Maratbat and the Maranao by Nainobai D. Disomangcop

The Maranaos are traditional people whose rich cultural practices continue to perplex even social scientists. Their resistance to change is seen not only in their slow modernization process, but also their continued faithfulness to customs and beliefs.

Their practice of the maratabat is a mark of distinction which makes them unique among all other ethnic groups. Maratabat is equated with “hiya” or shame, honor and dignity, rank, self-esteem or “amor-propio,” reputation and “face.” But maratabat is more than any of these. There is no single word or phrase that can clearly define maratabat, for the Maranaos have surrounded it with many socio-psychological concepts of their own. It is directly proportional to a person’s social rank. One social scientist views it as a blind, irrational pride of clan and tribe and a deep sense of personal honor and face. The substance of maratabat lies in the symbols, shared beliefs, images in the collective reputation, and in public morality of the Maranaos. When positively directed, it gives them unity, strength, and identity; it serves as a driving force in Maranao everyday life, be it social, political, or economic.

To some Maranaos the practice of maratabat is instinctive, but to others it is a learned cultural practice picked up by the children from the elders. One Maranao claimed that he never remembered being taught by his parents to do this or do that for it was expected of him, but rather he learned it gradually through observation from the old Maranaos. To give a better understanding of the process, here is an illustrative case:

Abdul was surprised one day to see his father together with some other male relatives, bringing guns, and crossing the lake. He was then in the grade school. Later, however, that one of his uncles had been killed. His father had gone out to get his uncle’s killer or any of his relatives. However, upon the admonitions of his father’s father, the relatives of the killer were spared from the vendetta.

The practice of maratabat does not bar a person with high educational attainment from killing another person once his maratabat has been transgressed. There was one law practitioner who was compelled to kill the brother of his brother’s killer because of this.

Vengeance for one’s sullied maratabat is one of the reasons why there are many army soldiers who have died in the Lanao area, explained a lady informant. The soldiers were just so trusting that they did not know the fellow next to them was their enemy. They thought that because they had not done anything (directly) to him, he was not involved. But in Maranao society, once a member of the family is in trouble, all of the relatives are on his side to protect him.

Maranaos who are enemies in Lanao would temporarily forget their animosity and become friends especially when they are in a faraway place. There are several Maranao warring families in Lanao who are close friends especially when they are in Manila. The common cause for this change of attitude is the necessity to group together when a Maranao is involved involve in some trouble.

But a Maranao does not just kill a person without a reasonable cause. Insult or defamation could goad a person into killing another. Once this is inflicted on him, he is ready to face his enemy just to uphold his “dirtied maratabat.” Trouble arising because of girls is a very common case. Even a wolf-whistle from a man could cause him trouble once a girl would inform her family of such things. This would set the scene for killing and counter-killing.

Oftentimes, because of the desire to uphold their maratabat, a killing could cause a vicious cycle for vendetta and counter-vendetta, one family avenging death of a relative until a solution is arrived at. This is where the datus play their role. Normally, marriage is one of the best solutions to the problem. A daughter or a son of the erring party is married to the son or daughter of the other party. In this way, the series of killings would be stopped. The girl, however, may have no right of her own regarding the ceremony. In many instances, though the girl feels some resentment over the arrangement, she would finally coaxed into getting married, because it is only through her that the conflict would be settled. There are some rare cases, however, where the girl would stand firm on her decision not to marry and would refuse to cohabit with her husband after the wedding ceremony. In this case, the expenses incurred during the ceremony and the bride-price is returned to the groom’s family.

An outsider to Maranao society would be surprised to find out that to work as maids, which is very common especially among urbanized Christian groups, is unknown among the Maranaos. Household servitude among Maranaos is not in accordance with the accepted mores of their society. Accordingly, financially hard-pressed individuals are prevented by well-to-do relatives from rendering household service in return for money, because it is the duty of the well-to-do relatives to extend help to their misfortunate kin. Another reason, perhaps, is the idea that working in another’s house for money would, in some way, degrade an individual. This is especially true when the individual comes from a higher stratum in society.

It is not surprising, therefore, that there are Maranaos who are poor but acquire high education, especially in the field of medicine, engineering, and law. Some of them even study in prestigious universities in Manila. This is possible because relatives contribute to the cost of education of a member of their family who desires to study. It only needs a little coaxing on the part of the individual concerned for there relatives to chip in for his education. Every now and then, regular help would be given until that person finishes his degree.

Another reason why relatives are willing to help other relatives to finance their education is the fact that extending help to these people is like an investment: financially, socially and politically, their success means raising the family maratabat.

It is not uncommon to hear some Maranaos worry because a relative is getting married. Sometimes even a close friend would show this concern. The explanation for this kind of attitude may be gleaned from the practice of maratabat. Occasions like these serve as a channel for a Maranao to assert his maratabat in the community. As such, the relative concerned is expected to contribute his share of the expenses during the ceremony. Actually, not only do these relatives extend their help on such occasions but indeed whenever the situation requires it.

The Maranao’s desire for larger family groupings works not only in the traditional context, but even in the modern legal political structure. Having a large family would give one the chance to run for an elective position in the modern legal political system because the more the followers, the better the chances of winning the race. This is achieved in the usually large Maranao family group that places importance not only on the consanguinal relationship, but affinal line as well. Through inter-marriage, a Maranao family could become a big political group that gives it the chance to wield political power and therefore dominate any political election. Relatives contribute not only their energy but also their wealth.

Furthermore, these bigwigs in local politics are also the leading social figures in the society. This is because they have the basic social economic roots that support their political careers on the local level. With economic and political influence in society, they are able to control the people, using them to advance their ambition, while the common people in turn receive help in the form of employment.

Employment is the most common way to help. Whoever is in power usually sees to it that most of his supporters, who are his relatives, get employed. In fact, a Maranao would expect an administrator who is his relative, to have him employed, whenever this is possible, regardless of his qualifications for the job. Extending help to an unfortunate raltive in terms of employment is normal in Maranao society. This, after all, is part of the maratabat of the clan.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I commend you to such an outstanding masterpice. If for any way the author wishes to do another masterpiece similar to this one, if you will take suggestions may i suggest for you to also deal with the matters of the Rich, influential Maranaos and their role in administering punishments in the name of Allah;why such punishments are not printed in the papers;how is islamic law administered; how is maratabat play in administering administrative and criminal cases

Sittie Johaynee said...

This is very well explained and elaborated context of what being a Maranao is and i for one absolutely agree with it.

From the different words of explaination i've heard & read, i guess this is the best one that define it.

Though the idea of Maratabat seems to be what mostly describes what being a Maranao is but the fact that this is also corrupting the minds of most the young generations, especially the way the idea is pass to one person to another. Regarding with the polical area, i think that this is also great but also having it's pros and cons. Good, because unity between families gives it's essence and significance but on contrary is Bad because by all means, just to conquer that goal, using dirty tricks is not considered a sin here. The sad part behind the words.

Sittie Johaynee said...

This is very well explained and elaborated context of what being a Maranao is and i for one absolutely agree with it.

From the different words of explaination i've heard & read, i guess this is the best one that define it.

Though the idea of Maratabat seems to be what mostly describes what being a Maranao is but the fact that this is also corrupting the minds of most the young generations, especially the way the idea is pass to one person to another. Regarding with the polical area, i think that this is also great but also having it's pros and cons. Good, because unity between families gives it's essence and significance but on contrary is Bad because by all means, just to conquer that goal, using dirty tricks is not considered a sin here. The sad part behind the words.

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