OPINION: A perspective on Tausug bravery

Amir Mawallil

Posted at Jul 21 2016 02:20 AM

Let me begin this by saying that I grew up in a Tausug household and Tausug communities in Zamboanga City and practically across the Sulu archipelago.

I speak the language and I proudly embraced the culture of my people. It is like my second skin. When I was young, my first self-identification was that I am a Muslim. Next was that I am a Tausug -- by blood and aspirations.

The word "ethno-centrism" came into my vocabulary only in college -- with my interaction with classmates. I became friends with both Muslims and non-Muslims from various ethnolinguistic groups and learned to be in harmony with them.

When I was young, surrounded by family and neighbors, the world for me was Tausug. But when I got older, especially now that I needed to work with people from various backgrounds, I have to carefully navigate the rivers of cultural diversity for many reasons.

Although Tausug is the dominant ethnolinguistic group in the Sulu Archipelago, the region is also the home of other ethnolinguistic groups such as the Sama, Jama Mapun, Yakan, and Subanen in the Zamboanga peninsula.

Mingling with other ethnolinguistic groups revealed to me one very interesting reality: the several stereotypes of Tausugs held by other ethnolinguistic groups. To be honest, I have accepted these stereotypes with both fascination and curiosity.

The most glaring stereotype of Tausugs, which I found that Maranao, Maguindanaon, Yakan, and Sama friends and colleagues also believed, is our bravery in combat. Tausugs are considered to be the most courageous warriors among Moros. I grew up with relatives and acquaintances who joined the armed movements. They are called freedom fighters.

However, being a brave Moro freedom fighter is not exclusive to Tausugs. I personally know of and have read about famous brave Moro heroes who came from other ethnolinguistic groups as the Bangsamoro is comprised of 13 different groups. But what made the Tausug be stereotyped as the daring warrior of Mindanao?

Perhaps the cultural background of Tausugs can give us a plausible answer. Tausugs are the people of the Sulu archipelago and Zamboanga peninsula. Of course, the Sultanate of Sulu, one of the famous in the region, was headed by great Tausug leaders.

The history of the coming of Islam to Mindanao in 1457 has always been attributed to the genesis of this Sultanate, thus putting the Tausugs in a special place in the history of Islam in the Philippines.

Tausugs are generally known to be seafarers and fierce maritime warriors. "Tau" means people and "Sug", currents; hence we carry the moniker "people of the current". Even before the Philippines started its economic and political engagements with China, Tausugs together with the Sultanate, started trade and bilateral relationships with China and its emperors as early as the Ming Dynasty. The rich cultural, political, artistic histories of the Tausugs perhaps frame the stereotype—because how can a culture, with political and social structures, continue to exist and survive through centuries without this courage, this form of resilience?

Perhaps this stereotype can also be best explained by my ancestors’ role in the struggle and the Tausug’s centuries-old resistance against colonialism. Tausug leaders from ancient sultans to Hajji Kamlon to Nur Misuari resisted foreign domination and oppression.

The fierceness of Tausug warriors was exemplified by the "mag-sabil" or the ability to "endure the path of death.” Mag-sabil warriors were trained for unconventional combat. A mag-sabil warrior will go through the parang-sabil or the “the path to Paradise” wherein a warrior will pledge to the Qur’an. Upon receiving the nod of the Sultan, the warrior will submit to elaborate ceremonies of shaving all body hair, offering prayers and incantations.

Mag-sabil is a version of the Japanese kamikaze wherein the warrior, armed only with the kris, will single-handedly attack a territory of the enemy with the objective of killing as many as possible. The mag-sabil, being a warrior on the offensive side will embrace his fate and the possibility of not returning home alive. The Spaniards called the mag-sabil the "juramentados".

Mag-sabil was a problem for the American forces occupying Sulu during the American colonial occupation of the Philippines. They were fierce warriors that even Japanese soldiers during World War II created several interventions to manage the damages they've done. Mag-sabil is a cultural artifact, folk heroes among the narratives of Moros resistance to foreign domination. Although this practice is already a thing of the past, it left an indelible and lasting impression of Tausugs as the fiercest among the Moros in combat.

Now, here is my question to fellow Tausugs: how can we make use of this stereotype that it will eventually yield good things for us personally, for our community, and for the country as a whole?

Fierceness in battle is a product of discipline, focus, and faith. Discipline in following rules, continuously improving ourselves, and working hand-in-hand to create a society of laws and morals. We must focus on creating a peaceful and prosperous future for our children, looking in one direction and working together to achieve our goals, both personal and for the community.

Faith is Islam, our guiding light for us to achieve the nation we have yearned for through centuries of struggles, bloody and otherwise.

Amir Mawallil is a member of the Young Moro Professionals Network, the Philippines' biggest organization of Muslim professionals.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.