Originally posted 24 August 2007
Extract from Jim Cunningham's entry to the Mindanao Blog
The Subanen Bae has no face in history. She existed, but no one outside the family ever saw her. She stayed home most of the time, and when she did venture out in public she donned a costume that revealed only her eyes. Her position of power and influence disappeared in the 16th century when the Spaniards married these princesses and the Subanen men took sole leadership over the ethnic tribe.
When Bae Sonita Manlin Mande Ryde was formally crowned on the May 13th 2006 as Bae Labi or Princess Paramount of the Western Mindanao Subanens by His Highness Principal Datu Tucan E. Dakula VI of the Royal House of Sibugay and interim Sultan of Mindanao, her acceptance of this title and subsequent confirmation elevated her to royalty, second in honour only to the Sultan.
(Zamboanga Agenda, Vol.2 No 1. July 2006)
This princess’ story is true rags to riches example for all aspiring young Indigenous People (IP) who wish to achieve something worthwhile in life and retain their cultural identity and wear it with honour and pride. Although a descendant of the royal family of Datu Mande of Sindangan, Zamboanga del Norte, Bae Sonita followed a typically rural and often difficult upbringing in Buug, Zamboanga Sibugay with little or no luxuries in life as is the way for the vast majority of IPs. She left school early to work as a maid in order to supplement her family’s income. Later she moved to Manila to take up work whilst waiting for her visa to be processed to enable her to travel to Saudi Arabia for employment as many young women have done before her.
Fate however determined that this was one journey she would not make as her long time pen friend from England decided to visit her and her family and after conferring with her family the couple decided to get married as soon as it was possible to do so. Following her marriage she eventually travelled to North Yorkshire in England to become as is customary a housewife. This did not last for long as she has no intention of sitting at home and very soon found employment in order to occupy her time. Time soon past and unfortunately after some years her husband Harry became ill and she had to give up her job in order to care for him fulltime.
When Bae Sonita returned to her village after twenty years of absence, she looked around and was saddened by just how little had changed in the village and its surroundings from when she was just a little girl herself. She then made herself a promise to do her utmost to improve the lives of not only her immediate family but also that of her Subanen tribe. First, she built a house in her own village as a constant reminder of where she camefrom and took care of her family which she hoped would be an inspiration to all young IPs as anexample that if she could do it, so could they. Over subsequent years, she has also co-funded the building of an Elementary School as well as provided a Tribal Hall that is open to both Muslims and Christians alike and financed a stretch of road leading to Barangay Mande. Education is very important to Bae Sonita and she has also funded many of her nieces’ and nephews’ education programmes so that they too can help others in the future. She believed that “You can take away a person’s material possessions but not their education”.
Bae Sonita’s husband, Harry Ryde, recently passed away in July this year and I along with many family friends and members of the Filipino community attended the funeral in the little village of Hipswell in North Yorkshire. The church minister spoke highly of him and his life and also praised his wife for the love and devotion that she gave so willingly to the very end of a long and difficult illness. In the true spirit of the princess, her eulogy requested us to be happy for her and Harry and to celebrate what is left of our lives so that we can continue to help others less fortunate. She now divides her time between here and Mindanao and devotes her life to making life better for the whole 42 tribes in Mindanao that she represents.
Now I can understand what drives this unique person and her determination to help others succeed in life and I now know why they chose this special princess after such a long gap in Mindanao history. Following the decision by the Mindanao Indigenous People’s Supreme Council and Elders to bestow the title of Bae, Datu Cesar Betil said, “Bae Sonita has a sustained commitment to the welfare of the Mindanao indigenous people…and all (her acts of generosity) are done without fanfare and expecting nothing in return, setting her apart from other philanthropists. This is not an overstatement considering that these were done not by a wealthy person but by somebody who literally started from rags.”
Recently, while driving through the beautiful North Yorkshire dales countryside with my wife Marilou and another close Filipina friend and listening to the princess tell us about her hopes and dreams for the future of the IPs in Mindanao I now conclude that there is real hope for this part of the Philippines with such genuine commitment from it’s people. Marilou and I are truly honoured to have Bae Sonita amongst our friends here in the UK.