The Sulu Sultanate: A Historical Encounter of Islam and Malay Culture

Abstract / Excerpt:

The Moros, known in the acadame as the Muslim Filipinos, are going through an identity crisis. once again they are challenged to define who they are as a people. Are they a people apart from the Philippine nation? Or, are they Malay just like most Filipinos?

Today, the Moros' Malayness is gradually being eroded as they try to uncritically imitate the Arabs. It is almost as if in their minds, to be a Muslim is to be an Arab. they are doing away with Malay clothes and replacing them with Arab garb. The kopiya, an oval shaped hat similar to that worn in two other Malay nations, Indonesia and Malaysia, was at one point the trademark of the Muslims of Mindanao. Now, it is gradually being replaced by the taqiyah, a Muslim hat worn in Egypt, Sudan, and other African countries. A growing number of Moro women are now wearing the niqab, a black dress worn by Muslim women of the Middle East that completely covers the body, leaving only a small opening for the eyes. The niqab is slowly replacing the mulong and patadjong, the traditional Moro dress. The kopiya and the patadjong are, to some extent, the remaining symbols of Moro or Muslim Filipino identity that indicates that they are Malay and definitely not Arab.

Full Text

The Moros, known in the academe as the Muslim Filipinos, are going through an identity crisis. Once again they are challenged to define who they are as a people. Are they a people apart from the Philippine nation? Or, are they Malay just like most Filipinos?

Today, the Moros' Malayness is gradually being eroded as they try to uncritically imitate the Arabs. It is almost as if in their minds, to be a Muslim is to be an Arab. They are doing away with Malay clothes and replacing them with Arab garb. The kopiya, an oval shaped hat similar to that worn in two other Malay nations, Indonesia and Malaysia, was at one point the trademark of the Muslims of Mindanao. Now, it is gradually being replaced by the taqiyah, a Muslim hat worn in Egypt, Sudan, and other African countries. A growing number of Moro women are now wearing the ingab, a black dress worn by Muslim women of the Middle East that completely covers the body, leaving only a small opening for the eyes. The niqab is slowly replacing the malong and patadjong, the traditional Moro dress. The kopiya and the patadjong are, to some extent, the remaining symbols of Moro or Muslim Filipino identity that indicates that they are Malay and definitely' not Arab.

It is important to understand that Islam can be lived out in different ways in different cultures, and cannot therefore be reduced to one cultural expression. A Malay expression of Islam is as valid as the Arab expression of Islam. One does not have to be Arab to be Muslim. If the Moros are not careful and assertive enough they will easily be over-run by Arab cultural imperialism. The Moros must learn to distinguish the cultural from the religious elements in Islam. The Moro people should strictly follow the main tenets of Islam, e.g., Tawheed (Unity or Oneness of God) and the fire pillars, but at the same time be able to discern which expressions are culturally Arab and which can have an equivalent expression in the Moro-Malay culture.

The Moros have in their tradition a rich cultural heritage. Their indigenous expression of Islam in Mindanao is their soul. This makes them distinct from other Muslim tribes and defines their identity as Muslim Filipinos. The challenge now is to revisit and reexamine the age-old practices, a product of an encounter between Islam and the Moro's Malay culture.

Islam is established in Sulu

Centuries before the arrival of Islam and Christianity, the Philippines was part of the greater Malay Archipelago that was under the influence of the Hindu-Buddhist traditions in the nineteenth century. The process of Indianization would take deep root in the mainland areas of Southeast Asia through the Srivijaya and Madjapahit Empires. The shift to Islam can be traced back to the Arab trade with South China that expanded during the Sung times [Sing Dynasty] (960-128( CF). As a result of increased contacts between Chinese merchants' and Arab and Persian traders, the Hindu-Buddhist influence in Southeast Asia gradually shifted to Islam.' The expansion of trade in Southeast Asia consequently led to the coming of more Arab and Persian traders to Malaysia and Indonesia, North Sumatra, and the Moluccas. The former Hindu-Buddhist Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia would turn Islamic by the thirteenth century (Evangelista 1970). It was via Malaysia, Borneo, and Sumatra that traders and Muslim missionaries finally reached Sulu.

