Amerah discusses her life as a Muslim woman in Christian majority Cagayan de Oro, beginning with her parents’ early life, and later her experiences of enduring a forced child marriage, marital rape, and how her own daughter narrowly escaped the same fate.
Amerah begins by sharing about the hardships her parents endured in their early lives, being orphaned and abandoned by their step-parents, and having to find work prematurely, through which they met. Her father ran small businesses in tobacco and retailing, and moved from Marawi City to Cagayan de Oro, where Amerah was born in 1982. Her father’s business was successful.
She attended elementary school, and encountered Christian classmates. Though she was Muslim herself, she grew closer to Christian peers, as she felt that the friendships were more genuine than that of her Muslim classmates, who approached her because of her financial status.
During her third grade, she was forced into a child marriage to her then 18 year old cousin, to which she protested, albeit unsuccessfully. Her marriage was kept secret from her peers in school. She was allowed to remain in her birth family for another 3 years until her first menstruation, after which her husband moved in with her parents. Though she attempted to escape, she was escorted back home and endured marital rape. However, she was allowed to continue her education at an all-girls school, finally making a Christian friend whom her parents and in-laws trusted. She was then able to pursue her high school education at a school run by her in-law, but quit her schooling in her second year when she got pregnant, aged 16. While her parents were willing to support her by caring for her children so that she could continue studying, her husband felt jealous and opposed it.
As a result, she began working in her husband’s business of purchasing and selling pirated DVDs from Jakarta. The business was successful and provided for her large family with 10 children. Amerah broke with Islamic traditions by opting for sterilization at age 37, which her elders disapproved of. Though she and her husband swore not to force their children into early marriages, her third daughter was almost forced into a child marriage by Amerah’s mother. However, the arrangement unraveled when the groom was discovered to have been already married to a Christian woman, and Amerah and her husband made him choose one spouse to commit to. Amerah looks back on her past with some regret, wondering if things would have turned out differently if her education was not disrupted, but resolves to live the rest of her life on better terms.
Interviewee: Amerah, born 1982
Interviewer: Kisho Tsuchiya Interpreter: Marjorie Tsuchiya
Transcriber: Dominique Jonietz O. Lucagbo
Date: August 23, 2019
My name is Amerah, a Muslim, 37 years old, born on August 13, 1982 in Cagayan de Oro City. My father’s name was Mr. Carlito and he had small businesses in tobacco and retailing. Both of my parents were unable to graduate and get a degree because my father was an orphan. My maternal grandmother died early and my grandfather remarried, my grandfather’s new wife hated my mother and so my mother was forced to go find work so that she could live her life independently. That’s how my parents met each other, married and had 3 children. Unfortunately, the youngest next to me died shortly after an hour of being born. It was because my mother was diabetic back then and was taking insulin and medicines and she didn’t know that she was pregnant at the time which caused complications to the baby when it was delivered. The baby’s skin was full of the medicines my mother took and caused the baby’s death.
My family’s business was successful, after many years in Alapang, Marawi City. But soon we migrated to Cagayan de Oro City for better opportunities. This is where I was born and grew up. I enrolled for my primary education in South City Central School. I enjoyed being there and had more Christian friends than Muslim because based on what I noticed and experienced, Muslims would make friends with me because of my financial status. At that time, I preferred making friends with Christians, whom I found more honest and sincere. They’re comfortable to be with and don’t take advantage of my financial status. Life was fun and carefree that time but one thing I learned from being a Muslim is that culture and tradition is valued more than the rights and decision of a person especially if you’re still as young as 9 years old.
It was year 1993, I was still in grade 3 and I remembered I was playing marbles that time. I was confused on why there were a lot of people arriving at our house. I was still a child and I didn’t really pay much attention to what was going on and continued playing. My mother then called me and gave me a white gown saying I should dress up and do my make-up because we’re going to a party. It happened so fast that it was too late for me to realize that I was getting married to my 18 year old 2nd degree cousin who’s been renting a room , for as long as I can remember, in our lodging house which is one of the other business that my parents were managing. I was so angry and threw a tantrum after the ceremony. I even threw my gown, stockings and heels in front of them saying that they should just eat it because would never ever live with that man. They assured me though that I am to stay with my parent’s house until I’ll have my first menstruation. I was convinced and assured by it for a while and so I continued my primary education hiding from everyone that I was already married, because it I was embarrassing for a child at a very young age to be already married. My childhood started to get boring because I had to have someone looking after me to assure my husband that I was not too close to other boys in my class. I was not allowed to talk to boys, which made me a lonely child back then. They were very strict to me and controlled me like a puppet.
