24 JANUARY 2007
by SAMIRA GUTOC
In a little town called Tugaya, however, keeping alive the traditional arts and crafts of Lanao del Sur’s predominant tribe has meant not only the preservation of a unique culture, but also having reliable sources of income for many of its residents. And in the last few years, business has become even better for Tugaya artisans and entrepreneurs, who have also increased in number.
To do this, the Tugaya municipal government headed by Mayor Alimatar Guroalim used as guide the suggestions of the townspeople themselves on how to improve the local economy. The young mayor also put in place a system that has helped reduce political conflicts in Tugaya, which has at least nine major clans that used to find it difficult to see eye to eye.
Brassware trader and woodcraftsman Alamin says proudly that he has foreign customers always in wait for his carved wooden boxes. He says he even has a catalogue of his designs, but he is careful not to show it to just anyone since he has no desire to have copycats.
Many of Tugaya’s married women, meanwhile, are glad they now have a better chance of becoming financially independent — unlike those in other towns in ARMM who have little access to employment. The municipal government had apparently listened when Tugaya’s women said they needed help to get started in business; now there is a capital-assistance program just for them. Says Ameena, a weaver: “I am able to be a productive and independent mother...Earning is a means to empower ourselves.”
Tugaya, of course, has long been known as the home of the arts and crafts of the Maranao tribe, to which many people in Lanao del Sur belong. But it was not until last June, when the town marked yet another founding anniversary, that Tugaya dared call itself the “Industrial Capital of Lanao del Sur.”
WITH A population of about 22,000, Tugaya has 23 barangays occupying some 4,028 hectares. It is 22 kilometers away from the city of Marawi and is situated along the western shore of Lake Lanao. The townfolk also fish and do marginal farming, but the main source of livelihood in Tugaya remains arts and crafts that showcase the Maranao okir or decorating style. Indeed, one can actually tell where he or she is in Tugaya just by looking at what is being made in the area. The barangays of Lumbac, Bubong, and Pandiaranao, for instance, are into brassware-making. Sugod-I, Ingud Poblacion, Dilimbayan, and Tangcal specialize in woodcarving and making inlaid chests. Barangay Lumbac, meanwhile, is known for its malong and langkit (trimmings with ethnic designs).
Last year, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts even nominated Tugaya as a World Heritage Site because of the arts and crafts it produces. According to the Commission, the Maranao arts and crafts coming out of Tugaya “are intimately enmeshed with the cultural structure and organization of the people such that it is highly distinguishable from all other forms, although these would still belong to a pan-Southeast Asian culture.” (It is still on the tentative list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, which is responsible for the World Heritage Sites.)
By the time Alimatar Guroalim was elected mayor in 2004, however, much of the fighting in Tugaya was being done by the town’s clans among themselves. Unfortunately, their bickering — usually regarding politics or over who had the right to head the Sultanate — was also affecting everyone else. A law graduate from the University of the East in Manila, Guroalim had spent much of the previous decade away from Tugaya, since he was based in Baguio, where he worked at the Office on Muslim Affairs. His visits to his hometown, however, were enough to make him realize the debilitating impact the local feuds were having on Tugaya’s growth.
Yet while bringing the clans together was certainly on his checklist of to-dos as a budding politician, Guroalim says he entered politics with a platform of addressing development. “If we compare traditional leaders and the modern ones, we see that (there is a lack of emphasis on) improvement with the former,” he explains. “Traditional leaders were only concerned with pacifying conflicts, but the development of the inged (community) is forgotten.”
And so one of the first things Guroalim did after winning was to consult residents on how to improve the economy in Tugaya. Taking the cue from them, the young first-time mayor passed laws to support micro-enterprise at the barangay level, focusing on upgrading the cottage industry in Tugaya. He also passed a law to create a display center at the corner where one turns to go into Tugaya from the national highway — the better for the town’s products to be seen by more potential customers.
Women’s groups in particular were provided with start-up capital, with many of them choosing to go into embroidery work. According to the mayor, the women were very vocal at consultation meetings regarding what they needed. “We saw how the women were much more active in accessing support and coordinating with us,” he says. He adds that supporting them with training has proven to be the right move, since many women have applied what they learned and earning even as they continue to keep house.
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