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Tawi Tawi part 2 - Philippines Travel Guide

Unfortunately that means few people will stand on the midden-strewn floor of Bolobok Cave in Sanga-Sanga Island and conjure up images of some of the earliest Filipinos carving the oldest shell tools in Southeast Asia from the giant clam about 9,000 years ago. What became of them is a mystery, for the ancestors of today’s Tawi-Tawians came to their new home a mere 1,000 years ago. The closest most people will get to the mysteries of Bolobok will be a visit to the National Museum where the best examples of their work are on display.

Not many will trace the footsteps of the first Arab missionaries who came to spread Islam 200 years before the Spaniards arrived. Four pillars of the first mosque built in the country still stand at Bohe Indangan on Simunul Island. To honor its builder, Sheik Karimul Makhdum, a shrine has been built around his tomb in Tandubanak on the island of Sibutu. That milestone in Philippine cultural history was recognized by the National Historical Institute when it declared both as historical sites.

Perhaps if there is one reason outsiders venture to Tawi-Tawi it is to help protect the endangered marine turtles. Having been identified as some of only 16 sites turtles go to nest, the islands of Baguan, Taganak and Bancauan are at the center of international efforts to save these endangered animals. Thus far, other species that are endemic not just to the province, but to specific islands do not elicit as much interest despite the fact that animals such as ashy tailored bird of Mapun, a flower pecker on Sibutu as well as a flock of other birds that are found on no other place on this earth.

Such a wealth of fauna was made possible when the coral reefs that extend all the way to Malaysia served as land bridges through which man and animals made their way into the Philippines. Today, these reefs are home to seaweed farmers who live in houses on stilts and produce over 80% of the carageenan the country exports. These reefs on the fringes of Tubbataha also hold such a wealth of marine life. Its waters attract commercial fishing vessels from as far away as Taiwan, Manila and Navotas. Apparently, the economic benefits far outweigh any misgivings they may have about their security. To that extent many people in Luzon probably get a taste of Tawi-Tawi without even knowing it.

In the same manner, it is ironic that in the information age there is much that is not known about Tawi-Tawi. As it has for much of its history, the province has lived up to its name as a place “far, far away” . . . away from the mainstream of Philippine socio-economic life, away from the Filipino consciousness . . .until the gem that it is is discovered.


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