Simunul Island: Mindanao’s hidden treasure
SIMUNUL TAWI-TAWI — On Friday, November 7, thousands of people gathered here to celebrate the birth of Islam in the Philippines 634 years ago.
The celebration was as elaborate and colorful – and poetic – as the one sees the culture and tradition of the Bangsamoro.
The fluvial parade of eight wooden-hulled boats that sailed from Bongao to Simunul was the highlight of the celebration.
The parade depicted the journey to the island of Sheikh Karimul Makhdum in 1380, the Arab preacher responsible for the spread of Islam in the Philippines.
The festival featured dances and songs that retraced the arrival of the religion that had, over the years, set strongly in the lives of the Bangsamoro people of Mindanao, an essential part of their lives.
Simunul is a sleepy small town island in the province of Tawi-Tawi. One can reach the island after more than an hour boat ride from Bongao, the seat of the provincial government.
It is an island where time is languid. But this is a glorious slow, something that allows visitors to breathe and marvel at the sky exploding in various shades of blue until it becomes a canvass of orange as the sun sets.
Facing Bongao at daytime, the landscape is a vast sea interrupted by a swarm of clouds and the silhouette of Tawi-Tawi’s sacred mountain, Bud Bongao.
Only miles away is Sabah.
At night, tourists sleep over stilt houses of the Sama residents – the melody created by the water under these homes bring people to sleep, only to be awakened by the simplicity of life contrasted by a colorful culture reflected by the elaborately decorated wooden bancas, music and dances, and the local’s traditional food.
With only a little over 35,000 residents, Simunul has evolved into a progressive small town of happy and friendly Sama people.
Over the years, various development projects were implemented in the island by international donor organizations, all of which were designed to change the lives of the people by providing them with opportunities to better their lives.
Every now and then, the island attracts loyal local tourists and even those who are especially curious about the hidden gems of the island.
These treasures include the masjid build by Arab preacher Sheikh Makhdum in the village of Tubig Indangan.
The mosque has been declared a historical landmark by the National Historical Commission, and a cultural treasure by the National Museum.
The arrival of Sheikh Makhdum is seen as the moment that “set the course of history” of the people of Mindanao, especially in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The original pillars of the mosque – made out of ipil wood – remain inside the mosque.
Another landmark of Simunul is the tomb of Sheikh Makhdum himself, located very close to the mosque.
These collectively serve as a well-ensconced and protected aide-mémoire — a sublime reminder – of the influence of Sheikh Makhdum and his teachings to the people. (A. Mawallil/Bureau of Public Information)