Limpah Tangan [BELIEVE]

Exploration into Sama Philosophy: OMBOH


The Omboh Tuhan  as Omniscient Ultimate Self-existing God in Sama Theology

The Omboh or Great ancestor is central to Sama spirituality and theology. Since, to a large extent, Islam and Muslim theology has influenced the Sama indigenous and folk belief system, understanding the concept of ancestral spirits as part of the immanence of God-spirit and the principles behind the rituals of reverence accorded them, opens up a deeply spiritual Sama conception of God and divinity in both its Islamic and syncretic interpretations.

Like the Muslim concept of the hereafter, the Sama believe in a metaphysical abode where spirits dwell after they pass-on from this worldly existence. Sometimes this cosmos is spoken to as a parang musal or parang kausar (musal or kausar grassland) or just casually called A’lam Iyh (The Other World) and is described as a vast savannah where verdant trees abound, its leafy low-lying branches offering relief from the heat and exhaustion of the journeying spirits. This is where the spirits of the dead dwell as soon as they are separated and transcended from earthly life. In this savannah, our omboh – our forebears and all our dead ancestors – are to meet with those who have come before them, including the prophets, whom we are also believed to be linked with in one common lineage or salsilah as our omboh. Here, all the spirits shall await when the trumpet announcing of the end of the world will be sounded and all the dead shall “rise up from their graves”.

In the meantime that both our physical and their transcendental worlds are waiting for the Day of Judgment, those of us who are left living must continue to maintain an open line linking our existence with our dead ancestors. The burden is upon us, the living, to take every measure possible for them to remember us and keep watch over us through continuous remembrances like offering of sarakka’ (giving of alms to the poor and orphans), du’ah (petitions) and other variations of rituals of penance, like visitations during the Nisfu in the 15th day of Sha’ban for pagtai’tih and pagsu’ kubur , a rite of sprinkling the tombstones with fresh-water, lighting oil lamps and reading the Ayatul Qursi,  and pag’tangas, which is a ritual of exposing the tamongon or ancestral belongings, like mama’an (bettle-nut box), kitab, and ritual garments in the smoke of kamanyan (i.e. incense). Tamongon literally means garments, but generally encompass all ancestral possessions that are kept inside a chest housed in one-room hut, called Lumah Tamongon or Lumah Mehe or House of Penance or simply the Spirit-house. It is commonly believed that only very old unmarried or widowed women who have borne no children are to guard these belongings in the Lumah Mehe. They are either called panday, pandita or a medicine woman. All these are processes and observances in a socio-spiritual system called pag’ntan or pag’omboh.

For the cynical among us, it should move us, if only into a quick jerk, to think how amazing is it that our unlettered and untraveled Sama ancestors, who were mostly subsistent fishermen and poor sponge-gatherers (magluluppus) could have conjured up a story that strikingly alluded to Ummu Salama (AS), one of the widowed wives of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) who never bore him a child, to whom he had entrusted the Ummu’l Kitab (or the Mother of the Qu’ran) for safe-keeping!

Just as the spirits of our dead ancestors are called omboh, the Sama also refers to all forces they revere as omboh, implying a fluid plasmic connectivity between and among spirits in the eternal cosmos and those that roam in the earthly existence. As there are spirits or forces that are borne of human-forms, there are also those that are not. They are either arisen of the jinns (spiritual beings) or of spirits animating important life-giving and life-sustaining creatures like food crops, fruits, herbal plants, grains, animals, and forces of nature. For instance, the spirits of the first harvest of grain is omboh payi or omboh gandum, the former referring to the rice-grain, while the latter, corn-grain. The spirits of the wind, omboh baliyu, that brings storm is called upon by travelers to restore the calm on windy climate.  When one unintentionally steps upon and disturbs an ant-hole, apologies are dispensed off to appease the small ant that is the omboh summut. It is common to hear of katakata (folk narratives) of Sama fishermen pleading an appeal to a omboh kamun (sea-mantis) or other elusive but well-prized catches to come and give barakat (blessing) to this poor fishermen by willingly entering his the fish-trap. Whether human-borne or animated spirits, the omboh are addressed-at reverentially as though materially existing and physically appearing before the petitioner in some Sinama prayers, petitions or incantations.

