Tausug and Tau Sug: Melting Solidifications
by Shariful S. Mansul
There is a persistent confusion from the dominant rulings of calling the language the people. Tagalog is spoken by the Tagalog and Ilocano by the Ilocano. But it isn’t so much the case in Tausug. Properly speaking, nobody says, “I can speak Tausug.” Because it translates, I can speak the Person of Sulu, literally, as one can’t say, “I can speak Tausambuwangan.” Or that I can speak the Person of Zamboanga. Patiently, the one who remembers reminds, It’s Bahasa Sug. But of course, this has grown old and contrary to the world we our presently being conditioned in—the world through the looking glass of Araling Panlipunan (AP) and its neat compartmentalization of Buwan ng Wika-esque representation of Philippine tribes which never misses to evoke in me the worldbuilding of The Lord of the Rings.
When my grandfather brought me to Siasi, an island within the Sulu group of islands, I never encountered a person uttering the word Tausug. And no, I wasn’t asking a Sama or a Marines man born in Bukidnon patrolling the coasts. In reference to their abstraction of local human affairs, they would opt to say Tau Pata, or Tau Maimbung, or Tau Bongao, or Tau Patikul, and it was only through the precondition of this framework of understanding that sailing back to Jolo’s wharf a few days later could I dream of understanding a scenario half-imagined: A kid in my language denied he was Tausug. No, he rejected his interlocuter, I’m Tau Pandami. And there I was, disheveled hair by the railing, pulling his collar closer to tell him, on my mind at least, You still are! You just live in Pandami, you naive! You are Tausug as much as I am! Well, and I know because I’ve read about it! It was an introvert’s righteous indignation at something utterly minor, and it took me a few years to evaluate what was off. Thinking of it over the years, a shuffling and reshuffling to who the naive should apply to has been consistent. It was an anomalous experience that disturbs the foundations of my sense of belonging every now and then. And thinking of it again now, questions are still raised. Should it not be that the imperatives of AP be confirmative to the daily realities it seeks to present? What right does my rudimentary education of Philippine history and society have to the very image it patterned itself after?
I’ve always fancied myself as stingy when propagating my truths, standing on a mighty pulpit burning one fallacy after another. A pyromancer of sorts with exclusive wizard powers. I am Tausug, and at the same time, Tau Sug. But one is a literary invention, and the other is as concrete as the splitting of oceanic foams alongside the accelerating presence of a metal vessel, a creature with a setting. It’s a dichotomy that sometimes pulls me to the other side. The world is seen through language, and any attempt at agitating a micro-difference snowballs into the overall change of the kaleidoscope of things. A Tau Sug can be any one in any time. It’s stripped from the celestial revelation of identity definitions. How does a Tau Sug look like? How do they behave? What food do they eat? What is their predominant politics? These are derivatives, more closely associated with the Tausug, the congealed practice and observation of the Tau Sug in a specific space and time. A summary of the majority, and equally and potentially as violent as the already violent hegemony-inspired cleansings in Rakhine and Xinjiang. The demarcations around the self. The salting of seawater. It never quenches, but always, it crushes one’s molars. It reduces than nourishes.
But one may pose the questions, Ultimately, isn’t it all futile? This emphasized fuss on the difference of space, of orthography, isn’t it all an intercourse of literary and intellectual excesses? A mere pastime of the privileged? After all, this doesn’t raise from the ashes the arsoned stilt houses of the Samas which coincidentally gave way to the burgeoning tourism industry’s aesthetic demands, however brutal and inhumane they are to the first inhabitants. I don’t know how development works, I don’t know many things and sometimes my pink soccer ball disappoints me, and I don’t know if my contemplations still matter to begin with even, but I am mad as a frying pan on high flame. I’m thinking, perhaps as compensation to my lapses and laziness, that this flammation might just be a brain in itself, with its own awareness and responses of and to things. Until an answer to these existential inquiries (to me, at least) is reached, I will continue riding its back.