A photo essay by Veejay Villafranca

A slew of banners and tarpaulins donning congratulatory messages and well wishes to top-notch students and Meranaw recent graduates line the road from Iligan to Marawi. To the oblivious outsider, this may seem odd and even a bit gaudy, but only when one dives into the rich culture and personhood that we understand one of the core traits of this proud race – maratabat. 

Over two years after that dark day when several groups of armed men who was later known as the ISIS-backed Maute group attacked the Islamic city of Marawi attempting to establish the first Islamic Caliphate in South East Asia. The city, once known for the bustling trade and commercial centers and people of grand offerings, was ravaged and bombed out after 5 month of intense fighting. The Meranaw who was once known for the affluent way of life was scattered in temporary shelters and some had to make do of with what space their relatives can offer. This has changed their image and being as they undergo over two years (and counting) of limbo and searching for their way back to their homes. 

The significance of the banners goes beyond bragging rights. Looking closer, the contents of each banner often shows educational attainment and the degree as Meranaw’s gives great emphasis on knowledge most specially on the stablished disciplines like medicine and law. This, according to locals, is a source of honor for their family and also a reinforcement on the custom of protecting their identity from foreign influence. 

As the regal practice of preserving one’s diginity and honor, the Meranaws also mentioned that pride and this mental construct of maratabat has been misplace. Using it to fuel retaliation and violence turns it’s back on the original foundation which was founded thru Islamic religion and practice. Years of family feud (rido) ruined this pillar of their identity that’s supposed to place the Meranaw as one of the premier indigenous communities in the Philippines. 

Amidst the polar opposites of maratabat, the practice of helping the other, most specially relatives, still abound. During the height of the bombings and continuous firefighting in Marawi, the relatives of those displaced has been their main salvo from living in the cramped and overcrowded camps. 

As the Meranaw’s lifts their head up in this time of uncertainty, they inch their way back to their land no matter what state it is in. To them, this is the only way to regain their family’s honor and dignity. To live in the land that their forefathers fought for.