November 23 Showing of “Thy Womb” at SM Lanang, Davao
Linguists were not the first to come to mind when making the invitations to the premier showing of Brillante Mendoza’s “Thy Womb” on November 23 at SM Lanang, Davao City. Yet all things considered, I’m quite pleased to have been able to squeeze my name and two Sama mother tongue translators’ names on to the list that included the French ambassador, the vice governor of Tawi-Tawi, the mayor of Davao, film critics, and members of the press. Before you watch the film this December, let me introduce you to the languages you will be exposed to in “Thy Womb”. Director Mendoza dedicated the film to the Bajau people, the more commonly recognized name for the Sama, speakers of the Sinama language from Tawi-Tawi and the entire Sulu archipeligo. The beauty of the Sama homelands is undeniably a major attraction of the film but the beauty of its languages will most likely go undetected by its viewers, especially for its international audience which must rely solely on the English subtitles.
6 Languages found in the Filipino Independent Film, Thy Womb
The six languages in the film are an accurate reflection of the linguistic diversity of the region as well as the entire Philippines. This is my first time to see so many languages woven into one film so seamlessly. It better reflects the cultural reality of language swapping that occurs in the Philippines than the usual all Tagalog programming found in Philippine movies and TV. The film’s stars use Tagalog for almost all of their conversations, but I would like to think of Sinama as the starring language of the film. Often you hear children speaking in Sinama in the background. Also frequently in the conversations of the movie you have a lead actor or actress speak in Tagalog and receive a Sinama response. The imam (an extra) who helps Bangas-an (Bembo Roco) and his wife search for a second wife delivers all his lines in Sinama. Vendors speak in Sinama. Sinama words are often borrowed to describe cultural concepts unique to the Sama, such as the Sinama word “ungsud” used for the dowry or bride price that is necessary for Bangas-an to marry a second wife.
Actually there are two distinct Sinama languages in “Thy Womb”, even though your average Sama may be unaware of the linguistic classifications of their language. Both Southern Sinama, the more common Sinama in Tawi-Tawi and Central Sinama, a language more common in Sulu and Zamboanga are spoken at various times throughout the film.
Besides Tagalog and Sinama, Arabic is also used for the Muslim prayers and greetings. Mersila, Lovi Poe’s role has a Tausug name and indeed when marriage arrangements are made at her home, her family members speak in Tausug. Tausug is also used in passing conversations with ladies that are coming out from worship in the mosque. Finally English is used throughout the film in its subtitles as well as in the counting of money received by Bangas-an when he sells his boat’s motor in order to raise the needed payment for his dowry.
Tawi-Tawi’s Linguistic Diversity
In summary I was quite pleased with how the film covered Tawi-Tawi’s linguistic diversity. The two mother tongue translators with me, one from Tawi-Tawi, one from Sulu, speak 5 of the 6 languages of the film. They are familiar enough with the 6th language, Arabic, at least in all the contexts which it was used. I was also impressed with the vice governor of Tawi-Tawi, Ruby Sahali-Tan’s use of the Sinama language being that she is a Tausug. My previous misconception was that the leaders of this Sama province only used Tausug and Tagalog, but Vice Governor Ruby demonstrated that she speaks at least 3 Sinama languages: Central, Southern, and Jama Mapun from Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi.
Learn some Sinama from the Movie, “Thy Womb”
Many readers might be wondering how I could get this far into an article about “Thy Womb”, without mentioning the movie’s superstar Nora Aunor. Most of you are aware of her acting talent and professionalism. I however appreciate how several times she makes use of the Sinama language in this film. My favorite line of the whole film being, “Magey-magey na kow?” a Sinama line spoken by Ate Guy meaning “How are you?” or “Kamusta?” She delivers the line very naturally with proper tone. Other basic Sinama phrases can easily be learned when watching the film such as “Kamaya” meaning “Take Care” or “Ingat” in Tagalog and “Palanjal kam” meaning “Welcome” or “Tuloy po kayo”.
I greatly appreciate the inclusion of the Sinama language in “Thy Womb” and its integration with the other languages of the region. Director Mendoza you bring great honor to the people of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. I hope that other Filipinos and the international community will appreciate your efforts as well.