Mindanao, Depth, Peace

Mr. Mariano de Guzman, Asst. Schools District Superintendent; Dr. Sonia Teran, Principal of the Naga City Science High School; dear teachers, parents, completers, friends, Good afternoon. Maayong hapon sa atong tanan!  Heyu kimmel be kedeen! Assalamualaikum warakmatulahi wabarakatuhu!

I bring with me the warm greetings of our sisters and brothers in Mindanao, our hope for a just peace and sustainable development for all, and a prayer that you students of Naga City Science High School become men and women of moral integrity and social conscience, leaders for those of us in the peripheries of Philippine society.

It is truly an honor to be here with you this afternoon. Notwithstanding the fact that it has been a personal dream of mine to speak in my alma mater. I am also a Naguenian, an alumnus of Class 2003. I remember with fondness the years of pimple-inducing academic works, the long tests of Mam Teran, the reporting on Asian nations with Mam Hernandez, the stern “shhhhh, this is a library!” of Mam Infeliz and the challenging research with Sir Acabado. But I also remember vividly the sun setting, painting the sky red and gold, a cool breeze sweeping freshly mown grass,  friends making tambay around the flag pole, and the sudden stench of Balatas — curiously fruity, inducing laughter from among friends. Indeed, one does not become a Naguenian without getting used to that smell.

Believe me when I say that I know how you are feeling right now, relieved and happy to finally graduate from the gruelling demands of analytical geometry, trigonometry, research, and physics, but at the same time feeling a sense of dread — for the uncertain future, for the gravity of what’s waiting for us after this completion ceremony.

In anthropology we call this completion ceremony, a liminal stage, a neither-here-nor-there.  You move on to another rung in the ladder of basic education, onward and forward to Senior High School, as of yet a new frontier, an uncharted territory in Philippine education. You march on to the promise of the K to 12 Program — a realistic chance to go to college or perhaps to earn a living immediately after graduating from Grade 12, all career pathways that, as our theme suggests, will be the “tagapagdala ng kaunlaran sa bansang Pilipinas,” like the proverbial boat ferrying the nation to greatness.

I speak to you now both as a son of Naga and a son of Mindanao. There is an old saying among the Sama Dilaut of Tawi-Tawi that man should strive to be like the kamote rather than the kamoteng kahoy. For you see, the kamote, because it spreads its roots, will not die once you uproot it. The kamoteng kahoy, on other hand, with a single root, will ultimately die once you tear up its root.

I guess I have become that kamote; calling Naga, Davao, and Lake Sebu in South Cotabato homes. I have become friends with Luzon and Visayan settlers, Moro, and individuals from different indigenous communities. Only when I lived in Mindanao did I truly understand the issues haunting and tormenting Mindanao, what they referred to as the “Mindanao Problem” now being rebranded as the “Mindanao Opportunity.”

In our quaint city of Naga, Mindanao is but a far-off place; so far from Manila! So far from Naga! In our national imagination, Manila is the center of everything. Those outside it is considered rural, provincial, promdi, second-rate, marginal. In the 1980s it is often portrayed in movies that when one wants to get away from the problems of Manila-life, he or she will say: “Magpapakalayo-layo ako ng Maynila. Pupunta ako sa Davao.” In that imagining, Mindanao is at the edge of the world, where the sea perhaps falls down to the abyss.

Friends, dear guests, and students, I come to you now to bring Mindanao to your doorsteps. Let her in.

The conflict in Mindanao has roots tracing back to the colonial era and the dynamics of exploitation and resistance that marked that period. From the 16th century until 1898, Moro sultanates fought the Spanish colonial regime and manage to maintain much of their cultural and political distinctiveness. However, it also set the stage for deep-seated mutual mistrust. It was only with the U.S. acquisition of the Philippines from Spain at the turn of the 20th century that Mindanao became incorporated into national structures, and its lands were claimed for settlement.  People were dispossesed of their lands, their cultures considered savage and uncouth.

Today, there are multiple armed combatant groups operating in Mindanao, including the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the communist New People’s Army (NPA) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). The Abu Sayyaf terrorist organization also poses a threat to local residents. Treaties and peace talks were made though much ground has yet to be covered.

The conflicts in Mindanao need to be placed within their broader social and economic contexts. In Mindanao, poverty and lack of social opportunities are both drivers and outcomes of conflict. Although the region is agriculturally fertile and resource rich, decades of conflict have left the area among the most impoverished in the Philippines. Economic deprivation, when coupled with a sense of injustice, often inflames conflict. It remains clear to most ARMM residents that their poverty is not a natural condition but rather the result of political choices; local communities perceive willful government neglect, encouraged by deep-rooted discrimination toward ethnic Moros and their adherence to Islam.

Aggressive development projects and the widespread implementation of extractive industries in indigenous territories has also worsened Indigenous Peoples’ marginalized situation. This includes corporate mining, large dams and other energy projects, massive agribusiness, eco-tourism, among others, which are also seriously undermining the peace, security and development of indigenous communities. Their adverse impact include the destruction of livelihoods, the environment, land, resources and properties and has also caused conflicts, divisions and the erosion of indigenous socio-political systems. As I speak, perhaps another mortar claimed a father in Maguindanao, or a farmer activist killed while voicing out the impunity of the state.

I introduced to you the story of Mindanao to give you a sense of urgency and a context to the oftentimes muddled issues troubling Mindanao. Many government and grassroots initiatives to forge a lasting and just peace have been made, some making its impacts, most are band-aid solutions, it would need the concerted efforts of each and every citizen, all of us, to make this elusive peace a reality. Peace necessarily begins with us.

How do we proceed? As individuals, how can we contribute to just peace in Mindanao and the world? Be involved. Do not be a passive actor in this project of nation building. But most importantly, a change in attitude will be required of us, most particularly from you, the young people, if we want peace to be achieved. Here the emphasis is on education, the right kind of education, with its core deeply rooted in forming culturally-, peace-, and environmentally-sensitive citizens not just of our immediate community but also of the nation and the global world, individuals who see themselves in the web of human relations.

We are in an age where superficiality marks the pervading culture, especially of the young people. We spend so much time on memes, fads, and viral videos of cats on the internet. We wage trolling wars on facebook, stalking the Kardashians, trivializing the Kathniels, Aldubs, and Jadines of the imagined social media world. We sorely lack depth. We miss out the essentials. Our conversations have become virtual and insubstantial. We have put a misplaced value on the number of facebook and instagram likes to affirm our egos. Where is depth? Where is meaning? In this pervading superficial attitude, how indeed can we build relations and communities of friends?

