Exhibit promotes understanding Muslim culture

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The sophistication of Mindanao is highlighted in a touring exhibition. 

The aims of Congresswoman Sitti Hataman of Anak Mindanao Party List are to show Muslims as part of Philippine society and to dismiss the labels refugees, uncultured, or aggressive people. 

Coming from a royal family, she knows. Sitti was brought up in a household steep in tradition, such as preparing food in a sacred manner, weaving mats in meditation, chanting epics and living up to royal protocols. 

The touring exhibit, Muslims of the Philippines: History and Culture, is one of the fruits of Sitti’s bill on the establishment of an institution for Sulu and Mindanao arts to promote understanding of culture and lifestyle of the South. 

“Sitti wanted to convey the face of the Moro outside of the stereotype. Putting up a museum would be expensive, but the logistics should not stop us from bringing the culture closer to the people,” says curator Marian Pastor Roces, founder of TAO, Inc., a company that organizes exhibits. 

Muslims of the Philippines presents artifacts, textiles, musical instruments, folk art with the objective that education will dispel ignorance and biases. Sponsored by the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), it serves as an introduction to Muslim culture for the rest of Filipinos to understand better their brothers and sisters in Mindanao and themselves as a nation.  

A young Yakan from Basilan plays the kulintang—a living testament to the rich cultural history of the Philippines

“Muslim Filipinos are also indigenous. What makes them different from other groups is that they embraced Islam. The first Muslim missionaries in the 14th century adapted to the existing culture in the Philippines instead of imposing theirs. I learned about other non-Muslim indigenous communities when I worked for NGOs and the Anak Mindanao, which upholds the rights of indigenous people.  Understanding the indigenous culture made me realize that our ancestors were way ahead of their time. They have been mislabeled as uncivilized or uneducated. Their knowledge of the sciences, agriculture, literature, engineering, and maritime was advanced. Deeply spiritual, they remember the Supreme Being in their everyday tasks. They had a higher responsibility towards all of creation,” explains Sitti. 

Muslims of the Philippines: History and Culture has been well received by the public when it toured the SM malls recently. Filipinos, who don’t normally read exhibit notes and captions, were captivated by the pre-history and history of Islam in the Philippines. The texts were designed on large light boxes and panels. Many also read Roces’s detailed chronology of the people and events that defined Mindanao from 1889 to 2000. 

“For those, who want to see the epic and are interested in serious reading, there is the timeline showing the massacres, the governance, succession and the cultural milestone,” she says. 

The exhibit was held from July 10 t o 14 at the DLSU College of Saint Benilde.    

Roces explains that she has to work within the challenges of lack of climate control to protect the objects, space and  tight security. 

“Given these limitations, I wanted a well-designed exhibition to match the artistry of their culture. The arts of Marawi and Tawi-Tawi are very sophisticated. It’s an aspect that is not part of the national consciousness,” she says. 

Sections were divided according to ethnolinguistic groups. Roces notes that the word “tribe” is incorrect. Hence, these group–such as Maranaw-Maguindanao-Iranon, Tausug and Samals– are categorized according to their language and how they eventually became part of Muslim Mindanao

The exhibit features the famous banig weaving from Tandubas and Laminsa, Sulu. These extraordinary mats are rare as Sulu is remote to outsiders. 

Glasses contain artifacts such as weaponry, which reveals the Muslim’s advanced craftsmanship. Among them are the kampilan, a long, single-edged sword with an ivory handle, which shows the strength of the Maranaws-Maguindanao and Tausugs in metal tradition and the pirah, a wider version of the bolo or scabbard, with a birdlike horn hilt, produced by the Yakan. 

 The ‘Muslims of the Philippines: History and Culture’ exhibit, which showcases musical instruments, textiles and artifacts, among others, aims to bring the Muslim culture closer to the people

The show also highlights the textile tradition with the pis siyabit, a silk head cloth from the Tausugs, and the saputangan, a square head kerchief showing the rich tapestry (a handwoven fabric with complex patterns). 

At the onset of the Marawi siege Congresswoman Sitti and Roces collaborated on a new section on the culture of Lanao del Sur’s capital. 

“People didn’t know where  Marawi was and how it looked like,” says Roces. She adds that among Marawai’s offerings are the famous Lake Lanao, the spectacular art and the environment of nature and heritage.  Among the schools, Maranao State University has been progressive in having a charter that  promotes cultural understanding and diversity. 

Representing the Maranao heritage is the okir design on panolong or the extended beam of yet another cultural treasure, the torrogan, the bungalow with flaring eaves. The okir designs are expressed through colorful and elaborate arabesque patterns. 

Echoing the sentiment of the times, a reflection on Marawi by a  Maranao émigré is also on display. 

“We want to say that there has been a huge amount of artmaking from these people which is a contrast to their stereotype as violent people,” explains Roces. “We can’t live with stereotypes. The death of clear thinking leads to war. Let us look beyond stereotypes and appreciate their challenging history but gorgeous art.” 

Explains Sitti, “We’ve had misunderstandings because we don’t know each other. We just keeping on talking through peace tables and dialogues yet so much have left been unsaid. Perhaps, through this exhibition we  could  let people experience who we are and connect us with each other. This should not be strange to the Filipinos because it is part of the Filipino people.  In knowing us, you will know yourselves.” 

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