Bangsamoro – Keeping the Faith

Previously in this series:

Bangsamoro Art – Faith, Tradition & Place

Central to the Bangsamoro culture is Islam. It is the glue that binds them together. No matter the differences and difficulties, Muslims around the world follow a set of principles and practices that constitute the religion, creating a sense of belonging and unity called ummah. More than anything however, a Muslim aims to achieve unity with Allah, encapsulated in the concept of tawhid which emphasizes the following of Allah’s will.

The five essential duties of Muslims, also known as the five pillars of Islam, as revealed in the sacred book of Koran, or Qu’ran, are:

  1. shahadah – the profession of faith
  2. salat – praying five times daily facing Qibla/Qiblah (sacred mosque in Mecca) at designated periods
  3. saum or puasa – fasting between sunrise and sunset in the month of Ramadan
  4. haji – the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca at least once if possible
  5. zakat – voluntary contribution of a portion of one’s income as alms for the poor

The Koran is considered sacred as it contains the teachings of Allah, and so is carefully handled and used. Pictured above is a copy of probably the country’s oldest, if not one of the oldest, translations of the sacred book known as The Qu’ran of Bayang (Lanao del Sur). Of significant historical and cultural value to Filipinos in general, and to the Filipino Muslims in particular, the Koran of Bayang will be declared by the National Museum as a “National Cultural Treasure”. It enjoyed a long and varied history – from being an heirloom, to being a loot of war (during the war with the Americans), to having to evade a typhoon by deferring its supposed return to Marawi.

During the height of the People Power Revolution of 1986 however, the Koran was reported missing, as it was previously requested by the then First Lady Imelda Marcos to be transferred to Malacañan from the National Museum. Fortunately, a complete copy was made prior to its transfer to the Palace, so its message is not lost to us today. It will remain for posterity.

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The museum’s model of a ranggar

There are two types of mosques in Southern Philippines. One is the ranggar or langgal, a small structure accommodating only few individuals for daily prayers in the rural areas. The prayer mats you see displayed above are from the Molbog tribe, Balabac, Southern Palawan. These are made of pandan leaves and synthetic dyes.

The other type of mosque is the masjid, a permanent structure facing Mecca, which adopted a more Western/Arabic-style architecture as evidenced by the use of minarets, mihrab, mimbar and places of ablution. Examples of the different types of mosques in the Philippines below, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Prior to the late 19th century however, mosques that were built in the country employs an indigenous form of architecture known as pagoda-style or hut-style, such as this Old Bangsa style mosque in Taraka, Lanao Del Sur (below). There have been proposals to put the Heritage Mosques of the Philippines into the Philippine tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage Site declaration in the future.

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Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Fasting is a widely known observance in Islam during the holy month of Ramadan, where the faithful abstain from the consumption of food and drink daily from the break of dawn until sunset. This is also a time for avoiding practices that are deemed ‘unspiritual’, if you will, or are in conflict with Islamic teachings – those that divert a person’s focus away from spiritual things, such as inappropriate speech, excessive recreational activities, or acting unkind towards the needy, for example. It is a time to perform zakat, or the giving of alms to the poor and more importantly, worship through prayers and recitation of verses from the Qu’ran.

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Photo courtesy of Getty Images

A lavish three-day feast is held at the end of Ramadan called Hari-raya, or Eid al-Fitr in Arabic. It starts with the sighting of the new moon on Shawwal – the first day of the tenth month of the Islamic calendar. People will pray in mosques and in open spaces, and would offer charity to the poor.

The most significant feast for Muslims however, is the Feast of Sacrifice or Hari-raya Hadji, or Eid al-Ahda in Arabic. This celebrates the completion of the pilgrimage to Mecca during the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar.

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Photo courtesy of The Great Courses Daily

Aside from these, there are other important Islamic occasions where Muslims celebrate by feasting and, according to the museum’s informational guide, all of these “involve communal prayers, recitation of passages from the Koran, communal consumption of special meals involving local delicacies and beverages, adornment of feasting spaces, and use of highly decorated prestige items and utilitarian goods during food preparation and consumption”.