I urge you to go out there — go out to the real world where poverty, injustice, and corruption need to be addressed. Be involved. Witness. Engage in dialogue. Peace in our communities, peace in Mindanao, peace in the world, can only be achieved when we deepen our understanding of clashing issues and when we open our vulnerable selves to the other. We can contribute to interreligious and intercultural dialogues when we pull ourselves away from the superficial and begin to engage in the depth of meaning, value, respect, trust, and love.

As you move up the academic ladder, how can you cultivate more depth in your life and contribute to a more compassionate and peaceful society? Let me share with you some of the advice of Maria Popova:

Do not do anything for awards or status or money or approval alone. Those extrinsic motivators are fine and can feel life-affirming in the moment, but they ultimately don’t make it thrilling to get up in the morning and gratifying to go to sleep at night — and, in fact, they can often distract and detract from the things that offer deeper rewards.

Be generous. Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words. It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator. Always remember there is a human being on the other end of every exchange. To understand and be understood, those are among life’s greatest gifts, and every interaction is an opportunity to exchange them.

Build pockets of stillness into your life. Meditate. Go for walks. Ride your bike going nowhere in particular. There is a creative purpose to daydreaming, even to boredom. The best ideas come to us when we stop actively trying to coax the muse into manifesting and let the fragments of experience float around our unconscious mind in order to click into new combinations.

When people try to tell you who you are, do not believe them. You are the only custodian of your own integrity, and the assumptions made by those that misunderstand who you are and what you stand for reveal a great deal about them and absolutely nothing about you.

Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity. Ours is a culture that measures our worth as human beings by our efficiency, our earnings, our ability to perform this or that. The cult of productivity has its place, but worshipping at its altar daily robs us of the very capacity for joy and wonder that makes life worth living.

Expect anything worthwhile to take a long time.  The myth of the overnight success is just that — a myth — as well as a reminder that our present definition of success needs serious retuning. The flower does not go from bud to blossom in one burst and yet, as a culture, we’re disinterested in the tedium of the blossoming. But that’s where all the real magic unfolds in the making of one’s character and destiny.

And finally –

Seek out what magnifies your soul. Who are the people, ideas, and books that magnify your spirit? Find them, hold on to them, and visit them often. Use them not only as a remedy once spiritual malaise has already infected your vitality but as a vaccine administered while you are healthy to protect your radiance.

As you move on to Senior High School, cultivate depth in your person, and build, nourish personal relations based on mutual trust, respect, and love. Remember to do things with joy. The Sufi master and poet, Jalal ad-Din Rumi, wrote: “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.” When you feel that joy rushing like a river, trust me, you’re in the right direction.

Again, my congratulations to everyone!

Dios an mabalos!


Nanay had been many women in her lifetime. She was Felisa, the lovechild of Felix Alejada and Luisa de Castro born in difficult times. She was Corazon, the sickly child who was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus to spare her from recurring illnesses. She never told us much about her childhood, as if some memories were better left unsaid. All she ever shared to us lovingly, was her grandmother Elaria, who raised her and took care of her. She grew up in Polangui, Albay, in idyllic sunsets, the view of majestic Mt. Mayon, and afternoon dives and swims in the deep river of Magurang town.

When World War 2 shocked the small city of Naga, Nanay was already a teacher and practitioner of ‘beauty culture’ – her expertise, the art of hair perming. Her perming victims? Her two daughters, my mother and my aunt — which turned out to be permanent.

Whenever she would tell stories of the war, even during her last years, a renewed energy would enliven her. She would tell us stories of how the Japanese planes bombed the Palacio and the Cathedral of Naga. Or how they all fled to Carolina when the Japanese invaded Naga. How they would hide in a dry well in the dead of night because the Japanese soldiers prefer the daraga. How her friends and acquaintances never came out alive of Ateneo de Naga, back then a Japanese military detachment. Or her adventures and true heroism as a guerilla nurse in Tancong Vaca.

During the latter year of the war, they decided to go to Manila, back then an Open City under Japanese rule, where she was employed in a beauty salon in old town Intramuros until, together with Lusing and Felimon, relatives of Nanay, went back to Naga. It was a lucky move. Two months after they left Intramuros, Manila was flattened and left in ruins in the most disastrous urban war in history.

There were many more stories of that time, I am sure. But in our youthful arrogance I guess, we never really cared to ask more. In retrospect, we should have begged for those priceless memories.

Nanay had been many women in her lifetime. A beauty culturist, a guerilla nurse, a World War 2 survivor. But more than that she was a mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. For what better legacy is there than to be a Matriarch?

Nanay, at 16 years old, was forced into marriage with Vicente Rada. She cried, she begged not to be married. We look back at that moment, not with any moralizing empty words but with compassionate understanding of the circumstances of the time. Out of that union, her two daughters Lucy and Virgie, my Mama Lucy and my Mama, 8 grandchildren and 17 great grand children. We owe our lives then to the ‘kontrabida’ relatives of Nanay who forced her into marriage.

In the 1950s, Nanay met Enrique Bancaso, city fiscal and criminal lawyer. I believe they would call it love. Nanay, a feisty woman, with her incessant nagging and intimidating character, and Tatay, cool and passive. Together, they raised Mama Lucy and my mother, and our Auntie Clavel.

Nanay entered into many business ventures just to make both ends meet: pautang, buying and selling, etc. People who owe her money would tremble at her sight – she was a worse nagger to people who owe her money.

In the last chapters of Nanay’s life, she dedicated her life to the service of the church. She was an Ancilla Domus Dei for 30 years, a member of the Mother Butler and the St. Joseph Association. When finally, she could no longer go to the Cathedral because of failing health, the rosary became her constant companion.

As I end this tribute to a woman of strength, let me thank the families and friends who supported us during this trying time: the families of Baldonasa, Bueza, Rada, Regulado, Regalado, de Castro, friends of Nanay and our family. Dios an mabalos. 

For us, the bereaved, Kahlil Gibran offers us these words of comfort:

“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”

Salamat sa gabos Nanay. See you when we get there, but for now, we will live as you have lived — each day with grateful hearts, always seeking what magnifies our soul.12439269_10208270453059770_7743221778214616020_n

Hear Mindanao: Requite Evil with Good 

A Statement from Mindanao 

We are profoundly saddened and shocked that the deliberations on the Bangsamoro Basic Law have been indefinitely suspended.

But after the tragic events of Mamasapano we understand the need for reflection. Multi-layered investigations are ongoing. We need to seek the truth, to discover the answers to the many questions about Mamasapano. Justice to all the casualties, combatants and civilians alike demands the truth. In the pursuit of truth, we believe humility is more helpful than arrogance, more helpful than rage or anger. Humility admits one’s own biases and prejudices against others in the search for truth and justice. Humility admits respect for persons or organizations from whom we seek truth.

