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TRANSFIGURING MINDANAO: Diversity and Divergence: The Making of Mindanao

Chancellor Alizedney M. Ditucalan during the conversation series of Transfiguring Mindanao at MSU-IIT on 7 September 2022. MindaNews photo by BOBBY TIMONERA

[Keynote Address of Prof. Alizedney M. Ditucalan, JD, LLM, Chancellor, Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) during the conversation series on the book Transfiguring Mindanao: A Mindanao Reader held on 7 September 2022 at MSU-IIT.]

Good afternoon to all our guests and to the members of the audience. I welcome also those who are with us through Zoom. Thank you all for choosing to be here.

When I saw the book in person, I was pleasantly surprised by the heft and size of the volume. I did not expect it to be as impressive physically, as it is impressive academically.

Transfiguring Mindanao is a towering contribution in Mindanao studies, and in Philippine studies. I say this because like most of you here, I am also Mindanao-born.

The language of my home is Maranao, but I speak Bisaya, as fluently as I speak Filipino, and the nature of my job requires me to converse in English. This plurilingual reality is the hallmark of our identity as a Filipino in this part of the country.

Necessarily, the plurality in our languages indicates a plurality in cultures. And in each culture is a unique worldview – each one hosting a different arrangement of what is considered important and which ones need fighting for.

Foremost among these virtues in Maranao is katitibanga, the duty (a requirement!) to help one’s
fellowmen, especially a fellow Maranao. This puts family and duty at the center of all other virtues – this is a worldview that is familiar, but which might be of varying importance in other cultures.

But these concepts of family and duty are the component pillars of “home”. And home is a unifying theme among cultures in the world.

In Malayo-Polynesian, the larger linguistic family where the Philippine languages belong, the concept of home is encoded by a largely unchanged lexical form: BANWA. It refers to inhabited land or the territory supporting the life of a community.

In Kapampangan, the meaning of banwa has expanded to also refer to the heavens; in Sangir, a
language close to the sea-dwelling Badjaus, banwa encompasses the sea; In Subanon, it refers to a dwelling and in Cebuano, it refers to nation, which is the relationship of land and people.

But of all of these, one cognate (or related word form) puts into perspective the struggle for self-
determination that we are all familiar with as Mindanaoans. This cognate is in Iban, a language spoken in Sarawak, Malaysia, a close relative of our Philippine languages. In Iban, menwa (from banwa) refers to home.

But menwa is only gained and maintained by much effort and danger, and by proper rites to secure and preserve a ritual harmony of all within it and the unseen forces involved.

You see, strife and struggle are not foreign concepts related to home. In fact, they are part and parcel: the home is a place we protect, because rooted to it are life and identity.

For an island that is home to half of the country’s total indigenous populations, and home to 94% of the country’s Muslim population, it is unsurprising that we will have a plurality of worldviews.

The recognition of this plurality is how we Mindanaoans are equipped with the capacity to understand that divergences from better-known and better-accepted beliefs and values systems are regarded with discomfort and unease.

My friends, these divergences have been regarded as the root of unrest and the lack of lasting peace in Mindanao. They say we are too different to ever be similar.

But perhaps it is not the goal to be similar.

Perhaps the goal is to allow each other’s differences, and to cultivate mutual pride for our diversity.

And instead of looking at it as a problem to be solved, we could look at it as an opportunity to be seized.

Our diversity is a gift. This diversity allows us to preserve as much and as many knowledge systems as we can: ways of honoring our ancestors; ways of commemorating our wins; ways of grieving for our dead; ways of defending our honor; and ways of incorporating nature in the celebration of our lives.

Our diversity also allows us many, many opportunities for convergence, I am not talking about
converging so that we become alike, because that is impossible. I am talking about the convergence that gives birth to a mutual order, where our similarities are celebrated, but where our differences are celebrated more.

So it should be more realistic to talk about convergences (in the plural) rather than a singular
convergence. It allows us to win at every small or big juncture where our paths cross; and maybe, when we win enough times, we win together.

Only when we diverge, do we converge.

In closing, let me express once again my congratulations for the hosting of this conversation series.

For too long, Mindanao has been haunted by fears we could not name, and by wounds too deep for us to comprehend.

Those of us who wish to help had been confounded by which conversation to pursue, and with whom. This book is, finally, a good place to start.

As Chancellor, I am proud to see familiar names among the roster of those who contributed to this book. Foremost of these are Prof. Juvanni Caballero, and retired professors Jamail Kamlian and Rudy Rodil from the History department.

As a son of Mindanao, I am happy to see, in my lifetime, a volume about Mindanao written mostly by Mindanaoans. No other people remember our story as well as we do; we can no longer delegate the “remembering” and the storytelling to those who can only exoticize us in their art and in their histories.

Mindanao is in their hashtags. But their hashtag is our reality.

To be represented in the way Transfiguring Mindanao represents us gives me immense hope for our country. I look forward to the day when those from MSU-IIT shall lead the way.

Thank you and good afternoon!

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