The annual Ramadan Trade Fair in Cotabato City is the highlight of the month of fasting for Muslim Filipinos. Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman initiated this month-long event to strengthen the sense of community.
Held at the ARMM Compound, the Ramadan Trade Fair taps the participation of entrepreneurs, artisans, and government workers. Their skills and products contribute to build the local economy.
Seventy-five booths offer local delicacies, brass work, textiles, woodwork, artifacts, chests, and other items from ARMM.
This year, the Ramadan Trade Fair is dedicated in helping to rebuild Marawi. Twenty booths are manned by displaced victims of the Marawi War. The Office of the Regional Governor provided P45,000 including living expenses, to set up their little businesses at the trade fair. Among the items on sale are the dodol sweet, native chicken piaparan and the signature palapa, which are bought as meals after the long fast.
In his speech at the launch, Hataman explained that the trade fair is organized around the highest ideals of the Muslim faith. His vision is to make it a model of principled responsibility to the public and the source of dedication in creating a progressive ARMM in which all of its citizens can prosper.
Hataman said that this is the time to help their brothers and sisters from Marawi not just in prayer but in action. He urged everyone, “Make the time to recognize our responsibility to each other as Muslims, and to remember what it means to work in solidarity towards a renewal of our commitment to our faith, towards rebuilding a city and its spirit, and responding to the continued call for peace in our communities.”
Other government agencies also actively participated in the Trade Fair. On display are products from the agrarian reform beneficiaries, sponsored by the Department of Agrarian Reform-ARMM. These products were packaged with the help of the Department of Science and Technology-ARMM. The Department of Health-ARMM provides free medical services. The Department of Tourism-ARMM set up booths showing tourist destinations such as beaches in Basilan, historical places such as the first mosque in Tawi-Tawi, as well as tourist spots in Maguindanao.
The different government agencies also prepared 24 models for the Mosques of the World Exhibit, all of which are showcased outside the Office of the Regional Governor. Each agency created a replica of mini mosques from various parts of the world. The exhibit aims to show that the Muslim faith is practiced around the world and that the mosques are designed with a sense of place.
Lectures on Islamic culture are held every night. The talks aim to enlighten the youth on the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad ( pbuh ) and how extremist groups have twisted the ideals for propaganda. The Ramadan Trade Fair has also become a family affair. Once the people break their fasts in the evening, the trade fair is the place where they gather, socialize, and enjoy the meals.
“It’s the equivalent of the Christian Simbang Gabi (Midnight Mass) where people buy food and celebrate after worship,” said Amir Mawalil, executive director of the ARMM Bureau of Public Information. The fair will run through Eid al Fitr on June 15.
Lake Lanao in Lanao de Sur has a scenic coastline that is sure to take your breath away. Several towns line the coast and most of them are fourth class municipalities. Due to their geographic location, the atmosphere is always serene and bucolic. Residents live a laid-back lifestyle, and the climate is often comfortably cool.
But it’s this town called Ganassi that stands out. Its location is dramatic – ensconced on hilly terrain, it offers a panoramic view of the lake. Furthermore, it’s in a cove which makes the town’s surroundings look much more picturesque. Like the other towns along the lake, Ganassi is so tranquil, it’s a haven for those who wish to get away from the city, and other crowded tourist destinations.
Ganassi Mayor Al -Rashid Macapodi wants other Filipinos to experience the life he and his fellow townsfolk have been enjoying in their hometown. He wants to show how peaceful his town is; and despite the modern conveniences that can now be had, it remains faithful to old traditions.
Mayor Macapodi is only 43 but he is cognizant of the importance of preserving the Meranao heritage, which is the dominant culture of Ganassi. He makes sure that on important Muslim holidays, stunning traditional costumes are worn, old recipes are used to prepare the dishes of Meranao, and the “Kakulintang” of the Meranaos are practiced for every youth of Ganassi and for local tourists to learn and benefit from. Meranao dishes must always be served for the feasts, popularly known as Paganao Meranaw, which means warm welcome and hospitality in our own way.
“We in Ganassi adhere to the Meranao culture, but we also follow a few traditions of our own and in a way, we’ve blended these with our culture. This includes the way we present our food during a special feast. We use Tabaks — large brass trays that are unique, and made in Tugaya. The dishes are all traditional Meranaw food and can also be found only here in Lanao del Sur,” he said.
The Mayor wants the youth of Ganassi to continue the traditions. To make them proud and aware of their heritage, major town events would always showcase these old customs. He wants other Filipinos as well who like to travel to experience the town’s colorful heritage.
