A memory of Jolo
SANTANINA Tillah Rasul, before she became Senator Santanina Rasul and then former Senator Santanina Rasul, was, to me, simply Nina. I can’t remember how we met, but knew our common bond. She was then writing a reader for Tausug children, and I liked writing children’s stories in English.
I then had an antique shop in MH del Pilar called “Junque.” I prided in carrying difficult-to-find objects in it. I was always the first at dawn in the terminal of buses arriving from different provinces with the suppliers of handwoven traditional fabrics, mats, folk carvings and baskets. I wanted the first pick.
I went from house to house in Laguna, Quezon and Batangas to buy antique carved wooden santos, which were a rage then. I shopped for stock in Zamboanga (including Basilan), Davao, Maguindanao and Sulu. In Marawi, I knew many dealers— Cadir Paoti, Taib Usman, Rasul Alip, Achmad Bisar, and practically every other Abdullah, Omar and Abdulatif.
And so it wasn’t remote that, having gone for buying trips to so many provinces in the Philippines, I would one day get to Jolo.
I had cousins who, as kids, had lived there with their parents who were the first doctors in Jolo. I had heard of juramentados of the ’30s, crazed guys who went around hacking anyone who happened to be in their path. (Just down my alley.)
Plus they had a beautiful princess called Nina, and she was my friend. So I did. Fly one dawn with Nina to Jolo. My first misconception was that there were many antique shops in Jolo. There were none, not then. There wasn’t even a hotel, much less a motel. Only a room in a house that could be rented by the day.
Of course Nina invited me to stay in her house. But I didn’t want my freedom to ever be cramped by hospitality, so I chose the room.
It was the ’70s, before the hostilities with the Moros began. Precious excavated ceramic wares of the Ching, Sung and Ming dynasties were just laid out on a mat in front of the “hotel.” Nina was extra protective of me and wouldn’t let me wander around town.
I didn’t want it to be a wasted purchasing trip, so one morning I sneaked out of the “hotel” by myself.
I had heard that the policeman at the corner, whose name was Jalilul, was selling krises confiscated from the rebels by the police. He consented to show them to me. I was a young, foolhardy housewife. Blithely, I hopped on to the back of his motorcycle. I didn’t know where to, since I didn’t know the remotest thing about Jolo.
Jalilul brought me to his house where I expected a family, but there was none. It was ramshackle and dark, with a dirt floor. The policeman said, “Teka muna,” then climbed to the loft.
He returned carrying a big armalite! I was startled. Such weapons of destruction were rare in those days, but all he really wanted was to show off his precious possession—a machine gun!
Out of the same loft, Jalilul later brought out kris after magnificent kris, with wavy blades and intricately cast metal handles and scabbards decorated with bells or inlaid with turtle shell.
When I got back to the hotel, I learned that Nina was about to send out an alarm for me.
In my forays to the south, I was always overloaded coming home. In one airport, they were charging me P25 per kilo of freight, but also offering a 30-percent discount if one had 50 kilos. I had only 49 kilos. They were adamant about not giving me the discount.
Quickly my eyes darted around (provincial airports were then unpaved). I spotted a big stone. There! I said, putting it on the weighing scale. Add that to my baggage. It weighed exactly one kilo. Cannot be, they said. Why not? I said, I want that stone for a souvenir. Please put it on the scale.
They knew they had been outwitted. After some grumbling, the airport official gave me my discount and disgustedly threw away the rock. Sometimes I wonder how I survived all those adventures. My husband sighed with relief every time I got home in one piece.
P.S.: Recently there was a news report of foreigners being kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf in Jolo. That is not the Jolo I remember, or would ever like to know.
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