Making Moros: Imperial historicism and American military rule in the Philippines' Muslim south.
Philippines' Muslim south
By MICHAEL C. HAWKINS
De Kalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2013. Pp. xi, 185. Notes,
In Making Moros, historian Michael C. Hawkins relates the Moro experience in the first decade or so of the American colonial project in the Philippines. Hawkins presents his subject squarely within the context of imperial historicism which, he argues, 'provided Americans with the ultimate philosopher's stone capable of contextualising colonialism's unpleasant details into an almost millenarian vision of homogeneous modernity' (p. 24). Americans constructed 'a win-win historicist narrative ... affirming the possibilities of imperial tutelage' within Moro province. Moros, in turn, actively engaged America's highly romanticised 'scientific' ethnological codification of Moro culture, embracing it with such fervour that it colours our image of 'the Moro' to this day.
As with practically all studies of the American colonial period, on its surface the book ends up saying more about the perspectives, motives, and acts of Americans than it does about Moros, or other Filipinos. Given the nature of the archival sources, this is unavoidable, even for a dedicated Southeast Asianist: we are still obliged to regard the Moros as they were crafted, imagined, and memorialised by Americans of that time. In this superficial and very narrow sense, Making Moros does not depart too radically from what has already been written about America's empire in the Philippines. That said, Hawkins's incisive exposition of historicism, particularly in the first and fourth chapters, is worth reading for its own sake, and provides many quotable passages for future studies pertaining to Mindanao and the Moros. But this is not why it matters. As Hawkins explains in his preface, the American gaze merely provides 'the necessary tools and medium of [his] message but not the focus' (p. x).
The real contribution of Making Moros is in showing us how ordinary Moros experienced American colonial policies during the brief yet intense period of military rule (1899-1913). For most, the phrase 'military rule' will bring to mind a milieu of brutal repression in which dissidence and nonconformity are actively crushed. It would be logical, albeit false, to assume that the Americans had succeeded in 'pacifying' the Moros quickly--whereas Spain had miserably failed to do so even after three centuries--because of superior logistics, or greater brutality, or motives that drew from a more liberating Zeitgeist, one that was not bogged down by archaic religious doctrine or centuries-old anti-Muslim prejudices. What may be surprising to many--as it was to me--is that this period of military governance is in fact remembered very fondly by Moro leaders today as 'not one of conquest and subjugation but, rather, one of agreement, compromise, and progress' (p. 25). Rather than crush the Moro spirit, American military rule instead opened up a world in which they were positioned as legitimate stakeholders, rather than categorically suppressed as obstacles to colonial policy. Some readers will be floored by Hawkins's quote from a Maranao sultan that, to solve Muslim Mindanao's gravest ills--the country's highest poverty rates, and its most serious 'peace and order' problems--they 'need to become a colony of the American military again' (p. 136).
While Hawkins does not engage in an explicit analysis of class, he points to its significant role during the colonial period and afterwards. Chapters 2 and 3 reference the patron-client relationships manifest in widespread slavery and debt servitude across Moro societies, and outline the diligent efforts of the Americans to undercut this deeply entrenched upper-class tyranny by establishing the Moro exchanges to open up the local economy. The military government promoted these exchanges, in tandem with agricultural fairs, industrial expositions, and athletic competitions all over Moro province, to bring together previously isolated and even feuding communities in friendly rivalry. In imperial logic, inculcating fundamental capitalist values in the Moro was seen as the key to progress and prosperity, and to a sense of citizenship that could transcend the region's parochialisms. The enthusiastic Moro response to such colonial initiatives gives us an intriguing glimpse of what could have been, had Moro province not been turned over abruptly to civilian rule in 1914. In light of this history, the subsequent turnover of the Moro administration to Christian Filipinos (with entrenched class issues of their own) in the name of 'national integration' now seems even more farcical and disastrous.
Reading this book as a cultural anthropologist, I should say that ethnicity is largely absent as a factor in how events are related--as it may well have been in the source material. Writing accurately about such a diverse ethnic category like 'the Moros' as a generic whole is a tricky proposition, and in this study the Moro is necessarily a genus in American imperial taxonomy. That said, Hawkins's Moros are written as people with agency, and not as an undifferentiated mob of troublemakers. The subaltern voice of ordinary Moros is represented strongly and appropriately here, despite the constraints that come with the source material. The southern Philippines--Muslim or otherwise--is the quintessential periphery, addressed more often than not within a Euro-or US-centric colonial context or a Manila-centric national one. It is therefore worth noting when an author manages to sustain such a satisfying level of engagement with the periphery; enriched by the subaltern approach without being (or having to be) bludgeoned by theory. The excellent introduction and epilogue complement this approach, framing the narrative in a way that quietly humanises the Moros through the author's personal encounters, and at the same time bringing home the enduring impact of this seemingly fleeting period of American military rule on Moro consciousness and identity even in the twenty-first century.
Making Moros is an engaging and solid study of the early period of American colonial rule in the southern Philippines when, it seems, Muslims were coming into their own as modern subjects, ready to craft a future autonomous from the Philippine's hegemonic national(ist) narrative. This highly accessible read will not only help readers make real sense of the colonial past, but will also illuminate the present context of interminable conflict and peacemaking in which, a hundred years later, the struggle for Moro autonomy and political representation remains so immediate and vital despite decades of brutal repression by putatively democratic Filipino governments.
OONA THOMMES PAREDES
National University of Singapore
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|Author:||Paredes, Oona Thommes|
|Publication:||Journal of Southeast Asian Studies|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2014|
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