Although the town has no hotel yet, there are many transient homes available for trekkers and nature lovers. It’s easy to get to Ganassi; the biggest city that is close to it is Cagayan de Oro. Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific Airways have several flights from Manila to Cagayan de Oro. It takes just a two-hour drive from Cagayan de Oro to Ganassi. The road trip is scenic and the highways are immaculately smooth. Mayor Macapodi has also made sure that the access road to his town are well paved, thus assuring a comfortable ride all throughout.
While the Mayor may be steeped in tradition, he’s also open to activities that are relatively newer. Being a coastal town, he wants Ganassi to be Lanao del Sur’s water sports haven to attract more tourists. In 2016, the town hosted a dragon boat festival, which attracted teams from all over the country.
“Ganassi is ideal for all kinds of water sports because we’re located in a cove. In fact, we’re the only coastal town along Lake Lanao that is located in a cove” – Ganassi Mayor Al -Rashid Macapodi.
The festival was so successful that he wants to make the dragon boat event an annual activity in Ganassi. “The participants enjoyed the event and they said they liked being in our town . They loved the cove setting, the cool climate, and they also had the chance to experience our Meranao culture. They want to return for another festival and we’re organizing another so we can invite them back and have more dragon boat teams participating,” he said.
Those who aren’t much into water sports would not be left out. The town offers a lot for others to explore. Trekkers can tour the verdant hills and be amazed by the majestic 360-degree view of the lake. This isn’t unlike the scenery that tourists enjoy in Batanes.
The mayor assures that his town is safe for trekkers and backpackers. It’s so quiet and everyone in town is sure to make guests feel welcome, and visitors will enjoy their unique brand of hospitality.
The pride of the Yakans, the indigenous tribe of Basilan, was the theme of the culture program at the recent Pakaradjaan, the annual festival that marked the 44th founding anniversary of the province. The largest island in Sulu archipelago, Basilan consists of the Muslim groups of the Yakans and Tausugs and the Christians called Chabacanos.
Pakaradjaan, which means “merrymaking” in the local dialect, was a week long event held in the capital city of Isabela. Every year, the different municipalities produce a theatrical performance, depicting their values and traditions.
The group from Akbar won the first prize for its story about a cross-cultural love story between a Yakan maiden who falls in love with a Tausug. Despite the maiden’s previous betrothal to another Yakan and her tribe’s differences with the Tausugs, she and her lover fought against all odds. The 20-minute performance began with a celebration of Tausug and Yakan dances, whose signature moves featured the sinewy arms and expressive hand gestures that mimicked nature. Then came the confrontation between the Tausug and the maiden’s fiance in the tumahik or war dance where the dancers showed their virility and sword skills. In the end, the maiden’s love for the Tausug convinced her family and her tribe.
The winning team consisted of seasoned dancers from the La Cultura Dance Troupe which performs in other parts of the Philippines.
The first runner-up from Tipo-Tipo presented the paunjalay, an authentic Yakan wedding dance with the bride and groom, where they also painted their faces to ward off evil spirits. The style is characterized by eloquent arm and wrist movements and delicate footwork.
The second runner-up from the fishing town of Maluso was performed by students mimicking the fishermen’s lives from going to the sea, preparing for fishing, catching their harvest, and coming home from their expedition. Despite having no training in dance, the students told their story with clarity.
The beauty of this festival was the authenticity of the dances and music. Mainstream cultural groups stylize our folk dances to dazzle the audiences but end up losing the substance. On the other hand, these local dances have been handed down from the tribal elders. Thus, the stories, songs, and traditions are preserved through these cultural events. It encourages the locals to maximize the use of their famous Yakan textiles that are known for their bold geometric patterns and bright colors. They are performed to the live music of the agong or wide rimmed suspended gongs, and the kulintang, a group of gongs of different sizes.
Basilan Governor Jim Hataman Salliman , elder brother of Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman, said the Pakaradjaan 2018 aims to make Filipinos more aware that the original inhabitatants from Sulu.
The Yakans are believed to have migrated from Borneo where the people are short, dusky in complexion and have slanted eyes and straight hair. The Yakans are farmers who cultivate coconut, abaca, corn, cacao, and upland rice. Their most distinctive costume is the wraparound sash on the torso and the skirt around the tight-fitting pants.
Salliman said, “Culture is about honoring the best of the past and present which lay the foundation for a bright future. By encouraging our people to continually celebrate our customs and traditions, our values will continue to the next generation.”
