I am a native of Mindanao, a southern Philippine region marked by its sharp contradictions and cultural diversity being home to several indigenous peoples, a range of religious formations, and unending stream of migrants for centuries. Exposure to such diversity and contradictions attracted me to the art of storytelling and eventually into the folds of social and cultural anthropology, which I came to know as a discipline that offer a good deal of thoughts in retelling the condition of my society.
Being true to the region’s contradictions, universities in Mindanao hardly offered a course in anthropology notwithstanding its inherent multicultural reality at least at the time when I was pursuing my undergraduate degree. I took sociology at the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Davao University, instead, but ended up with journalism as my early career. Journalism, however, expanded my exposure to even more complex issues in tight urban spaces, rural enclaves, and the sprawling but far remote Philippine frontiers. Moreover, journalism offers me the means for knowing and the medium for reporting difficult conditions such as episodes of conflict-induced displacement in multicultural setting, pressing health and poverty problems, and a range of other public issues.
My journalistic sojourn enticed me to take on anthropology at the first instance it was offered as a postgraduate course at yet another Jesuit-run Xavier University in Mindanao. On accounts of my continuing research on diversity and contradictions in Mindanao, I earned a doctorate research degree from the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oxford in the UK. Subsequently, I join the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the Ateneo de Manila University and concurrently serves as editor of Social Transformations: Journal of the Global South.
The strange thing about anthropology is that while it makes the unfamiliar familiar and the commonplace perplexing, it also also enriches the means by which to research about contradictions and diversity. Anthropology helped me see the value of performances such as dances, lullabies, pop songs, and distinctive forms of local visual expressions not only as a subject of research but occasions to converse with and learn from ordinary and extraordinary folk about their situation and vision of addressing pressing social issues in a more participative way. At one instance, my ethnographic fieldwork among struggling and internally-displaced Muslim musical artists led to a co-production of indigenous dance and musical concert at a park. In these co-production, the artists and their collaborators articulated a shared vision of peace and a better community before a set of government officials and social advocacy groups in attendance.
The foregoing creative and artistic approaches guided my engagements in researching about armed conflicts, displacements, religious relations, and community and governance issues.