These are individual exhibits dispersed throughout the museum, which present situations, initiatives, and events which show art tradition as a discipline. It, furthermore, invites the public to recognize how art disciplines are simultaneously toughened and animated by intense, turbulent circumstances.


Normina B. Aliman, Nur-ima S. Ahaja, and Astiya B. Asfalul, of Upper Cabengbeng, Sumisip, Basilan, are among the millions of all-but anonymous Muslims of the Philippines who endured the poverty and war wrought by contests for power that took place over their homelands. These Basilan women continue to weave a repertoire of patterns of Sama Yakan tepoh, mats, that convey tradition to the future, as they deploy the old art as one strategy for present-day survival. The Yakan mat-making continuum from archaic time to today did suffer disruptions during prolonged periods of immense social tension. The fastidiousness required by mat-weaving is compromised by turmoil —during which they opted to intensify farming activities. mat-weaving survived nevertheless, doubtless owing to the direct relationship between the pandanus transformation into geometry, and the involvement of mats in every passage from birth through to death.


As their home areas were bombed and strafed in what is now called Marawi’s Ground Zero, Soraida Bato, Salam Mama, Jalilah Tamano, Amerainah Angintaopan, and Jamaliah Amerol undertook an improbable project. The evacuees learned to weave whatever they could of the old Maranao textiles forms. With these to sell, they made survival income. They also say that it was the concentration that weaving requires, that allowed them to tune out the thunderous broadcast of bombing runs and high-powered arms. As their homes were laid to waste, they came together as the Sinagtalà, “starlight” in most Philippine languages. Pinpricks of light in the dark, therefore: the weavers managed to achieve a worthy level of competence in the siko-siko pattern to be seen everywhere in this museum in the exact traditional textile palette of magenta, purple, and gold — the pattern shared with Iranun tradition.


The blackened, compacted mass in the display case is a holy Qur’an found among the debris of a burnt masjid at Marawi Ground Zero. It is on loan to the Bangsamoro Museum until the masjid is rebuilt, if at all. While it remains here, it may well represent the immense loss of cultural property during this war. That loss includes the personal memorabilia of Marawi’s residents, both the prominent and the regular folk; the building and cultural memory embodied by the Grand Mosque; the jewelry traditions of shop-keepers who have vanished; private wealth in furniture, clothing, and domestic accoutrements; documents, both official and informal; and not the least, the minutiae of the retail businesses that the Maranao have evolved into a highly articulate cultural form. To the residents of Marawi City, no inventory will be adequate to the enormity of the forfeiture of culture to war.


These sleek boats (exhibited outdoors) built in Pagalungan, Maguindanao, is hydrodynamically a precision vessel for marshland. Its form is traditional to the 288,000-hectare, ecologically-unique Liguasan Marsh central to the homeland of the Maguindanao people. The awang is a vessel for internal seas. It has a shallow, angular draft and opens up wider than dug-outs. Paddled, it slices through water quietly; maneuvers well in both shallows and deep waters, depending on the volume of water the vast sponge receives and wrings daily. The boat allows silent passage through immense territory via floodplains, rivulets, and sudden drains. Indeed the awang can slide into Agusan Marsh, another extensive wetland, albeit with a different, forested ecosystem. Presumably the vehicle for the wide spread of Maguindanao-speakers in Central Mindanao since time immemorial, the awang continues to make them accessible to each other, supporting unified identity formation and, now, self-determination.


The territories of the Maguindanao-speaking people are liquid as much as solid. The lower Pulangi of the Mindanao River Basin—the Philippines’ second longest and broadest—is nearly coincident with the extent of Maguindanao spatial identity. It is a place that is inundated annually and defined by the largest wetlands in the Philippines, the Liguasan. This space is reckoned by the Maguindanao residents with respect to a polarity between upstream and downstream regions. Sa raya, upstream, and sa ilud, downstream regions correspond to a land-sea axis (also, but a less overt east-west axis); as well as to a cultural-political-economic bilateral space. The upstream Buayan Maguindanao speakers built supra village polities with an orientation towards interior zone (forest and marsh) economics of extraction; differing from the downstream Cotabato harbor area Maguindanao speakers whose supra village polities were long oriented towards exchange with myriad peoples from outside.