In 1275-1310 CE (710 A H), Tuhan Masha'ika arrived in jolo. In 1380 CE, Karim ul-Makhdum and his companions arrived and converted a large number of Taosugs to Islam. Karim Makhdum was responsible for the founding of the first mosque in the Philippines at Tubig-Indangan on Simunul Island near job. Najeeb Saleeby (33) recounts from one tarsila as follows: "Some time after there came Karimul Makdum. He crossed the sea in a vase or pot of iron and was called Sarip (Sharif). l le settled at Buwansa, the place where the Tagimaha nobles lived. There the people flocked to him from all directions, and he built a house of worship." So by the late fourteenth century there were already Muslim settlements in Sulu.

The next important figure to arrive in Sulu was Rajah Baguinda, a prince from Sumatra, who reached Sulu in the early fifteenth century with a group of men knowledgeable about Islam. They settled in Buwansa, which eventually became the first capital of the Sultanate of Sulu.

The Moros needed a sultan who could establish an Islamic state where God's law and justice would be upheld. That crucial period in Sulu's history would be realized in 1450 CE with the arrival of Abu Bakr. In the annals of Malacca, it is recorded that Sayyid' Abu Bakr was regarded as a famous authority on law and religion. His origins, however, remain steeped in mystery. One version of the story claims that he came from Mecca. The other theory states that it was his father, Zaynul Abidin, who came from Mecca and that he was, in fact, born in Malacca. "It is the common belief that Abu Bakr was born in Mecca and that he lived some time at Juhur (or Malacca). Others state that it was his father, Zaynul Abidin, who came from Mecca and that Abu Bakr was born of the daughter of the Sultan of Juhur at Malacca. lie came to Pangutaran first, the narrative continues, then to Zamboanga and Basilan... He remained at Basilan for a short while. Having heard of Abu Bakr, the people of Sulu sent Orankaya Su'il to Basilan to invite him to Buwansa to rule over them. This invitation Was accepted" (Saleeby, 45-46). Abu Bakr settled in Sulu to establish a sultanate, an Islamic system of government, that would help the Moros practice Islam more faithfully. It is through this that the Taosugs (through contacts they made with Muslims from China, India, and Malay Archipelago) attribute their origins as Muslims to the Arabs. Sayyid Abu Bakr was most probably Malay, yet Mows claimed that he was from Arabia and a descendant of Muhammad, thus legitimizing his status as sultan.

As one would expect, the Moros welcomed him with little resistance and invited him to become their sultan. Majul noted that the "majority of traditional accounts precisely suggest that Muslims and not pagans had invited Abu Bakr to come over to Buansa' and that it was the Islamic consciousness of the people that inclined them to realize the need for a sultan" (383). The smooth transition from the indigenous family-oriented barangay system to a sultanate was possible because even before Abu Bakr arrived in Sulu, the Sulu society had already been transformed into an Islamic society to a certain degree (6). Abu Bakr married Paramisuli, the daughter of Rajah Baguinda, the reigning Rajah of Sulu. When Rajah Baguinda chose Abu Bakr to be his successor, Abu Bakr took the name 20 Sharif ul-Hashim and became the first Sultan of Sulu. The shift of titles and names from Sanskrit to Arabic among the succeeding sultans and Moro constituents of Sulu signifies the gradual process of Islamization from a Hindu-Buddhist culture mixed with the Malay culture. A.C. Milner (1981, 6) has argued that

"... the usage of Arabic titulature in the Malay context is more an aspect of the harmonization of the Islamic regal tradition than the translation of its forms and erasure of existing local structures. All such titles were most likely adopted by the Southeast Asian rulers as part of the continuing process of adhesion to Islam."

