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  By Nagasura T. MadaIe, Ph.D.  

The Muslim or Moro ummah (community) has an ambivalent re­sponse to the Centennial. One group believes that the Moro struggle for freedom began even before 1896. This is a historical fact. On the other hand, another group believes that it is but fitting to celebrate and honor “Filipino heroes” to include the forebears of the Moros who continuously fought colonial rule.

To understand these divergent viewpoints, it is important to probe into the indigenous concept of bangsa/bansa and have an apprecia­tion of how the original concept bangsa evolved and developed as gleaned from oral history.

A Maranao antoka (riddle) goes this way:

A isa-isa i tina-i.
Brothers all
With one intestine.

Answer: Pasbih (Rosary)

Let us explain the concept further.

A.        Time #1: Pre-Islamic Period

The concept of merepeda sa posed (Tr: literally - part of a long umbilical cord) is traced to oral history. Its mythical origin is traced to a folk narrative, Radia Indarapatra whose principal hero is also known as Radia Indrapatra. He married an underwater nymph, Potri Rainalaut. She begot two children: one “seen,”who became the forebears of the Maranaos today; and the other “unseen.”The latter became the inikadowa unseen spirit, the forebears of all the spirits that Maranaos invoke in a number of rites and rituals. Today, these practices are no longer observed because it is discouraged by the Ulema and is considered un-Islamic.

The forebears of Radia Indrapatra had four sons who intermarried with the characters in the epic Darangen. The four brothers, children of Radia Indarapatra, escaped from the enchantment of Bembara, the setting of the Darangen as a result of the coming of Islam to Ranao/Lanao.

These four datus became the founding ancestors (pat a datu) who later on established the pat a pengampong ko ranao, the four traditional estates of Lanao.

B.        Time #2: The Islamic Period

In the late 14th century, when Islam came to Lanao through intermarriages with the Maguindanaon who had been converted to Islam by Sharief Kabungsuwan, the concept of merepeda sa posed was further strengthened. How did this come about? Why did it happen?

In Time # 1 this concept of brotherhood was very limited and was based on the following:

  • One common ancestry;
  • One common blood (purely native);
  • One common but small territory (e.g. pengampong); and,
  • One common belief system rooted on ancestor belief.

These elements constitute the basics of what could be considered as the prototype concept bansa.

Based on this concept, theoretically, every Maranao is a part of that long umbilical cord which later on was recorded in the salsila (genealogy).

In Time #2, the concept of a common ancestry expanded because of the intermarriages between the Maranaos and the Maguindanao. The latter traced his ancestry to a “foreigner” (Sharief Kabungsuwan). According to the salsila, Kabungsuwan traced his ancestry to Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). Islam was able to unite people beyond ethnic identity.

The idea of a “common blood” mixed with “foreign blood” is traced to Kabungsuwan, who in turn traces his ancestry to Prophet Muhamm (Pbuh). This is where the idea of ”inclusiveness” and “exclusiveness” began.

The small territory also expanded from the concept of pat a pengampong ko ranao into a larger territory called dar-ul-Islam, the abode of Islam. Clearly then the early communities were polarized into the Muslim ummah and the non-Muslim community.

The encounter between the ancestor belief with a religious be­lief in the concept of monotheism resulted in syncretism. Thus, a Maranao seeks forgiveness from Allah before he seeks help from his “unseen” spirits whom he considers his “blood brothers.” Vestiges of these rites and rituals are still observable but highly discouraged by the Ulema.

C.        Time #3: The Rise of the Sultanate

With the development of the Moro Sultanate the concept of bansa evolved. This community again is “inclusive” and “exclusive” in charac­ter and spirit. Why? Because of the inter-ethnic marriages among the Islamized natives, the concept of bansa began to develop based on:

  • Blood relations by intermarriages;
  • Common territory called dar-ul-Islam;
  • One political system (e.g. Sultanate); and,
  • One ideology/belief system - Islam.

This concept of bangsa is further reinforced and strengthened with another element, namely, trade/economics when the Muslims control­led the international trade as well as the trade routes. The local Muslim communities participated actively in the international trade both as conduit and recipient in the exchange process. Control of the interna­tional trade and the trade routes contributed immensely to the growth and development of the Moro Sultanates.

What makes this concept more stable and enduring is the fact that it does not draw a distinction between the “separation between the mosque and the state.” This means that the cohesiveness or that “oneness” and “uniqueness” of this community is based on its adherence to a com­mon ideology/religion called Islam. Islam as a way of life became the shariah (law) of the people, without precluding the adat which now become “the law” of the citizenry.

Thus, anybody outside of this concept of “inclusiveness” and “ex­clusiveness” is considered saruang a tao (foreign/alien person) ac­cording to the late sociologist, Dr. Mamitua Saber.