In this tragic situation, no one has a monopoly on righteousness. No one has a monopoly on guilt. With the wheat grow the weeds. The President has taken responsibility for what happened. He and all of us want to secure the nation from the bloodied hands of terrorists. But the outcome: a half victory that cannot console. Marwan is dead; Usman lives. The cost: the lives of 70 Filipinos: SAF operatives, Mamasapano combatants, and civilians, including one child.

The President was silent on why, as had been formally agreed, there was no coordination with the MILF for the police action in Mamasapano. Certain truths are better left unspoken for now. In the face of the deaths, and the exceeding violence attendant on those deaths, the MILF is conducting its own investigation. It too wants the truth. It too wants to know how 250 of the Bangsamoro, as officially reported by our valiant SAF, could be casualties of an intense firefight no one wanted. In humility and in calm rationality let the truth out. Let responsibilities be pinpointed. Let justice be done.

Meanwhile, let the suspension on the deliberations on the Bangsamoro Basic Law allow us to reflect on our broad aspirations as a people. We do not want war. We want peace.

Let us not forget: the MILF is a revolutionary group. It took up arms against the government in the face of an undeniable history of intolerance, violence and exclusion. We need to know and recognize Bangsamoro history, their political and territorial sovereignty that held sway even in the Manila of Rajah Sulaiman, the massacres (such as Jabidah, Manili, Bud Dajo, Bud Bagsak,) that they have suffered, the 300 years of Moro wars waged against successive governments, Spanish, American, and Filipino, their displacement and that of the Lumad from most of Mindanao through waves of migration from Luzon and the Visayas and land registration policies. They revolted to achieve their aspiration to live their religious convictions and shared culture in peace. Their original call was for independence in quest of a true homeland. The BBL wants to achieve much less than this — self determination in a limited territory while preserving national sovereignty and national integrity.

Forty-five years of intermittent war begot suffering and death to Mindanao. It brought death to more than 150,000 combatants and civilians. Both the Moros and the Philippines came to a shared insight that the road of violence in Mindanao only led to more war, more wailing of widows and children, impoverishment. More was to be gained on the path to peace. Within the framework of the 1987 Constitution, the Moro quest for a homeland where they could live in prosperity as Filipinos fully integrated in the Philippine nation was possible through a path of peace.

That path of peace has been arduous, tread by courageous leaders on both sides who have had to quell powerful objections to peace from within their ranks. The path of peace has been fruitful. In Mindanao, the peace has been kept. Cooperation between the MILF and the Philippine Army through the joint GPH-MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, supported widely by a host of civilian groups, has been helpful in securing the peace and in bringing criminals to justice. Our partners in peace eschew the ways of extremism and terrorism. They are for a negotiated political solution. Let us heal our wounded trust in each other, and continue to strengthen each other in achieving peace and prosperity.

Today, precisely because of what happened in Mamasapano, that path should not be abandoned. Hear Mindanao: the peace process should not be imperilled. Let the revolution stop. Let Mindanawons turn factories of war into factories of prosperity. Let those in the north and in the south who are charged with leadership walk humbly, calmly and wisely before the God of Peace together. Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you. Do not requite evil with evil. Requite evil with good, confusion and rage with wisdom, death with life. Pass a Bangsamoro Basic Law that secures justice and peace.

His Eminence Orlando Cardinal Quevedo, OMI, DD

Archdiocese of Cotabato

His Excellency Abp. Antonio Ledesma, SJ, DD

Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro

His Excellency Abp. Romulo Valles, DD

Archdiocese of Davao

His Excellency Bp. Guillermo Afable, DD

Diocese of Digos

His Excellency Bp. Dinualdo Gutierrez, DD

Diocese of Marbel

His Excellency Bp. Angelito Lampon, OMI, DD

Vicariate Apostolic of Jolo

His Excellency Bp. George Rimando, DD

Archdiocese of Davao

His Excellency Bp. Patricio Alo, DD

Diocese of Mati

Very Rev. Fr. Antonio Moreno, SJ

Provincial Superior

Society of Jesus – Philippine Province

Fr. Leo Dalmao, CMF  

Provincial Superior, Claretian Missionaries

Co-chair, Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines

Rev. Fr. Joel E. Tabora, SJ

Ateneo de Davao University

Davao City

Rev. Msgr. Julius C. Rodulfa

Holy Cross College of Davao

Davao City

Sr. Paz P. Paglinawan, OP

Holy Cross College of Magsaysay

Davao del Sur

Rev. Leopoldo R. Naive

Brokenshire Integrated Health Ministries, Inc.

Davao City

Dr. Lourdes Cabintoy

Philippine Women’s College

Davao City

Dr. Antonio La Viña

Ateneo School of Government

Ateneo de Manila University

Quezon City

Atty. Jaime Hofileña

Vice President for Social Development

Ateneo de Manila University

Fr. Carlos Ronquillo, CssR

St. Aloysius Theological and Mission Institute

Davao City

Fr. Roberto Yap, SJ

Xavier University

Cagayan de Oro City

Prof. Alih Aiyub 

National Ulama Council of the Philippines

Ustadz Noli Darindigon

Asatidz Council of Davao

Jaafar Kimpa

Jabu-Jabu (The Calling) Inc.

Hon. Ismael Musa

Indigenous Peoples Mandatory Representative

Zamboanga City

Dr. Pendatun Talib

Zamboanga Indigenous Council of Leaders

Sh. Maher Gustaham

Sama and Bajau Council of Leaders

Lt. Gen. Aurelio B. Balabad


Eastern Mindanao Commands

Ustadz Janor C. Balo

Asatidz Council of Davao

Alliance of Kagan Organizations

Ustadz Nasser Usman

Salam Tribal Council

Hadji Cani Waradje

Ilang Muslim Village, Davao City

Hitler Ganih

Jabu-Jabu (The Calling) Inc.

Arasid Idlana Kimble

Laminusa Peoples Organization

Laminusa, Sulu

Kag. Abdul Tahil

Muslim Community, Brgy Bi-ao, Digos City

Saudi Ismali

Panglima, Km. 10 Sasa Muslim Community

Davao City

Starjoan D. Villanueva

Executive Director

Alternative Forum for Research in Mindanao, Inc.

Davao City

Narciso P. Jover Jr.

Executive Director

Tri-People Concern for Peace, Progress and Development of Mindanao(TRICOM), Inc.

Davao City

Gian Paolo Arago

Focolaire Movement

Dr. Ricardo de Ungria

University of the Philippines – Mindanao

Marshaley Baquiano

University of the Philippines – Visayas

Emmanuel Roldan

Luna Legal Resource Center, Inc.