Because the Sulu sultanate was distant from the Islamic heartland, the Taosug political ideology of the sultanate was "interwoven and syncretized both with notions unique to the Taosug, as well as conceptions of state and kingship common to Southeast Asia" (Kiefer, 33). The notions had understandably filtered through Malay in influence. Nonetheless, of the sultanates in Mindanao, the Sulu Sultanate had political institutions which were relatively the most centralized. The Moros of Sulu and the succeeding sultans tried to see to it that these institutions would reflect the Tawheed, their belief in one God, and uphold God's law, the Shariah.

Pre-Islamic barangay system

Before Islam first reached Lupah Sug (Land of Sulu) in the thirteenth century and established a sultanate in the fifteenth century, the people in Sulu, as in the rest of the Philippine archipelago, developed basic units of settlements called banna or barangay. The generally accepted theory is that the Sulu Sultanate appears to have developed from the indigenous barangay system, a native social and political organization based on kinship that expanded loosely beyond family relationships, and was ruled by a datu (Malay) or a rajah (Hindu). These datus ruled as feudal lords of fortified kuta scattered throughout the Sulu archipelago.

A Moro's primary allegiance was loyalty to his sultan and his immediate dam. William Henry Scott pointed out that loyalty to the leader was a priority, and the number of followers was the primary determination of the datu's strength: "Generally, society was constituted by the commoners who were joined to the dam, and the slaves" (l.arousse 2001, 32). The primary basis for interpersonal and social relations in the Moro society was the datu-sakop"' relationship. What contributed to its strength was that it was mutually beneficial for both sides. A form of mutual obligation developed between the data, who had authority, social status, and wealth and the sakop, who gained a sense of security from his datu's protection and sustenance. In exchange for his sakops' loyalty and service, the datu's primary interest was their economic welfare. The datu-sakop relations may be likened to that of a patron-client. Both benefited economically and politically.

This loyalty to their data was a significant factor of the mass conversion of Moms to Islam. Once the data was converted to Islam, practically everyone in his barangay also converted. Considering the advantages of being a Muslim in a commerce dominated by Muslim Arabs, the data himself may have been motivated by the economic and political reasons to opt for conversion. The sakop followed their datu's shift in religion out of loyalty and allegiance to him and trust in his goodwill. The introduction of Islam further deepened the bond between the data and sakop by giving it a religious and transcendent dimension. As a consequence, enduring Islamic bonds bound the flatus and their sakop to one another, with the sakop's loyalty to his data now seen as a religious obligation.

Islam had raised the status of the sultan, the leading data of all flatus, to the level of God's deputy who was worthy of submission. In fact, Moms were led to believe that the blood of the Prophet Muhammad ran in the sultan's veins. This inspired the sakop to work and fight for him: "If he was insulted, belittled or injured, so were they—and they would not rest until he was avenged" (Gowing 1988, 48).

This identification of the sultan's divine entitlement explained the willingness of the Moms to do parrang sabil" to defend their sultan and data. In a situation of war, giving up one's life for the sultan to gain paradise became more valued. Saleeby was aware of this when he recommended to the American colonial authorities in Sulu that "Islam should be encouraged by colonial authorities because it is which binds the Muslim populace most indelibly to their leaders" (McKenna 1998, 106). Religion now provided the Moros a new motive that far surpassed economic benefits.

One cannot stress enough the powerful and lasting influence that the traditional barangay system of datu-sakop relations had upon the sultanate that replaced it. The Islamization of the barangay system had further consolidated local datus and facilitated political centralization. The datus ruled as feudal pirate lords who formed fortified kutas scattered throughout the Sulu archipelago. Through the establishment of the sultanate, the local datus of various barangays who ruled as feudal lords throughout the Sulu archipelago were united under the sultan and were represented by select datus who comprised a council, the ruma bichara, to advise the sultan on the affairs of the sultanate.

