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The Tausug enigma
Source: Inquirer
Author: Noralyn Mustafa
Date: 2000-09-16
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.

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