Indigenous traditions become evident in these lavish feasts where local delicacies get to take center stage. In the olden days, these are usually prepared and served in highly decorated containers and utensils.

Below are examples of Tausug dishes often served during these occasions.

Clockwise from upper left: Tausug beef kurma, tiyula sug, beef kurma, a typical Eid spread, a collection of sweets called bang bang sug, and chicken piyanggang 

Muslims in the Southern Philippines also celebrate life cycles, such as birth, marriage, rites of passages, etc., with feasting. The communal experience of food and drink consumption establishes and fosters a sense of connection across cultures. Fasting and feasting are interconnected practices that  help connect a person to his spirituality – abstinence to food as an act of faith to a God who provides, and feasting as an expression of gratitude and acknowledgement of God’s generosity.

Banquets are thus part of Islamic rituals. These occasions provide opportunity to establish and renew social bonds.

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Photo courtesy of Ferdinandh Cabrera, ndbcnews.com.ph

And in the early days of Islam in the Philippines, especially, according to the museum’s informational guide: “Feasts provide arenas for displaying wealth, power and prestige through the abundant offering of food and drinks for communal consumption, and the use of prestige or exotic objects and technologies.  As a result, celebrations are closely tied to aspects of political economy which is guided by the ideology of the elite. This is often materialized in public ritual events where highly symbolic objects and ritualized practices are used to express and legitimize their political, economic and social prestige”.

It goes on to say: “… lavish feasts (together with spectacular performances and displays of resplendent art) thrive as they give visual expressions to the Islamic notion of the sacred power of sultans“.

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Photo credits:

Dishes – Yummy.ph/Knorr.com/Pepper.ph/umnoha.blogspot.com/angsarap.net

Coronation of Sultan of Sulu – retrato.com.ph

The Masjid Dimaukom or “Pink Mosque” – Tasnim News Agency

Taluksangay Mosque – Wowzamboangacity

Tulay Central Mosque – Al Jacinto 

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My 7,107 | Sabang, Palawan – Last of 2 Parts

Day 3 – “Tamilok” challenge

You might be wondering what a tamilok is. I didn’t know what it was before either. The first time I’ve heard of it was in this show on cable called Bizaare Foods hosted by Andrew Zimmern. It’s a slimy, worm-like creature found inside mangrove trees. It’s something that would gross a lot of people out.

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Anyhow, I was up to the challenge. I think the prospect of being able to tick items off my bucket list kind of made me excited.

So, here goes nothing…

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Aaaand… Success!

I’ve made it. It’s not that bad, actually. Some say it tastes like oyster. Well, at least it was bearable as a kinilaw (ceviche), pickled in vinegar. I’m not sure how it really tastes like in its natural state, though.

The tamilok challenge was basically the only highlight of the third day. There was really nothing much to do after this but to relax and prepare for the trip back home.

In the three days we were here, our host, Sheridan Beach Resort and Spa, has been gracious and generous at best. It wasn’t perfect, though. There were a few bumps here and there in the service. I just hope they could address the issue of lack of air conditioning in their coach/es. Simple gestures like providing curtains for the windows, and/or fans would go a long way. It felt so hot inside especially in the midday sun, it’s like being in a sauna. Also, the seeming lack of coordination with the assigning of rooms. We had to wait for like over an hour before we could be checked-in. I’m sure they could come up with something to fix these issues.

To its credit, the place is nothing but amazing. And to show my appreciation, I have pictures of the resort grounds and the buffet we devoured for your enjoyment. Scroll away! 🙂

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Yes, because I like B-A-C-O-N… (drool)

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Truly, a summer to remember 🙂

It was a long journey. Thanks to AirAsia, going to Sabang was made easier. It was my first time flying the airline and I had some good impressions.

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My 7,107 | Sabang, Palawan – 1st of 2 Parts

Day 2 – Sabang and environs

First order of business: visit Sabang’s rainforest and one of the World’s Newest Natural Wonders – Puerto Princesa Underground River, formerly known as the St. Paul Subterranean River.

From the resort, we walked to the nearest port and took a boat ride going to the island where the underground river is located.

