Forum
________________________________________
[1] Born in Laminusa island, Sulu, Philippines, the presenter is an ethnic Sama and is founding directress of the Lumah Ma Dilaut School for Living Traditions. A UN lobbyist, she has attended and spoken at the UN Working Group meetings on Minority issues (now UN Forum on Minorities) in Geneva, Switzerland championing the issues of nomadic and pastoralist communities, indigenous/ethnic and religious minorities in diaspora; and interrogating the appropriateness of mainstream development paradigms and human rights discourses and frameworks. She is a community organizer and cultural worker advocating for culturally-appropriate and liberating values-based education. She holds a Master’s degree in Communications, from the Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines, and currently working on a PhD in interreligious studies at Gajah Madah University, Indonesia.
[2] Deleuze and Guattari . A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
University of Minnesota Press. 1987
[3] Thomas Lemke. 2001. The Birth of Biopolitics…
[4] I find the discussions of Michel Foucault’s critic of conventional psychotherapy of schizophrenia and Delueze and Guattari’s assertion of multiple personality/identities as social un-disorder as very interesting discourses on this
[5] Deleuze and Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus:Capitalism and Schizophrenia.
[6] Arquiza, M. Knowledge and Power in Bangsamoro Identity Politics: Intersectionality of ethnicity, religion, gender and kinship as determinants of identity (A KonsultMindanaw policy brief). Davao City, Philippines: CBCP, 2009.
[7] Bottignolo, Bruno. Celebrations With the Sun: An Overview of Religious Phenomena Among the Badjaos. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila Univesity Press, 1995.

Lami Nusa: Communion with the Presences

This tiny crescent island in Sulu [south of the Philippines] where I was born and learned my name is unknown and hardly even visible in a map of the more than 7,000 islands of the Philippine archipelago. In the sixties or even earlier, when it started getting the attention of some anthropological researchers, it sometimes got briefly written about or occasionally mentioned in passing in some ethnological studies for its famous pandanus reed mat of exotic designs and riot of colors that were woven by women who allegedly fell into trance and met their muses through a dream. But in this age of conflict where “peace-and-development” has become a socio-political by-word and Sulu archipelago has become synonymous with war and terror, the narratives of traditional communities and vibrant indigenous life have suddenly banished in significance and lost its place in history and society when it has become more fashionable to describe “life” and “community” by variously explaining it in so many political-economic theories and development paradigms. Warped in cold jargons and illustrated in dry statistics, the ‘good life’ is narrowly understood only in terms of material [economic] consumption and political security.

Lami Nusa, my Island of Joy, and the many other invisible Sulu islands, un-plotted by cartographers because its language was incorrigible, was sensed and understood only by those ‘faithful’ to it. It retreated into the margins and obscurity, never really becoming known for its people, at least, not the way that my Western-educated parents — both of whom became school-teachers in the island — fondly called the “old folk”. The Lami Nusa of my time would never be experienced as a folk Muslim community by this present generation of privileged “Muslim” and “Bangsamoro”.The once-Sinama speakers won’t feel the same awe   that this island-gem was delicately shaped, silently rendered and pulsated into life by mesmerizing rituals and traditions, and inspirited by mystical and ancestral presences whose comforting embraces were felt, especially at dusk, like gossamer protecting the sleeping village. Gently blown in the chilly winds that teased the palm fronds or ringing with the laughter of the frothing seas, these presences were also borne in the hallowed echoes of sacred grounds across the tampat or graveyards and in the hushed whisper of the tahalil or dhikr wafting from a prayer-hall we called Langgal. And without any trace of self-consciousness or pretense, we paid respect and obeisance to the presences; sought protection from the mischief of both jinn and men; offered our thanks for guarding us from both ghaib and ba’tin – the seen and unseen; sought for intercessions and blessings of both the spirit and flesh. Such was how we believed and submitted.

