Kalilang in a hotel under renovation, and identity in Mindanao
It was a bit awkward for me and Omar, a reserved Maguindanaoan who tried to be informative, as we took a peek at the wedding of a couple from two big Maguindanaoan families in Cotabato City.
We were looking through the window from our side of the conference hall— we looked like kids wanting to gate crash or something. Everybody in the training was doing just that as we waited for our morning session to start.
We were holding grassroots documentation and reporting training next door and the arrival of wedding guests drew our attention —especially when traditional wedding songs and hymns began to play. Omar is from Mamasapano, a town in more rural Maguindanao. He works for a cooperative in Upi town in the new province of Shariff Kabunsuan. He described his town as a “conflict-affected” area. But he said, there, wars could not stop weddings.
It’s a day of celebration. Kalilang is Maguindanaoan word for celebration.
Omar said it is dominantly a Moro wedding mixed with cultural blends from the west. But he found it acceptable since “most rituals are now mixed; this being not an exemption”.
Kin of the couple came in traditional Moro attires but the master of ceremonies spoke in English and the operators played popular wedding music.
I think I heard Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” or another wedding march. And before the wedding processional music was played they filled the hall with a score of love songs like Celine Dion’s “Because You Love Me”, Norah Jones “Come Away with Me” and even Chris Brown’s “With You”.
The bride walked down the stairs of the hotel as the first notes came out, passing through the base of scaffoldings put up to renovate the hotel. She emerged at the aisle to the applause of family and wedding guests.
Her entrance, however, was shortly disrupted when a waiter carrying a case of Coca Cola soft drinks walked the aisle, too, ahead of her to serve drinks.
Then she walked straight and gracefully to the front where her older groom beams in pride. His eyes trained on her bride with her clean, scented, shiny and elegant get up, past a soiled and dark alley to the crowded hall.
It could have been an uncomfortable contrast.
People celebrate inside a hall as hotel staff and construction workers toil just outside the hall. People unite in marriage despite divisiveness surrounding them. Families pull off expensive wedding parties even with the rice crisis.
But I learned that the ceremony was an opportunity for the two Moro families to assert their resilience, their pride and their identity.
An anthropology professor from our team belted a quick lecture against purists claiming there is no such thing as a “pure” Moro wedding.
But people accepted the influences and infused it to their rituals –like this particular wedding.
In Mindanao, where locals over the centuries dealt with traders from China, Middle East and South Asia, Conquerors from Iberia to America and with settlers from the Visayas and Luzon; the influence in culture is glaring.
The difference produces diversity, which makes Mindanao a good venue for assertion of cultural identities and a healthy interaction of both differences and similarities.