'Thy Womb' and its significance


Nora Aunor and her iconic eyes

   It is a challenge to the creators of Thy Womb to present it to the Filipino audience. The majority of the audiences are not accustomed to this kind of story-telling. It is sad to say that they cannot appreciate this kind of film. Most of the time they appreciate commercialized films that have no substance, shallow plot, and cannot stimulate you intellectually. On the other hand, Thy Womb (as well as other brave indi films) serves as an “arousal” to the movie-viewing habit. Because of its unconventional presentation, it draws the attention of the viewers. Time will tell that this kind of film will be much appreciated by the broad audience. 

   Thy Womb is another breakthrough for independent filmmaking. Despite the highly commercialized 2012 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) and the controversies surround it, it successfully include in the entries and shown in many movies houses in the Philippines. The film showcases the Badjao culture in the beautiful island of Tawi-Tawi in Mindanao, Philippines. Starred by the superstar Nora Aunor, the story is about Shaleha (Nora Aunor), “a Badjao midwife, who struggles to cope with the irony of her own infertility.” It is directed by the internationally acclaimed director Brillante Mendoza; written by Henry Burgos; produced by Center Stage Production, the Philippine Development Council of the Philippines, Melvin Mangada and Jaime Santiago; and distributed by Solar Films.

   Only few movies talk about the (Islamize or Christianize) indigenous people in Mindanao (I try not to use the word MORO because of its historical and sociological connotation). People from Luzon and Visayas (esp. if they are not well-traveled in Mindanao) have no idea about its people and culture. I am thankful that Thy Womb is created to erase the misconceptions about the Badjao tribe.

   The term Badjao means “fisherfolk”, refers to the people who live on the seas or shores of the Sulu archipelago. The Badjao call their language Sinama, a dialect of Samal Language. Others, however, call it Bajau/Badjaw/Badjao, to distinguish it from the language spoken by the land based Samal. 

Stilt houses of Badjao. source

   “There are three types of Badjao based on their forms of residence: The Sedentary, with commercial pursuits and permanent homes, such as in Sitangkai (where Thy Womb shot), a municipality in Tawi-Tawi province; the Semi-sedentary, who spend periods alternately between their households and their houseboats and their village in Sisangat or Siasi island; and the Sea gypsies, who live in houseboats as itinerant fisher folk in search of rich fishing grounds.” As you observe in the film, Shaleha and Bangas-An (Bembol Roco) belong to the Sendentary group of Badjao. They live in a community; they have simple life; they transact and do business; and they socialize with other people.

   In the film we observe the traditional practices of pre-wedding and wedding ceremonies. They still practice it because they give importance to their culture or their tribe. Shaleha make efforts to find the right woman for her husband to bear a child. She finds ways to materialize it without violating their tradition.  Prewedding arrangement is practiced by both parties - Shaleha/Bangas-An and Mersila's (Lovi Poe) families. Negotiators are present to negotiate the conditions ask by the woman for her future husband. "In Badjao culture, the prewedding arrangements have several stages. First is amnik bih where the boy's parents send an elderly woman to present the initial proposal. Next is pang-angbat/pagtunang or engagement period. The boy's obligation to offer services and goods to his future in-laws begins. And the pagbua-mamah or the final engagement. Negotiators for the bridewealth take place between the spokespersons of the two families. Although polygyny is allowed, it is very rare because it is not economically feasible. Hence, the Badjao are monogamous because of economic, not religious or ethical reasons."

Badjao's festive-like wedding

   Aisha’s (Mercedes Cabral) wedding ceremony shows how festive the wedding of the Badjao. Singing of lugu (a wedding song) is sung during the ceremony; women and girls (and also Aisha) performed their traditional dance called lagal or pangalay; colorful tadjongs are worn by the women and girls; delicious foods are serve to the guests. Maligai (flags) is displayed to express the parents’ consent to the marriage. The Imam (religious leader) leads the wedding ceremony. 

Badjao's religious beliefs and practices are mix with orthodox Islam and animism

   “Religious practices have been influence by Islam, the predominant religion of the area immediately outside Badjao territory. For example, the healer also doubles as the Imam; hence, the practice of healing and curing is mixed with some Islamic rituals.” In the film, there is a scene where fishes are floating in their community. The Imam in their village performs a ritual to ask guidance and keep them away from this bad omen.

   Mendoza is branded as the master of poverty porn. Though this brand has a negative connotation, he still presents his film with intensity. Most of his previous films deal with the different faces of poverty in the Philippines. Thy Womb has its own twists because it tackles the “new facets of the plight of Filipino indigenous peoples.” Some of its symbolic scenes (e.g. the church and mosque scene) make the viewers think. This film is an outcry because its issues are shun or buried into oblivion.   

   Nora Aunor shines as brighter as ever. She is undeniably our superstar. She is the master of her own career because she can choose or produced her roles. Her acting in Thy Womb is simple yet effective in extracting emotions.

  Thy Womb is not only emotionally entertaining but also intellectually stimulating. It’s a reminder that we should be culture sensitive. It is also serves as wake up call to be awakened in the real issues in Mindanao. It helps us think on how we are going to be the part of the solution to this problem.


CCP ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PHILIPPINE ART Vol. 1, Peoples of the Philippines: Aeta to Jama Mapun

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This is the blog of G.V. Alfasain (or popularly known as Yadu Karu) where he shares his thoughts about current events, sustainable development and pop culture. He also shares success stories of modern day heroes to inspire his readers. The author hopes that this blog may contribute change in the (Philippine) society.

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Yadu Karu's Blog: 'Thy Womb' and its significance
'Thy Womb' and its significance
Yadu Karu's Blog
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