The cradle of Maguindanao civilization (3) | Inquirer Opinion
Kris-Crossing Mindanao

The cradle of Maguindanao civilization (3)

/ 04:02 AM November 15, 2021


DATU PIANG, Maguindanao — For those who were not able to read the first two installments of this series, I would like to clarify that the title is quoted from the marker embedded in the concrete wall at the entrance to the Datu Piang Municipal Hall. These were the words of the late former mayor Genuine Kamaong, who ordered a marble marker engraved with some historical vignettes of the town displayed prominently on the hall’s gates.


The current Datu Piang mayor is former vice mayor Victor Samama who took his oath of office in 2018 following the death of Mayor Kamaong in the same year.

An informant shared with me that a group of Datu Piang constituents, some of whom have settled permanently elsewhere in the country, and in other parts of the world, have created a chat group on social media called “The grandeur that was Datu Piang.” This echoes my view that the “glorious” town that it used to be is now a poor shadow of that past.


The informants in my 1977-1978 fieldwork in Datu Piang (many of them have passed away) boasted about the town’s progressive atmosphere, with a lot of businesses and industries that showcased Maguindanao culture, especially of its traditional crafts. They also told stories about Chinese and Arab traders who exchanged goods with local merchants during pre-colonial times.

I also interviewed some blacksmiths who were still using the old wax transfer method of producing metal/iron farm tools (like scythes and machetes), and also knives and other bladed weapons. Weaving colorful and sturdy mats from the dried leaves of the silal palm (a variety of buri, scientific name: Corypha elata Roxb) was also common then. Many households had a mat weaver from among their female members. Now the silal trees are mostly gone; in the sitio where I did fieldwork, there were only four silal trees left standing, but their leaves are no longer useful for mat weaving, since they were in their “terminal” or dying stage. In the ’70s, silal trees were present in almost every part of the barangay.

Sadly, many younger Magindanawns are no longer interested to revive their traditional crafts; they would rather work abroad as domestic helpers than stay at home and weave silal mats.

The late Mayor Kamaong claimed that it was a “cradle of (Maguindanao) civilization” because of the town’s central role in the past as the hub of both business and political affairs. During the early years of the Philippine republic, births of people in far places like South Cotabato were registered in Dulawan. This was evidence of its being a political center then.

In addition to the shrinking of its territory, Datu Piang was also often exposed to violent conflict that has displaced many residents from the town, especially from Damabalas. In the early ’70s, more than 50 households were located in Sitio Tangguapo, but at the height of the Moro National Liberation Front-Philippine (MNLF) government violent wars, many town residents fled to safer areas, and have become permanent settlers in their places of evacuation. After martial law, violence still occurred in many places in the town, and this continued until 2001 when the late Andal Ampatuan’s goons assaulted the rag-tag MNLF forces in Sitio Tangguapo.

The strong political grip of the Ampatuan family among local government units in Maguindanao province has contributed to shrinking further Datu Piang’s areas of jurisdiction. Datu Andal Sr. is widely believed to have ensured that his sons and nephews become future leaders of the LGUs carved out of the former Datu Piang. It has also created a culture of fear among residents. The elder Ampatuan was not known for pleasant behavior; he was feared as the prime warlord in the province of Maguindanao. He is known to have threatened those who challenged his stranglehold of local politics to “wear clothing made of iron” to defend themselves from his guns and goons.

These are among the reasons why the once mighty and sturdy “cradle” of Maguindanao civilization has snapped: Datu Piang is now indeed a poor shadow of its glorious past.

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TAGS: Kris-Crossing Mindanao, Maguindanao history, Rufa Cagoco-Guiam
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