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The Moro Wars

The Moro Wars

At the time of the coming of Legaspi in 1565, Islam had already taken root in many places in the archipelago specially in those bigger barangays exposed to foreign trade. With the exception however of Sulu and Maguindanao, Islam had only a loose foothold in those places. In the case of Manila, it was reported by the Spanish missionaries who studied the lives of the people living along the Pasig river that people there were exemplifying practices which they vaguely recognized as Islamic; that many of them were "circumcising their children and avoiding the eating of pork". These two (circumcision and prohibition of the eating of pork) were used by the early Spaniards as a measure in determining whether a group is Muslim or not. Many of them, it was further reported were already reading the Qur'an in the original which indicates that there were foreign Muslims, particularly Arabs missionaries, who must have been living among the natives and teaching them how to read and write in the Arabic script.

It is due to the discovery that the people in Manila and elsewhere in the archipelago were Muslims that the Spaniards called them Moros, a term they used in referring to the Muslims in Morocco, and a term used to date in referring to the Muslims in the Philippnes. The Moros in North Africa and in Spain were the enemies of Spain for almost 800 years (from the conquest of the Iberian peninsula by a Muslim conqueror, Tarik, to the fall of Granada, the last stronghold of the Muslims in Spain in 1492). In time, the term came to be used by the Spaniards in referring to those who adhered to the Muslim faith, as is the case of the Muslims in the Philippines.

The war against the Muslims in Spain still fresh in their minds (The Spanish Crusades), the Spaniards viewed the confrontation between them and the Muslims in the Philippines as a continuation of the Crusades and therefore imported the "spirit of the Crusades" to the country. A Spanish author wrote in 18184:

When they landed in Manila, the soldiers of Legaspi found on the same site of the present Fort Santiago, key to the capital of Manila, a powerful Muslim principality under Rajah Matanda…who…reigned in company with a nephew, Rajah Suliman, the one who favored a policy of war….Under the walls of this fort, an historical event, little appreciated but which influenced our conquest, took place. It was there that for the first time since the conquest of Granada that the Spaniards once more stood face to face withg the standards of the Prophet, both meeting after circling the globe from opposite directions. As was inevitable, they met at the walls under artillkery fire; and they continue to do so in Jolo, fighting a battle that began on the borders of Guadalete. And as if nothing should detract from that contin uity, Legaspi called them Moros, a name they keep up to this time and which, regardless of their having nothing in common with the Mauretanians, signifies a community of religion shared with the Spanish Arabs. (Victor M. Concas y Palau. Quoted from Retana's edition of Antonio de Morga's Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, p. 379. and by Majulin Mus;lims in the ZPhilippines, pp 77-78)

In a very special sense, therefore, the war in the Philippines between the Spaniards and the Moros which has been lumped together in what is now known as the "Moro Wars" is a continuation of the Crusades lasting for more than three hundred years (or 333 years to be exact from the first encounter in the vicinity of Bohol in 1565 to the Spanish withdrawal from the Philippines in 1898).

Dr. Cesar Adib Majul, summarizes these war dividing it into six phases thus:

  • The first represented theconflict between the Spaniards, who were out to transform the Philippines into a colony of Spain and Christianize its inhabitants, and the Borneans who were accelerating their political, economic, and religious influence over the Archipelago. In this conflict, the Sulus played the role of allies to the Borneans---their royal families being intimately related. In this phase, the Spaniards were successful in eliminating the Borneans from the Archipelago.
  • The `second phase saw the Spanish exert efforts to reduce the peoples of Sulu and Maguindanoao into vassalage. The Muslim peoples were forced to admit Christian missionaries, and they were strongly urged not to admit anymore Islamic influences from Brunie and Ternate. Efforts to establish Spanish colonies in Muslim lands failed. In this phase, it was Apanish policy to discourage the Muslims from leaving for other islands. They were instead persuaded to remain and engage in useful economic \activities, like pearl fishing and agriculture, and to participate in inter-island trade, especially with the Spaniards.
  • The third stage, covering a period of about thirty-five years from 1599 to 1635, was when the Maguindanaos contested the rule of Spain in the Archipelago by attacking or intimidating those natives utilizedby the Spaniards to strengthen their hold on the islands. In the early part of this stage, the Maguindanaos actually competed with the Spaniards over the collection of tributes from people of the Visayas. When it seemed that the Spanairds were winning in the contest, The Magundaos and the Sulus did all they could to weaken the Spanish position while consolidating their political power and strengthening their economic base to face a greater challenge in the future from the Western invaders. Trernate aid to the Maguindanao was understandable since Spanish ambition in the Moluccas was part of their overall plans in Malaysia. Dutch commercial ambitions in the area provided the Muslims with a potential ally against the more immediate Spanish danger.
  • The fourth conceived as beginning with the establishment of the Zamboanga fort in 1635 in a site that formed part of the dominions of the Sulu ruler, clearly revealed Spanish intentions --- the conquest of Muslim lands and the eventual conversion of the people into their religion. The Spanish victory in Maguindanao in 1637 and in Sulu in 1638 made them optimistic about the future of their designs. Missions were established and some conversions were made especially among the non-Muslim people living in Muslim lands. The Muslim resistance grew more bitter and determined, forcing missionary activities to slow down. The ensuing and more aggressive Spanish policy to make a final conquest was accompanied by a studied plan to depopulate Muslim settlements and destroy farms and plantations. Failing to attain their objectives and facing the threat of a Dutch attack oin Manila, the Spaniards fpound it more expedient to make peace treaties with the more powerful Mulsim rulers who needed a respite themselves to recover from the devastating and cruel enemy attacks. The Muslim'm memory of bitter experiences, the refusal of Muslim rulers to accept Christian missionaries in their land, mutual encursions into each other's spheres of influence, and mutual accusations of breaches of peace treaties and bad faith, all contributed to nthe breakdown of the peace. The Spaniards continued their retaliatory policies of death and destruction of settelements, fields and plantations. However, the abandonment of Zamboanga in 1663, in the face of Koxinga's threat, brought about relatibve peace in Muslim lands for some time at least. For the next half century, there was no significant Sulu or Maguindanao incursion into Spanish-held territories. Neither did the Spaniards appear in Muslim lands in any military capacity.
In the above phases of the Moro wars, there are common threads or prominent aspects of the conflict - that of imperial conquest and Christianization. The moral aspect of taking captives and enslaving them was not of crucial importance. Both the Spaniards and the Muslims were taking captives to be sent to the oars or for getting ransom for them. One difference though, between the Muslims and the Spaniards was that the former were getting more captives and selling them in slave markets in the neighboring principalities. The Spaniards on the other hand kept their captives within the territories they administered. Muslims usually used the captives to strengthen their war machinery by making them work at the oars of their caracoas and thus free their warriors to do the fighting, to help them with their households chores, field and plantation work, to prevent them from being used by the Spaniards against them, and to weaken the manpower in Spanish-held settlements which tended to strengthen the Spanish presence in the Philippines.

