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Demystifying the Tausug through literature

Tuban explains the types and distinctive features of the narratives, origin stories and riddles and proverbs, and she makes a comparative study of these with Western forms and popular folk tales from Asia, in particular, Southeast Asia, Middle East and from the West.

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the rich and diverse literature of the Tausug ethnic group of the archipelago Sulu.

At long last, the rich and diverse literature of the Tausug ethnic group of the archipelago Sulu have been put together in one volume by the Tausug scholar and educator Dr. Rita C. Tuban.

Suffice it to say, Tausug Folk Literature: An Anthology (RMCTC Crafts and Designs, 2019, 240 pages) is one more effort to demystify the culture of an otherwise peaceful and deeply religious peoples who turn fierce when provoked, giving in to his maltabat, an exaggerated sense of honor and sipug (shame). Thus, the anthology should be an excellent companion to what sociologists and historians have written about rido (feud), the f’l sabil-ullah (fighters in the way of God) and the more personal pursuit of vengeance, juramentado.

In the past, scholars, to name a few, Gerard Rixhon, John Garvan and the author’s aunt, Princess Nora Maulana Mercado, had their own collections of specific literary genres — riddles, ballads or kissas (Arabic term for “story”).

Many other scholars and writers have written about varied aspects of Tausug culture and arts as well, but these are published in various publications like academic journals, books that are, more often than not, out of print and other media not easily available to everybody.

Given the archipelagic makeup of the Philippines, it is often inconvenient and expensive to travel to Metro Manila to do research in its libraries or to go around its bookstores. This calls for local universities — if this has not been done yet — to digitize these published literatures on and of the Tausug for present and future students and scholars of Mindanao.

If one wants to demystify the Tausug, this anthology can fulfill that for its richness of native lore that shows the Tausug, before any Muslim missionary or Christian colonizer landed on Sulu’s shores, lived in a thriving society where foreign boats docked and foreign traders came and went — the peaceful and lush landscape and bountiful harvests from the sea, supporting a culture that, to this day, her inhabitants struggle to nurture and keep.

Yes, in reality, Sulu does not offer a perfect picture of a people or a land, given that much information of bad news that filters through the media and other sources, hence, Sulu remains an enigma to this day.

The collection is made more significant because Tuban is a direct descendant of Sultan Alimuddin I of Sulu.

Scholars in this part of the country understand that someone’s lineage has much to do with being able to engage or extract information with ease from local informants and artists to fill a book.

Trust issues are set aside for salsilas (genealogies) matter — “Ah, so you’re the daughter of…” or “You’re the son of …” — which are, upon close examination, characteristics that are all at once cultural, political and social.

This anthology is a welcome addition to the growing literatures from the regions. It is based on her Master of the Arts thesis submitted to the Graduate School of University of the Philippines Diliman where she received her MA and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in Philippine Studies.

The anthology, likewise, includes a nutshell history and land of the Tausug and introductory essays on the folk narratives including the important salsilas and kissas; katakata (origin stories), proverbs, riddles and folk songs in translation from Tausug to English, comprising Part I. Part II duplicates these narratives, songs, proverbs and other stories in the original Tausug and with a few translated into English.

Tuban explains the types and distinctive features of the narratives, origin stories and riddles and proverbs, and she makes a comparative study of these with Western forms and popular folk tales from Asia, in particular, Southeast Asia, Middle East and from the West.

It is in this anthology that, for instance, we learn of a Tausug kissa about Sitti Maryam (Virgin Mary), different from the Biblical and Qu’ranic versions, and the story of the conquest of North Borneo, and the comparisons of how mountains are named — Bud Dahu, famous because of the massacre of men, women and children by Americans during the Philippine-American War; Bud Tumatangis, so-called because widows and children went up and down this mountain crying over the Tausug warriors who died on Bornean soil, and for its counterpart, Mount Kinabalu, literally meaning “widowed mountain” because of the lament of Bornean widows over their warriors who died during the fight between Borneans and Tausug. One more variant of this narrative follows in the anthology.

In the collection are the two kinds of folk song, kissa and parang sabil and the touching story about beauty and power which as a college student I read in class, The Abduction of Napsa from Princess Nora’s collection.

Napsa, a married singer whose husband is an overseas worker in Borneo, is abducted by the Sultan to add to his other wives because of her physical beauty and beautiful voice. The husband simply fails to get her back. Napsa can only faint and submit to the Sultan who is exercising his power over his subjects.

The parang sabil, on the other hand, tells us of Tausugs who fight to their deaths because of an insult on their persons with historical, political and romantic undertones and steeped in Islamic religious beliefs.

The parang sabil is not an epic but a long, narrative song. The more well-known are Parang Sabil of Abdullah and Putli ‘Isara and Parang Sabil of Panglima (headman) Hassan based on a true story.

Many other scholars and writers have written about varied aspects of Tausug culture and arts as well, but these are published in various publications like academic journals, books that are, more often than not, out of print and other media not easily available to everybody.

This anthology, therefore, will allow Philippine literature teachers a chance to examine the comparisons between creation stories of different religious groups such as Jews, Muslims and Christians, and what has been collected and classified against similar Western, Asian narratives and the tabulated subject categories in riddles and how often they appear which can be checked out on pages 53 to 55 in the anthology.

This anthology is most welcome because it has been collected and written about by homegrown scholar Tuban amid the scarcity and paucity of materials about the literatures from this part of Mindanao.

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