Remembering Ama

by Gutierrez Mangansakan II
Nonfiction

(This piece is from Archipelago of Stars, the author’s book of essays published by Ateneo de Naga University Press this year.)

Dear Kirby,

I read the Facebook status which you posted during the New Year on how surprised you were to find out that your great-grandfather, Datu Udtog Matalam Sr., was born on January 1st 1901. I saw the photo above in your account (with your great grandfather seated at the left) which I took the liberty to post here. I hope you don’t mind. I could not ignore a comment from your cousin saying that it was her first time to see your great grandfather, at least even in a photograph.

I am sorry that you didn’t have the opportunity to be with him. You were only a baby when your great grandfather—my grandfather—died almost three decades ago. I was six years old then. I didn’t have any clue who he was, or what he was that time. I didn’t know he was a war hero. I had no idea that he was the governor of the undivided Cotabato Empire from 1946 to 1949, and from 1955 to 1968. Nor was I aware that he founded the Muslim Independence Movement which propelled the Bangsamoro people to fight for their right to determine their destiny. I guess by now you have read books that have cited his life and career by scholars like Thomas McKenna, Patricio Abinales, Alfred McCoy, Patricio Diaz, and others. Do not believe everything they have said. Keep your mind open because whatever truths that lie beneath their books barely reveal the real person.

For most people, your great grandfather was the Datu. For me, he was plain old ‘Ama.’

What I remember most was on Fridays I would always join him during prayer in the mosque. Clutching his hand, I would walk closely behind him to the front row. Sometimes your uncle Bimby and Pipo would be there too. Your uncle Pipo and I would look each other in the eye and giggle when the congregation chorused, “Ameen.” I don’t know why. After prayer there would be kanduli but it didn’t fascinate me as much as your uncle Bimby. That is why Ama fondly called him ‘pandita.’ The idle afternoons would be spent taking turns sitting on his lap.

Ama was loving as he was strict. He spoiled his children; my mother was his favorite. Among his last wishes was that she be buried beside him. How morbid! He had the tendency to be feudal, but never cruel. He ordered that your aunt Baicoco keep her hair long, which she does to this day. The women in the family cannot marry non-Muslims, an order only the stubborn few dared to violate. Back then he would not allow us to play with the servants’ children so it was always me and my siblings and my cousins. There were times though that we were able to play with the servants’ children, when he was not around, on condition that we would always win the game no matter what.

Then he suffered a stroke that paralyzed him. He was in the hospital in Davao for some time before the family decided to transfer him to his house in Matina, then months later, to the red house in Pagalungan. I was already studying in Philippine Women’s College – JASMS that time. We would regularly come home to Pagalungan to visit him.

During his last days, whenever he saw us, a tear would fall from his eyes. Perhaps it broke his heart to accept the fact that he would never see us grow and become what we are now. If he were alive today, I know he would be proud of what you have become. A lawyer. The first in the family.

In the end we owe something to him. More than the illustrious name that we inherited, we should be constantly reminded to love our people. To love one another. To be a good Muslim in the ways that we know. I know it is hard. Day by day our lives drift apart because of ambition and the selfish desire for power. But we should keep trying.

 

Best Regards,

Your Uncle Teng

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