Sadly, Sulu has since become famed [or defamed] more by the flamboyance and vulgarity of its economics and politics that most of the Tausug-inhabited islands and the mainland have succumbed to, and as such, it has become more popularly perceived by development actors and social researchers today as a challenge as well as investment potential for politically-motivated development and peace agenda. Fortunately, before being swallowed into the whirlpool created by these prophets of modernity, I have witnessed the Lami Nusa of the folk, with eyes of a child – awed and full of wonder, albeit only towards the tail-end of its sunset years in the early seventies before the tide of Philippine government tanks and helicopters bearing the banners of New Society in the ‘70s til the ‘80s,  and, later in the ‘90s, with its Peace-and-Development flagship programs and multidonor development funds coming on the heels of all-out military counter-insurgency, aggressively vanquished and vanished this obscure Suluan civilization into smithereens. And, yes, I could count myself among a few lucky ones indeed to have communioned with those presences before the fresh generation of ulama and Arabic-speaking religious learned and scholars returned home from Middle East purporting to deliver us from a misguiding bid’a , so-they-claim, as falsehood and a jahili religion – this, our rope, our pangentanan.

NASHIZA SPEAKS: Write to Liberate

A Moro woman writing: writing as creating a path to self-determination.

What I am about to tell is a very personal story. It is a map of my own journey complete with the gallery of faces and people I have met and parted ways with; the panorama of landscape and seascapes, places I have strayed and tarried about and lain as a fallen seed basking under a moonlit night and shivering cold after a thunderstorm; there, I noduled, rhizomed, rooted deep and, there, my nascent buds were mercilessly uprooted from. And the relationships I have forged and have broken in the course of time, some I vividly keep in memory, others happily and conveniently forgotten. It is a personal story that I look back to and carry forward with pride and confidence, and one that I would be as enthusiastic to relive and to re-tell to my children and grandchildren when that opportune time comes [and I am sure you would recognize your self in this story, too].

As I speak before you now I am smiling to myself. Oh, I do admit, as I write, there is always mist in the eyes, yet I wish to tell you something mystical behind the smile: how profoundly embedded the self is in writing, in unhurriedly writing about her people and homeland, especially when one is not pressed to do so for the sake of frivolous art or of rigorous science or of leisurely discourse. The fact is, one does not always write for academic or economic reasons. To paraphrase a feminist invitation to write our bodies, I say, yes, let’s write, and when we write, we do not only our bodies write, we also do our lives, and write our very souls, all at once spread-out on the sheet, on the table, on the slate, in virtual space, in one stake, in one stroke and, then let fluorescent, let rupture. And, cliche as this might go: we write with our own blood, sweat and tears. Yet we write not because we want to communicate as in communicating to be heard or to announce ourselves and to be visible. Neither do we always communicate for the need to be recognized nor want of our identities to be confirmed – especially, not in how identities have been so flagrantly capitalized and peddled nowadays: objectified, compartmentalized, totalized, hegemonized, all the while vying to be recognized, placated, fund-raised, integrated with and mainstreamed into, surrendering to the multitude to be tolerated and asserting uniqueness yet willing itself to be pluralized – until one no longer recognizes which identity one carries or belongs to.

Writing is a form of expression, expressing not only for communicating or voicing out a stand or aiming to be listened to, as propagandists would to prospective advocates who would resonate and rebound with a form of solidarity. Writing as expressing is also creating. We write to create to burn a path to freedom: we sketch out fresh narrative as our new way of taking stock of ourselves. We write with intention of writing for our own eyes to see; our voice for our own ears to hear. Nay, but mostly, as we would always discover, when we are in the middle of it all, it is nothing ‘new’, really. The familiarity of landscape, seascape and self-scape that we write, and the ease of how words and descriptions come to our aid to reconstruct almost forgotten memories, makes writing rather like a solemn ritual of reclaiming, or the eagerness of home-coming of a sea-farer arriving in familiar shores, the ‘kota’ [i.e. Hispanic-time walled city or fort] and the ‘parola’ [i.e.lighthouse] notwithstanding. Or, for Suluan Moro-speakers among us, it is that ‘udjuk’ [i.e. marker] or ‘tanduh’ [i.e.a vantage] that an itinerant traveler retraces and retrieves either of a grave or a monument planted there [written there!] by the forebears who came before us. Yet we write not to retrospect, to be nostalgic or to wallow forever lost in the past. We write to re-energize a voice that has always been there; that we have always known and owned in the first place. So this act of creating is actually an invigoration of our ‘pusaka’ – ancestral resources – an incarnation of historical heritage. So that as we continue writing and reading of what we have written, we are perpetually generating energies from the re-enactment and re-interpretation of that past to fuel our journey further unto the shores of the present and the future. And for as long as we do so, we are self-determining. We are free.