Davao City

Atty. Romeo Cabarde

University Community Engagement and Advocacy Council

Ateneo de Davao University

Perpevina Tio

Mindanawon Initiatives  for Cultural Dialogue

Ateneo de Davao University

Dr. Gail Ilagan

Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services

Ateneo de Davao University

Atty. Adoracion Avisado

Transformative Justice Institute

Davao City

Regel Kent Asuero

Samahan ng mga Mag-aaral ng Ateneo

Ateneo de Davao University

Datu Mussolini Sinsuat Lidasan

Al Qalam Institute

Ateneo de Davao University

Prof. Yusuf Morales

Institute for Comparative and Advanced Studies

Prof. Sharima Sheryl Morales

Polytechnic University  of the Philippines

Prof. Meinrado Martinez

Lyceum University

Hon. Datu Bimbo Ayunan Pasawiran

LGU, Cotabato City

Bailallie S.L. Lidasan 


Abdurahim Abdul 

UN Volunteer Alumni

Prime Nover Deles

Mindanaoan Youth Development Council

Jaypee Veradio

Youth Coordinator

Archdiocese of Ozamis

Yockie Guerrero

Youth Coordinator

Archdiocese of Cotabato

Fr. Leomel Puerto

Archdiocese of Davao

Fr. Jemasol Ortiz

Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Council – Youth Secretariate

Fr. Orveil Andrade

Diocese of Mati

Fr. Jeffrey Balanay

Diocese of Iigan

Fr. Rotchel San Diego

Diocese of Ipil

Fr. Roberto Layson, OMI

Oblates of Mary Immaculate

Head, Interreligious Dialogue

Love for the Poor (Message to the AJCUAP SLP Participants)

To the participants and faculty of the member-institutions of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities in Asia Pacific, volunteers and staff of this AJCU-AP Service Learning Program, Dios Marhay na banggi sato gabos, good evening.

In behalf of Fr. Joel Tabora, chairman of the AJCUAP, I would like to extend his warmest greetings of welcome to everyone, especially to the participants and faculty-mentors of our different member-institutions and extend also his sincerest gratitude to the Ateneo de Naga University for hosting this event. I am especially thankful to my alma mater for graciously hosting the 6th Service Learning Program and for courageously facing head on, a chimera, a monster so familiar its face is the face of our neighbor: poverty.

The theme for this year’s SLP is a beautiful message, and a profound challenge. Love for the Poor. The poor here is not some abstract, and occasionally present ‘other’. Western idea of the ‘other’ does not quite fit in our oriental appropriation of the neighbor, who is not completely the ‘other’ but also of us, in us. The ‘kapwa’ in Tagalog and Bikol, the ‘isigkatawo’ in Bisaya. Poverty then is not some distant situation, nor is it a place where we go to for exposure and immersion, but a condition felt and experienced by our kapwa, the ‘other’ who is also of us. We are already in poverty, immersed and fully exposed, yet seemingly blind and deaf to this reality. Only through compassion, of ‘suffering with’, of putting ourselves in their shoes, do we realize that a suffering world, a suffering neighbor, is also a suffering us. It is the aim of this SLP that you find the ‘kapwa’, who is also yourself, in the abject conditions of poverty.

‘Love for the poor’ most of all is a Gospel message and a Jesuit mission. The universities and schools, as venues and agents for change, are moved to action by this message. We gather here as different educational institutions with different visions and missions prompted by local needs, but ultimately we come together in the spirit of Jesuit Education as an apostolic instrument, in the service of the church as it serves society. In this SLP, we invite you dear participants to reflect on the actual situation of today’s world and to respond to the call of Christ who had a special love and concern for the poor. To be a self-transforming experience, this contact, this encounter through the service learning program, must be joined with reflection and intimate meditation.

Lastly, I wish you all to enjoy your stay here in Bikol, surrounded with the warm smiles of the Bikolanos, some of us poor but also richly blessed with God’s graces.

I wish you all a blessed and profound experience here in Bikol.

Dios an mabalos saindo gabos. Thank you.

Tarsila, Maratabat and Sabah: Chain, Honor and Common Humanity

[Article written by Datu Mussolini Sinsuat Lidasan of the Ateneo de Davao University – Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Identities and Dialogue]

On February 11, 2013, a group calling themselves the “Royal Security Forces of the Sultanate of Sulu and North Borneo” arrived in Lahad Datu in Sabah, Malaysia. They were led by Agbimuddin Kiram, brother of Jamalul Kiram III one of the claimants to the Sulu Sultanate, and laid claim to Sabah in an act to subvert Malaysia’s sovereignty over Sabah. The group asserted that their objective was to claim eastern Sabah (formerly North Borneo) by virtue of their historical control over the territory which they claim is a gift from the Sultan Muhyiddin of Brunei for helping the latter in the Bruneian Civil War of 1660-1673.

As of the writing of this article, the standoff has not yet been resolved. With 74 reported casualties on both sides including non-combatants and reports of human rights violations, the situation has worsened to proportions that can only be regarded as “determined irrationality”. A day after the initial attacks in Lahad Datu, Sabah, Ateneo de Davao University – Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Identities and Dialogue issued a statement calling for an end to the violence in Sabah “in the name of sobriety, dialogue and peaceful resolution” which it deems is the only way out of this standoff and the bloodbath that would only result from this conflict.

This paper aims to explain the Sabah Standoff and territorial claims in the eyes of  Al Qalam Insititute of the Ateneo de Davao University. This paper has two central points of discussion, the tarsila (genealogical records) and maratabat (honor).

Before proceeding, it is important to first understand the sultanate.

A sultanate is a socio-cultural and political institution influenced by the Arabs to the pre-colonial Southeast Asian communities. This is a federation of clans and communities or balangays that recognized the power of the sultan. Thomas McKenna writes: “They were loose confederations of local overlords, or dates. Datus formed a tribute-taking aristocracy with hereditary claims to allegiance from followers.” The first sultan of Sulu was a Johore-born Arab and religious scholar Sayyid Abu Bakr Abirin who settle in Banua Buansa Ummah in Sulu. After his marriage to a local dayang-dayang (princess) Paramisuli he founded the sultanate and assumed the title Paduka Mahasari Maulana al Sultan Sharif ul-Hashim – the title showing clear Hindu roots.

Can a federation of clans, communities/balangay exercise sovereignty? As a general rule, no, a federation of clans, communities/balangay cannot exercise sovereignty. However, in the case of the Sultanate of Sulu, it has a historical basis of exercising its right to determination as a people separate and distinct from the Filipino people. We can add here that Sulu has sovereignty over parts of Sabah even before the cessation by Spain of the Philippines to the USA precisely because Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and parts of Mindanao have never been colonized by Spain. The 1742 Treaty of Alliance between Spain and Sulu Sultan Azim Ud-Din further proves that the sultanate was independent of Spain and had, in fact, sovereign control over the Sulu archipelago.