It was when I reached 6th grade that my greatest nightmare finally happened. I had my first menstruation at 12 years old. I told my parents about it and they said that I should just hide it and won’t let my husband and in-laws know about it. But a girl who my mother hired to do our laundry happened to eavesdropped on our conversation and immediately called my husband. My husband hurriedly went back to Cagayan de Oro and already bought things like the bed, bed sheets and random stuff for my bedroom as part of the Islam tradition. My parents couldn’t do anything and so my husband started living in our house. In his first night I was shouting and protesting that I don’t want us to be in the same room. I was having a fit and chose to sleep with my parents not knowing that when I was already deep in sleep, my parents and husband switched rooms. I was awakened by someone hugging me and touching me. I was confused and discovered it was my husband. I kicked him and ran out of the house. I was even chased by the guard who thankfully was too drunk to catch me. I wandered around “Cogon” and after a while went back because I had no money and nowhere to go. When I got back, I saw cars outside our house probably looking for me. I hid to one of the unlocked cars but was dragged out by my relatives back to my room. I had no choice because I was small and weak and so, that was our first night together. I felt I was molested and raped by my own husband that I didn’t have a say on the situation. Starting that time, there was never a moment in my life that I cursed his name and just wish him to be gone in my life. The second day, I prepared myself for another night with him. I tripled the clothes I wore and hide a 2 by 2 wood by my side but the attempt was all in vain. It happened again and again and I was so miserable and unhappy with it.
I was thankful enough to graduate primary and started my secondary studies in Lourdes College. It was an all-girls school so I didn’t have to have someone to look after me. This is where I met my best friend, Marjorie. I was very happy to meet her because she was the only person that my parents, in-laws and husband trust. It was only that time that I was able to experience going out to many places without a single worry because even though I hated my life at that time, I didn’t have the courage to rebel to my parents’ orders. Unlike my elder sister who’s not afraid to do what she wanted to do. Marjorie is a Christian girl and there were a lot of differences between our religions. Our prayer starts at 12 noon every Friday in a Mosque and we have to pray 5 times a day from 5am, 12 noon, 3pm, 6pm and 7pm. Despite differences, Marjorie and I were able to get along with a lot of things.
I reached the point where I was beginning to enjoy having sex with my husband. I got pregnant when I was in 2nd year high school which made me stop going to school. I was still 16 years old that time but was overwhelmed by the feeling of being a mother. It was not tiring or anything because my parents loved their grandchildren and took care of them while I tried going back to 3rd year high school. I was able to go back to school my in-law was the principal of Cagayan de Oro College that time and allowed me to study there but my husband was against the decision because of his jealousy. So I stayed at home and just helped him with our business which is buying pirated DVD’s from Jakarta and would sell them here in Cagayan de Oro. Income was great that time and was able to raise our 10 children. 10 for me is enough already at the age of 37 and so I decided to have a ligation. I’m actually had a feeling of guilt because the elders told me that I committed a very great sin for going against Allah. Our religion prohibits us from using contraceptives because we believe that it is Allah’s decision for when the husband and wife should stop reproducing.
My husband and I promised that we would never let our children experience what we experienced. Unfortunately for my 3rd daughter she was forced by my mother to a fixed marriage with her 2nd cousin. Of course we tried to reject them but they threatened to cut off connection to our family if we don’t agree to their condition. We tried negotiating to give us 1 month to observe the guys behaviour but they didn’t agree to it. And so my daughter married the guy at the age of 12 years old, we had an agreement that, if ever we discovered something about the guy’s past then we would stop the marriage. We were not wrong because we learned that the guy is already married with a pregnant Christian girl. We made him choose because back then Christians are easily disposed by the Muslims. He chose the Christian girl and so I was thankful my daughter got annulled.
Now, I can say that my life is just fine. Right now I’m just helping my son to recover from an accident. Remembering my past experiences made me think of the possibilities if ever I finished my education. Would I be a police just like how I dreamed? Would I be a better person? There were a lot of questions but all I can do now is to continue what already started and I’m hoping there’s still time to end it right.
Interviewer: Kisho Tsuchiya
How were the experiences of women in the postcolonial and contemporary Philippines shaped by their cultural and religious background?
Consider the degree of agency they had in shaping their daily life experiences.