Basilan, the largest island in Sulu Archipelago, marks its establishment with the Pakaradjaan, an annual festival of sports, culture, and community service.
“Pakaradjaan” is a Tausug and Yakan term for merry-making or special event. Although it is traditionally celebrated from March 1 to 7, the provincial government has extended it to two weeks for this year.
Gov. Jim Salliman Hataman will kick off Pakaradjaan with a press conference on Feb. 21 at the Garden Orchid Hotel.
The festival itself opens February 26 with a ceremony, a trade fair, and a presentation of the Muse of Pakaradjaan at the grandstand. The Governor’s Tennis Cup will then be held at Isabela.
There will be a groundbreaking ceremony of the provincial government board’s project and a medical mission on February 27. Then there are the Basilan Circumferential Road Caravan, which starts at the Maluso Terminal (February 28), and another medical mission in Tuburan (March 1).
The weekend starts with a job fair and a series of sporting events. There will be a men’s volleyball tournament at the Capitol Ground, shooting, and a bowling tournament at the D’ Biel’s bowling center on March 1. The darts tournament will be followed by a Himig ng Basileño at the grandstand the following day. Intelligence and artistry will be showcased in Tagisan ng Talino and a poster making contest on March 3. Also on Sunday, a badminton tournament will be held at gymnasium, with the Barangay Night variety show held at the amphitheater.
The week begins with a full day of events (March 4). A fun run will span from Begang to the grandstand. Devotees will be inspired by the Qu-Ran Memorization Contest at the ampitheater. The indigenous culture will be celebrated in “Tara Na Sa Basilan” at the grandstand.
A regatta on the port, kite flying, and the coronation of the Muse of Pakaradjaan will take place on March 5. The festival also has a social cause with a feeding program for children under five years old in three municipalities (March 6). An evening program with surprise numbers will be held at the ampitheater.
Finally, the festivities will climax with a cultural program at the Assembly Place of the Maluso Terminal and a Basilan Night held at the gymnasium (March 7).
Basilan was under the Zamboanga province in the 20th century. After the war, it became a separate city under law. In 1973, then President Ferdinand Marcus issued a presidential decree to make it a province to dampen the fighting between government and Muslim groups. For so long, the province was hogging the headlines due to skirmishes with the Abu Sayaff.
In 2011, the provincial government organized the Pakaradjaan to honor Basilan’s Foundation Day. President Benigno Aquino declared March 7 as a special holiday to commemorate the event. The fiesta aims to promote the province as a friendly destination.
The Maguindanao provincial government will hold its second Inaul Festival from Feb. 8 to 14 at the capitol grounds to celebrate its indigenous textile tradition.
Inaul, which means “woven” in Maguindaon, is a hand-woven tapestry fabric with geometric designs. As a status symbol, it is revered as an object of “bara-bangsa” which means dignity. The inaul is commonly used in the malong, the multitasking tubular fabric. One of the best image models is ARMM Deputy Speaker Congresswoman Bai Sandra Sinsuat Sema who collects the inaul and wears it with pride.
As one of the province’s major earner, the inaul raked in P1 million in sales during its first week-long festival last year. The festival itself generated P20 million in tourism revenues. The inaul appeals to both domestic and international clients.
Bai Albaya Wampa, who is a main proponent of the inaul, preserves the tradition through her store. It’s located in Datu Odin Sinsuat, a first-class municipality on the boundary of Maguindanao and Cotabato. The sultan of this town is her grandfather, and it’s in her genes to help others.
Bai Albaya owns a farm and a women’s cooperative here called Al Jamela. It was established in 2001 to give jobs to widows of Moro National Liberation Front soldiers, Christians, as well as returning OFWs, and other disadvantaged people. Al Jamela has become synonymous with quality that it has become a tourist destination for souvenirs. Even the ARMM government orders inaul shawls from her co-op for gifts.
How Inaul is Made
Weavers use cotton and rayon silk threads inserted on big looms that can handle huge volumes. Bai Albaya explains that the process starts with arranging the threads to determine the colors, the quantity, and the length of the malong. The threads are put on the wheel, spun, and inserted into the loom’s comb for the design. To assure quality, weavers are tasked to make just one inaul tapestry per creation.
“Once the weaver starts on the inaul, she has to finish it. If she delegates, the result will be different. Each weaver has their own way with the tension of the threads and the loom,” explains Bai Albaya.
By convention, the weaving can take as long as a month to produce one four-meter fabric. A fully embroidered inaul fetches from P1,900 to P2,500. The price is P500 for a 12 inch by 2 meter shawl.