How did the concept of sultanate begin? What is the basis for this claim? The answer to this question may be summarized and greatly understood by studying the “tarsila”, its history and function. Many of us do not realize the importance of claiming right lineage in the datu system or the sultanate. The key point in knowing the the status of a person and the legitimacy of his authority and rule is through the tarsila, essential to the datu or sultanate system.

The Datu System and the Tarsila Connection

The Datu system is one of the oldest, and most powerful institutions in Southern Philippines. Families and clans in Maguindanao, Lanao, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi Tawi, and in traditional domains of non-Islamized indigenous groups are centered in recognizing the power and influence of the datus. With the introduction of Islam, these datus have confederated themselves in establishing the Sultanate.

Muslims in Mindanao and Sulu have this distinct strong attachment to the datu and sultanate systems because of the existence of the tarsila. Tarsila is defined as the genealogical lineage with particular reference to the succession of hierarchy and exercise of power.[1] The transmission of the tarsila has always been through oral means like songs and chants or dhikir. Only few ruling families were able to record their tarsilas; in these cases, they were written down on goat’s skin and engraved on brass gongs.

Tarsila is not only a cultural practice but also a religious recognition that a person and his/her family and clan, has a direct lineage to the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). The founding fathers of Islam in Sulu and Maguindanao were Shariff Makdum and Shariff Kabungsuan, respectively. They were from Sumatra and Borneo of Arab descent related to the prophet of Islam as recorded in the tarsilas. Therefore, a datu or a sultan is believed to be a descendant of the Prophet and because of this, he is a political and a religious leader, thus the official title of sultan is both Batara (lord) and Maulana (religious scholar).

The term tarsila comes from the Arabic silsilah, which means a chain or a link. It is used in the Muslim south as in other parts of the Indonesian and Malay world to refer to written genealogical accounts.[2]

Muslims in Mindanao believe that the primary function of the tarsila is to trace the ancestry of an individual or family. The ancestry may be an important political figure or religious leader or a shariff.

Taking this into consideration, the tarsilas were not meant to remain purely historical documents or remembrances of the past, but also as a warrant for the “legitimate the claim of individuals or families to hold political power or to enjoy certain traditional prerogatives or at least some prestige in their respective communities”. [3]

Most present-day traditional and political leaders in the Muslim areas have their respective tarsilas supporting the legitimacy of the power and rule over the people.

To this date, most of the tarsilas are kept by the different clans and political and traditional ruling clans have their own keepers of the tarsila.[4] However, according to Hadji Nasser Ayunan, “proper institutionalizing of the legitimacy of the tarsila is needed to avoid any conflict of claims by the present generation is needed.” Thus, the language or the lingua franca of the tarsila contributes to the legitimacy of the claimants.

According to Cesar Abdul Majul, “it is commonly accepted that the use of this criteria is quite reasonable.” In the case of Sulu, trade relations spanned the Malay peninsula and Indonesian archipelago as far back in the 13th century, or even earlier.

Early documentation of the tarsila was done by Dr. Najeeb Saleeby especially of the Sulu and Maguindanao tarsila or “selesilah”. Professor Majul further reiterates that, “we are all greatly indebted to Dr. Najeeb Saleeby for the collection, translation and publication of many tarsilas from Sulu and Mindanao… considering that many of these documents had been burnt or lost during the last days of the Japanese Occupation in 1945.”

Importantly, we must add that the datu system and sultanate existed exclusively of one another as two separate political structures before they finally converged with the advent of Islam in the Southern Philippines. The old datu system of local overlords merged with the Islamic and Arabic sultanate system in which the sultan “commanded the allegiance of other datus”. Since alliances were formed by marriages (the sultans’ daughter being married to a local datu or his marriage to a daughter of another datu) the tarsila made sure that the precious bloodline of the Prophet remained intact and the sultan’s legitimacy (owing to his direct lineage with the Prophet) was unquestioned by his Muslim constituents or followers.

Mindanao Context

Mindanao is the ancestral homeland of the more than 30 ethno-linguistic groups. Thirteen of these indigenous groups were Islamized and count themselves as Muslim Filipinos. The others are popularly known as the Lumad, Visayan word for ‘native’ or the ‘un-Islamized/un-Christianized’ tribes of Mindanao.[5]

The thirteen major  Islamized ethno-linguistic groups are:

1.     Badjao

2.     Iranun (also known as Ilanun)

3.     Jama-mapun

4.     Kalagan

5.     Kalibugan

6.     Maguindanao

7.     Maranao

8.     Molbog (Melebugnon)

9.     Palawani

10.  Samal

11.  Sangil

12.  Tausug

13.  Yakan

These indigenous peoples of Mindanao who embraced Islam established their own sultanates and set of datus. Thus, we have the Sultanates of Sulu, Maguindanao, and pockets of sultanates of Iranuns, and Maranaws. All claiming their legitimacy and moral ascendancy from their direct lineage  to the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him).


The kinship system of the Maguindanaons, Tausugs, and Iranuns is bilateral. This is not unique in their culture. It is common throughout the country. Bilateral descent is a system of family lineage in which the relatives on the mother’s side and father’s side are equally important for emotive, filial ties or for transfer of property or wealth. It is a family arrangement where descent and inheritance are passed equally through both parents.[6] Under bilateral descent, every tribe member belongs to two clans, one through the father (a patri-clan) and the other through the mother (a matri-clan).

Among the Muslim ethno-linguistic groups in Mindanao it is unusual. It is modified by a system of social rank, certain rules of descent, and distinctive marriage patterns related to bilateral kinship.[7] Social rank is determined by one’s maratabat, or social status. For those belonging in higher rank, “maratabat” is based on real or imputed descent from the Sharifs (first Arab missionaries that brought Islam in the region). Families belonging to the royalties maintain elaborate genealogies/tarsilas to validate their claims to his/her line of descent.

In simple definition, maratabat means the dignity and honor of the person. It has a distinct characteristic of social significance because the individual who possesses the greatest maratabat are those persons who are most directly descended from Sharif Kabunsuan (among the Maguindanaons) and Sharif Makdum (among the Tausugs).[8]

Maratabat is central to the social and political organization because it gives the datus/sultans special claim to power and privilege. Therefore, the maratabat’s legitimacy and moral ascendancy has a direct connection to Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him). 

