07 July 2016

When Islam was a Widely-Practised Religion in Luzon, Including Batangas

Image credit:  The Daily Brunei Resources.

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(Part VII of a Batangas Historical Series)

Documents of the earliest Hispanic contacts with Batangas referred to the natives of Bonbon and Balayan as Moros – Spanish for Moors. This was altogether incorrect because the term Moor was originally used to connote the Muslim inhabitants of North Africa and parts of Europe, particularly those of the Iberian Peninsula, regardless of ethnicity.

However, even when Miguel López de Legaspi and company were still based in the Visayas, the Spaniards in documents sometimes referred to the natives there as Moros, too. Hence, we deduce that to them, the word Moro was used in a general sense to mean Muslim; albeit, in some instances, the word was also just used indiscriminately to refer to the natives.

In Luzon, not all the natives were of the Muslim faith. Guido de Lavezaris, who became Governor of the Philippines after the death of de Legaspi, wrote in 1573 to Felipe II, King of Spain, “Of the natives of this island, some are Moros and Mahometans1, especially those living near the coast. Those in the interior are pagans.2

How deep the natives were indoctrinated in the ways of Islam, the Spaniards had some doubts. Diego de Artieda, one of de Legaspi’s officers, wrote also in 1573, “In this island of Luzon are three settlements of Moros, who do not know the law of Mahoma3 in its entirety. They eat no pork, and pay reverence to the said Mahoma.4

Furthermore, Don Martin Enriquez, Viceroy of Nueva España, in December of that same year described this shallow indoctrination, obviously from information given to him by those who had been to the Philippines, in a letter to Felipe II. He wrote, “It is not believed that they (the Moros) are very sincere in the profession of the Mahometan religion, as many of them both drink wine and eat pork.5

How Islam spread in Luzon, including Batangas, a native of Balayan by the name of Magad-china gave some insight to in a narrative sworn to by the Spanish interpreter Joan Ochoa Ttabudo before Alfonso Beltran, the royal notary:

“Being asked where he learned the worship of Mahoma, and who declared it to him, he said that the ancestors of the Borneans were natives of Meca (Mecca), as he, the present witness, had heard; for the natives of Balayan, Manila, Mindoro, Bonbon, and that region did not have knowledge of the said worship until the Borneans had explained it to them; they have done so with the natives of these islands, and therefore all these are Moros now, because their ancestors learned it from the said Moros of Borney.6

Borney in Spanish documents was often used in a general sense to mean the island of Borneo or, in a more specific sense, the present-day state of Brunei. Magad-china’s narrative was, of course, both hearsay and folkloric. His statement that the ancestors of the Borneans were natives of Mecca was a stretch of the facts as, indeed, information rather tends to be diluted when spread by word of mouth. However, it was not completely without basis.

Islam first reached the islands of Sulu from Brunei along the trade routes in the 14th century. The first preacher was believed to have been Sharif Karim al-Makhdüm, an Arab. He was followed by another Arab, Abü Bakr, who reached the same islands by way of Palembang (in Sumatra) and Borney.7

But even from Magad-china’s narration, it could be inferred that Borney’s intentions went beyond simply proselytising.

“...the king of Borney is wont to detain many Indians who resort to Borney for trade and intercourse, and that he does not permit them to leave the country, especially those Indians whom he knows to be rich. The witness knows that the king forces them to marry in that country, so that at their death he may obtain their possessions. In this way he has seen detained against their will, Indians of Çubu (Cebu), the island of Luçon (Luzon), Balayan, Bonbon, and other districts of these islands—all rich and influential men.”

Beyond merely playing the waiting game, Borney’s traders, whether wittingly or unwittingly, moved forward their king’s agenda by getting “intermarried with local women while maintaining links with their home port (Borney)…8” In fact, Raxa Soliman, erstwhile of Manila, was the grandson of the king.

Of course, in the 16th century, there was no geopolitical entity called the Philippines as we know it today. Still, what was apparent was that Borney, a regional power benefiting from the fall of the city-state of Melaka (in the Malay Peninsula) in 1511, had both religious as well as territorial ambitions on the islands to the north, i.e. the Philippines.

In other words, exactly as the Spaniards did.

It is well worth pointing out that the natives of early Batangas, i.e. those of Balayan and Bonbon, must not have been too impressed with Borney. The King of Borney’s practice of detaining their kinsmen must have been seen in a negative light by the locals. Also, people of Balayan continued Mahometan worship, which they shared with the people of Borney; but were nonetheless quick to become vassals of the King of Spain.

The Spaniards had previous knowledge of Borney from Antonio Pigafetta’s writings9. Andrés de Mirandaola, de Legaspi’s factor (business manager), wrote a description of the place, “This island of Borney is rich, according to what we have heard of it. It is well populated and is very well fortified, having much artillery. Its people are warlike, and there is much trade in all parts of it.10

It was, therefore, no surprise that the initial Spanish attempts to establish contacts with the court of Borney were of a friendly nature. In 1573, de Lavezaris sent a delegation to the island. The governor himself described in a letter to Felipe II what his emissaries told the King of Borney:

“As I considered the friendship of the king of Borney an important matter for the service of your Majesty, I sent to him a Moro, a native of this island, as messenger, with certificates of security so that his people may freely come to these islands to trade, as they were accustomed to do. For the friendship of this king and the commerce will open us a way for the establishment of a community and the erection of a fort in that island; and if people come it will be necessary for me to go or to send others to settle that island, for the service of your Majesty requires it.”

Despite the friendly intentions of the Spaniards, the communication sent to the King of Borney would not have been received as friendly at all. The Spaniards were the newcomers to the region. The guarantee of security to come and go would have been quickly seen as a veiled staking of a claim on islands where the Borneans had been free to come and go in the first place before the Spaniards arrived.


Notes and references:

1 The word Mahometan is an archaic term for Mohammedan or Muslim. The phrase “Moros and Mahometans” seems to imply that each was distinct from the other, but most probably was intended to mean “Moros and, therefore, Mahometans.”
2 Affairs in the Philippines after the Death of Legazpi, by Guido de Lavezaris, as published in the Blair and Robertson series “The Philippine Islands: Volume III: 1569-1576.”
3 Archaic term for Mohammed.
4 Relation of these Western Islands Called Filipinas, by Diego de Artieda, as published in the Blair and Robertson series “The Philippine Islands: Volume III: 1569-1576.”
5 Letter from the Viceroy of New Spain to Felipe II, by Don Martin Enriquez, as published in the Blair and Robertson series “The Philippine Islands: Volume III: 1569-1576.”
6 Expeditions to Borneo, Jolo, and Mindanao, as published in the Blair and Robertson series “The Philippine Islands: Volume IV: 1576-1582.”
7 The Cambridge History of Islam: Volume 2A, the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Africa and the Muslim West, P.M. Holt, Ann K.S. Lambton and Bernard Lewis, Editors. Cambridge, UK 1970.
8 A History of Early Modern Southeast Asia, 1400-1830, by Barbara Watson Andaya, Leonard Y. Andaya. Cambridge, 2015.
9 Antonio Pigafetta was the Venetian chronicler who accompanied Ferdinand Magellan on his expedition to discover the Spice Islands.
10 Expedition of Garcia de Loaisa, 1525-26, Resume of contemporaneous documents, 1522-37, as published in the Blair and Robertson series “The Philippine Islands: Volume II: 1521-1569.”

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