The idea of representation may pass for a democratic system, except that the members of the ruma bichara were not elected but were ex-officio, included by virtue of their status as royal datus. An account of a traveler in Sulu during the late eighteenth century (Forrest 1779, 326) describes how a ruma bichara operates:

"About fifteen Datoos ... make the greater part of the legislature ... They sit in council with the Sultan. The sultan has two votes in this assembly, and each datu has one. The rajah muda,  ...if he sides with the sultan, has two votes; but, if against him, only one. There are two representatives of the people, called mantiris, like the military tribunes of the Romans. The common people of Sooloos... enjoy much real freedom, owing to the above representation."

From the beginning, the sultan had never acquired absolute power over the datus. When Abu Bakr established the sultanate, he wanted to bring the whole land under his name, or at least subject to his authority. The local datus opposed this because it meant they would lose their authority, since one of their bases of power was actual control of a territory. Abu Bakr and the datus arrived at an agreement, the tartib, which continued the influence of local datus over their respective territories and communities. The tartib indicates that the sultan, however, may send his panglimas (representatives) all over Sulu, thus ensuring links and promoting unity throughout the sultanate.

Segmentary state

According to Kiefer, the segmentary state is the model that best describes the traditional Taosug polity. He understands the segmentary state to be "composed of sub-units which are structurally and functionally equivalent at every level of the political system" (Warren 1998, xxiv). In the case of the Sultanate of Sulu, the sub-units would be the barangays ruled by individual datus. The barangays existed independently of each other, but they were linked to each other to organize trade under the leadership of the sultan.

"In a traditional segmentary state, territorial sovereignty waxed at the centre and waned at the periphery" (Warren, xxiv). The Sulu sultanate was a centralized political system which territorial sovereignty was centered in the Sultan who was based in job. The Moros were loyal to the Sultan as well as to their datus as expression of their fidelity to Allah. Kiefer stressed the importance of seeing the sultan and datus, particularly the royal claws, as mirror images of each other. In fact, the Taosug generally believe that the blood of the Prophet Muhammad ran in their veins.

As for the sakops, who were mostly the datu's kinsmen, their primary loyalty was to their immediate datu, rather than to the sultan. If their datu was loyal to the sultan, then they too ought to be loyal to the sultan, according to the degree of loyalty their data had for the sultan. However, some datus were loyal only to gain more prestige and win more concessions from the sultan." Power remained diffuse within the sultanate as factional politics revolved around the more powerful claws. "[I]t was not uncommon for strong leaders to use raw power in the appropriation of rights theoretically attached to the sultan in order to further their personal interests and prestige" (Warren, xxv). A datu's power and prestige was based on his personal wealth, the number of sakop who rallied around his leadership, and the number of slaves he owned. The common words for slave in Taosug were Bisaya and banyaga, a proper noun referring to a person from the Visayan islands in central Philippines where most slave raids were carried out. The banyaga or Bisaya not only labored in his house and fields, adding to the datu's prestige and economic strength, but they sometimes augmented his military force as well (Gowing, 48). The datu's power depends on how he wielded his authority over his people, and how he could mobilize them for work or war at any given moment.

The Sultanate of Sulu was pyramidal in structure. As one moves from the apex toward the base, one sees the sultan's power and influence diminish and the datus take over. The Sultan's power and influence waned as it got farther from the center, and datus at the periphery had more influence and control on the Moros. if the Sultan departs from the ideals of Islam, then a datu or claws would take the responsibility to uphold and defend Islam. The pre-eminent position of the sultan at the apex of this political system was emphasized by certain rites and symbols which validated his authority (Warren, xxvi).

In gatherings, his seat would always be higher than the rest of the datus, symbolizing the dignity of his office. The court ritual was highly elaborate(xxvii): "...all letters, official dispatches, and verbal requests were addressed to the sultan in a special court vocabulary through an interpreter. Richly textured clothing, ceremonial paraphernalia such as umbrellas and weapons, especially ornate kris bronze and brass domestic utensils, and household ornaments were additional evidence of the sultan's symbolic strength and sacred character."

