Maglana: Taking more responsibility for social memories

IN THE previous column I argued that while distorted historiographies, and the problems concerning how Philippine and Mindanao histories are taught in the Philippine educational system are big challenges, we can’t just leave it to historians and the formal educational actors to rectify our understandings of the different stories that constitute our past, and which partly shape our present and the future.

I argued that social memories are also at play, and this is an area for which we--individuals, families and groups--are responsible.

Crumley in 2002 provided a neutral definition of social memory: “…the means by which information is transmitted among individuals and groups from one generation to another. Not necessarily aware that they are doing so, individuals pass on their behaviors and attitudes to others in various contexts but especially through emotional and practical ties and in relationships among generations” (as cited by Anderlini, Gerardi and Lagunoff, 2007).

Social memories need not be directly experienced in order to be passed on. We often draw from what has been told us by others, or from beliefs that are embedded in events, accounts, games and songs. They can also be highlighted by what we regard as important enough that we ritualize them.

If asked about the memorable moments in their lives, many of us likely point to life events like births and unions and the attendant rites, or religion-based celebrations. But there are also the little, nondescript events from which we get our moorings and bearings.

Mine included the daily storytelling sessions when I was little with my uncle ‘Yoyo Pruding, who survived an accident involving dynamite fishing and who essayed a truly remarkable life as a differently-abled person. Blind in one eye and half-blind in the other, minus an arm and a number of fingers, and slightly deaf, but he had my rapt attention as he talked about what I now call the “Maria, Juan, Pedro and Jose” stories.

They were folktales, likely inspired by his Cebuano and Boholano roots. I didn’t realize it then but they celebrated the fisherfolk and peasant origins of our family. My strong regard for farmers and fisherfolk communities I partly ascribe to those stories, along with my Mother’s own accounts of how she and her sisters had to first sell fish every morning before they could go to school.

I grew up in Lupon, Davao Oriental where there were many Kalagan Muslims. I remember that during buka, the daily breaking of fast in the season of the Ramadan, they would give out amik, those triangle-shaped fried rice noodles that were delicious and addictive, to the neighborhood children. I can still recall standing with other children all sweaty from playing, happily munching on amik and being told that it was the Ramadan.

Nobody elaborated on what the Ramadan was but in my young mind it was something that was not exclusive to Muslims, after all they also gave amik to Christians like me.

One of my Mother’s best friends had a son by a Muslim policeman. The talks that I overheard among the grown-ups were not concerns about his being a Muslim, but more about his occupation, which was particularly dangerous in the days of Martial Law, and how it could affect her and her son. I think these experiences and stories helped mitigate the strong and dominant anti-Muslim messages from mass media and the educational system that I encountered later on.

Social memories are partly responsible not only for historical distortions but also for the discrimination directed by Christian Filipinos to the Muslim population.

The 2005 Philippine Human Development Report (PHDR) reported that 33% to 39% of Filipinos have biases against Muslims. This is illustrated further by decisions about the hiring of workers and helpers. The 2005 PHDR said that 46% of Christians would opt to hire a Christian male worker, and 40% a Christian female domestic helper.

However, only 4 percent would employ a Muslim male worker, and 7 percent a Muslim female domestic helper.

Would that ten years have changed those figures but chances are the levels of discrimination against Muslims and other minorities in the population such as indigenous peoples remain high.

Social memory isn’t just about what we know and remember. It’s also what we choose to forget. Two columns back I mentioned the non-recognition of the first appointed mayor of Dadiangas, now General Santos City, in accounts about the city. This detail came out of the Listening Process (LP) strand of the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC).

Prof. Rufa Cagoco-Guiam who heads the Listening Process and who shared the above story pointed out that most narratives seem to have forgotten Mayor Zainal Abidin, who was a Maguindanaon, and instead privilege General Paulino Santos, who was ordered by Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon to “pacify” the “wild natives” of South Cotabato: the Maguindanaon and indigenous Blaan.

In this case written historical narratives and imposed social memories seem to have succeeded in shaping a limited version of the story of Dadiangas/General Santos City that also privileged those who conquered the native populations.

But social memories, such as those articulated by those who remembered Mayor Abidin, can also be used to challenge and reconstruct history.

We have been marking October since 2009 as the National Indigenous Peoples Month. Reflecting on that in relation to social memories, it’s been said that the lifeways of IPs emphasize the transmittal of not only practical knowledge but also community history and beliefs through songs, dances, chants, rituals and stories.

The structure of their daily lives allow for regular and direct interactions among elders, adults and children minus the distractions of mass media and commodified culture.

I’d like to pass on Maria, Juan, Pedro and Jose, and amik stories, and help propagate more inclusive social memories. It doesn’t mean that we have to approximate the lifeways of IPs.

But we can begin by being more deliberate about what we remember and pass on as individuals, families and communities, and what we choose to forget.


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