I'm sure few people of my age, Filipinos and Moros alike, can remember his name. In fact, let's all admit this: few of us can barely recall the names of Filipino writers we encountered during our high school years. We used textbooks before our university education; we read writers and their works that were already canonized by our institutions or by the literary gatekeepers from the capital.
As a young aspiring writer, I can still remember the names of Filipino writers writing in English who inspired in this vocation: Nick Joaquin, NVM Gonzales, Carlos Bulosan, Manuel Arguilla, F. Sionil Jose to name a few. It was delight for me to know that recently another anthology of young Moro writers was released in the market edited by Gutierrez Mangansakan.
I was not a voracious reader in high school but I appreciated the textbook stories and the discussions inside the classroom. However, there was a writer whose name stood out among the great Filipino writers with Christian names which struck me as a young Moro student: Ibrahim Jubaira.
Few people can remember him and it was unfortunate that even few Moros of my age, all professionals, and some writers can barely recall the name of this Moro writer who joined the ranks of great Filipino writers in English. In one conversation many years ago with some young Tausug students from Zamboanga City, one even retorted to my surprise that he thought Ibrahim Jubaira was a foreign writer. That was not the first time though that I encountered someone who thought Jubaira to be a writer from Malaysia or Indonesia. ‘Ibrahim Jubaira’ to begin with does not sound a mainstream Filipino writer if you are from the capital.
Writers are the storytellers of their people, the bearers of the community’s past and experiences. Unlike historians, writers can retell the community’s stories in a language that is embellished with his or her own personality, culture, and experiences. In this way the works become the repositories of the significant human experiences of a particular era, significant human experiences that are both universal and personal at the same time.
No matter where you locate him in the murky history of Moro-Filipino relations that is always punctuated by characters from shameless and embarrassing co-optation with the oppressors and their system to bloody resistance to assert the Moros’ right to self-determination, Jubaira is a chronicler of my people’s past. He should be continuously read by young Filipinos and Moros today as an access to the lives of the people of Sulu archipelago before the wars that began in the late 60’s and are continuously being fought until now.
I must admit that I haven’t read all of Jubaira’s stories that were published in major magazines in the country during his productive years as a writer and chronicler of Sulu’s past from the American period to the Marcos years. But among the things in my bucket list is to read all his works in my lifetime, and in my own little ways reintroduce him to the people in my circle who love reading Philippine literature.
Born in 1920 in Sulu, Jubaira’s father was an Arab and his mother, a Tausug. He belonged to a wealthy Muslim family in the province and this privilege gave him access to American education that during his time, was only given to children of royal families in the archipelago. Like his contemporary Filipino writers in English, Jubaira used English as an ‘apprentice’ to this newly introduced colonial language. Coeli Barry, a prominent Southeast Asian scholar even highlighted Ibrahim’s penchant use of ‘Mohammedans’ to describe Moro or Muslim characters in his stories—a tacit display of his colonial education’s influence that is present in his works.
Jubaira’s works appeared in Graphic and Philippine Free Press magazines until the latter was shut down by Marcos in the 70’s. He was even included in the notorious list “Best Short Stories” of Jose Garcia Villa that either elevates a new young writer to the pedestal or destroy one’s career with his sharp and vitriolic attacks on a writer’s published work; Ibrahim’s work was received with praises from the celebrated poet and that made his entrance to the mainstream literary circle in the country.
For over eight decades, Ibrahim’s life was as colorful as the history of this country. He lived through the American colonial occupation down to the second EDSA Revolution; but he stopped writing and publishing actively after Marcos fell from power. When he was thirteen, his wealthy parents decided to send him to Singapore to study. But the teen-aged Jubaira escaped to Zamboaga City and continued his education there at the Zamboanga Normal School to become a teacher. For seventeen years, Jubaira taught in public schools in Zamboanga City. His early career in writing was marked by editorship of Crescent Review, a magazine for Muslims, and being a regular columnist of Zamboanga Inquirer. He also worked as a researcher in Congress, in the former controversial National Integration Commission that aimed at integrating Moros to the Philippine body politic, and he even served the Philippine government abroad as a diplomat in Malaysia and Sri Lanka.
Jubaira was a decorated Moro writer that even the former dictator Marcos recognized his contribution to Philippine Literature. In 1959, the University of the Philippines gave him the Golden Jubilee Award. In 1970, Marcos gave him the Presidential Medal and Certificate of Merit in Literature and in 1978, during Martial Law and the wars in Mindanao intensified with rapid and violent militarization in the communities, Marcos conferred to him the Republic Cultural Heritage Award. Two of his books were published in Sri Lanka and several of histories were anthologized here and abroad.
Jubaira, the perennial chronicler of his people has gone through the second world war, wars in his own place in Sulu, the horrors of Martial Law, and the two EDSA Revolutions that toppled down two Philippine presidents and their respective regimes. But unlike those diplomats, bureaucrats, politicians, writers and artists who were closer to Marcos and played well enough to survive and even profited from his regime, after the 1986 EDSA Revolution, in my little knowledge of this Moro writer’s life, Jubaira abandoned the limelight, few of his stories appeared post-Marcos except those that were included in high school textbooks. For me, it was a gentleman’s gesture to let the new world unfold and let the promise of change be realized by those who fought and stood firm against the former dictatorial regime—a lesson that rings true of today’s difficult political battle maneuvered by those in power that continuously divides the country.
Jubaira died in 2003 without the usual fanfare accorded to celebrated authors of a country. He left us a trove of stories from the past, a lasting literary legacy for the next generation of young Moros and Filipinos who will still keep the faith that Literature—and the pleasure of reading— indeed can save this country.
Amir Mawallil is a member of the Young Moro Professionals Network, the country's 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.