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