Contrary to the criticisms of many Muslims of our time, the Sama respect toward forces and forms of nature and divine creation as sacred is not worshipping them as idols or are these acts of idolatry (mushrikin), nor does it mean transference to these creatures the obeisance and reverence that is exclusively befitting only Allah. In fact, it is affirming the omniscience of a self-exisitng Omboh Tuhan, whose God-spirit permeates all existence. Our reverence of the ancestors and the equal respect accorded to inanimate nature like rocks, the mangroves, coral reefs, the Nunuk tree, and sacred mountains are acknowledgment of Omboh Tuhan’s manifestation and extension in all of divine projects and creation from the littlest of ants to the gargantuan elephant, which is, in not too subtle way, a form of taqwatullah, a constant awareness and witnessing of Allah in being manifest in all of reality, that is supported in Surah Ar-rahman that repeatedly reminds us that “Allah’s signs are in everything, should you not heed?”.

This is essentially what the Tauheedi principle is all about as illuminated in Surah Al Ikhlas, invoking the immanence of Allah: “I believe in the Oneness (and Immanence) of God and that God is not begotten, nor does God begets”. I would like to digress here to note, that while this Islamic concept pre-dates the Age of reason and was way, way before the scientific era, yet notice how closely it is paralleled by the Newtonian Law of Efficient Cause stating that energy is not created nor is it destroyed but only transformed from one form to another.

In closing, I would like to recap with an observation that the centrality of the Omboh in spirituality and its immanence in all creation is not unique only to the beliefs of the Sama of Sulu, Borneo and Johore, it was a belief in the time of the caliphate, that lived upto the medieval Persia and Arabia characterized with ascetism and mystical Islam. It used to be mainstream Muslim belief, a theology extensively discussed in a treatise by Islamic classical philosopher Ibn’ Al-Arabi (1190) in his theory of Wahdatu’l Wujud or Unity of Existence that holds that “reality is just one self-existing thing or system and that all things and events of daily experience are but part or modification of this ultimate thing”. This theory of the absolute singleness of the Ultimate Being is also referred to as ‘monism’. Additionally, Ibn’ Al Arabi’s philosophy of monism is set within the light of Islamic One God that regarded “ all finite things are merely aspects, modifications, of one eternal self-existing Being, which views all material objects and all particular minds as necessarily derived from a single Infinite Substance.” The one all-comprehensive being is called God. This is pantheism and Ibn’Al Arabi’s philosophy is called pantheistic monism. As is true of all those who strive to submit, and certainly not the best and far from perfection, this is the Islam that unlettered and subsistent-fishing Sama are trying to practice.

(Source: SAQ Husaini, The Pantheistic Monism of Ibn Al’Arabi. Pakistan: Ashraf Publication, 1992)


Explorations into Sama Philosophy: LIMPAH TANGAN

Limpah tangan is a Sinama idiom that literally describes the carbon hand-prints or the impact that we leave behind after our death. Symbolically, Limpah tangan is our imprints, our heritage. Limpah tangan is a very useful socio-political and psycho-spiritual construct in discussing some present issues like governance, power and corruption, democracy and global environmental sustainability.

Politically, limpah tangan is the socio-cultural imprints and heritage borne by our history, collective identity and self-hood. A self-determining people is one whose limpah tangan remains an indelible blueprint for its people’s way of life and for the generations to come. Psychologically, limpah tangan is an anti-thesis to the self-centered, self-aggrandizing, self-perpetuating (immortalizing) concept and proprietary claims of ownership, authorship, or, to some extent, even in claiming individual human rights as paramount over collective rights, as are commonly understood in the Western sense. Morally and ethically, limpah tangan emphasizes on the good deeds done based on what Muslims describe as ihlas and niyat, or selfless intentions, that we, as journeying  trekkers of this fleeting and passing earthly life, unmindfully or even unknowingly, leave behind on our trails as we seek for the higher and greater rewards of infinity in the eternal frontier of the hereafter.  Limpah tangan is not a self-serving claim of an ego-centric ‘do-gooder’. It is an acclaim or honor earned by the humble traveler, and awarded, post-humus, by those witnessing her journey, but only when the awardee has passed-on and has no (material) use for such remembrance.