Water levels change daily, often dramatically, at Liguasan Marsh. The literally fluid topography requires old knowledge to transit. The awang is one repository of that knowledge, which sustained the long career of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as a secessionist movement; and subsequently as a powerful negotiator for peace. These awang — made by Kudal, Pagalongan farmers/fishermen/boat-builders Tandi Wahab, Abdul Taugie, Esmael Akmad, and Samirodin Wahab, under the supervision of Kamid Ambadil, all MILF fighters under the National Guard Front — have been the vessels for disappearing in the marsh foliage; for food security; for warfare; for enjoying an extraordinary wetlands ecosystem; and for raising resilient, tenacious families. The MILF has since 1984 honed an awang-reliant warcraft that enabled its exercise of dominance over an ever-changing basin of enormous expanse. It is warcraft built on thorough-going local comprehension of wetlands and, clearly, upstream Maguindanao knowledge.


While the kulintáng is played by soloists, it is typically at the center of performances by instrument ensembles that include: the large, shallow bossed gongs babendir and gandingan; the deep, enormous agung; and the goblet-shaped drum dbakan. The kulintáng itself pre-dated the the arrival of Islam in the Philippines. The word in fact existed much earlier than the arrival of the bossed gongs, and the learning, by locals, of the casting technique. The sonorous agung has however, always been imported into the archipelago from parts of Indonesia, as Filipinos do not cast these giants. The agung is rightly associated with Islamic contributions to local culture, albeit through the mediation of court cultures of the Indonesian archipelago. Hence, the interplay between the kulintang and agung is inevitably the sound of ancient Austronesian modulating Islamic culture, which on many occasions is further innovated upon to become modern.


The Maranao mythic fowl, sarimanók, belongs to an Austronesian symbolic complex in which birds are embodiments of elevated spirituality—notably, garuda, galura, timamanukin, manaul, and limokon. Nevertheless, in the specific form of a rooster with fishes caught in its talons and suspended from its beak, and particularly with the carving of a highly elaborate, polychromatic tail, the Maranao sarimanók is extraordinarily elaborate. It also figures in at least two tales: as the stunning rooster, avatar of a “prince” who wins the love of a high-born woman, who then vanishes forever; and as the cock protected by the Maranao, because it is an exceptional link between invisible and visible universes. The sarimanók is, hence, a medium between material and spiritual realms. It may be supposed that a people who are familiar with a good fate for the disappeared, possess the symbolic framework to endure.


The Tausug song form, kissa, extemporates—in a pre-Islamic rhythmic/literary structure—on events transpiring at the time of the singing/composing/improvisation. The kissa singer narrates, comments, and offers learning messages while playing the bamboo xylophone, gabbang. The singer continues even as witness to parang sabil, acts of self-annihilation for honor in battles impossible to win. It is said that the kissa singer sang through the 1906 battle at Bud Dajo, when the American army killed 600+ Tausug, and was among the last to die. The kissa to be heard in this exhibit includes the Bud Dajo song, sung by Madal Kirah, 50; a kissa concerning the Japanese invasion of Sulu, sung by Ambas Libassa, 52; a kissa about Sultan Alimudin, sung by Hadji Ebeh, 66; and a kissa about Hadji Javier, the MNLF commander who led the Zamboanga siege, sung by Nujum Sakira.


People speaking Tausug (Bahasa Sug) arrived at the Sulu Archipelago some 800 years ago, in the estimation of the linguistics community. The language has the highest cognacy with Butuanon, a language of northeastern Mindanao, from where the Tausug speakers originated. Tausug, Butuanon, and Cebuano are classified as Central Philippine languages. The historical record is replete with information about the fast, vigorous emergence of the Tausug people in Sulu, as early as the 13th C, as a Muslim community abiding by the central authority of a sultanate, engaged in global commerce, literate in jawi, and linked by alliances across the ports of Southeast Asia. This busy context rendered Tausug identity formation as, according to anthropologist Jowell Canudan, “a trajectory rather than an unchanging fact of being…(a) rooted cosmopolitanism (that) does not necessarily constitute a singular condition but rather a contested and distinctively multifaceted phenomenon.”


The Sama people have forms of song and dance that diffuse or channel possible quarrels or tensions. According to anthropologist Harold Arlo Nimmo, “songs like the binua (lullabies) and lia-lia (spite songs/anger songs), and the fight dances like the kuntal and silat serve to channel repressed feelings, facilitate social control and even resolve conflicts in a culturally sanctioned way.” It also known that the song form now called “deleng deleng”—which may be a new coinage for a form parallel to the Tausug kissa—have chronicled and managed such wrenching moments as the departure of young Sama men who were recruited by the MNLF from Tawi Tawi in the 1970s. These songs speak of the islands and waters they were leaving behind in ways vastly different in their imagination, from the universe of travel by sea the Sama are familiar with.


