Interview With Mary Rose Hamdani

Mary Rose Hamdani discusses how her childhood in Zamboanga, a Muslim port society, shaped her worldview and social life in Puerto, Cagayan de Oro City.

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Born in 1988 in Zamboanga, Philippines to a Tausug Muslim father and Christian mother, Hamdani recalls a joyful childhood going out to sea to fish with her father, whose catch would be sold in the local market. At the age of 5, she was baptized as a Christian in Cagayan de Oro City, her mother’s hometown, with her father’s consent. She entered elementary school in Zamboanga, at a time when Martial Law was declared over the region. Households lit candles outside their homes to signal to soldiers that they were peaceful civilians. She initially struggled to adapt to school, as her community in Zamboanga was largely Muslim and she was used to conversing with them in their native tongue, which her Christian-majority classmates could not understand. Her extended family supported her in this transition by pampering her with gifts. 

    When conflict eased in Zamboanga, she moved to her aunt’s place, where a Muslim noble attempted to court her. While her mother welcomed this, her aunt was reluctant, noting that Islam permitted polygamy, and advised her to shift her daughter to Cagayan de Oro. A month later, she received news that her father was attacked by the man she evaded, and later, her father joined them so as to sever ties with Zamboanga, fearing that they might kill him. By this time, her paternal grandfather passed, and her father turned to alcoholism to cope with the sorrow of not being present for his father’s death. When he turned violent and stole the money she earned selling plastic bags to purchase alcohol, she consoled herself by recalling her childhood memories with him.

    While her mother was only able to educate her up to 4th grade, her godmother offered to shelter and educate her further in Davao, where she continued up to her second year of high school. However, she quit and returned to Cagayan de Oro in her third year due to the overly restrictive routine in her aunt’s household and the expectations for her to help in her aunt’s street food business. 

    Upon her return at age 14, she mixed with bad company, and picked up vices such as alcohol and smoking. Before she eventually found employment with the Bicmar Company, she worked various odd jobs. She also met her cousin’s friend and later married him after having their third child. However, as they were not able to support themselves, they lived with her in-laws, which her partner’s siblings disliked. Her husband eventually found better paying contract work in 2012. Her marriage later collapsed when she had an affair with a violent man after her husband was imprisoned in 2016. It damaged her relationships with her in laws and she confesses to contemplating suicide, choosing to remain alive only to give her children a better future.

Interview 12

Interviewee: Mary Rose Hamdani, born 1988

Interviewer: Kisho Tsuchiya                          Interpreter: Marjorie Tsuchiya

Transcriber: Dominique Jonietz O. Lucagbo 

Date: August 29, 2019

Language: Bisaya


My name is Mary Rose Hamdani born on June 22, 1988 in Zamboanga City. My parents met each other in a market in Zamboanga City. My mother was a fish vendor that time and my father was a fisherman. My father is a Muslim and my mother is a Christian but it didn’t stop them from marrying each other.  I have a younger sibling. I was born Zamboanga City and my younger sibling was born in Cagayan de Oro City. My most unforgettable memory in Zamboanga is bonding with my father. He would bring me with him when he would go fishing. He would wake me up at dawn and we would go to the ship that was used to fish. They used massive fish nets to catch the fish. Some of their materials were buoys, basins and massive ice cubes. I would watch them inside the captain’s chamber and they would fish until dawn. The fish they caught was then bought and collected by a comprador to bring it to the market not too far away from the fish landing. There were days that my father and I would just use a small boat to go fishing. It would take us hours and hours in the open sea and would sleep in a bunkhouse to spend the night. It was tiring but I enjoyed myself with my father. 

I was baptized as a Christian with the consent of my father. My mother was from Puerto Cagayan de Oro City and would sometimes bring me with her. I was about 5 years old that she let me be a Christian in Cagayan de Oro. My relatives in my father side also used to shower me with gifts. They all loved me and I loved the attention especially from my father. 

I entered elementary in a public school in Zamboanga City. In my first few weeks in school, all I did was cry. I cried a lot because I was not used to being alone in a room full of strangers even though they are kids. Our neighbourhood was Muslim and I would usually communicate with them in Tagalog or sometimes in a Muslim language [the Tausug language] but in my elementary school most of the students are Christians so I couldn’t embarrass myself speaking in the Muslim language. My relatives would laugh at me crying in school and would just give me foods and toys just to stop me from crying. It was also this time of the year that Martial Law was implemented in Zamboanga City. We used to light a candle outside of our house to tell the soldiers that we are civilians. 

