MANY research studies have been made on the subject, many
books and monographs have been written about him as a
people. Unfortunately, while such works are notable for their
informative value, few, if any, have helped others truly
understand the enigma that is the Tausug.
This is the reason this writer deliberately chose to write this
piece without consulting such references because scholarly
documentation can also mislead and distract. The Tausug has
elusively escaped methodology and measurement, because his
soul and character can only be captured by racial memory and
genetic empathy, and, in a sense, by listening to him with ears
close to the very ground on which he treads.
The Tausug has always mystified and his actions have
constantly raised the same questions over and over again. Is he
really quick to anger, and as quick to swing the kris or draw the
gun? But in many conflict situations, he can also allow sabar
(patience, resignation) to rule over his passions.
Is he as death-defying and daring as his parang sabil ancestors
of myth and legend? And yet his faith commands him to value
life, his and those of others, and obligates him to defend it at all
'Culture of violence'
And why does he kill and kidnap, plunder and pirate? Why
have social scientists and peace advocates lumped up these
aberrations as the inevitable consequences of a ''culture of
To conveniently encapsulate the character of the Tausug as a
natural creation of an aggressive and confrontational
environment can be at the same time erroneous.
Because he can also compose the most romantic love ballads,
conceive the most heart-rending tragedies in his folktales and
express such poetry as that in a popular luguh (chanted song)
of a malul (a sampaguita-like flower) on a mountain slope,
heartbreakingly pouring out its loneliness. And yet, he has not
heard of literary devices, much less of the metaphor.
Physically, he is almost always invariably portrayed with the
ubiquitous weapon in his hand or by his side--a kris, or barung,
or, in contemporary portraits, a gun. And even now, when he
dons his traditional costume on occasions, he dares not do so
without a kris or barung to complete it. This somehow
reinforces his image as the warrior class among the Filipino
Muslims, and the weapon becomes a symbol of his legendary
bravery and courage.
Historically, he looks back with unabashed pride at half a
millennium of resistance against attempts to subjugate him.
Almost self-deprecatingly, he admits that he has been ''at war
for the past five hundred years.''
Sense of honor
Before any attempt is made to understand the Tausug and his
so-called culture of violence, it should be necessary to first
examine his particular sense of honor, for here we may find the
initial clues to what makes him value the gun above all his
worldly possessions, and to use it when provoked.
Among the Tausug, the male is not only the provider, he is,
more importantly, the protector and defender, of the family's
honor, the family itself, especially the female members, the
home; the turf and his other possessions, and, in a broader
sense, the clan, in that order.
And in many cases his only reason for self preservation is for
him to be able to fulfill this obligation. In Tausug idiom, the male
is the ''post'' of the house. When he dies or, for any reason, is
absent, the structure is in grave danger of collapse and
Failing in this role is unthinkable, and it results in condemnation
and social sanction that is aptly expressed in the word dayyus
(the Spanish word pendejo approximates its meaning), so
derisive that a Tausug male would rather die than be called one.
As a social being, the kauman (neighborhood, community) long
before the days of foreign incursions into his homeland, had
taught him the power and safety of numbers. For his own
survival, he must protect and defend the clan, so that even
today, it is a matter of honor for him to lay his life on the line for
a kin, no matter how many times removed, so as to ensure that
when he himself is in peril, the clan will rally to his defense.
For this reason, the Tausug takes pains to sugsug (trace blood
ties) so as to determine his bonafide relatives. But this
''clannishness'' can also be a deterrent to confrontation by
outsiders. One can never tell whose relative one messes up
With tongue-in-check, the Tausug warns troublemakers, the
other party would report to magdupa-magdangaw--literally, to
measure in arms-length and the length between thumb and
middle finger, but figuratively, it means to trace blood relations
as far as possible.
Role of protector
And in order for him to be protector, the male Tausug must, first
and foremost, have a weapon. For the Tausug, the gun is the
instrument by which he can reasonably fulfill the role which
almost from the age of puberty, his society has imposed on him.
Undeniably, it is an extension of his masculinity, with or without
its Freudian undertones, although in the case of a bladed
weapon, the sexual symbolism is forthright. A man refers to his
wife, albeit humorously, as his taguban (scabbard).
A gun also underscores his capability as provider, in the same
way that the amount of jewelry worn by his wife is a measure of
his wealth, for one needs money to purchase guns. And the
equation is very simple: the more guns he has, the more
followers he must have, and the more powerful he becomes.
The gun is, therefore, both an instrument and a symbol of
power. It enhances his particular concept of masculinity, but it
also gives him the power to intimidate, to trespass, to oppress,
and to grab what he covets and cannot have otherwise.
Piracy, banditry, kidnapping for ransom, warlordism are but
manifestations of a more perverse sense of power.
An almost inborn obligation to protect and defend, a passionate
desire to manifest his manhood, and the greed, perhaps common
to all cultures, for power. These, from a Tausug's point of view,
compose the foundation upon which this so-called culture of
violence developed. And as contemporary events have shown,
it does not take much to provoke this cultural mindset.
When the day comes that the Tausug no longer sees his
survival as a person, as a clan, as a race, in peril; when he no
longer has to prove himself through the barrel of a gun; when
he has gained the ability to acquire what he desires without one,
then maybe he will no longer be at war with himself.