Notable also in the first four phases of the Moro wars is the role played by the Jesuits. The Jesuits more than any other religious corporation in the Philippines had their minds set on converting the Muslims as well as all the non-Muslims in Sulu and Mindanao. They acted as ambassadors to the Muslim sultans and accompanied Spanish expeditions against the Muslims acting as chaplains. They suggested the fortification of Zamboanga and they negotiated peace treaties always seeing to it that their interests in these treaties, especially with respect to the establishment of missions in Muslim areas, are ensured and protected.

After the Spanish withdrawal in 1663 and Koxinga's threat did not materialize, the Jesuit again tried to convince the Spanish king to return to Zamboanga so that they could continue with their missionary activities. However, the Governor-general in Manila thought it better to stay away in the meantime from Mindanao. The war had been very costly in terms of human lives lost and property destroyed and both the Spaniards and the Muslims needed a respite in the war. So for more than half a century, there was a relative peace in Mindanao between the Spaniards and the Muslims.

The absence of the Spaniards gave the Muslims the much-needed time and space to rehabilitate their economy which had been so much affected by the war and to rebuild their war-ravaged settlements. It was also during this interlude in the war that the most powerful Sultan of Mindanao, Sultan Kudarat died at the age of about ninety (90). There was a new power realignments and dynastic wars between the descendants of Kudarat and it was during this time that the Spaniards had decided to return to Mindanao and tried once again to conquer the Muslims. Dr. Majul summary continues:

  • In the fifth stage of the Moro wars initiated by the Spanish provocative act of refortifying Zamboanga, the vigorous but unsuccessfgul attempt of the Muslims to dislodge the Spanish forces from Zamboanga was countered by Spanish retaliatory measures. After two decades, however, there was a change in Spanish political tactics to Christianiza and colonize the Muslims. Instead of forcing Christianity upon the Muslims by conquest, the Spanish king requested the sultans to allow Christian missionaries into their realms in exchange for commercial relations and a Spanish alliance. However, Spanish efforts in this direction eventually brought about the opposite of the hop[ed-for results. The wars during this stage reached considerable proportions in terms of human lives lost and prop[erty destroyed on both sides. A short lull occurred after the British invasion, but the wars soon commenced with the withdrawal of the British and continued up to the middle of the nineteenth century.
  • The sixth stage of the Moro Wars commenced with the Spanish Campaign of 1851 against Sulu and ended only towards the end of the Spanish rule in the Philippines. This stage was marked by the increasing influence of the Spaniards over the Maguindanao sultans and the steady decline of the power and influence of the latter in the affairs of Mindanao. Corollary to this was the transfer of leadership of resistance against the Spaniards in the Pulangi to the ancient sultanate of Buayan.
In the last stage of the Moro wars, perhaps if the Spaniards were given enough time, they would have finally succeeded in conquering the Muslims who were weakened by internal conflicts (dynastic wars). Besides, the weaponry and war vessels the Muslims were using were no longer a match to the relatively modern weapons and steamboats of the Spaniards which "swept off the Moro buccaneers from the sea and confined them behind their coral reefs." Unfortunately for the Spaniards, they were forced again to withdraw their forces from Muslim areas due to the outbreak of the Philippine revolution in 1896. And even after the Revolution would have been over with the signing of the Truce of Biak-na-Bato, the coming of the Americans as a result of the Spanish-American war prevented them from returning their forces to Mindanao. Their expulsion from the Philippines as a result of their defeat by the Americans finally put an end to the more than three hundred years of Moro Wars.

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Theories on How Islam Came to Malaysia
The Coming of Islam to Sulu
Islam Comes to Maguindanao
Islam in Manila and Nearby Areas
The Moro Wars
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