Swimming in incomprehension

-A A +A

By Stella A. Estremera

Spider’s web

Saturday, March 8, 2014

TRYING to understand a different culture is difficult. Trying to understand a different culture that you were led to believe as one homogenous whole but turns out to be 13 distinct tribes with different cultures, language, and arts, is even more difficult.

That is what any non-Moro person will encounter when trying to weave the bits and pieces of knowledge he has picked up from the bits and pieces of academic dissertations and publications and then having some knowledgeable person explain the distinct differences to you.

This is what I’m trying to make sense of these days. Some may laugh, finding it ridiculous for a woman born in Mindanao not knowing these nuances of life within her peripheral vision… I am not alone. I find consolation on the knowledge that at least I’m trying to understand.


It’s true. The Muslims hereabouts are looked at as a race apart, one race. We do recognize some differences – like some women are covered from head to foot with black gowns and just a slit for their eyes, while others are just wearing regular clothes with a kumbong (hijab). We shrug that off as differences in practices, but still see them as one race; presuming they also have one common set of culture and norms.

Then we wonder why there seem to be a never-ending enmity between demolition unit head Yusop Jimlani and the Maranao vendors downtown, when they are supposed to be all Muslims. Then you learn later on that Jimlani is Tausug. To those who understand, that is already reason enough. To us who don’t we are left gaping in incomprehension.

Holding a brassware shown to me as among the crafts of Iranun brassware makers, all I could think of is that if the craft is still being handed down to the younger generation.

It is, Datu Mussolini S. Lidasan said. Lidasan is the executive director of the Ateneo de Davao University-based Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia, and recognized as among the Moro intellectuals. He was trying to lead me through the baffling path of cultural differences among Islamized tribes while I was muddling along.

There are at least 13 Islamized tribes in the Philippines. Some say 14, others say more. I’ll stick to what I can remember: the more popular Tausug, Iranun, Maranao, Maguindanao, Yakan, and Kagan, then the less familiar Banguingi, Kalibugan, Sama, Sangil, Molbog, Jama Mapun, and Kolimbogan Iranun. Yes, that many.

Still running my hand over the brass jar that looked new, another thought popped up: “Where do they get the brass?”

Brass is an alloy mad of copper and zinc, and there is no copper and zinc mining in the Central Mindanao area.

“Natanong ko rin yan at nagulat ako sa sagot (I also asked that and did not expect the answer),” Datu Muss said. “Sa mga bala (From spent bullets).”


Suddenly the jar wasn’t just a jar. It became a spent bullet, an exploded mortar, a fruit of conflict.

For every mortar fired, is a brass jar about to be made. For every mortar fired is a family fleeing in fear and a life or two snuffed out.

That is just the tip. There are many more to be discovered and understood, especially because, through these long decades that the Moro unrest have churned and brewed, all of us non-Moros were kept in the dark, barely able to discern the humans, the individuals, and the communities in the conflict. All we saw were images of war and suffering, their unique identities barely had any space to seep through.



Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on March 09, 2014.


DISCLAIMER: Sun.Star website welcomes friendly debate, but comments posted on this site do not necessary reflect the views of the Sun.Star management and its affiliates. Sun.Star reserves the right to delete, reproduce or modify comments posted here without notice. Posts that are inappropriate will automatically be deleted.

Forum rules: Do not use obscenity. Some words have been banned. Stick to the topic. Do not veer away from the discussion. Be coherent and respectful. Do not shout or use CAPITAL LETTERS!