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Literally, Maranaw or Maranao translates to ‘people of the lake’. Their rich culture and history brings forth pride to their heritage. With stories as colorful as their sophisticatedly woven clothes and as vibrant as their accessories; with traditions as resonating as their distinct artworks, and as deep-seated as the origins of their epic literature, the Maranaos are indeed an endowed people who have maintained their indigenous identity by upholding their cultural heritage, intricate art works, fine mosques, exotic dances and unique music. Centuries may have passed but the cultural heritage of the Maranaos has not only transcended time, it has also gone beyond geographical barriers. The Maranao Community in the United Arab Emirates (MCUAE) or MARCOM has proven this when they established a group to continuously keep their vivid ethnicity alive.
FROM THE LAKE TO THE DUNES
The Maranao culture evolves heavily on social institutions. One’s stature in society is defined by a certain system of Kinship. Courtship and Marriage is a community affair well-participated by the couple’s families and villagers. The communal cohesiveness develops from these traditions that involve the elders and the wise in decision-making. The Maranaos who have chosen the path to globalization proved to be no different. Although far from their homeland, the geographical distance did not prevent them from seeking their fellow Maranaos’ counsel. The idea of coming together as a unit came from the growing concern or fikr of some Maranao tribesmen. The continuous escalation of Maranaos settling in the UAE has become a cause of concern for some of their fellow tribesmen. Before their organization was officially founded, the Muslim Filipino Community or the Maranaos in the UAE faced several challenges. For one, they had difficulty in finding a venue where they can hold their regular meetings. Some members residing in villas began volunteering their homes for the purpose. Enough spaces were made conducive for large community gathering such as theirs. A more serious predicament involved clan disputes or rido. Recognizing that family feuds disturb peace amongst clans, the individuals concerned came to a resolve. They unified to promote the ‘new Maranao community’ where friendship, kinship and brotherhood reign supreme and which is further fired up by their belief in peace, unity and faith in Islam.
“On the Eid El Fitr of November 2004, nine dedicated Maranaos took the bold step in hosting the first Eid gathering of Maranaos in the UAE. They proved that Filipinos can go beyond their personal differences and tribal differences and emerge as one united community,” narrates MARCOM president Sahron Roy Tamano of the group’s humble beginnings. A purely tribal group in nature, the Maranao Community in UAE is likewise a socio-civic organization duly registered and recognized by the Philippine Consulate in Dubai. The organization opens its membership to Maranaos and individuals whose lineages trace to the traditional and current political subdivision of the Maranao tribe. Its main thrust is to achieve unity and enhance the well-being of all Maranao expatriates in the United Arab Emirates. The group’s advocacies have attracted numerous Maranaos all over the emirates. “The group established a strong base and with a short span of time since its inception, it has managed to unite most of the Maranaos living and working across the Emirates, where it became a forum to converge and work hand in hand to achieve the group’s objectives,” adds Roy. “Today, the group has a total active membership of more than 500 and is growing steadfastly.”
PROUD OF THEIR RICH ANCESTRY
It is MARCOM’s goal to develop talents, skills, leadership and promote Maranao values and cultural heritage. The Maranao tribe is widely-known for their intrinsic works of art. Their Darangen literary epic was selected by UNESCO as a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’. Their music has been considered unique owing to its one-of-a-kind instrument, the Kulintang. Their dances have garnered ovation and are continuously commemorated today. The most popular of the Maranao dances is the Kasingkil or Singkil. It is performed by a lady of royal blood escorted by another lady holding an umbrella and dancing through crisscrossing bamboo poles. Colorful scarves and magnificent fans best accessorize the dance, while four men led by a warrior prince manned the bamboo poles. “It was popularized worldwide by the Bayanihan Dancers. This time, the full blooded royal Maranaos from the Maranao Community in the UAE Dance Troupe perform their own dance in different occasions in the UAE,” says Roy. Young members of MARCOM are being taught the various forms of Maranao royal dances. The authentic musical instruments were even acquired from their native Tugaya, Lanao del Sur. The MARCOM Dance Troupe has already exhibited their cultural dance expertise in the 2008 Philippine Independence Day Celebration in Dubai, in the 2008 National Day of the UAE Celebration representing the whole Filipino Community, and in the founding anniversary and Eid celebration Kalilang Sa Emarat and the Dubai Shopping Festival. The latter was their longest performance yet. They were sponsored as regular performers at the Philippine Pavilion in the Global Village from January until February of this year. MARCOM has actively participated in Islamic affairs with fellow Maranaos and other organizations as well. Every Holy Month of Ramadan, the group holds an Iftar every weekend which is pen to all its members. The senior members usually host these gatherings. Last year’s Iftar was made special by the Filipino Press Club in the UAE when they sponsored the first of its kind. The group sponsored a series of Islamic seminars to enlighten its members and develop their faith in God. The Eid El Fitr and Eid El Adha are grandly celebrated by hundreds of Maranaos sharing their happiness and blessings for the year.
WEALTH OF THE COMMUNITY
Its Board of Directors is led by its chairman, Architect Ibrahim Marohombsar and vice-chairman, Vanjo Andig II. The Executive Council is headed by its president, Roy Tamano and vice presidents, Hanifah Caye Ampatua (for internal affairs) and Caharodin Kim Dicritan (for external affairs). Each emirate is well-represented by coordinators and advisors. Together with their subsidiaries, the group inculcates the values of ‘Friendship, Kinship and Brotherhood’ among their members. True to form, MARCOM extends its utmost assistance to members in times of illness, accidents, deaths and other calamities. It aims to work hand in hand with various government agencies in coming up with and implementing policies and programs that will benefit the Maranao community in the UAE. MARCOM collaborated with the Bangsa Moro Labor Organization (BMLO) in organizing numerous charity events in Dubai and Abu Dhabi POLO-OWWA Centers. They have also given assistance to distressed OFWs over issues covering employment and living conditions. Late last year, the group launched its Computer Skills Training dubbed as ‘PINOY-CAD’. Participants were given hands on training by experienced computer professionals. Members, as well as other Filipino expatriates, are given the chance to become computer-literate through this training scheme. MARCOM likewise organizes its annual Sports Fest to uphold values of discipline and sportsmanship, and develop closer ties while encouraging physically fitness.
The Maranao Community in the UAE has indeed become a symbol of our pride, and has gained our gratitude. Pride—because the Maranaos have demonstrated the Philippines’ distinguishing and rich culture; and has successfully belied the notion that we, Filipinos, have lost our true and unique identity as a nation. And gratitude—because they have proudly represented not only their fellow Maranaos in the United Arab Emirates, but the Filipino nation as a whole…