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Going there we passed by some of the interesting geologic rock formations unique to this region – limestone cliffs. They look amazing. It’s like being transported to a different world.

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Before going to the river, you first need to go through a lush jungle where you will meet some of the amazing wildlife like monkeys and monitor lizards. It is advisable not to bring food or show transparent plastic bags with colorful items inside as the monkeys might think they are food. And I’m not sure if it’s true, but we were also advised not to smile with teeth showing as the monkeys might get too comfortable and would get too close.

These monkeys are known for stealing food from tourists, and they can be insistent, we were told.

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I’m not a big fan of monitor lizards, or anything reptilian in nature for that matter, but just to give a little bit of a trivia, these monitor lizards are close relatives of Indonesia’s komodo dragons, only smaller. Still, these creatures, just like any other, should be treated with respect. It is wise to keep a safe distance. These lizards have potent bacteria in their mouths that could prove lethal to humans if bitten.

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The Sabang rainforest is one of the last remaining holdouts of virgin rainforests in the country, and they are under constant threat from illegal loggers and greedy corporations.

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It is a sad state for our rainforests. In fact, I believe statistics show that the Philippines is the only country in SE Asia who has now lost more than 80 to 90% (?) of its rainforests. Such disappointing figures. I wish people and the government would do more to reverse the trend before it’s too late.

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Now we arrive at the UR (Underground River).

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Our guides assisted us to our boats and took some pictures before we headed off inside. I was assigned to be the “light bearer” as I have to put the spot on some of the stone structures (upon instruction from the guide himself) while he describes the form or image of the stones we are seeing. Better prepare yourself with big imagination when you come here.

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Unfortunately, I was not able to take pictures because it was dark inside. Photos would only come out as blobs and patches and blurred images. A word of caution though, when gazing at the amazing structures, refrain from opening your mouth as these caves are also home to bats – lots and lots of bats. And you know what that means – lots and lots of “guano” (bat poop). So, you’ve been warned.

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Another exciting part of the itinerary is the Sabang zipline.

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This is a first for me so I couldn’t be more excited. We took a boat ride to go to the other island where the zipline is. We first registered at the foot of the hill known as the Central Park Station, which is also near the beach.

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From here, we trekked up hill following the trail leading up to the station where the zipline starts. The view from this spot is breathtaking.

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All the exhaustion from the trek faded away. It was more a fun ride than a scary ride for me. Taking all that scenery in could not have felt more satisfying. And this goes for the scenery at the other end of the line as well, as you can see below.

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My only regret is that I wasn’t able to take a video of me while going down the beach as I thought I turned the video on, but did not. Darn!

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The last leg of this itinerary before we headed back to the resort for lunch was the Sabang River Mangrove Boat Tour.

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This tour is more chill, more relaxed, more classroom setting. And we got mangrove lesson 101, complete with scientific names to boot, which, I, as expected, would have forgotten by now. Family Boceferra something, something…

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Notice how the roots get exposed during low tide.

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If you would notice closely, you will see a yellow-striped snake coiled on one of the branches

More importantly though, is that after this tour, we were able to understand how important the role these mangrove trees play in our ecosystem. Mangrove trees only appear in tropical countries along riverbeds that have the perfect ratio of fresh and saltwater. Too much saltwater can stunt the growth of these trees. But here in Sabang, they thrive and flourish and form extensive jungle networks. These riverbeds are full of nutrients and they act as fish nurseries and as natural barrier from predators. So when mangrove jungles thrive, fish populations thrive as well. Only in the Philippines do mangrove trees grow these tall.

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There is another practical purpose for these mangrove forests. They act as natural barriers from storm surges. Our guide says if Tacloban had kept their mangrove forests intact, it would have helped mitigate the effects of typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda).

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A little bit of trivia: Mangrove trees/forests in the vernacular is called “bakawan”. What do you call a single mangrove tree, then? This is the question posed by our guide and we were all clueless as to the answer. We even thought he was joking, thinking it was some kind of play on words (baka-“one”, “two”,”three”, get it?). Well, the answer is “bakaw”. So, there. Now you know 😉

Second half of the day was free time. We started with lunch and then swam at the pool, swam at the beach, did some kayaking, others played volleyball, made sand castles, took pictures (lots of pictures) and then waited till dinner. It was buffet, buffet, buffet, every time. Oh man, it was the good life. To top it off and to really dig into the R&R mode, I treated myself to a spa. The hard pressure applied loosens stiff muscles, relieving stress. It was sensual. And I was knocked out.

