Friday, May 01, 2009

Reconstructing MORO HISTORY

History is “the act of selecting, analyzing and writing about the past. It is something that is done, that is constructed.” (Davidson and Lytle 1982). In an academic essay, I wrote:

Philippine historiography is not exactly in a good state. Skeptics have categorized historians as those who lie, those who are mistaken and those who do not know. (Gilderhus:1996) It is quite unfortunate that much of Philippine history was written by those in the first two categories. With regards to the Moros, Spanish historians (writing about Moro history) belonged to the first category; American historians belonged to the first and second; and Filipino historians belonged to all categories.

But there are exceptions, of course. Below is an article I wrote for The Philippine Post:


Milestones in Moro Historiography
by Datu Jamal Ashley Abbas


“…History books in the Philippines tend to lay emphasis on events in other islands and glorify national heroes from such area, as if the history of the Philippines is only that of people who had been conquered while the history of the unconquered ones do not merit a share in the history of the Philippines. Possibly… a future generation of Filipinos would consider the struggle of the Muslim South as part of the struggle of the entire nation - and the epic exploits of its heroes may well be the nation’s heritage.” Thus wrote the former Dean of the UP College of Arts and Sciences Prof. Cesar Adib Majul in his groundbreaking book Muslims in the Philippines (1973).

Dean Majul’s work was like a reinvigorating rain in the arid desert of Moro historiography. Not since Najeeb Saleeby’s works (1905, 1908) has there been a well-researched tome on Moro history in the Spanish era. The book was a “best-seller” and had two editions in 1973. But suddenly, it had gone out of stock. Last year, some 26 years later, the UP Press printed the third edition.

Sultan Qudarat got his biggest press from Dean Majul’s book. Saleeby praised Qudarat as “probably the strongest and greatest Mindanao sultan that ever lived.” But Majul devoted 47 (out of 392) pages to the exploits of Qudarat. The Maguindanao sultan became an “overnight sensation” — he was proclaimed as one of the country’s national heroes, a province was named after him, commemorative stamps were issued in his honor and a statue, which now stands tall right in the middle of Makati’s commercial district, was sculpted.

Dean Majul offered his work “as a point of departure for the writing of a more comprehensive history of an enlarged Filipino people.” No such comprehensive historical writing has yet surfaced but two books on Moro history have appeared that could help bring about Dean Majul’s dream history book.


Based on her M.A. thesis (from Ateneo de Manila University), Ruurdje Laarhoven has written another milestone in Moro historiography, The Triumph of Moro Diplomacy : The Maguindanao Sultanate in the 17th Century (New Day Publishers : 1989, 267 pp). She has unearthed a great deal of information about Mindanao in the 17th and 18th centuries and has debunked some widely held historical assumptions.

From 1663 to 1718, the Spanish abandoned all its settlements and pretensions in Mindanao, which explains the paucity of Spanish historical data in this period. The Moros, on their part, refrained from attacking Spanish settlements in Luzon and Visayas. Most historians took this as a sign of the decline of the Moro sultanates, especially of the Maguindanao Sultanate, which as Ms. Laarhoven found out, was farthest from the truth.

A native of the Netherlands, Ms. Laarhoven looked into the Dutch historical archives and found a gold mine of historical data about Mindanao. The Dutchmen, who were in the Moluccas, kept a keen eye on Mindanao, in order to protect its spice trade monopoly.

Ms. Laarhoven clearly established a) the post-Qudarat Maguindanao sultanate did not decline; on the contrary, it expanded; and, b) the very close relationships among the various Mindanao and Moluccan principalities.

Unlike Dean Majul, Ms. Laarhoven was not much of a Qudarat fan. She gave equal importance to Qudarat’s grandson and successor, Sultan Barahaman (Abd al-Rahman) who reigned for 28 years. Barahaman consolidated and even expanded Maguindanao’s power and territory.

Personally, my “favorite” Maguindanao ruler (actually most of them were half- or part-Maranao/Iranun) was Datu Buisan, Qudarat’s father. He was not even a sultan. His two elder brothers became rulers while he was “just” a Kapitan Laut (Captain-General of the Navy). He was not even the Rajah Muda (Crown Prince) but because of his mighty exploits, the Spaniards regarded him as the de facto Maguindanao sultan. And thanks to his bravery and political savvy, his son Qudarat became sultan.

Since high school, I have always wondered why Mindanao Island(s) did not have a proper name. Mindanao is just a shorter version of Maguindanao. Only foreigners could have referred to the whole island as Mindanao/Maguindanao. It is like naming Luzon island Katagalugan/Tagalog or Kabikulan/Bicol or Ilocandia . In the late 1960s / early 1970s, Moro intellectuals were tossing the idea of renaming Mindanao. After all, there were no such creatures as Mindanaoans. Some writers, including Christian Filipinos and foreigners used the name Moroland. The term that finally gained acceptance was Bangsa Moro (sometimes written as Bangsamoro), which referred to the people and not to the land or territory. (In the late 1980s, the settlers in Mindanao started calling themselves Mindanaoans.)

Ms. Laarhoven has provided the answer. According to her sources, the people in Mindanao and Moluccas in the 17th century referred to Mindanao Island(s) as Maluku Besar (Great Moluccas). Besar (great or big) could mean physically big or in the sense of Great Britain (Grande Bretagne) vis-a-vis Britanny (Bretagne).

Ms. Laarhoven hoped that her book would provoke “enough interest for kindred scholars to initiate a reinvestigation of its (Mindanao’s) past.”


A Christian Filipino has written a well researched and objective book on Moro history during the Spanish era; namely, The Kris in Philippine History: A Study of the Impact of Moro Anti-Colonial Resistance, 1571-1896 (Dery, Luis Camara , self-published? : 1997, 248 pp.) While Ms. Laarhoven’s work was mainly based on “primary materials” from the Dutch archives, Dr. Dery’s book was mostly based on “primary materials” from the Philippine archives.

History books about the so-called Moro Wars clearly portray a contest between the Moros and the Spaniards. Dr. Dery’s book added a new dimension — the indios all over the archipelago who were constantly raided by the Moros. Dr. Dery showed the “physical and psychological impact” on the indios and how the history of the Philippines was reshaped by these wars. The indios, such as the Bicolanos in Kabikulan, were “caught between the Spaniards, who were the masters of the land and the Moros, who were the masters of the seas. ”

The book recounts the efforts of the indios, prodded on by the Spaniards, to build forts, watchtowers and intramuros’es as well as paraos, lanchas, caracoas, and even vintas. In response to Moro attacks, the Spaniards created an all-indio virtual army and navy called armadillas..

A couple of years ago, a 65 year-old office mate told me that when they were kids in Bicol, their parents would scare them off by exclaiming “The Moros will get you!” or “The Moros are coming!” Dr. Dery’s book shows the origins of such fear and even hatred of the Moros.


Dean Majul’s dream of a “more comprehensive history of an enlarged Filipino people” done “with greater tolerance, intensive scholarship on all levels, deeper and wider moral perspectives, and a greater appreciation of the concept of a pluralistic society” might soon come true. Ms. Laarhoven’s and Dr. Dery’s books are in the right direction.

Published in The Philippine Post on April 1, 2000

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