As the exterior manifestation of the work is of the tangan (i.e. hand), it prescribes a conscious effort and a driven action.  Its interiority or hidden essence is, however, transcribed in a resultant output that is a limpah, a shadow or mark, tantamount to an aura and a soul of the deed. Not necessarily of material or physical manifestation, Limpah tangan in its purest form are, therefore, values and attitudes sowed and nurtured. Fully and holistically, limpah tangan is more than the physical monuments of ‘having been there’ but, more essentially, the significance of that presence (i.e. impact) in such time and space dimensions. In this sense, limpah tangan provides a sharp analytical framework, apt and useful in developing a discourse on mankind’s stewardship role of the world and its resources; our common stake in environmental preservation and inter-generational equity.

Limpah tangan is richly encrypted with the Sama spirituality. And since it is commonly used to describe meditative art and womanly craft of needlework, pottery, and weaving, limpah tangan is intrinsically associated with the hand-maid of women or of the divine feminine in us.  Undoubtedly, limpah tangan is a feminine creative project. It is life-sustaining and never destructive. It is an imprint of the complete cycle and helixical process of life-death-re-birth. From the interiority of the process of construction of symbol and attachment of meaning, to the exteriority of a birth of language and articulation; from gestational moments of conception to the proclamation of motherhood and the nurturance of the child; and back to internalization, in the patience and humble acceptance of maturation and ageing, and, finally, in the welcoming of death and in reverence of the dead and ancestors.

The oriental philosophical undertones in limpah tangan asserts itself as it is construed as an etched recollection and re-claiming of meaning of ‘what has been’, as collective memories, and as potent decoding tools used in deciphering and dealing with today’s realities. No struggle in this present life is too small to merit its own historical seedbed. In every cell, living or inanimate, is embedded a karmic memory of its time.

Limpah tangan arises out of a rational process of gathering, ordering and arranging, harmonizing of chaotic “not-thing” to creating, molding and framing meanings and sense-making of patterns that gives existence to “some-thing”. Limpah tangan is a fruit of creative intellectual process as a spiritual journey.

Limpah Tangan as Principle of Good Governance

Limpah tangan philosophy bears much influence in the indigenous concept of governance and leadership, for instance, in the Sama practice of ‘ag-bo’tang (‘ag bowa tangan) or stake-holdership. A’mo’tang is a collapsed term of a’mowa-tangan  that literally means ‘to extend the hand’, perhaps more graphically illustrated in Filipino as sumabay sa pagkumpas at iabot ang kamay.

Among the Sama, a’motang means to ‘put a stake’ or ‘to bet’. In economic and political sense, a’motang as stakeholdership implies both of assuming responsibility, as in leadership, and of willingness to take the risk, as in business. Households in a Sama clan pass around the hat and stake-in their bo’tang or contributions in forms of cash and kind during important social occasion such as celebrations of maulud (Muslim religious feasts) and ‘ag-entan or ‘aghinang ni’ mboh (rituals of reverence of ancestors).

A’motang is a practice of participatory democracy and servant-leadership through ‘thick or thin’, for rich or poor. As the act of ‘ag-bo’tang emanates from the principle of limpah-tangan, the act of staking is not that of ‘claiming’ status nor of ego-centric desire for power. In fact, starting with knowing of ones own capacity and resources (i.e. power), one can only stake-in what one has, and, after doing so, take the risk.

In summary, the Sama principle of participation, stakeholdership and leadership is described as ‘putting one’s stake for the good of all’ that, in praxis, lives on in the extant tradition of Bo’tang Matto’a (literally, elders’ stake) or Council of Elders. Consonant to the parlance of Islamic political principles of shu’ra and jihad, Botang Matto-a is a concrete practice of mishu’ara or consultation and a’mowa tangan is actualization of the prophetic tradition of prescribing the three hierarchy of jihad, where the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) announced it an obligation for all Muslims to do jihad in three ways: in words, in action and in the heart. Where the transformation of the heart, or inner jihad, is greatest (Jihad al Akbar), a’mowa tangan or amo’tang  is considered a moderate act of striving, while the least form of jihad is a’mowa-bissara (e.g. to commit only in words, or as lip-service). The higher jihad is in a’mowa pikilan and a’mowa pangatayan or to engage with ones mind and heart. Upon attaining the highest form of Jihad, the ultimate state of being is also described in traditional Sama wisdom as a state of paratchaya — peace in serenity, and peace of an un-daunted spirit.

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