To be continued…

My 7,107 | Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Palawan is picture-perfect.

Although it is not immune to the trappings of the modern world, its relative isolation helped it to somehow fend off excessive commercialization and environmental degradation. True, economic progress and conservation usually do not meet eye to eye, and surely the province has been a battle ground for many a war fought in this field. There are victors and losers, with tables probably turned every now and then. But as I have observed, Palaweños are generally the nature-lover bunch, for practical reasons. With travel and tourism as the province’s main draw, the people stand to benefit from caring for the environment and its natural wonders.

And so I came back to Palawan, the country’s last frontier, to enjoy and bask in its wonders and its beautiful, uncluttered beaches. The heat in the Metro is at an all-time high and there is no better time to go swimming. Destination: Sabang!

We took an AirAsia flight to Puerto Princesa, the capital. First stop on our itinerary is the crocodile farm. Upon entering the PWRCC (Philippine Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center) main lobby, we were greeted with a skeleton of a huge crocodile.

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Its skin was laid flat and hung on the wall. The guide says the skin of older crocodiles tend to be tougher and so are not ideal for creating wallets, bags, etc. That belongs to younger crocs who have softer skin. So this oldie’s skin might have to stay here for a little longer.

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There’s another one hanging on the other side painted with different colors of what seemed like tribal markings, maybe for aesthetic or art purposes.

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The guide also says this particular croc (the one whose skeleton is on display) and the biggest and longest one on record found in the Agusan marsh -“Lolong”, both died of the same reason – stress. This elicited lots of laughs because as humans, we only know too well how to feel stressed. And if these fearsome, magnificent creatures can only be downed by something as mundane as stress, then who are we humans to feel superior against it. We’ve all heard it said over and over: “Nakamamatay ang stress” (stress kills). Even the mighty crocodiles are no match to it.

Next we visited the hatchery where we see baby crocs, of course. The house smelled of croc pee.

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Then we moved on to where the full grown monsters are. When you scroll down farther below, you will see how this group of crocs form what seemed like crocodile pinwheel.

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After this, you get to have a chance to have photo op with or have your picture taken with a baby croc and get a souvenir picture. This leg of the tour gives you chance to relax and buy some refreshments like buko (coconut) juice and ice cream.

Next we went to Palawan’s Millionaire’s Row, where the Mitra estate/ranch (of the former House Speaker of the Philippine Congress) is located. This is also called the Sta. Monica Ranch. The property overlooks Honda Bay, another famous tourist destination. It’s an ideal spot for picnics.

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Just a few minutes’ drive away is Baker’s Hill where you find different breads and pastries like hopia, butterscotch, pianono, etc., and the famous local product – kasuy (cashew).

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Afterwards we went to another local market where you can buy more native produce like dried or sweet & spicy pusit, dilis, dried danggit and more nuts. Also you can buy local handicrafts and souvenir items. Everything is at a more affordable price here.

It was a fun yet exhausting first half of the itinerary. Before we proceeded to the resort where we will be staying, we first had lunch at KaLui. It’s a traditionally-themed restaurant with an artistic vibe, and has lots of organic and native artworks everywhere. We were even asked to remove our shoes and slippers as is commonly practiced in traditional Filipino homes.

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The food is also good. I particularly liked the fish fillet with mango tartare and the “lato” (seaweed). After having our tummies filled, it’s time for us to go to the resort. It was a long drive – about an hour and a half to 2 hours, depending on how fast the drive is. I think all of us dozed off because of exhaustion. We couldn’t have been more excited to reach the destination as we all feel like freshening up and retire to our rooms.

We had dinner at 6 – buffet dinner. Felt bloated afterwards. Swam at the pool. Had a few drinks. Wasted, at the end of the day 😛

To be continued…