24 JANUARY 2007
i R E P O R T — A R M M T O W N T H R I V E S O N T R A DI T I O N A L A R T S
THESE DAYS, mothers doubling as entrepreneurs are a common sight in Tugaya (very much unlike in other parts of ARMM). Many women toil away not only over hot stoves preparing hot meals for their families, but also over their sewing machines, making blankets and pillows. Many like Ameena have also taken up weaving, which in Tugaya means the traditional backloom. Some stitch sequin after sequin on meters of cloth to make wall hangings. In bright yellow, green, or red — the Maranao royal colors — these wall hangings are staple decorations in local feasts, such as weddings and other festive celebrations.
At the same time, the Guroalim administration worked on upgrading the educational system, focusing on supporting both the English and Arabic schools. As the mayor sees it, education is crucial to self-reliance and success. Again, the municipal government tapped NGOs and funding agencies, mainly to help it build classrooms and school buildings, although some groups later opted to sponsor livelihood programs for the children’s parents. The argument behind that was a higher family income would mean more funds for the children’s school needs and would encourage parents to keep sending their kids to school. The local government also gave allowances to teachers in 20 Islamic schools in Tugaya.
As for the feuding clans, a program aimed at drawing their participation and encouraging consensus was set up. Soon representatives of the major clans — Maruhom Malimala, Maruhom Amai Banto, Maruhom Sarip, Maruhom Taop, Maruhom Radiamoda, Maruhom Sabir, Maruhom Naba, Maruhom Siddick, and Maruhom Jaman — were signing a covenant of power-sharing. Under the system they agreed on, each clan would take turns at having a member sit as the sultan, much like how today’s Malaysian sultans take turns at being king of that country.
SUCH A political lineage, however, may have meant little to the townfolk of Tugaya when the 30-something Guroalim decided to run for mayor three years ago. Having lived far from Lanao for so long, Guroalim wasn’t that popular in his hometown. And unlike his relatives who had been mayor, he was neither charismatic nor a fiery speaker. At the 2004 elections, he was up against a set of relatives, too: former mayor Mangawan Balindong, Ayonan Pangcoga, and Sagosara Pukunum. Yet when the dust at the polls finally settled, it was Guroalim who emerged as winner — by a slim margin of some 50 votes over his closest opponent.
Whatever it was that made Tugayans choose him, many of them are thankful for it now. Many of the women, for instance, say this is the first time in Tugaya that there is livelihood support, and especially for them. Tugayans also say they like how their mayor constantly comes up with development programs.
Trade and industry department provincial representative Cabili Arobinto notes that Tugaya has become more reliable in meeting orders placed by customers. This is even as its customer base continues to widen. In the last few years, Maranao arts and crafts — most of them coming from Tugaya — have become more visible not only in Davao City, but also in Manila, where they can be seen in chic offices and upscale residences.
For sure that’s partly because Maranao traders have become more peripatetic. But it could also be because, as several Tugayans believe, Tugaya has stepped up efforts to market its products. At the very least, observers say, other municipalities in Lanao del Sur have yet to match the level attained by the town in terms of product reach.
Having a hostile second in command could be a major distraction. Guroalim, however, seems determined to keep his eye on the prize — which is not necessarily another shot at being mayor, although he is certainly running again this May. The real prize is in keeping Maranao arts and crafts alive, not only because they provide income for the artisans, but also because they help maintain the memory and identity of the Maranao.
In Tugaya, Guroalim says, the older generation of craftsmen and artists is already passing on their skills to youthful successors. But it would be better, he says, if that would be replicated elsewhere in ARMM so that there would be a greater chance the Maranao culture that has withstood wars would live on.
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