These shores

Girl and fishing boatI was on my last leg of community research, down to just two villages. We had begun the countdown earlier as a fun way to keep track of our increasingly blurred days as well as to keep our energy levels up. On this day after having set up a makeshift meeting place – at the beach – and while waiting for every one of the discussion participants to arrive I went off to the shore for a walk. It was one of those picturesque summer mornings by the sea with a bit of kindly wind. 

I haven’t gone far when I heard construction sounds from a coven of trees and turning I made out a boat being built. A huge boat. The kind that’s taken far out to sea. I’ve seen small boats built, bancas, but not the big ones. I got very excited. I felt like a child who’d glimpsed a giant gingerbread house and coveted it and caused a fit if withheld. But, much as I wanted I couldn’t just go to it on my own. There was in these villages, still, the unwritten rule of Christians not “crossing the border” to the Muslims side and vice versa. There’s a protocol to follow if either side wants to talk or visit the other. I wasn’t sure whose side that coven of trees was on. But, fine. I’m too smart to risk a bullet flying in from nowhere to my precious leg. I immediately walked back and sought out the head of my host organization. I asked if he could accompany me to the construction site. He laughed and then obliged.

I think I flew rather than walked to the site and so reached it way ahead of my companion. “Hello,” I said by way of general greeting to the men. They were migrante (Visayas), meaning, they were, according to their weird system of identification, on this side. I projected my warmest of smiles. Peace! The man nearest me, who’d looked surprised at my sudden and albeit unexpected appearance – a midget next to the hull – paused from sanding the boat. “Hello,” he said back. Then his friendly eyes averted to my companion who was now at my side. The head of my host organization in his usual affable manner greeted the men in the Bisaya dialect. The usual pleasantries ensued. Then I whispered to him to ask things about the boat– the wood, size, how do they ever make it float, is boat building their trade, how long have they been building boats, etcetera.

By the time my companion and I walked back, my curiosity satiated, I looked like a Christmas tree brightly lit from within. It felt like I’d just gotten back from a time travel only that this was real or remnants of when these parts were known in the region for their maritime prowess. Like, did we know that there was the Kingdom of Uranen peopled by the Iranun, one of the Moro tribes, who were primarily seafarers?

The ‘Filipino nation’ is comprised of distinct ethnic and cultural groups each one having contributed toward the formation of the whole. But the Moro people hindi sila nabanggit o napagusapan nang husto in Philippine history books and as a result wala sila ngayon sa ating collective consciousness. These “lost” people are the missing link in the story of Filipino nationhood. Their story is what’s missing in the pages of Philippine history. Same for the many other “cultural minorities” in the country. Their stories, if there are, like those of the Igorots of the Cordilleras, are told only in passing (like Lapu Lapu’s) and belatedly outside of Philippine history books  

Hence the misconceptions about these people. The Maranaos, for example, whose pride or maratabat is generally perceived by others as a negative trait. Where or how did that perception come about? Because is there ever a self-respecting person without pride? Also, think, what if it’s the British royal family that were made irrelevant by the British public how would the family members feel? What they’d feel is the same for the Moro royal houses or families who once upon a time in this Islands were independent rulers of kingdoms.

Maratabat then wells up from something much deeper and far back, to centuries of debasement, having been betrayed, ignored, effaced, forgotten. What sort of people are formed from such experiences? one wonders. Imagine the married couple who woke up one morning and fought over a tube of toothpaste that one of them has forgotten to cap the night before, with the fight ending in divorce. Was it about the toothpaste? Obviously not. The toothpaste was just the opening, the final crack from which years of unresolved issues and repression exploded in one violent burst.

We need to re-engineer the way we narrate about the Filipino nation; who make up the Filipino nation; whose voice gets heard; whose story is told.