Bismillah. Assalaamu ‘alaykum.
My name is Diandra-Ditma Macarambon. I am a Mindanawon. I write. Or, at least, I try to. And, that makes me a Mindanawon writer. But, really, what is the Mindanawon writer? Or who is the Mindanawon writer?
I was raised in the Islamic City of Marawi; I spent most of my adult years there as well. Marawi is a place distinct from any other place. It’s very different from its nearest neighbor, Iligan City. I remember my father saying that, from any other city in the Philippines, when one reaches Marawi, it is as though one has reached a different country or even a different planet, he joked. Now that I’m older and “wiser”, I know that he was right. Marawi is a special place and it has definitely shaped me into the person that I am today.
Marawi, obviously, is part of Muslim Mindanao (or the part of Mindanao whose population is generally Muslim) and this fact has really influenced me in so many ways. Of course, we all know that one embodies the culture in which s/he is raised. I am no different. I am not just a Mindanawon, I am not just a Muslim Filipino, I am a Meranaw. And, my being a Meranaw differentiates me from others. Not in a special or superior way, no, but in terms of traditions and practices. I belong to a family that sticks to and honors the traditional ways of the Meranaw. In everything that I do, I am this way. And, of course, even in writing, I am a Meranaw.
Now, being a Meranaw writer and accepting that I, we, as Meranaws, are different from others, does that mean that I write differently, too? Are my works limited to the Meranaw experience? But, then, a question comes to mind, is the Meranaw experience really that unique? Say, compared to the Mindanawon experience as a whole?
Yes and no. Maybe in some traditional practices, indeed, the Meranaw experience is very different from others. There are some situations that may be unthinkable to others but may be very normal or “everyday” to a Meranaw. Sometimes, even the way we react to certain stimuli or in certain situations may be different. That’s true. But, when it comes to the basic human experience itself, the matters of the heart, for example, we are no different. We feel the same emotions, think the same thoughts, undergo and overcome the same struggles. So, the Meranaw experience is also the same as any other persons’ experience. Our stories are the same.
Being a Meranaw writer is being a Mindanawon writer. And, being a Mindanawon writer is being a world writer, a global writer. We may find ourselves in different situations; we can write different storylines largely based on the culture we come from. We can localize or culturally contextualize certain experiences. Make our stories very Mindanawon. But, the experiences in general, the stories that we have are actually commonplace throughout the world. We are all champions of humanity.
What a simple Meranaw girl or any young Mindanawon experiences as she tries to find herself and her place in the sun can be exactly the same as what a young Manileña experiences as she goes through the same self-discovery. The two may deal with some situations differently, but the experience and the emotions are the same. So, what I am saying is being Mindanawon makes us unique as writers but it shouldn’t separate us from writers from different places.
This is what I normally have in mind when I write. I write as a Meranaw, as a Mindanawon, based on my culture and the ways of the place I grew up in. But, there is always that urge in me to show that we, here in Mindanao, are no different as writers and our stories no different from any other’s. We live through the same life stages. We are subjected to the same life conditions. We deal with the same life struggles and problems. We are as unique as the next writer, as it should be, but we are also the same as the next writer.
I talk about this because sometimes I encounter people who have certain expectations of the type of writing we are capable of. There are some people who basically limit the type of stories that we can write. Of course, this shouldn’t be the case. But, this does happen.
To give a good example, we, Moro writers. Though not all, but most people somehow expect us to write solely about certain topics that to them serve as “default” topics for Muslim Filipino writers, for example, the armed conflict, the quest for freedom, the struggle for our homeland, being a member of the Bangsamoro in this Christian-dominated country, and other special topics that are considered to be very “Muslim” or “Islamic.” Also, some people assume that we are or we should be angry all the time. Sometimes, even our fellow Moro writers expect this of us. And, that can be a little of a challenge to me. I am not saying that I never write about these things, because indeed I do. And, I do consider these things of utmost importance. And, we all want our readers to know how it is to be Muslims in the Philippines.
Furthermore, some people, when they hear the word Mindanao, they automatically have these very specific thoughts of what the place is like and what the people are like. We, Mindanawon writers, want to show that most of these thoughts, these stereotypes are unfounded and sometimes even stupid. We want to show that we are actually all the same. I cannot reiterate that enough.
This has always been my advocacy as a writer. I am ever proud of being a Mindanawon, but it would be nice if the complement referred only to the place where I come from and not the kind of writer I am supposed to be. I want to write about issues concerning human beings generally, not just in the Mindanao setting. I want readers to realize that we, in Mindanao, especially us in Muslim Mindanao, are neither limited to certain issues, experiences and struggles nor only concerned about ourselves and our welfare. We have advocacies other than the struggle for self-determination. There’s the violence against women and children issue, the child labor issue, gender equality issue, culture preservation advocacy, environment and nature preservation advocacy, etc. There’s even the LGBT issue, which may come as a surprise to some people. And, there’s also our personal struggles with love, betrayal, friendship, loyalty, self-discovery, family, etc. In short, we are Mindanawons, we are people of the world.
I grew up in a place where, when I was a kid, we used to sing a short song at an annual Children’s Festival. This left such a great impact in my life. One of the major reasons I’ve become the person, the writer, that I am is because of this unforgettable childhood experience. We would sing that song in Meranaw, in Bisaya, in Tagalog, and in English. This was supposed to make us realize that we were one and the same. We all wanted the same. But, to us, kids, it was a fun song to sing because it was easy to follow and the words to it were easy to memorize. It didn’t matter what or who we were or where we came from. What mattered to us was who could sing it the loudest.
Diandra-Ditma A. Macarambon is currently a faculty member of the English Department of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities at the Mindanao State University-Marawi. She read this piece during the Taboan 2016 held at the Central Mindanao University, Musuan, Bukidnon.