Connecting the Dots to Sabah

The recent Sabah standoff brought local and international attention as it also happened in the same of month of the Bud Daho (1906) and Jabidah (1963) massacres opening up old wounds for the Bangsa Moro, most especially the Tausugs of Sulu. The objective of the Sulu “Royal Security Forces” to re-claim eastern Sabah also sparked different opinions from the Philippines and Malaysia, causing some to point dirty fingers at conspiracies that aim to topple governments, derail peace talks or destabilize elections in both countries. Dr. Farish A. Noor writes of the standoff: “[W]hat has happened is that a group of non-state actors, namely those who claim to be the descendants of the Sultan of Sulu, have unilaterally and without the consent of the government of the Philippines, entered into the territory of another state – Malaysia – bearing arms and demanding their right to settle there.”

Yet this article digs deeper at possibly the fundamental reason for the ongoing acts of the Tausugs – their wounded maratabat.  Also on closer inspection, the shared history and bloodlines of the Sulu sultanate with the  sultanates of Brunei, Melaka and Makassar-Gowa are closely interlinked that fundamentally, these sultanates are no less than cousins, but more importantly, brothers and sisters in the faith that calls for compassion.

The wounded maratabat of the Tausugs urged them to re-claim the portions of Sabah but it only resulted to great loss of lives on both sides, almost a losing battle the moment it begun. Here, the 18th century writer on the Napoleonic art of war may give important points for reflection for us and the Tausugs in Sabah:

When a state has claims upon another, it may not always be best to enforce them by arms. The public interest must be consulted before action.

 The most just war is one which is founded upon undoubted rights, and which, in addition, promises to the state advantages commensurate with the sacrifices required and the hazards incurred. Unfortunately, in our times there are so many doubtful and contested rights that most wars, though apparently based upon bequests, or wills, or marriages, are in reality but wars of expediency. (Article I: Offensive Wars to Reclaim Rights, Art of War, Baron Antoine-Henri de Jomini)

Since the influence of Islam is embedded deeply in the social, cultural, and political systems of the Muslims in Mindanao, like the sultanate system of Sulu and Maguindanao, where does this lead the Tausugs, Iranuns, Maranaws, and Maguindanaos? How does the concept of maratabat remain significant? Is this still important in the lives of the Tausugs and the followers of the Sultanate of Sulu?

The tarsila, evidencing as a “chain” of families descended from the Prophet, must be a chain that frees, rather not restrains our relations to the larger family of humankind. The tarsila “chain” must not shackle or tether us in recognizing the complex diversity of the human family in shared dignity and honor and need to work with sober realism for lasting human improvement and peace.

The Holy Quran speaks about identities and recognizes the diversity of people. This is explicitly discussed in Surah Al-Hujurat (The Inner Apartments):

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). Qur’an 49:13  

This verse talks about mankind in general. The most honored person in the sight of Allah is the one who is righteous.

Islam also talks about ummatan wassatan (middle nation or people of moderation). This is described in the verse:

And thus have We willed you to be a community of the middle way, so that

[with your lives] you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind. Qur’an 2: 143

Intimaz Yusuf  describes this further by saying that, “the expression ummatan wasatan can be translated into English as a “community of the middle way,”[9] as a “justly balanced”[10] community or “middle nation.”[11] Basically it means that the Muslims should not be a community of extreme right or extreme left but follow the middle path or the straight way, i.e. the way of God’s guidance which is characterized by moderation.[12]

If we claim that we belong to the sultanate or to the lineage of a datu, then one of our roles is to protect our people and embrace the principles of Islam.

Moreover, a descendant of the royalties traces back his/her lineage back to the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him). For Muslims, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) is the example par excellence of a moderate person who is worthy of emulation through imitatio Muhammadi.[13]

The future of Islam in Mindanao and even in Southeast Asia depends on how the Muslims in this part of the world really see Islam. Muslims have to know and value the real essence of the principles and teaching of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

All the current challenges pertaining to political, economic, cultural and social imbalance and inequality are not because of Islam itself, but rather the way Muslims interpret the context of the sacred texts in the Holy Quran.

An institution like the sultanate, is a valid manifestation of the cultural identities of the people. But the pursuit of claiming tarsila or maratabat by an individual for his or her self-interest cannot prosper in the recent context. Opposition, and violence, even among the Muslim communities may occur. We must aspire that the future of the tarsila be one that seeks to ground us in our common heritage, one that includes everyone, rather than perpetuate the misguided concept of exclusivity – of a select group of families, clans and individuals – that will ultimately, as it is already happening now, lead to more irrational violence. We must therefore apply maratabat with moderation and with a concern for others. Maratabat itself must help us look towards the common good not only of our Muslims but also peoples coming from different faiths within a common humanity.

Sources Cited:

[1] Mckenna, Thomas, Muslim Rebels and Rulers, 2006.

[2] Majul, Cesar Abdul, Muslim History and Culture, October 20, 1977.

[3] Ibid;

[4] Ayunan, Hadji Nasser, Amerol of Maguindanao. Interviewed by the research last December 30, 2012.

[5] Rex T. Linao, The Peace Paradigm of Development, An Agenda for Mindanaons, Cortess Printing Press, 2001

[6] Shepard, John; Robert W. Greene (2003).Sociology and You. Ohio: Glencoe McGraw-Hill. pp. A–22

[7] Encyclopedia of Southeast Asian Ethnography, Edited by N.S. Bisht; T.S. Bankoti, 2004.

[8] Encyclopedia of Southeast Asian Ethnography, Edited by N.S. Bisht; T.S. Bankoti, 2004.

[9] Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur’┐n (Gibraltar: Dar al-Andalus, 1984), 30.

[10] Abdull┐h Y┴suf ‘Al┘, The Holy Qur’┐nText, Translation and Commentary, New Revised Edition (Brendwood, MD: Amana Corp., 1409/1989), 58.

[11] Marmaduke Pickthall, The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’an (Lahore: Taj Co. n.d.), 23.

[12] Yusuf, Intimaz, Dialogue Between Islam and Buddhism through the Concepts Ummatan Wasa═an (The Middle Nation) and Majjhima-Patipada (The Middle Way).

[13] Yusuf, Intimaz, Dialogue Between Islam and Buddhism through the Concepts Ummatan Wasa═an (The Middle Nation) and Majjhima-Patipada (The Middle Way).

may tsismis

may nagwika at pumuna.

isang simpleng wika.

sakto ang puna sa sukat,

may lansa ang tangka

at walang lunas sa tama.

walang malay ang hininga

na hinugot-binuga

walang takot ang taong nanggapi.

may gitling na napukol

ang magiting na puna.

diin at rarok ang dama.

walang malay ang pansin,

walang alam ang puna,

walang dudang tangka. 