“The inaul has over 100 uses—as bedsheet, turban, table runner, men’s trousers, basket, pillowcase, and cradle. The special inaul is made from imported thread. They are used for formal clothes like gowns and jackets,” says Bai Albaya.
Inaul as a Status Symbol
She explains that in the olden times, princesses in royal households wove their own clothes. To denote their status, they used yellow, maroon, orange, and black for royalty. White threads were used for mourning clothes. Green symbolized coolness and peace.
The common designs are the rainbows or changing hues of threads, stripes, taro, and wide borders. The lumbayan na ta’dman is a silhouette of a woman peering from the window, waiting for her lover. Modern designs consist of twisted florals, the elbow or siko-siko, geometric patterns, triangles, and the reversible fabric.
The co-op receives support from the Cotabato tourism office which brings tourists to Al Jamela. The Department of Labor and Employment and the local government donate looms and provide training. The Non-Timber Forest Products, a crafts center in Quezon City, promotes its products and exports.
Thanks to people like Bai Albaya and her weavers, the Maguindanao textile tradition will thrive as they continue to create demands.
Banggulo is Marawi’s city center. What was once the hub of commerce is now reduced to ruins. Signs of bombs are everywhere, buildings are pockmarked with deep holes; while heaps of debris made other streets impassable. Offices, shops, and a hospital has been brought down to uneven mounds of rubble where the faded odor of dead bodies still lingered. The place is a burned-down ghost town except for the occasional clank of a truck, piled with soldiers.
This was how Marawi looked like after four months of war. It claimed hundreds of lives, destroyed livelihood, and broke down dreams to dust.
I am proud Meranawon and my roots are in Lanao del Sur. My grandfather was Sultan of Lumbayanague, a 90-minute drive to Marawi. When my father moved to General Santos City, South Cotabato, he enrolled me in a Christian school. Our vacations wer spent with our relatives in Marawi.
In college, my father sent me to Mindanao State University in Marawi so that I could be reacquainted with Islam culture. Unlike the traditional and conservative attitude in the city, MSU had a liberal atmosphere since the students came from various creeds.
Yet in spite of the conservatism, I had seen how immorality crept in. The past mayors were allegedly linked to peddling drugs. In the late ‘90s, a prostitution den and a cockpit had been set up in the country’s only Islamic city.
Five years ago, there were whispers of recruitment for extremist groups in Marawi. The talks were dismissed as rumors. We heard stories that a monthly stipend of P50,000 was being dangled to Islamic students so that they could learn Arabic, and embrace a radicalized Islam.
The war began as a blow to the locals when it first broke out in May of 2017. My friends and relatives from Marawi were doing business and stocking up on supplies in Iligan City, Cagayan de Oro, and other municipalities. Suddenly, they received news that their city was under siege. They were stranded and unprepared for the shocking event. It took four days before they were allowed to return.
Upon returning, they discovered that their homes had been ransacked. Nobody knew if it were the Maute or the government soldiers who broke into their residences and looted their money. Since Marawi only has two rural banks, businessmen kept their money at home.
The war extended when Maute had instigated a complicated assault using tunnels.
I recently had a reunion with a former classmate, a military officer, at a bar in BGC. He invited me to see Marawi for the day. For so long, several of my good friends, one of them being Mayor Majul Usman Gandamra, had been asking me to come to Marawi. After all, people were slowly returning to their homes, and to return to normal life.
My heart skipped a beat upon the officer’s invitation. Painful memories came to mind.
It was also during the Martial Law ‘80s that we experienced abuses of the military. A drunken soldier or marine would molest women or gun down men.
Still, I gathered the courage to visit the city of my youth. The next day, we drove to Clark airbase and took a military plane to the old airport in Cagayan de Oro. After getting a military pass and putting on a bullet-proof vest, I rode with my friend and some soldiers on a helicopter and landed on Camp Amaipakpakan. We then hopped on a tank to Banggulo, the business center and an affluent residential district where royalty had lived. It was now a war –zone, lined with grimy bombed-out streets.
After a quick inspection, we returned to the camp. We took a packed lunch of halal food then flew to back to Cagayan do Oro and finally to Clark air base.
In a phone conversation a few days after the visit, Mayor Gandamra sounded tired but optimistic.
The locals were slowly moving out from the evacuation centers or living with their relatives in Lanao del Sur or South Cotabato. Some families bravely returned to Marawi. Electricity and water supplies are adequate. Residents buy their groceries in Iligan City. The trip took longer because of thorough body search and inspection at military checkpoint under Martial Law conditions.
