Gifts from Heaven

(Intro: Shariff Kabungsuan Festival

While Christians prepare for Christmas, the Muslims in Maguindanao prepare for the Shariff Kabungsuan Festival to commemorate the arrival of Islam in Maguindanao. For one week in mid-December, the people celebrate the arrival of Shariff Muhammad Kabungsuan to their shores.  It has also become an occasion for Maguindanaons to show their culture and traditions and celebrate their accomplishments. 

    The celebrations begin with a fluvial parade called guinakit.  Fishers and boat owners decorate their boats with colorful sails and buntings as they sail down the mighty Pulangui River where Shariff Muhammad Kabungsuan was said to have performed the first conversion rites. This is followed by a re-enactment of the arrival of the descendant of the Prophet Mohammed on Philippine shores.  Over a week, several events are held.  There is an outrigger boat race and other traditional games and sports, kayog or street dancing, Pagana Maguindanao, Inaul Fashion Showcase and several other cultural and musical presentations.

    Although the legend claims that the Shariff, a title that denotes one is a descendant of the Prophet Mohammad, was found in an open kawa and rescued by a man named Mamalo, he actually arrived in Maguindanao from Johore, Malacca, sometime after 1511. He married Potri Tonina who, in the same legend, was said to have been found sleeping inside a bamboo.  She was, in fact, a daughter from the ruling datu class. Together, they founded the Maguindanao, which means people of the flood plains, sultanate. The province of Maguindanao was founded by Shariff Kabungsuan’s followers in a site near today’s Cotabato City.)



    One fine morning, with not a cloud in the sky, Mamalo went out to sea to fish as he did every day.  As he expected, he had a good catch and as he pulled in his net, he saw a large open vat, or kawa, floating nearby. 

    Where could that kawa have come from? he thought.

    He paddled his vinta towards it and to his great surprise, found a man in strange robes praying fervently in the vat.

    “Sir, are you alright?” asked Mamalo. 

    The stranger did not answer and was oblivious to everything that was happening around him. Mamalo pulled the kawa into the vinta and brought it home, eager to show his brother his strange catch. 

    At about the same time that Mamalo had found the kawa, his brother Tambunawai was cutting bamboo for his long house at a nearby grove.  He found a sturdy bamboo pole and cut it neatly between its nodes.  To his amazement, a beautiful woman in beautiful robes lay sleeping soundly in its hollow. 

    “Oh, no,” wailed Tambunawai, “I have come across an evil spirit!”  

    He thought of running, but something kept him rooted to the spot.  He watched the beautiful woman as she slept for some time.  When he was convinced that she was not an evil spirit, he picked her up from the bamboo and carried her to the seashore where he knew his brother would be docking his vinta.  The brothers met each other, each carrying their heaven-sent gifts, for what else could they be? Each surprised the other with what they had found.

    “What shall we do, brother,” asked Tambunawai, “with what we have found?” 

    Mamalo thought awhile and then said, “Let us bring them to the village and the people.”

    When all the villagers had all gathered around the strange pair, the man in the vat finished his prayers, stood up and finally spoke. 

    “Greetings, friends!  I have come to preach the teachings of Islam to you!”  My name is Shariff Muhammad Kabungsuan.”  

    “How dare you preach to us and try to take us away from our idols after I have saved you!” demanded an angry Mamalo.

    The villagers agreed with Mamalo and a commotion ensued.

    “Don’t you see,” Muhammad Kabungsuan yelled above the noise of the crowd, “that I have been sent by Allah?  How else could I have survived in this vat?”  Just then, the woman in the bamboo woke up and everyone stopped pushing and yelling.  She was so beautiful that she shone like the sun.

    “Greetings, fellows!  I am Potri Tonina and I have been sent by Allah to marry the man Shariff Muhammad Kabungsuan and help him with his mission.”

    “Aaaah,” said the people in unison. “They have been truly sent by the gods!”  

    The people in the village were now convinced that, indeed, they had been sent blessings from heaven. Despite his initial misgivings and angry words, Mamalo and his wife were the first to convert to Islam and were followed by his brother Tambunawai and the rest of the villagers.   


Carla M. Pacis
Carla M. Pacis
Carla M. Pacis is a teacher, writer and painter. She was a faculty member of the Literature Department of De La Salle University and of the Department of English and Comparative Literature of the University of the Philippines. She has written many books for children and young adults, some of which have won awards, and has published several scholarly essays on literature, food, and history. In retirement, she has begun a new career as a book packager. Ms. Pacis has been given a Lifetime Achievement Award for Children’s Literature in English by Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) for her work and advocacy. She lives in a cottage in Laguna with her three fur babies Tobi, Rosy, and Bouncy. There, she writes, paints and practices the art of gardening in her small garden that is always a work in progress.


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