Tawheed: Sacralizing the sultan

For the Taosug, the leadership of the community was symbolized in the sultan... Without the sultan, there could be no community, nor men properly claim to be Muslims, for in order to acknowledge the sovereignty and unity of God, it was necessary to give a similar acknowledgement to the sultan.

Thomas Kiefer, 1972

The Qur'an repeatedly emphasizes the Oneness or Divine Unity of God, and this is mirrored in the Islamic doctrine of the Tawheed. The Tawheed is the central article of faith in Islam. As with most Muslims, the Tawheed is central to the Moros.

The Qur'an also explicitly describes God as Ai-Malik. meaning sovereign, and Al-Malik-u/-Mulk, the eternal possessor of sovereignty. These two adjectives are also among the ninety-nine names of God. The Qur'an (51:58) makes it clear beyond any doubt that all power lies in God who is Al-Muqtadir—possessor of all power.

Moros believe that God had exercised his sovereignty by delegating it in the form of human agency, and that this human agent was the sultan. If God is sovereign, then His representative on earth ought to be sovereign, too. In the early Muslim community in Medina, the prophet Muhammad was regarded as God's human agent. For the Moros, within the context of the Sultanate of Sulu, that human agent was their sultan, who was "the shadow of Allah on Earth" (as-sultan zill Allah fi al-ard), an expression that goes back to the Abbasids (132/749 CE- 656/1258 CE). This approximates the title "vice-regent or deputy of God (khalifat ul-Allah)" on Earth, used by the Umayyad caliphs (41/661 CE-132/749 CE). The sultan as a ruler, however, was a humbler version of the actual Caliph of Islam. Over time, the Moro sultan claimed to be God's khalifah or local representative. As God's khalifah, the sultan executed God's will and sovereignty by implementing what was prescribed in the Shariah.

Furthermore, the Moros also identified their sultan as halip tul rasul (successor of the messenger/prophet). Saleeby (17) observed that the Moros believed that their sultan was of noble birth and the Prophet's blood runs through his veins. The Moros celebrated this status of the sultan through an annual religious ceremony during Maulud-al-Nabi (birthday of the Prophet). On that day they pay homage to their sultan by kissing his forehead which for them is like kissing the nabi (Kiefer, 34). The participant of this rite was believed to receive the barakat, God's blessing or grace, because God's charismatic grace surrounds the person of the sultan.

Kiefer has argued that Sufism contributed to raising the religious status of the sultan to an awe-inspiring level by sacralizing it. Sufism preached that the office of the sultan was shrouded with barakat, a state of religious blessing or grace. When a man was appointed sultan, he was said to acquire more barakat from God, empowering him to embody the ideals of Islam and be the ultimate interpreter of the law. However, the sultan's judgments were not infallible. He could commit sins and go to hell like any man. Only when he was acting in the ideal manner was God's will manifested through him (53-54). This was why he consulted with his ruma bichara, his wazir (prime minister), and a kudi (qadi or judge), a judicial advisor trained in the canon law of al-Shafii, who more often than not was a foreigner: Arab, Malay, or Bugis (37).

As Allah's deputy and as one who replaced the prophet Muhammad, the person of the sultan was so sacred that no man can do him bodily harm without incurring God's wrath and terrible punishment in this life and in the life to come (Saleeby, 17). His wrath (mulka) was similar to the wrath of God (Kiefer, 35). Moros also believed that at the end of every Moro's lifetime, the sultan "was said to witness in the afterlife and at the day of judgment to his subjects' faith in Islam; without the sultan there would be no intermediary between God and man" (35).

The rise of the sultanate: The Sino-Sulu trade

Although Sulu appears in Chinese sources only during the Yuan dynasty (1278-1368 CE) and the subsequent Ming dynasty (1368-1644 CE), the Chinese recorded that as early as 982 CE, Mayi ships were repeatedly seen in trading ports in southern China. Quoting Manguin's Catalogues raissone' De Loeuvre Peint (1980). Ututalum and Hedjazi also noted that this description fits the boats built in Butuan in northern Mindanao, migrating to Sulu only in the eleventh century, it can be safety surmised that Taosugs owned the trading ships.

