Traveler Explores Basilan & Discovers Something Beautifully Vibrant In Its People
Ulysses John Almocera | Jun 13, 2017
The Yakan people is considered as one of the 13 Moro groups in the Philippines. Originally from the island of Basilan, the tribe has spread to the nearby islands of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Zamboanga City. Colorful and vibrant, the tribe is known for their intricate weaves, culinary treasures, and rich culture.
The 4th class Municipality of Maluso is home to a diverse culture of Tausugs, Yakans, and Christians who live peacefully within its 20 barangays. Mayor Hanie A. Bud was approached by the locals of Barangay Taberlongan who asked for support to promote the Yakan culture of their barangay. I was invited to witness a showcase of the lively Yakan Culture last weekend and I was pleasantly surprised with their presentation.
Guests were welcomed at the Barangay Hall of Taberlongan with a lot of Yakan women wearing their traditional costume called the Semmek Yakan. Their headdress called the “pis Yakan” and their dresses called the “Baju Yakan” are made of intricate weaves with different patterns from nature such as flowers, diamond, fish, and bamboo. These fabrics can retail for as low as Php 300 to Php 3,000 per meter depending on the intricacy of the design.
Embellished with beads and sequins shaped like flowers, their traditional dresses look like royalty from the past. Men were also present during the occasion and dressed in their traditional costumes. A small bronze container called the “sappa” hung on their waist which contains betel nut, the seed of a palm tree which is believed by locals to have medicinal benefits. People using betel nut can easily be spotted when they smile because their teeth are painted red from the residue of the nut.
As I looked around, I saw a girl and a boy with their face painted with white spots called the “tanyak-tanyak”. Made of rice powder, the face paint is used in wedding rituals to adorn the faces of the bride and groom. It was painted on the faces of the children for demonstration purposes only. The crowd gathered as local musicians started playing gongs of different sizes called “agong” and “kulintangan”. A male dancer carrying a spear and a female dancer with long false fingernails danced the “Tumahik”, a ward dance that is performed during weddings and important ceremonies.
Smoke from firewood can be seen from a short distance. Frying pans sizzle as women cooked native delicacies. One woman held a long stick with a coconut shell on top of a frying pan. Batter made of rice flour passes these tiny holes and drops into the oil giving it a vermicelli-like shape. It is then rolled or shaped into different forms before it turns to golden brown. The Yakan Tribe calls it “Jaa” while other tribes in Mindanao calls it Lokot-lokot.
Another delicacy is the “Panyalam” which is made of rice flour and brown sugar batter. Deep frying the batter in oil gives it a pancake like shape with scalloped trimmings on the side and a soft-chewy center. Other delicacies like the hantak, kitut, and putli mandi were served in trays lined with banana leaves.
Our cultural and culinary tour wrapped-up with a fancy lunch shared with the locals. Food were served in trays called “Dulang” containing servings of different heirloom recipes. Adorned with colorful eggs (locally called pugad benela), the center of the tray is native rice shaped in a pyramid and surrounded with fish and chicken dishes. Fried fish (kenna pritu), ginataang nangka, grilled squid (tinape kanu-us), and cooked stingray (sinagel). Native chicken cooked in burnt coconut and a special blend of spices called the chicken “pianggang” and the curacha or “kagang sambew” were also served in the center. The best way to eat the “Dulang” is by hand. Food is like a universal language for us and sharing meals seated on the floor in woven mats allowed us to share stories with the locals.
I can see the pride in the eyes from the people of Taberlongan, Maluso as they voiced some of their stories and sentiments. It is true that a lot of negative images would come to a visitors mind every time Basilan is mentioned. They may have graced the news for wrong reasons such as armed conflict and kidnapping which is usually isolated in some municipalities that are hard to reach.
Being a blogger in this part of the country, I have left behind my prejudice and fears long ago. It was the best decision I made. Even locals from the mainland have inhibitions of coming to Maluso. But allowing fear to consume us will hinder us from having fun and learning from different cultures. I never felt any threat to my security the entire time I was in Maluso. Coordination with the local government unit is the key for ensuring a safe trip. Community volunteers are organized in the barangay level and the office of Mayor Hanie A. Bud provides guides and security escorts.
How to get there? Ride a fast craft from Zamboanga City to Isabela City, Basilan. The mayor’s staff will fetch you at the port and will take you to the Municipality of Maluso which is less than thirty minutes away. Please contact Mr Rhence Francisco, Municipal Tourism Officer at 0915-298-3263 for your tours.
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