Sultanate’s glory days-A A +A
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
WHEN I did my research on the history of Tudela town for the book commissioned by the Provincial Government through the University of San Carlos, I was struck by one story passed down orally from generation to generation by islanders. This was about the raid by pirates on Poro, the island town where Tudela once belonged, in the 17th (or 18th?) century.
The islanders talked about the sea of Poro turning red, a reference not to blood flowing but most probably to the color of the sails of the many vessels that crowded the island’s shoreline at that time. Porohanons withdrew to the hills and initially stopped the raiders’ advance.
The latter changed strategy, lured the Porohanons into believing they were suing for peace, then either slaughtered them or captured them as commodities in the slave trade in a surprise attack. Poro became a ghost town for a while after that, as many survivors sought the safety of neighboring islands like Leyte---the raid’s aftermath haunting them.
Those raiders were called “Moro” by the Spanish colonizers and “Moros” by the Visayans. More appropriately, they belong to the famous, or okay notorious, maritime raiders called by historian James Francis Warren as the Iranun and Balangingi of Maguindanao and Sulu. These raiders served the many sultanates that existed in Mindanao at that time, the bigger ones being those of Buayan, Maguindanao (Cotabato) and Sulu.
I recall the Poro story because of the recent incursion by people belonging to the “Sultanate of Sulu” into Sabah to assert the “sultanate’s” ownership of the area. The word “sultanate” has to be placed in quotation mark because it no longer exists. While a “sultan” (two others are actually claiming the title aside from Jamalul Kiram III) still exists, he no longer rules over a sultanate (separate state).
The Sulu Sultanate, composed mostly of Tausugs, was established in the 15th century by Sayyid Abu Bakr Abirin, a Johore-raised son of a “Mecca-born Arab father.” Abu Bakr married Paramisuli, daughter of the old Sulu ruler Rajah Baginda, who was from Sumatra. But it was when colonialist powers appropriated for themselves areas in Southeast Asia that the power of the Sulu Sultanate reached its peak, then collapsed.
The rise of the Sulu Sultanate followed the waning of the influence of the rival Maguindanao Sultanate and the shift in loyalty of the feared maritime raiders, the Iranuns and Balangingi, from Maguindanao to Sulu. Those raiders provided the Sulu sultan with a steady supply of slaves who are either sold or used as laborers. They also propped up the role of the sultanate in the flourishing trade between the West and China.
While Sulu and its environs are merely treated now as the Philippines’ backdoor, they were part of a global trading area in the 17th and 18th centuries traversed by such colonial powers as Spain, the British and the Dutch. Warren noted that the Sulu archipelago “straddled the main sea route from the South China coast to the fabled Spice Islands of Moluccas.” The Sulu Sultanate benefited much from the setup.
While the rest of the Philippines was successfully colonized by Spain, the Sulu Sultanate wasn’t subjugated until the 19th century when Spain made an aggressive push to the south while riding on the crest of science’s then new creation, steam ships, which undercut the advantages of the prahus of the Iranun and Balangingi.
Since then, the Sulu Sultanate’s power was pruned first by Spain and later by the Americans and then by the British in Sabah. Decades after, its glory days receded far from our collective memory.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 06, 2013.