In conclusion, the problem is: how can a people so distinct and unique in many ways be accommodated in a bansa which they consi­dered “foreign” in the first place? How does one become a member of that bansa? What are the possibilities?

The “constitutional processes” which gave birth to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao resembles the Muslim ummah,though it has its shortcomings and can certainly be improved.

It is in this context that the continuous struggle being waged by some sector of the Muslim ummah should be understood. To them the concept of a bansa can never be understood without Islam which is both a religion and a way of life.

Indeed, there must be an alternative bansa where everyone is not considered saruang a tao. It is possible that working together as part of that large ummah, one can arrive insha-Allah in defining the new concept of a bansa where no one is considered “foreign” and a “second class citizen.” However, the question remains: Is this tenable?

Appendix A: A Brief Account of How the Spaniards and the Americans   Systematically Destroyed the Moro Sultanate and Society 

A.        The Spanish Colonial Government Strategy

Their strategy can be reduced into a systematic step-by-step plan:

First stage - reconnaissance: study, research and identification of the sources/basis of Moro power;

Second stage - befriended the natives and the local chieftains;

Third stage - entered into friendly treaties; began to establish core communities for trade and as center for evangelization;

Fourth stage - neutralized the natives by converting them into Christianity; established more core centers for evangelization and trade;

Fifth stage - abrogated treaties with the Moros; established new trade routes free from the control of the Moros;

Sixth stage - assaults and pursued punitive attacks on Moro strongholds which led to the Moro-Spanish wars; piracy came into the picture; communities were polarized based on religious affiliation;

Seventh stage - destruction of the basis of Moro power completely.

B.        America's Benevolent Assimilation

The Americans inherited and pursued some of the colonial poli­cies of the Spaniards towards the Moros. For lack of a term, they used what we might call a three-prong approach in the further weaken­ing of the Moro base of power. This approach is otherwise known as the “pyramidal approach.” To illustrate:

============ > Elites: datus/sultans
                                 approach: cooptation

            =========> Middle class
              approach: free education, etc.

                        =======> Slave class
                    approach: emancipation/free the slaves

The Moro Society

From the highest level of the Moro society, the Americans co­-opted the datus and sultans by awarding them grants and scholar­ships to go abroad and visit/study in the States. Some of them (chil­dren of the elites) were appointed/commissioned either as senators/governors and continue to be the leaders of their own people. They continued to serve as links between their own people and the Ameri­can administrators. Whereas in the past they were the direct leaders, under the Americans, they became the middle men.

The middle class who used to be loyal to their own traditional leaders began to shift their loyalty from their own leaders to the Ameri­cans. They were given mass and free education to learn about mod­ern democracy. In effect, they began to lose their loyalty to their own traditional leaders.

Some datus/sultans who feared that their sons and daughters will be converted to the new religion, sent their “slaves” to get edu­cated. They found out later that by so doing they actually freed them from bondage.

The slave class, considered the lowest strata of Moro society, was emancipated by the Americans through legislation. In the guise of “freeing the slaves,” the Americans actually weakened the mass base, a significant source of power of the Sultan.

Since the power base of the Moros was already weakened and destroyed because of the polarization of the natives into those who were co-opted and those who continued to resist the new government, there was a continued war between these two groups.

Those who were co-opted were the amigos while those who con­tinued to resist were branded as rebeldes or outlaws or even as Com­munists. Later on, it was no longer a war between the Moros and the Americans, but between the amigos and the rebeldes themselves. Some of the natives were recruited into the military to fight their own blood. This is the seed of the enmity between the so-called Christian soldiers and the Muslims. The so-called principle of “divide and rule” was ef­fectively utilized.

The land occupied by the natives, aside from those taken by the Spaniards, are now considered as “military reservations.” This resulted in the “shrinking” of these territories which were previously claimed as ancestral lands of the natives.

This scheme is further aggravated by their policy of opening up new territories/frontiers just like in the American “wild, wild West.” The opening up of new settlements brought about massive migration which eventually resulted in the displacement of the natives: the tribals and the Moros.

In the long run this policy diluted the population of the natives and dislocated them in the process. By opening up “new territories and settlements” in the south, the migrants who were more productive and creative eventually dislodged the natives both from their land and from political power.

All these strategies were made possible because the Americans as well as the Spaniards did their homework well and researched on the receiving culture. Ethnographic studies were conducted by both religious groups and early American scholars to study the uniqueness, peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of the natives. More importantly, education was likewise utilized to influence the subject peoples.


SOURCE:  National Centennial Commission and the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication. (1999). Philippine Revolution:  The Making of a Nation. Papers from the Regional Conferences. Manila: NCC and AIJC.
Used with permission by the publisher.

  Copyright 2011 Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication