Here, it is not unusual for people to order coffee in half servings. “Tunga’ basu kahawa hadja in kaku” (mine just a half-glass of coffee) is quite a trend for those who are on budget or simply don’t want to drink too much. One amazing fact is that there are two types of establishments that are most prevalent in Sulu: coffee shops and pawnshops. Obviously, people here have money for coffee but have to pawn gold for everything else.
The word “kahawa” is believed to have come from the Arabic word “qahwah”, which in English means “coffee”. Kahawa is known for its energizing effects. While medical studies say that drinking coffee causes anxiety and jittery behavior, in Sulu, the opposite is in effect. People get anxious if they cannot drink coffee within a day.
Tausugs are addicted to coffee. They love to make coffee and serve coffee every day either in their homes, at work, or in their farms. Tausugs serve coffee at the end of every meal, normally with dessert, the bangbang (Tausug sweets and delicacies).
A year ago my Filmmaker friends visited Jolo to film Tausug women coffee growers. The “Bansil Sisters” as they have been called after their abduction in the jungle of Jolo last 22 June 2013, were working on a documentary focusing on Tausug farmers, who still harvest great-tasting coffee despite hardships and threats of violence in Sulu.
I know this for a fact. As a Tausug I have witnessed Tausug women farmers in Luuk picking their coffee with armalites slung on their shoulders. Rifles are needed to protect them from wild beasts in the coffee jungle of Jolo, which is also an operation ground for both Philippine troops and freedom fighters.
It is a tradition of the Tausugs to serve coffee during Ramadhan breaks. I worried about the fate of the sisters in the hands of kidnappers but sought comfort with this thought in mind. I thought that time---Perhaps they are experiencing this coffee ritual, perhaps they fasted while in captivity, perhaps they are also drinking coffee for both their sahur (pre-dawn meal) and buka’ (breaking of their fasting).
I was so happy that they were released in 20 February 2014, after eight months of captivity. Linda and Nadjoua Bansil went to Jolo accompanied by Yazir Rajim, also a coffee enthusiast and author of “Kakaun Sug: Beyond Recipes”. This upcoming book featuring Tausug food, customs and traditions will be published soon.
Sulu coffee tradition comes from deep roots. On the other hand, owning an armalite in Sulu is also part of the Sulu culture, and though baffling as it may seem, locals think of it as better than having a wife. Some even risk their own lives just to own an armalite. Orlando de Guzman’s documentary “Sulu Gun Culture” in Luuk, attempts to discuss some salient points around this culture. (I contributed my voice for the voiceover of this film.)
Owning an armalite is more a necessity than luxury in this part of the world. One needs an armalite for protection during war, or in the absence of war, for the protection of peace. But it’s good to note that, despite having to struggle through a generation of war while facing the barrel of an armalite, Tausugs still very much enjoy a sip of coffee. This only goes to show that indeed Tausugs are a Kahawarista!
PS. If you are in Manila don’t forget to try Kahawa Sug (Sulu Coffee) and to eat Bangbang Sug (Sulu desserts and pastries) at Dulang Restaurant off Ermita Street, Manila. I frequent this place when I was there in October last year. It is just near UP Manila. Books about Sulu and others are also available in this quaint bookshop, just a block away- visit Solidaridad Bookstore near the restaurant. Visit here: http://www.bubblews.com/?referral=538f21546c8a79.99947921
Or if you are in Zamboanga City, visit Dennis Coffee Garden at KCC Mall and San Jose Road. If you are in Jolo, visit Dennis Coffee Shop near Jolo Airport.