I remember there were some conflicts and bombings in and around Zamboanga. After the war, I stayed at my auntie’s house. A Muslim datu [noble] who had authority in our area started courting me. His attention blinded me. He let me stay at his house and his mother would give me jewelleries and shower me with random gifts. My mother heard about this and was happy. She wanted me to be with a man who can surely give me a life without hardships. But my auntie had protests about this. She knew that Muslims can have several wives. My auntie convinced my mother to hide me in Puerto, Cagayan de Oro City. My father was left behind to take care of the house. We didn’t have any news from them because there were still no telephones during that time. After 1 month, they received news that my father was beaten up by the Muslim man I escaped from. When my father was able to escape, my auntie advised my father that they must cut all connections because they were afraid that if I wouldn’t go back then they would kill my father

After receiving the last letter saying that my paternal grandfather already died. We never received any more letters. My father was miserable for not being able to be on his father’s side on his last breath. After that, my loving father seemed to change a lot. He made friends who were nothing but bystanders and drunkards. He started to beat me up whenever he’s drunk and whatever he did to me I was unable to hate him because I remembered those happy moments we had when I was still a child. He was not making enough money for us. I had to sell plastic bags in a traditional market to earn money. My father would beat me up and take the money I earned from selling plastic bags so that he could buy liquor and get even more drunk. I was able to finish 4th grade in CDO with the help of my mother. She earned by doing laundry for my neighbors. My godmother in Davao, hearing all this, took pity on me and asked if I wanted to live with her and she would let me continue my studies. I took the opportunity and continued as a 5th grade student there. Her daughters were already married and living in Japan and her youngest was just staying at home. So she had no one  else to take care of, and treated me as her own daughter. 

I was already in 2nd year high school where after 3 years, I went back to Cagayan de Oro City and never went back to Davao again. My godmother tried to convince me to go back but I enjoyed the freedom in CDO. Back then in Davao, I was restricted with many things. I had to go back home immediately after school to help with the house chores. And on weekends, I had to work on their family business in a mall which is a “takoyaki” stall. It was tiring and exhausting and so I didn’t bother going back to school. 

I made friends in Puerto who I admit were bad influences in my life. They were the one who taught me to drink and smoke at the age of 14 . I was also able to find work in Bicmar Company but before all this, I was working everywhere. I did laundry for strangers, babysitting and even sold hotcakes. 

This is also where I met my husband, Jomar. He was a friend of my cousin. The world was in slow motion and just like how it is in the movies, it was love at first sight. Jomar courted me and I said yes not long after. I became pregnant. We didn’t have the money to raise our child so we had to live under his mother’s roof. My mother and father-in-law treated me nice but his siblings were against me for some reason. We married in a church after our third child was born. My husband worked as a carpenter and his salary was not enough to buy our necessities. Even our children’s clothes were not bought by us but just given by our relatives. It was sad for us to not be able to provide for our own family. Thankfully though by 2012, Jomar was accepted as a contractual worker. It provided us better income than his previous job.

During our marriage, I did a lot of mistakes that now even my in-laws hate me. My husband was imprisoned in the year 2016. He asked me to wait and not to have another man. He assured me it was just a little challenge for our family. But, I had an affair because I was not getting attention from my husband. This relationship was cut short because the guy I went with was violent and beat me up sometimes. My husband was devastated discovering that I had an affair. I was also hurt because he took revenge. 

I even thought of killing myself to end all sufferings. I cry every night up until now and would sometimes go to bed with a knife on hand thinking of all the reason why I should end my life. 

There is just one thing that is keeping me alive and that is my children. I don’t want them to suffer even more and so I’m striving hard to give them a better life in the future. 

Interviewer: Kisho Tsuchiya

Interviewee: Mary Rose Hamdani

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Transcript Notes

  1. The Tausug are a Muslim ethnolinguistic group in Mindanao, Philippines.

  1. Consider, in light of Hamdani’s recount of “Martial Law” in the 1990s, whether the Cold War has ended in the Philippines.