Since the business center of Banggulo was savaged, the displaced residents of Marawi depend on government support. LGU’s and the private sector send relief goods in the evacuation centers.
The mayor lamented that the locals are impatient for quick relief. They think that he is responsible for the disbursement of foreign aid. He clarified that these donations must undergo the government process before they are channeled to the city’s relief and rehabilitation.
Gandamra maintained that he never solicited donations to maintain the integrity of the local municipality.
For income, the government has been providing livelihood programs for the IDPs (internally displaced people). They are given fees to clean the centers, assist in the giving out of relief and plant vegetables in the backyard for food.
Fortunately, the cultural heritage such as the torrogan, the Muslim homes with handcarved designs, and places with their artefacts are still intact. Gandamra said they are located in the Western district of the city. The war zone is in the eastern district.
“I’m thankful that Allah gave us a second life,” he said.
Likewise, lawyer Maki Datu Ramos’s relatives were distraught by the war.
“As Meranawons, we are all affected psychologically, financially and spiritually. We wondered why this happened. It was like a nightmare,” he said
A cousin, Jasmin Mamacotao of Lumbatan, Lanao Del Sur, has a residence beside their ancestral home in an affluent subdivision in the war zone. While in Mindanao, she has been renting a house after her home and ancestral home were flattened down. She has been feeling anxious about the trauma of war and the loss of close friends and property. Fortunately, her job in the Department of Justice in Manila provides some stability.
“It’s a nightmare. All the homes of our aunts and siblings were either bombed or razed to the ground,” said Dr. Sainodin Moti, a medical officer of the Philhealth Regional Office of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. At the onset of the war, he stayed in Iligan City because he was not allowed to visit his home in Lilod near the center of the war zone. He received photos that his house has been part of the ruins.
During the crisis, he prayed for strength. The breadwinner in the family, he has to keep his composure and look after his ailing mother.
The family’s income is boosted by their general merchandise stores in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro.
“I have to be strong to boost their morale,” he said.
Inaul announced its arrival in the international scene when the 65th Ms. Universe candidates sashayed onto the catwalk wearing this textile from Maguindanao. The most recent SONA also saw several of our congresswomen proudly wearing the fabric. From our moviestar lawmakers Ms. Vilma Santos-Recto with her long-green dress, Ms. Lucy Torres-Gomez with her dark-blue striped skirt (with her daughter Juliana also wearing Inaul), to Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo who carried off a bright diamond patterned fuchsia dress. Inaul is certainly getting the spotlight it deserves.
Inaul is Part of the Philippines’ Culture
Inaul, literally meaning woven, is a handmade fabric with designs handed down from generation to generation. Its luxurious texture is a blend of silk and gold threads infused into the pure cotton threads and woven in complicated techniques. Traditionally, there are twenty identified designs ranging from the rare heirloom Riyal to the rainbow-hued binaludto. Each color knitted into the Inaul has a significance, with white associated with mourning or sadness, and black symbolizing dignity. The green of nature signifies peace, while red symbolizes the Maguindanaon’s bravery. Royalty, in their colors of yellow and orange, wore the inaul as a malong, a tubular fabric, or sablay, a loose garment, as they travelled through the riverways that connected kingdoms. “It is said that Inaul may be a malong, but not all malongs are inaul. Inaul is synonymous with Maguindanao (the old name of Mindanao). It is a fabric woven by a great race, a symbol of royalty of a great nation that once ruled Mindanao. Today, Inaul does not only represent the rulers of the sultanate of this magnificent land, but it also amplifies the greatness of the people,” says Deputy Speaker Bai Sandra Sinsuat A. Sema, Rep. of the First District of Maguindanao and Cotabato City.
Intricate Designs Created by Maguindanaons
Each weaver has learnt the art of Inaul weaving from observing their elders. The fabric’s design can range from the simple to the tipas that requires two to three weavers collaborating in order to produce an ornate work of art. The complicated weaving techniques produce one-of-a-kind designs such as rainbows, stripes and taro. A fabric can take half a day to up to five days just to produce a piece of Malong. Valued for its historical significance, the Inaul is a product of the mixture of the lineage of Sheriff Muhammad Kabungsuan, the first Sultan of Mindanao, and the natives. “Inaul represents how Maguindanaons preserve their inheritance, strengthen their unity, nourish their culture, defend their land, and share their bounty. It is the embodiment of the past of Maguindanaons, it is the joy of their present, and it is the hope of their future,” says Sema.