By the eighteenth century, the Sultanate of Sulu was one of the most powerful in the Malay region. It was described as the mart of all Moorish kingdoms, strategically located between Mindanao and Borneo, and at the center of trade in the Sulu zone. But what catapulted the sultanate to such glory was its reaction to the growing capitalist economy and rapid advancement of colonialism in Southeast Asia by the end of the eighth century. It would be the Chinese tea trade that demanded a significant labor force. The Sulu Sultanate was in a position to respond to this demand.

Slave raiding was practiced by the Moros long before the 1768 Sulu Sino trade boom in the Sulu zone. In fact, slave raiding even per dated the arrival of the Spanish. Sulu was not densely populated during this period, and capturing people and bringing them to Sulu was a strategy that was often used to augment the population and increase its labor force. Since the power of the Sultan or a datu depended a great deal on the number of his followers, who were comprised of the sakop and the captured banyaga, the datus took their fleet to the northern islands to find slaves to bring back to Sulu province. The sultans also made marital and political alliances with the Iranun tribes that specialized in slave raiding.

Things in Sulu would significantly change in the eighteenth century when tea as a commodity drove the world's capitalist economy. The fascination for tea, which was cultivated by Chinese peasants int he mountains of Fujian, swept Europe by the late seventeenth century

"Such that by 1700, tea had become, along with coffee and cocoa, one of the 'great non-alcoholic drinks' for all those Europeans with a sound grasp of epidemiological principles and fear of water-borne diseases and pestilence" (Hobhouse in Warren, 25). The belief in the medical benefits of tea contributed to the surge in demand for tea in the British Isles and in many parts of the Western world. "By 1820, it is estimated that probably thirty million pounds of the company's tea was consumed in Britain alone... In 1801, at retail, tea cost importers about two million pounds in China."

In response to the great European demand for tea, the British discovered that it was more profitable to trade with China for Chinese tea by using products from Southeast Asia as their trading commodity.' They recognized that the Sulu zone had a seemingly inexhaustible source of marine and forest products that China would be willing to trade for its tea. To cut into the China-Sulu trade, the British opened a new port on the island of Balambangan between Borneo and Palawan. As the middlemen between the Chinese-Sulu trade, the British became part of the profitable trade triangle. By 1772-1775, through the East India Company, the British rapidly gained control of the market in the region by using North Borneo as a springboard.

The British supplied the demand for tea in Europe by trading their modern firearms for the Moms' tripang and birds' nest, and they in turn traded these products for China's tea. This triangular sea trade provided exotic food to satisfy the new eating habits and styles of Chinese cooling, satisfied the desire of the Moros for the latest European firearms, and supplied the demand for tea in Europe. In addition, the British came up with a more sinister plan of using opium to trade with the Moros. But the adverse effect of this new trade triangle which James Warren called the Sulu zone was the resulting demand for a labor force that could harvest the marine and forest products in Sulu.

Thus there was a rising demand for tea in Europe and a concomitant increase in regional-wide slave raiding in Southeast Asia. Taosug claws partially re-patterned the life of particular marine groups to meet the soaring European and Chinese demand, and to gain direct access to western technology and Chinese trade goods. The efforts of ambitious datus to participate in this burgeoning world-capitalist economy, with its extraordinary profits and makers of differential status and prestige, forced the demand for additional labour up and swelled the How of global regional trade. The need for a reliable source of labour power was met by the Iranun and SamalBalangingi, the slave raiders of the Sulu zone (Warren, 39).

