By Warina Sushil A. Jukuy
YES, tears! I, a Tausug woman, listened all (t)ears in my heart as Elin Anisha Guro, a Meranao woman, unfolded an insightful narrative vibrating in an empowered voice laced with vulnerably reminiscent pride, evoking a shared nuanced nostalgia strikingly strange of new, yet familiar of old.
Darangen is a Meranao epic that always simultaneously triggers my memory of Ibalon of the Ifugao as well from my Panitikan textbook in a short paragraph fleetingly touched. Yet, I do remember oh yes. But still to me bizarre in the sense of its obscurity to most Filipinos that in reality Darangen is regarded as a folk epic masterpiece by Unesco according to Anisha but more specifically, it was proclaimed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2005 then 2008.
Her turn to speak was after we had iftar or broken our fast with cold water, merengue festooned with fruity blue and red berries; sliced mangoes, peaches, and kiwi. You probably know why I whipped up my signature and non-bigoted white brewed coffee!
It was at an hour when you cannot control yawning, stretching, and shifting no end at your seat but Anisha dispelled all that after she asked if anyone was familiar with Darangen. Then, she launched into a colored post-it tack and tact by asking next: What is your “impression of Muslim women?”
Read aloud by Anisha, written by random responses from audience were: “meek, submissive, always pregnant, fourth class citizens, caught in the struggle, locked in narratives, transforming to be heard, no opportunity to be educated, no authority, no voice, neutralizers in Bangsamoro, conservative, vulnerable, assert their right, pillar of strength, strong and long-suffering, Islamic-life upbringing, need to be empowered, few representation.”
It was an attempt to effect a mind-changing experience by breaking stereotypes of biased impressions borne from limited exposure and interaction with Muslim women perhaps after her rendition of Lessons from the Darangen women who she ideally described based from the pre-Islamic oral singsong rendition called Darangen.
Darangen consists of 17 cycles plus 72,000 lines delineating the feat and fate of the ancient Meranao in the socio-cultural, economic, moral, spiritual, political, emotional, mental, and even trivial aspects of their day to day lives. It is perhaps akin to the Tausug’s “Kissa” and that of the African griot.
She said that based from Darangen literature, the Meranao society is matrilocal as well as matriarchal. The art and skills of peace negotiation and conflict resolution were innate in the Darangen women.. Their eloquence and genealogical knowhow aided them to avert bloodbath. When there is a standoff among Datus, decision-making is relegated to the women who also rule in equal footing with men and at extremes by whose reason – such as in the case of Princess Lawanen — wars are fought ala Helen of Troy and rido are exacted to the point of extinction of vengeful clans, and I’d say trifling honor duels in chivalrous Europe.
She cited a queen (wife of Sultan Kudarat) with babe in arms who’d rather jump into a cliff than be captured and enslaved by Spanish colonizers; of princesses who resolved a fight to the death of all combatants by declaring that it would just be a duel between each leader in order to perpetuate the clans; of one princess who in private would use all her powers of persuasion on a mulish male and when it fails beat him up to his senses in the end.
Anisha’s narrative stoked in my mind’s eyes to conjure sepia images of women of the Lake who are ingenious as they are wise in maintaining peace; fiery brave, feisty, yet fiercely nurturing albeit they walk in a royal demeanor as gracefully as river flows in bliss but can rage a potential tempest when provoked to the edge.
Well, after all that being said and more, Anisha repeated the post-it tack, and she read the written words: “brave, empowered, outspoken, role models, assertive, peacemakers and… evolving!”
As a Tausug woman, I am not stripped myself of bias tendency because I am very much human as anyone. But I must say “Muslim women” in general regardless of loci and tribal affiliation must not be unjustly labeled or stereotyped as pejoratively always pregnant or as pathetically having no opportunity to be educated.
“Always pregnant” must be equated with fertility, divine blessings, sexually healthy marital relationship, grateful rejoicing of procreation and coitus in wedlock resulting not only in sensual pleasure but also reproduction. Alhamdulillah!
“Opportunity to be educated” or even lack of it must not be restricted to or gauged in terms of English literacy or formal schooling as benchmarks for Muslims of any gender it must also include literacy in Filipino, Jawi and Arabic script as well as learning 3Rs in either madrasah or lihal via mushaf such as the published Qur’an.
How apt it is that from Megan Markle at the onset, Anisha winded up her narrative with a glorious picture of another Megan garbed in shimmering gold fanning herself with golden fan on each hand, chin up as she balances an equally resplendent golden Sarimanok crown on her head.
Yes, she alluded in good humor that Megan Young is a fake Meranao princess but Anisha lauded Megan for wearing a Singkil costume with a modest slit and winning the pageant with it. Then, she announced: This is the real Darangen Princess! She clicked the next slide showing a black and white faded photo of a little princess in Singkil dress like Megan holding a fan on each hand.
Anisha answered to the audience’s silent question: “It is me. That’s me in the photo. I used to dance the Singkil when I was a child.”
Yes, we all in unison laughed. Who could have taught lessons from Darangen women best but a true-blooded Darangen like Aisle! Indeed, “sanggibo agu lima asalamat”: a thousand and five thanks to the women of Darangen of yesterday and today!
(Warina Sushil A. Jukuy is a Muslim Tausug of Lupah Sug in diaspora, displaced twice from Sulu to Davao City in 1974 and again since 2009. )