Writing as creating is flight to freedom. And it is a kind of ‘fleeing to the side-doors’ because our flight to freedom is not always a headlong confrontation with the oppressor and not necessarily a demand to be recognized, to be listened to and to be included in their agenda. Our flight to freedom is flight from the straight-jacket of dominant themes, too. It is a freedom to use our power to refuse. A power to silence the master narratives that have arrogantly written us out — deleting our very agency and muting our participation in the making of our story, as thou it has always been there. History naturally writing itself even without us? We flee away from attempts to maladize our political questions and legitimate issues; we flee from diagnoses that look us up and declare us a ‘trouble’ or a ‘problem’ and regard us as a form of criminality to be penalized, a social anomaly terrorizing their civilized society that must be expunged out, bombed and banished into smithereens. We flee away from political doctors with ready-made prescriptions, we flee from suspicious solutions that propose to resolve our long-aching issues garbed in grand ‘communication plans’ purporting to carry out our consensus and speaking up for us. Alas, these are resolutions to their ‘problem’ seen from their eyes! Our writing to create our story is to reclaim the self-determination precisely to tell our story, from our vantage, from our ground. That makes this biographic writing political. Because in telling our story we write with power. But before we launch into that first stroke, a word of caution: since we write because we know, and having that potent knowledge at our disposal, it necessitates our careful handling of this power. Creating a path to freedom and creating-and-utilizing knowledge is dialectical. We struggle armed with knowledge to maneouvre and negotiate our terms into the power-play. At the same time we parry with knowledge that is spun up and worked out to subdue and subjugate us. As soon as we have recognized the ‘right’ knowledge, we reclaim and own it as our tool to work to our utmost advantage to seize the stage to put us back into our centeredness. And, lest we forget, writing to be a form of creating must start and stop with a transformed self. Every line, every page we write bears indelible markings of our own personal struggles, our process of transformation in the journey, a journey that – whether we like it or not – we are always co-creating with similar others who are also writing themselves. For that is the price for this freely expressing and claiming freedom; that, having known ours, we also are made aware of other’s freedom that is our responsibility. Writing is contemplative. Writing is power in silence, a potent quietude. In writing, the political is indeed personal, and personal is spiritual. To be political is then to be spiritual. And so, if courage and the spirit don’t desert me, this is how I wish to write and tell you about the story of Mindanao and Sulu and the 42-year old war.

Mucha Q. Arquiza, writing in Yogyakarta.

18 March 2010

War Diary: For Nana

Nana must have been on her mid or late-sixties then. She had not gone to any government school, neither finished any home-education on Qur’an but she knew how to read the Jawi, indigenous script of Sulu, with Arabic derivative. I was nine and just about to finish my fourth elementary grade in a barangay school when the war broke out in Jolo on February 7, 1974. That horrible occasion brought us, murid and guru – student and teacher – together.

After Jolo burned to the ground, my father had his hands full raising up eight children. The eldest being barely 20 and the youngest 2 years old, his lowly teacher’s salary of two hundred pesos per month could not possibly provide us with decent meals and clothes, much less ensure our schooling. Being girls and the middle children, I and my elder sister, Nur, were “loaned-out” to relatives, so we could continue with our studies in Jolo. Sister was taken in by my cousin to be yaya to her toddler son, while I was to stay with my aunt to help in her store.

