OPINION: Women of the Weeping River

Amir Mawallil

Posted at Nov 08 2016 01:33 AM

I write this as an attempt to publicly examine the phenomenon of clan wars and a community's complicit silence that comes with it.
 
Moros from other ethno-linguistic groups will agree that these clan wars— or rido—come in different names across groups in Mindanao and Sulu. The variations in conflict resolutions are tenuous as the roots of the conflict are sometimes unknown to the victim’s immediate family members.

The magnitude of its violence is usually unaccountable as families, traditionally extended, play as collaborators.

The members of the community, meanwhile, stand as the unwilling collateral victims and at the same time, they retreat in silence.

This dismissive attitude of the community and the society of rido as something that is a cultural construct is appalling.

The silence sends the message that clan conflicts are okay.

This was the subject of Sheron Dayoc’s film "Women of the Weeping River", a film that challenged, interrogated, or revealed the gore of rido and the silence that makes it more tragic.

First off, as someone who spent his life living in communities where violent stories of rido are as common as stories of scandalizing elopements and gossips of an unplanned pregnancy, never did I expect that it could be a subject for a powerful and evocative piece of work in film.
 
Last week, I was already back in Cotabato City when I heard the news that Dayoc’s "Women of the Weeping River" won best picture at the QCinema International Film Festival. This was his second feat in this young international film festival sponsored by the Quezon City government. He won last year for his documentary film "The Crescent Rising". 
 
Despite my busy schedule in Manila on the week of the festival, I tried to catch Dayoc’s film. Friends from Zamboanga and Cotabato City raved about the film and asked me to watch. 

I was told by people familiar with the film’s production that Dayoc shot most of the scenes in Zamboanga City and in Jolo in Sulu.

The dialogues are in the Tausug and the actors were Tausug natives from Zamboanga City and Sulu. 
 
I entered the cinema with high expectations. The film promised to tell a story closer to home. It did not fail to deliver. 

The film examined rido from the fresh eyes of a director that is fully informed of his people’s culture, retelling a heartbreaking story of family suffering from violence and fear with sensitivity and grace.
 
"Women of the Weeping River" follows the story of Satra’s family and their feud with the Ismaels. The film opens with Satra grieving the death of her husband as a back story to frame the endless cycle of retribution between the two families.

Impunity and vengeance serve as the major plotline of the narrative.
 
Land—or the lack of it—was the cause the rido between the two families as Satra’s family. Her family refused reconciliation as land and life were taken from them by the Ismaels. Satra’s grief binds her role as a supportive daughter of a patriarch who rallies his entire family around this violent strife. The father argued for the clan’s pride, religious obligations and practices and their meanings being determined by patriarchal power structures, and the family’s attachment to the land as their possessions that fuelled the conflict. 

The film narrates the struggle of Satra’s family on several deaths in the clan while living in an arduous circumstance of fear as the enemy, members of the other family, are always willing to seek vengeance and retribution.
 
The film cleverly utilized the river as a metaphor to demarcate the spaces protected by both families. The presence of a river reiterates that the culture of clan wars is still dominant in rural areas in Sulu where armed conflict is prevalent. One crosses the river either to his death or in redemption. 

Only women, weeping for the deaths of their love ones, can cross the river unharmed.

The river served both as a wall that divides the two families and a space that can serve as a site for negotiation between factions to end the violence.
 
Dayoc’s knowledge of the culture of rido as the subject of him provided him access to the deepest tragedies of families in clan wars: the retribution, the endless cycle of violence, the clannish pride that refuses to let go of its position as a dominant emotion and as argument for justification of violence, and on how families will go an extra mile to sustain the battle financially. 

The proliferation of guns in Mindanao, the film argues, made clan conflicts even more dangerous as access to ammunitions is easy and sometimes in exchange even of priced family heirlooms and or in ardent participation to the Moro armed struggle.

Dayoc utilized actors that are familiar with the Tausug language and the nuances of someone from the community. 

For two hours I was mesmerized by the company of these actors -- so real in their characters as if I was talking to people from home. 

Laila Putli Olao was a gem in the silver screen portraying Satra, a tragic figure who seeks redemption at the end of the film.

Courageous

Dayoc showed courage in tackling an issue as controversial as rido, a taboo for a topic to be discussed using a public medium.

Dayoc’s Women of the Weeping River was a brave attempt to publicly examine rido beyond statistics and police reports. 

The film’s narrative was successful in isolating this cultural reality from the common biases nurtured by the community to justify the violence or from this communal tacit agreement to dismiss it altogether in the name of complicit silence. 

Films like Women of the Weeping River deserve more audience and spaces where it can engage people on issues that are so remote from the capital but relevant if scrutinized in public discourses. 

Artistic provocation like this for a critical self-assessment of one’s culture will save hundreds of innocent lives while maintaining peace and order in communities.
 
What Dayoc’s oeuvre has achieved so far is its brave statement that a family is still the basic unit of our society -- and that if we dream of creating a country where peace and order is maintained, nothing is so exclusive and untouchable between two warring families—even their violence. 

Unless we will still refuse change.

*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.