Urban Decay


in mockery of time, the old pillars sang:

how even the pigeons refuse to perch on their arms.

how even the sun refuse to linger on their skins.

how long is this unseen hall? how deep is this wound?


run away! maybe the hammers offer more.

maybe city lights will listen, or in darkened alleys whispers be heard.

shout at the top of your ancient lungs,

poets will listen and perhaps the tainted-women too.

for do you not share the same fate?


[Photo by Nikki Ayubo]

Oda sa Edukasyon


may kwento ang blangkong pisara

na iguguhit sa birheng mangha.

mabubuo ang mga basag na tisa

mangangatawang-tao ang mga paos na salita.

maghahabi ang pisara, tisa, salita

ng mga buhay na panaginip.

sasayaw sa salimbay ng dumadaang ihip.

lakbay-diwa ang rurok,

may diin at gitling ang kwento ng pisara sa sulok.



at biglang

natuon ang pansin, poon at doon,

may hirayang hiwaga,

daang daan, tuwa’t poot.

sandaling katahimikan –

anim na minutong atensyon.

sa isang pambihirang maleta,

ang sanlibong salamangka.

may pag-unawa ang oras, at

sadyang bumabagal.


Listen children to the story of Maglume, she of the fireflies.

Listen children to the story of Maglume, she of the fireflies.

Listen with your heart for this is the story of our tribe.

It was a time the oldest storytellers call the age of dreams

When neither sadness nor death was part of life

And the land was fresh from the dream of Bathala.

In the darkest part of the forest that covered the land

A woman woke up from the nest of a giant snake,

The woman felt cold so the Bakunawa wrapped her old skin

Around the woman and called her Oryol, snake-daughter.

The snake taught her about the world and her eyes were opened.

She was but a dream of Bathala, a spirit-breath; and she understood.


At the edge of the vast and dark forest

The leaves touch salt and an unknown immensity that is the sea.

A man drifts in the blue waters and wakes to the unending sky and sea.

No one was there to teach him.

He swam to the nearest shore and reached the forest,

A mysterious place filled with creatures other than he.

He was afraid. He was cold because he was naked.

The trees who first saw him tried to talk to him,

But he ran and ran. So they called him Makabari,

For he broke the twigs and the young trees

When he ran back to the sea.


A white fish took pity on him, crying and shivering,

Ugis the fish slowly slid to where Makabari was and said:

“Friend, do not be afraid, I shall teach you the ways of the world.”

He looked at Ugis and his eyes glared at the fish

He grabbed the white fish and in his ignorance

Ate it until nothing but white bones were left.

But still he was so hungry that he ate the other animals he saw in the forest.

Makabari felled several trees

And built for himself a house.

The forest grew fearful of Makabari

And soon it was silent.


The frightful silence reached the heart of the forest

Where Oryol had her abode.

The birds went silent and Oryol grew suspicious. She asked Bakunawa:

“Mother, what is this mystery? What is this feeling of dread that I feel?”

To this Bakunawa replied: “The trees say that a mysterious

Creature came from the sea and is scaring all the other

Spirit-breaths. He kills and eats the others. Truly a detestable monster!”

With this, Oryol asked the other creatures of the monster’s

Whereabouts, until she was led to a great clearing in the forest.


At seeing the felled trees, she cried for her lost friends.

She went mad with rage and a hiss came out of her throat.

With the knowledge of lore that Bakunawa taught her

She sang a great wind that descended from the sky to the hut of Makabari.

A fierce and howling storm destroyed the little hut, and a Man went out of the rubble

Screaming and running, ready to attack the creature that destroyed his hut.


Oryol brought lightning and blades of rain, but Makabari’s anger was made more intense.

He run faster and faster to where Oryol was and suddenly

Everything stopped: the wind grew quiet, even the other creatures stopped their breath.

Oryol saw the naked body of Makabari and instantly knew they were the same spirit.

Makabari saw the beauty that is Oryol and said:

“What are you? Why has my heart stopped pounding in my chest? Who are you

Whose beauty instantly stops my rage and a feeling of calm surrounds me?”


Oryol smiled and simply said: “Come, I will show you who we really are”

And she led him to the darkest heart of the forest

and taught him everything she learned from Bakunawa.


There was peace in Makabari’s heart and they both knew they were for each other.

They rebuilt the hut at the edge of the sea and they lived together.

Makabari and Oryol had a son which they called Ki-gurang for the joy they felt

Upon seeing the little child. They had a daughter, Dayang she was called

The most beautiful, said bakunawa. And the four of them lived in peace

With the other creatures of the vast forest and the blue immensity of the sky and sea.


Bakunawa came to them one sunless day. She hissed in riddles:

“Beware the sharp blade that cuts and conquers. The mighty be fallen

Beauty be damned. The other children come in haste and fiery blaze,

They carry the ignorance of the striped sarimaw.

Look to the songs and follow the moon where she dies. There you

Will have peace for a long time. Beauty will arouse the blade

And the blade will conquer Beauty.”


Many moons and suns passed, and they forgot the riddle of the bakunawa.

Dayang indeed bloomed to be the fairest flower in the forest. Her footfall

Aroused the sleeping seeds and birds followed her rhyming breath.

Ki-gurang was the strongest and could carry the boulders from the river

With his one hand. In truth, he was the strongest of our ancestors.

Dayang the most beautiful and Ki-gurang the strongest didn’t hear

The setting sun when it exhaled a warning of death to the forest.


The other children were small sooty men made from the dark clay of the spring.

They were strong and hardy, able to withstand unimaginable torment.

Urok-usok was their leader. His presence commands and his voice was law.

He ruled with his sharp minasbad, a blade made from the stone of the volcano and

Kills whoever defies him. They were raised and taught by the dark god Asuwang

Who loves blood and the smell of burnt sacrifice.

They were his children and bloodlust army.


One day Asuwang dreamt of Gugurang’s children, students of the snake Bakunawa.

They were stronger, more beautiful and powerful than his putrid children.

He grew jealous of their inner pangyari – for they could control the wind,

Rivers, lightning and fire through their songs and lore. They have

Conquered death too, for they have knowledge of herbs.

He grew very jealous of them and wanted to kill both Makabari and Oryol.


Then Asuwang went to Urok-usok and said: “in the land of the two mountains

Where the river forks and joins the sea, live the fair children of my brother.

Kill them! Slaughter them! But beware for they have great pangyari

And their spirit friends protect them. Bring their heads and offer them at my feet.

I will show you great treasures you can only dream of. Go! And save no one.”

Urok-usok and the children of Asuwang then went off in a sea of blackness.