I met Nana at the store. She was a distant relative of my aunt’s husband.  Having no family of her own, she too was on a ‘placement’, just like me.   This  arrangement was usual with families who had been pulak-kanat , disenfranchised and ‘dismembered’ by the conflict. Our main duties were to tend to the store, although on some occasions we were also cooks, laundry-women and errand-girls. During school days, I  attended elementary school, walking some two kilometers each day. On weekends I would spend an hour in the morning sitting-in at the local Masjid (mosque) where a madrasa (Islamic instruction) had just started. But of course the store was to be my priority such that my attendance at the madrasa had to be regulated, much to my dismay.

There were times, especially, at dusk when I would sit forlorn by my high-chair lookout from the store, and envied children of my age who freely played siyatung (stick-relay), magbalatin (patintero) or tapuk-tapuk (hide-and-seek); and on Ramadhan nights, proudly accompanied their elders to Tarawee prayers. But I was not to have such privileges. On some nights, Nana, seeing my predicament would give me a pat at the back and commanded me to run off and play a turn each of tapuk-tapuk or magbalatin, then advised me to be back before maghrib (evening prayer).

Come weekends, there were perpetual debates whether I could go to madrasa or not. My aunt’s advice would almost always prevail: the store was to be my priority. But whenever she could have her way, Nana would help me out. As soon as she had finished her morning ritual of soaking her hair in a concoction of coconut milk and lemon juice, she would breeze into the store and shoo me away to quickly grab my turong and speed off to the madrasa, which gave me much delight as I love to learn new songs in Arabic. One particular piece still lingers in my head to this day, it was to welcome the Hijrah new year, called Mauludin Jadid, that we heartily sang to the tune of President Marcos’s ‘Ang Bagong Lipunan’ hymn. Because those opportunities were rare, I relished my lessons. In only one sitting, I memorized the song of praise for the Nabi Muhammad – God’s peace and blessings on him – in Arabic and Tausug, that we had sang on the occasion of the Ascension of the Prophet to Heaven, Isra wal Mi’raj. My enthusiasm impressed my lady guru so much, so that, in a month, I was given the most coveted task of writing the Bismillahi rahman ir rahim   (In the Name of God, Most Beneficent, Most Merciful), in my cursive Arabic, on the blackboard. I was beaming with pride on the day I was finally able to recite the Al fatihah and a du’a (grace) before meals.

I suspect even kind-hearted Nana had her own personal motives for sending me off to madrasa. She knew the essentials or rukun of Islamic shalat (prayer), but she was not very confident with her Arabic incantations. Each night, before we’d retire to bed, she would ask me to write the dua’ sambahayang in Jawi. I would first read the du’a in its English transliteration from a battered prayer book.   Mustering my newly acquired writing skill from my sporadic training, I would then translate it as best as I could, roughly writing every word as pronounced and syllabicated, in Arabic-lettered Jawi.   Its thick chalky curls seemed to pop-out and float in contrast to the dark mahogany grain of the back of an old wooden chest that separated our sleeping quarter to that of the main store area.

On summers, I went home to my family who had evacuated and ‘temporarily settled’ in Christian-populated city of Zamboanga, and so I missed many of the madrasa classes. I spent two more years with my aunt in Jolo, graduating from the third elementary school I attended.   Sadly, I did not get to finish my 1st grade in the madrasa. When time came and I had to leave Jolo, my madrasa, and Nana, I was already skilled in writing the Jawi and could read passages from the Qur’an, slowly, by merely looking at familiar words and symbols, as though looking at visuals and images rather than at letters or syllables.   This enabled me to remember the ayahs (verses) by heart. For her part, I knew Nana had prospered from that little literacy class at the back of my aunt’s aparador.   She memorized some of the lengthy but important prayers: the Tashahuud, Ishtigfaar, Qunut and Ayatul Qursi. More than three decades had passed, and, today, I am still practicing my jawi,  for my unlettered friends. On dictation, I write their letters to Saudi, the UAE, Malaysia, and to loved ones overseas, as I did before, for Nana.

July 19, 2007

Mucha Arquiza