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This issue on Mindanao was created for those of us in the Diaspora who cannot conceive what life in the island might be, what cultivating cultural accomplishments are thriving in Mindanao’s cities and artistic havens. Some of us key in on the word, “Zamboanga,” that exotic sounding name!  A few of us perhaps may have spent a week or two in the beach resorts of the island and are only familiar with pink beaches of red coral sands, less than an hour or two away by outrigger. That’s what tourism is all about for both the expatriate and the foreign visitor. Unless you take the bus route, skip the tricycle rides and walk the streets, you never will experience the markets, the bus stations, the squalor and the upscale living, the night life, the university campuses, and the creative designs of parks and museums.

In these pages, Mindanao comes alive in the multi-level expressions of its youth, artists, writers, scholars, historians and performing artists, who make the pulse of Mindanao throb vibrantly despite what assignation is made by media pundits to the name “Mindanao.” And for you, dear reader, what comes to mind when you hear the name Mindanao?

In the early 1900s, an American physician Charles W. Hack assigned to a military regiment arrived in the Island of Mindanao under the command of Major John J. Pershing. The account of his three-year stay in the Philippines is told quite vividly  in his papers in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. (See Bibliography.) In his journal, he refers to Cotabato City as the one cosmopolitan locale where civility and aesthetics redeemed him as opposed to the jungle and forest clearing of tents where he slept unkempt and unwashed but fully dressed to meet any unexpected encounters with the Moros. In Cotabato City, he found respite and even kept company with a Syrian scholar, a certain Dr. Saleeby who spoke the Moro language and served as an interpreter for the military and the sultanates.

The Moro people and their savage customs and costumes are most interesting to me. The Moros here in Cottobatto being very friendly everyone goes about unarmed, a thing that is hard for me to accustom myself to. Back in the interior are some lakes, the shores of which are thickly populated with Moros who know but little of civilized life or people. On one or two occasions they were victorious in battle with the Spaniards, so they think they can keep the Americans out as well – a short time ago a small party of American soldiers was attacked by many Moros and some of our horses captured, so this is the cause of the Expedition. Then one or two other small “scraps” [sic] have added fuel to the fire. There has been an Assyrian doctor here who has learned something about the Moro language and ways, so I am sent here to take his place as he can be of so much greater service on the trip than could I.

They all carry large knives called “Kris” (crease from wavy blade) and look very savage. This is a field for the relic-hunter and I am making the most of my time as I fear my stay here is to be short. I am delighted with this place and my work. I have a leper colony to look after…. When I went out to see them I found they were much in need of clothing and poorly housed, so I presented their case to the commanding officer and now they are soon to have new clothing and a new house so I hope I have done some little good in my short stay here.  The Philippinos here, while few in number, are much more intelligent than those up north. Many of the little children speak English very well. Nearly all of the business here is conducted by Chinamen and It is a great rubber market. (pp.34-35, April, 1902)

—From the journal of CHARLES W. HACK, Reproduced from the Collections of the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Hack mentions coming across a copy of the Qur’an and proceeds to understand what he had acquired:

I have an interesting Koran which I value because of its age and rarety. There will probably not be one like it in the United States. It is entirely written by hand, in Arabic characters but in the Moro language. I am sorry I could not get one in a better state of preservation and may be able to do so yet. These people being Mohammedans, their Korans are hard to obtain by purchase, or otherwise than by capture by force. This Koran is quite large and has some elementary colors combined with the black characters: As foot or marginal notes, etc, being mostly used. (p.64, August 1, 1902).

The journal details the confrontation of a Western man with the traditions of the island tribal culture, the hierarchy of sultanates and Hack’s own physical reading of what life was like among the Moros.

We thought it fitting that with my miniscule involvement via the Hack Papers and in assisting Dr. Annabel Gallop of the British Library with her recent discovery of Islamic materials in the Smithsonian Institution Museum of Natural History, and with the assistance of Curator Felicia Pickering, these early Islamic documents found in Mindanao and now scattered in libraries and museums in the U.S. can be shared with readers of Our Own Voice.

Remé Antonia Grefalda
Geejay (Arriola) Langlois
April 2011

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Remé-Antonia Grefalda

Aileen Ibardaloza-Cassinetto

Victoria Paz Cruz
Seb Koh
Yolanda Palis

Geejay Langlois

Eileen Tabios

Carlos Bulosan

copyright 2011

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