They heard the forest-birds first, fleeing to the north, shrieking a warning.

The trees told Oryol of a great army of black imps fast on their way

Burning and killing the trees and spirit-friends. She then went to Bakunawa

And the great snake-mother told her: “Everything must eventually change Oryol,

This is our destiny. We are connected to our Mother moon, our destiny is hers.

We must submit. But we must also fight. Face your fate as I must face mine.”


Upon saying this the great snake-mother unfurled her hood and breathed a huge fire

That killed half of the black creatures in a searing heat. She swallowed some

Imps that tried to come close and her anger blackened the clouds above them.

Urok-usok commanded his frightened army in vain. So he went up the rocky mountain

And caused the great rocks to fall on Bakunawa. Her head was crushed and Urok-usok

Continued to let the rocks fall in a surge of strength that could only come from Asuwang.


All these Oryol saw and she was grief stricken and hopeless. She went to Makabari

And told him everything that happened. Makabari pondered for a moment and told

Ki-gurang and Dayang to go to Malasimbo,

The home of their spirit-friends, and ask for help.


Then Makabari said to Oryol: “They are here to kill us. They will spare no one

Not even you my dearest Oryol. Bakunawa and our friends taught us to use

Our pangyari in times of great danger. Let us use it now, my love. Side by side we will

Protect our children and the forest. For did you not tell me, not long ago, that we are

One spirit, you and I? They can have our bruised and beaten bodies but never our spirit.”

Oryol understood all this. And with surging love for each other, their children

And the forest, they went out to face Urok-usok and his army.


The First War it was called. Mountains were levelled and rivers were dried.

Urok-usok had great pangyari from Asuwang and he had the strength of giants.

Lightning and storms were permanent in the forest and fire swallowed the trees.

Oryol caused the earth to move and Makabari called the spirit of fire to awaken

Volcanoes. Urok-usok called the dark animals sarimaw and yawa to subdue them.

But both sides were equal in strength and power, no one lost nor won for seven moons.


Then one day, Dayang and Ki-gurang came back from Malasimbo together with

The powerful katambay, dwarfs, giants, the spirit of the sea and the tawong lipod,

The unseen powers of the earth. Surely, Urok-usok and his army would be defeated.

But Urok-usok was also as wily and cunning as his father Asuwang.

For he has seen the most beautiful Dayang and his eyes forgot the promised treasure

Of his father. He will win this war and get Dayang as his wife.


He devised a plan to capture Dayang and end this tiresome war of the giants.

He issued a three-day truce to Makabari’s side and right there and then tried

To abduct Dayang, daughter of the powerful Makabari and Oryol.


It happened when Dayang was taking a bath on one of the springs

That was still unpolluted by the war. A white deer got caught in the branches

Of a bush near the spring. She felt pity for the poor deer and with her

Ivory hands she delicately let loose the white deer and cradled it on her lap.

The deer immediately took Dayang’s affection and she brought it with her to their hut.

That night, she slept with the white deer under her arms.


Dayang dreamt of a white immensity. Was it light? The sky? She did not know.

With her was a stranger; a man like his father and brother. They were swimming

In the light and happiness overpowered her. The man touched her belly

And Dayang understood what her mother and father only told her about love.

It was beyond time and space, happiness soaked through her skin


Until a black crack in the white immensity pulled her and she awoke.

She was in the arms of Urok-usok and she thought that he was not as monstrous

As her brother had told her. He was beautiful and strong. And she felt happiness

Soak her loins. Urok-usok was also beguiled by her beauty. Never had he felt

This feeling that overcame him. Asuwang never taught him about this.

And he said: “Dayang, the most beautiful. You have taught me how to see beyond

The shadows. Teach me how to love. I am yours. You are my treasure and in

Your name, will do everything even if it includes taking my life.” And she taught him.


For three days and three nights, they went to the wide gullies and rivers

Away from the froth of the war. But back home, a crow told Ki-gurang about Dayang

And Urok-usok. “He has cancelled the truce! He has abducted Dayang!”

He said in anger. He roused the anger of the katambay and without a leader

The army of Urok-usok was easily defeated. When they came back to profess their

Love to Makabari and Oryol and end the useless war, it was too late.


In his blind anger, Ki-gurang struck the shocked Urok-usok in the head and

Was instantly dead in front of Dayang. Her cry echoed in the empty valleys and

She cursed the land saying: “for the blind rage of you, people of this forest, nine moons

Will there be no catch in the river, no tree, no bush, no plant will flower. Nine moons

Will my footfall be deaf. And to you brother, your race will be forever in rage.

Hopelessness be among you immortals of Malasimbo, never will you be pure again.

This land will be consumed by the crows and her black sisters.”


With that, she disappeared towards the caves of the north where the snakes took her.

Oryol and Makabari, the first man and woman of our tribe, looked for her in vain.

In her hopelessness, Oryol took the forbidden fruit in the middle of the forest

And was dead before Makabari could save her. There Makabari took his own life

With the same fruit that killed Oryol. The curse of Dayang

Crept in the forest for nine moons. No tree, no bush, no plant flowered

And the river became poison.


Dayang became pregnant and never spoke for nine moons, even to the snakes of the cave.

And then she gave birth to Maglume with the darkest hair and the reddest lips.

Maglume our first mother opened her eyes in the darkness of the cave, the first sound

She heard were the tongue of the snakes that greeted her and by the time she could

Crawl out of the cave, her mother Dayang laid dead in the forest floor. A white deer

Was sleeping on her cold lap and a smile was etched on her lips.


And so, Maglume was born. From the two races of Gugurang and Asuwang,

She sprung like a wildflower in the field. She had the beauty of Dayang and

The fiery  blood of Urok-usok.  The lore of the snake-mother Bakunawa dwells

In her spirit and the dark songs of Asuwang still linger in her heart.

But she had control of both. The body she subdued with her spirit and her spirit

With her body. She learned among other things, the secrets of the snakes, the language

Of future events – of what will come to be.


She asked one day, the queen of the snakes who cared for her: “Mother

Why am I different from my sister-snakes? What does the future hold for me

That I am an earth-walker?” With these questions, the snakes writhed as if in pain

And wrote strange writings on the sand. She knew of course how to read

Them but the queen spoke in her mysterious tongue

That only the balyanas of the forest now barely understand.


“A kin will you meet, earth-walker and mountain-shaker. He has the strength

Of the trees and the power of the thunder during a murderous storm. He walks

About with guilt on his shoulders, fed by remorse,

Looking for his sister’s daughter.

Then will you find true happiness and deep agony. But your line will

Be as the stars, countless and beautiful, strong and desirable.” This, the snake hissed

To Maglume and a dream was etched in her mind –