Matters of Honor Pt.1


Barongs, not Tagalog

Possibly drowned out by the daily indignities of living in Manila, the Malay concept of martabat or honor.

Amina Rasul, president of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, talked about it at a forum on the Sultanate of Sulu’s claim to Sabah earlier this month.

She explained that among the Tausug, indeed among the Moro peoples, martabat is the main thing. “We may have become impoverished and marginalized but that does not matter. We are defined by our honor,” she said.

She discusses it further in her column on BusinessWorld:

It is the duty of each member of the clan not to bring dishonor or shame to himself/herself as this also dishonors his or her family and clan. Dishonor can be due to rape, murder, wrongful accusations of dishonesty, theft, and duplicity — acts that reduces the public perception of the individual (and therefore his or her clan). If the individual is indeed guilty, then the family must bear the shame. If not, honor must be reclaimed. Shame can also be due to a very public loss — such as surrender in battle.

That, she said, is why fighters with the Royal Sulu Army in Sabah will not surrender despite reportedly heavy losses. With the attendant loss of face for the Sultanate of Sulu, Rasul said it would be better to die. Martabat has also led to rido, or clan wars, to settle disputes between “the many who do not believe there is justice in the implementation of the rule of law.”

On a personal note, I have been reading about bushido* in recent months as a hobby and as a way of coping with issues and was pleasantly surprised** that there is a similar concept among Malays. Not because clan wars are good policy, but because it shows that our people*** were not savages who needed civilizin’.****

Which is an important thing to consider before telling off Kiram’s followers for being “matigas ang ulo (stubborn)” and selfish for not being patient about a claim that has been pending since 1962.*****

An interesting counterpoint, though, from a representative of the Sultanate of Maguindanao that I talked to recently. Martabat is important, but under the Sultanate system, this is trumped by what he called humanitarian law, the need to preserve harmony and protect lives.

Nitobe Inazo in Bushido: The Soul of Japan defines it as “the code of moral principles which the samurai were required or instructed to observe”, or what an ex-girlfriend and I liked to call “samurai shit”.

** Not so pleasant: That it took me this long to find out about it.

***Our people by virtue of the Treaty of Paris, which included their land under Philippine territory without their having any say about it.

**** With a Krag, more often than not.

*****  Paramount Sultan Ibrahim Bahjin Shakirulla II said at the forum that Sabah is not the Philippines’s to claim, but the Sultanate’s. The Government of the Republic of the Philippines only has a Special Power of Attorney to bring the case to the International Court of Justice.


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