History and Culture
Beyond Fear: The Myths and Feats of the Islamic Marawi
Lanao del Sur
Choose Philippines | Oct 17, 2019
Story and photos by Roxanne Arevalo
The Maranaos of Marawi in Lanao Del Sur are people who have always been regarded as proud and courageous in character. Even the bravest of their men, however, also yield to the authority of supernatural creatures in their land.
On May 2017, the City of Marawi came under siege by the Isis-inspired Maute group. Hundreds were believed to have been trapped inside their homes, executed or killed by crossfire here in the most affected area, Maa. Two years later, the military continues to find skeletal remains among the rubbles. Along with these finds are stories of eerie midnight howls and inexplicable goosebumps.
The Maranaos say that the things that were unseen but felt in the area are not ghosts but something else. They call them the Shaitan. “Yung tao daw, pag pinanganak, may kakambal sya na di nakikita at kung namatay sya yung kakambal nya nagpapaiwan sa mundo. Siguro yung kakambal ng isang tao na namatay na naiwan yun ang nagpaparamdam,” relates Celia Radja of the National Commission on Indigenous People. (Humans are born with an invisible twin. Upon death, this twin remains on earth. It would seem that they are the ones making its presence felt)
Celia adds that these invisible twins are incapable of harming anyone. “Sabi nga ng mga scholars sa amin na mga Aleem wag mong katakutan ang namatay na babalik ang kaluluwa nya na tatakutin ka kasi pag namatay ang isang tao patay na yun at wala nang paraan para makabalik sa mundo.” (Our scholars have counseled us the Aleem to not fear that the spirits of the dead will return to haunt us because once a person passes on to the afterlife, there is no way for them to return to the living.)
For the Maranaos, if there is one thing to be afraid of, it is the Tunongs, spirits that live on rocks and trees. The Maranaos believe these spirits could hurt them inasmuch as these creatures can help them. Celia says that some clans have been feeding and taking care of Tunongs. In the Maranao epics, Tunongs were depicted as a reliable help of the Darangen hero Datu Bantugan during his rescue of the abducted princess Lawanen. “Kung yung ninuno mo inaalagaan ang tunong na yun, pag tinigilan mo silang alagaan, mananakit sila,” Celia shares. (If your ancestor takes care of a Tunong, when you stop taking care of them, they will hurt you)
[related: The Grand Mosque of the Philippines]
Like the Christians, the Muslim-Maranaos also believe in angels but for them, these angels are unable to protect them but only write down the person’s good and bad deeds. Anthropologist Dr. Christian Aguado shares that a few of what the Maranaos believe now were obtained through their assimilation with non-Muslim settlers. “Those Maranaos who have been exposed to the Christian community have been acculturated. They have adopted other’s culture without forgetting their own,” he explains, adding that the Muslim Maranaos are quick to reject anything that is not in the Qur-an. The belief in mythical creatures remain trivial in the Maranao culture as these people have almost always recognized the supremacy of Allah and have devoted their lives in preserving their ethnic identity.