Sulu's entry into the world trade market required bigger prabus to hold more products, and at the same time accomodate more slaves who would provide the much needed labor to harvest the exotic products of Sulu. Mallari (1989) argued that the Moros of Sulu began building bigger prahu 'because of the increased demand for captives in the slave markets down south." This coincided with the report of Captain Thomas Forrest, an Englishman, who visited Jolo in 1774 and who wrote that the prahus of Sulu could carry six to forty tons burden, and could still sail well. Another explorer, Henry Keppel (1853, 31) who visited Borneo in 1843, described the prahus to

"... measure ninety feet in length, with a proportionate beam. The usual armament of such a vessel would be one gun- from a six to twelve- pounder- in the bow; ... besides about twenty or thirty rifles or muskets. Such boats would pull from sixty to eighty oars, in two  tiers; and her complement of men would be from eighty to one hundred. Over the pullers , and extending the whole length of the vessel, is a light but strong flat roof made of thin strips of bamboo, and covered with matting. This protects their ammunition and provisions from the rain, and serves as a platform on which they mount to fight and from which they fire their muskets or hurl their spears with great precision. The rowers sit cross-legged on a shelf projecting outwards from the bends of the vessel.

The British's search for commodities to trade with China brought with it significant shifts in trading systems. Along with the rising demand for tea came a parallel demand for labor to work in the fisheries and forests of the Sulu zone. All these powerful economic forces pushed the Moro datus in the direction of acquiring increasing numbers of slaves. It can be said that the success of the trade triangle of China, Britain, and the Sultanate of Sulu was made possible primarily by slave labor.

Land was abundant in Southeast Asia and was therefore not the basis of power. With an economy that was labor intensive, slaves provided the index of wealth and power. In the Philippines, as early as the sixteenth century, Spaniard A. de Morga (trans. Cummins 1971, 274) observed.

"[T] hese slaves constitute the main capital and wealth of the natives of these islands, since they are both very useful and necessary for the workers of the farms. Thus, they are sold, exchanged and traded, just like other article of merchandise, from village to village, from province to province, and indeed from island to island."

Slave trading was practiced not only in the Philippines but throughout Southeast Asia. In fact, the Moros already practiced slave raiding way before 1768 when the British cut in on the Sulu-Chinese trade.

In the Sulu society, it was not the vast amount of land that determined the strength of the datu. The number of followers was the primary determinant of the datu's strength. Increasing the population through slave raiding was an accepted practice among the datus. This practice would eventually conflict with the Americans when they established their sovereignty in Sulu at the turn of the twentieth century.

When the Americans landed in Sulu in 1898, they encountered a sultanate that had been in existence for nearly four centuries. However, the Sultanate of Sulu was in decline. It had been losing its prestige as an economic and political force in Asia since 1848 when Spain introduced more powerful steamboats to control the Sulu Sea, effectively blocking the sultanate's lucrative economic trade with the Dutch, British, and the Chinese (Larousse, 82). By the turn of the twentieth century, the weakened sultanate was vulnerable to the American occupying forces.

It was not an easy transition for the Moros. The sultanate had governed them for three centuries, and the dismantling of this traditional structure brought about a political vacuum in Sulu. As the disarmed Moros were left in their most vulnerable state, the United States transferred the responsibility of governing the Moro people in the hands of the inexperienced Christian Filipinos. Despite protects from the Moro people, the United States declared Philippine Independence in 1946 and annexed Mindanao and Sulu to the new republic. From then on, the integration of the Moros into the national polity has constantly failed. This became severe in the 1960s when fierce political disputes with the Republic of the Philippines became a struggle for an independent Bangsamoro (Moro Nation). As one can see, the failed American policies in Sulu are partly to be blamed for the ongoing Moro Problem today.

At the turn of the twenty-first century the decline of law and order in Sulu has led to its status as the poorest region in the Philippines. There have been many proposals from various sectors to redeem Sulu from its impoverished state. One of these comes from the traditional "royal families" or the claimants to the sultanate. They point to Sulu's glorious past when Sulu was one of most powerful sultanates in the region. They then propose that through the reestablishment of the sultanate, the Moros can redeem themselves from poverty.

Source JournalTambara
Journal VolumeTambara Vol. 24
AuthorsRenato T. Oliveros, SJ
Page Count9
Place of PublicationDavao City
Original Publication DateNovember 1, 2007

Download the PDF file .