According to eminent historian James Francis Warren: “The Samal (speaking) people, strand-dwellers with close ties to the sea, possessed of highly developed boat-building techniques…are the most widely dispersed of all ethnolinguistic groups in the Sulu chain. Manifesting the greatest degree of internal linguistic and cultural differentiation, Samal communities predominate on coralline island clusters of the northern parts of the Sulu Archipelago, as well as on North Borneo and on Celebes. The Samal distinguish among themselves by dialect, locality, and cultural-ecological factors (principally between sedentary Muslim shore-dwellers and nomadic animistic boat-dwellers…tend(ing) to identify themselves with a particular island, island cluster, or regional orbit.” The distinct Sama languages are: Sama Pangutaran, Sama Dilaut, Sama Balangingih, Sama Yakan, Sama (Jama) Mapun, and Abaknon (spoken in Capul Island off the coast of Samar). As a language group, they share a pronounced lexical accumulation of nuanced maritime concepts.


The Sama Dilaut igal—exactly the word for “dance,” hence mag-igal is “to dance”— reveals itself to the most attentive observers as impossible to capture as merely the body movement, however exceptional.  Igal is the link to the umboh, ancestors; its performance, a manifestation of the inter-permeability between (or indivisibility of) between the spiritual and material worlds. Especially at sea in a full moon, 4 times a year, the performance of the magpaigal-jin is an invitation to the spirits to delight them. On occasion, spirit mediums perform. Animism pervades Sama reality, while Islam connects them to the world beyond their already vast seas. Mag-igal occurs on beaches and boats, on platforms and on sand, and wherever a community rite of passage takes place. The continuity of archaic knowledge among the Sama Dilaut suggests that this conservatism facilitated survival through intense political tumult in their seas.


During the 1970s period of bomb runs by the Philippine Air Force over Jolo and Basilan, when the MNLF engaged the State in an armed contest to secede from the nation, the Yakan of Basilan endured temporary and permanent evacuation, acute poverty, and further marginalization than endured during the early 20th C. Those who remember tell of how women persisted with weaving in the Yakan tradition, shifting weaving from the context of traditional exchange to that of a cash market. The miniscule inflow of cash assisted in survival. Yakan textile conventions that are known today to the rest of the Philippines—from weaving families transplanted from Basilan to sites elsewhere, principally Zamboanga City—have been toughened in the crucible of war. The textile fragments in the display case were woven during that deeply troubled period, appearing to prefigure cultural resurgence in 21st C Basilan.


Ambalang Ausalin, born 1943 in Parangbasak, Lamitan, Basilan, is a laureate of the Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan (Living National Treasure) recognition, for her atypical virtuosity in Yakan weaving conventions. Arrival at this recognition in her late years is also the arrival of many other Yakan weavers of her generation, who continued weaving through the vicissitudes of life in Basilan in the last half century.  They are called culture bearers today, but—especially in the person of Ausalin— are better regarded as embodiments of tough wisdom. During the prolonged period that Basilan was a war zone, and then wracked by home-grown terrorist bands, Ausalin and other weavers took up change: quickened the weaving process, simplified patterns, changed materials, sold as fast as possible. Nevertheless it is clear that the women, Ausalin most importantly, did not yield the knowledge base of traditional weaving during the transition.


Uwang Ahadas, musician extraordinaire, was born in Lamitan, Basilan in 1945. He is a laureate of the Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan recognition. Nearly blind since the age of 5, Ahadas gave himself to mastery of the entire range of Yakan musical instruments. He performs on the kwintáng, the Yakan way with the kulintáng gongs (among the Yakan laid out close to the ground); the agung, the kwintangan kayu, multiple log percussion; the bamboo xylophone gabbang, and the tungtungan, a percussion instrument with resonating vessel. He is a virtuoso on several registers: as proficient instrumentalist around which ensembles create a musical infrastructure; as serene performer who is adept at riveting a crowd; and as himself a strong, still presence amidst celebration. Above all, however, Uwang Ahadas is recognized immediately as a vessel of old knowledge, and a medium for its transmittal to the future.


The portraits that surround the mezzanine of this museum are a selection based, not on representation of Philippine Muslim ethnicities, but on the power of some images to convey dignity. The hope the museum vests in these photographs is that which appeals for recognition of human endurance through sheer creative energy. These cultural forces operating in the political field, include the ability and willingness to build languages of great precision for negotiation and peacebuilding; civic action that confronts armed aggression with the astute, creative alternatives; self-portrayal and self-definition as indomitable, and because so, beautiful; devotion to traditions that modulate but enable modernization and globalization; and the raw skill to grasp the complexity of life as a Muslim in the Philippines, working with other Filipinos of similar skills. Hope is therefore vested in concrete capacities to demand this recognition, and the ability to reciprocate with honor.