Milestones in Moro historiography


“…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).

17th century Mindanao and Moluccas

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


4 thoughts on “Milestones in Moro historiography

  1. Unfortunately for Professor Dery “Los Indios” had a very real and prudent raison d’etre for “fearing” Moros. Since time immemorial the various tribes that would one day be called Bangsamoro have raided the central and northern islands of the Philippines. Since consumer goods were not exactly abundant they concentrated on the 1 commodity to be had, slaves.

    Slaving continued well into the Spanish colonial era and in fact only really ended in the last part of the 19th Century (though by then Moros traded south instead of north).

    Claiming that the Spaniards were responsible for the hatred and fear displayed by non-Moros towards Moros is ignorant at best but of course Professor Dery’s ideological bias is really the key. Sadly for the hard left, the Cold War is over and those views are as atiquated as the “Moro-Moro” plays he takes issue with.

    Indeed, Bangsamoro is an exercise in colonialist ideology itself, imported from foreign shores and impressed upon the indigenous peoples of what would one day become the “Philippines.”

    Re “Mindanao” versus “Maguindanao,” the Blogger is correct that “Mindanao” is a corruption of the latter but that does not then imply that Maguindanao is the more authentic name for the island. Maguindanao the tribe, only coalesced 2 generations before Spanish contact!

    1. Jackiejon,
      Don’t let your biases becloud everything that you read. In my article as well as in Prof. Dery’s book, there was nothing there that claimed that the Spaniards were solely responsible for the indios’ fear and hatred for the Moros. The havoc that the Moros did to Indio towns as retaliations for Spanish raids in Mindanao was great and could be considered as even traumatic. But no intelligent and knowledgeable person would say that the Spaniards did not contribute greatly to the Indios’ fear and hatred of the Moros. The pamphlets, the priests’ sermons and the moro-moro plays inculcated in the minds of the Indios that the Moros were “the enemies”. Added to that is the forced building of forts and the all-indio virtual army and navy called armadillas with the declared purpose that they were created against the Moros.

      About slave-trading, there are no records that say that the people of Mindanao since time immemorial were raiding the people of Luzon and Visayas. Slave-trading became lucrative only with the coming of the Europeans. The Dutch were eager buyer of slaves. And the Spaniards were forced to ransom the captured Spaniards and some Christianized indios. And the Moros were only raiding Luzon and Visayas as retaliatory measures against the Spanish raids in Mindanao and Sulu.

      The Cold War is indeed over, and so America’s “war vs the Commies” is over. But America has found another enemy and so we have the “War against Terror” (read “War against Islam”).

      Sadly, the Moros cannot go on to post-colonialist discourse because we are still under a colonialist regime. But this time, the colonial/imperial powers are hiding behind a new facade — the Filipino neocolonials.

      Lastly, this blogger never intended to imply that Maguindanao is the authentic name for the island. Nothing can be farther from his mind. The reason that I could not accept the name Mindanao, which was derived from Maguindanao, is precisely because it is not logical for the Island to be named after a relatively recently established sultanate.

      About your blog – FocusonMindanao, it is empty.

      Thank you for your comments.

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