Al Thar

Jonathan R. Matias
Sulu Garden
Miag-ao, Iloilo 5023 Philippines

May 30, 2020


A warrior with a cause is the most dangerous soldier of all.

Michael Scott



The last time I wrote the 7th installment of this novella was on May 30, 2017, almost exactly three years ago.  Many writers do experience a “writer’s cramp” where one simply could not find the motivation to continue.  I am often a victim of this malady.  The Covid-19 pandemic seems to be a motivator of sorts and I am writing this 8th Episode while under community quarantine in Miag-ao, Iloilo Province, Philippines.  Disasters and pandemics often do make us rethink priorities and realize that there are many more important priorities of life that must be completed just in case we don’t survive through the unexpected challenges of life.  This novella is among my many priorities.

Al Thar is an ancient Arabic phrase that means “revenge.”  Although many ancient cultures and even modern ones have traditions of revenge, that custom became a formalized ideology called Muruwah in the ancient Bedouin tribes of the Arabian Peninsula.  Limited resources caused inter-tribal warfare.  More powerful tribes would loot, molest, and kill members of smaller tribes if not for the fear of al thar.  Individuality is not the norm since the protective bonds of relationships assure survival in the scarce resources of the desert.  Muruwah is expressed as pride, hospitality to friends, courage, endurance, defiance, and revenge against injustice regardless of personal consequences.   When Islam became the religion of the Arab world, al thar became more intensified as a tradition.

Long before the Spanish arrived in 1521, the “raid’ was a tradition of all tribes, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, reminiscent of the Vikings in Medieval Europe.  Typically, a tribe raids only its traditional enemies and conduct trades with others.  However, in the 200+ years of the Moro [Muslim] Wars, the religious fervor of both Christians and Moros was exacerbated by the need for revenge on perceived past injustices.  The Moro tribes project their power through frequent punitive invasions of Christianized lands as their expression of al thar.   Rarely did the Moros hold on to, or settled in, conquered lands. The  Spanish and their Christianized allies were not “meek sheep for the slaughter” as often described in the writings of Spanish priests.  Christians also conducted piratical and retaliatory raids in response.  The Christian revenge was likely more violent because of the use of modern weaponry.  The cycle of revenge continued for over 200 years.  Even in our modern world, al thar is still part of this religious conflict based on perceived injustices of the past centuries.

In my personal view, Parrang Sabil of the Tausugs (referred to as juramentar by the Spanish meaning “to pledge,” transliterated as huramentado in Tagalog) is the extreme expression of al thar.  Just like the suicidal Japanese kamikaze pilots of World War II or the Arabic pilots that crashed commercial planes into the World Trade Center in New York City in 2001 or the suicide bombers of our recent times, these are all revenge for perceived past injustices made possible by personal sacrifice.

Just like the Bible of the Christians and Jews, the lessons in the Quran may vary depending on the people that read or interpret it.  The variations of meaning from the same religious text create different sects which cause divisions and often warfare on religious grounds, such as the Sunni against the Shi’a.  The Quran forbids the killing of women and children, the taking of hostages, torture of prisoners, and suicide.  Most religions are based on the same sentiments.  Yet, within any religion, there are those that adhere to a fanatical version, no matter whether it is Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or Shintoism.  Perhaps, it is simply just the nature of human beings.

Why did the Moro War flare up in the 1750’s into such a massive raid?  This event had its beginning in 1737 when Sultan Azim ud-Din I of the Sultanate of Sulu entered into a peace treaty with the Spanish Governor General F. Valdes y Tamon.  In June 1748, the Sultan allowed the Jesuits to start Christian missions in Jolo and Tamontaka.  But Raja Muda Maharajah Adinda Batu Bantilan, the next in line to the Sultanate, considered the decision by Sultan Azim ud-Din I to allow Jesuits to preach in the Tausug homeland as an offence, an insult, and a dishonor to Islam.  After only three months in Jolo, the Jesuits left with the Sultan Azim ud-Din for the safety of Manila because of an assassination attempt. The Sultan was baptized on April 29, 1750 by the new Spanish governor-general Juan de Arrechederra.  Raja Bantilan usurped the throne and proclaimed himself as the new and rightful Sultan of Sulu.  Bantilan assumed the new name Mu’izz ud-Din meaning “One who honors the religion.”  The perceived insult to Islam by the Jesuits started a new and more violent holy war or jihad against the Spanish and the Christianized natives.


Thus, the battles throughout the islands in the 1750’s was the height of ferocity in the Moro Wars against the Spanish colonizers.  The Battle of Miag-ao in 1754 was just one of the many military engagements that occurred throughout the Philippines during the middle of the 18th Century.  Most battles were just a passing note in the annals of our history; many were totally forgotten or unrecorded.  Our modern consciousness relegates history as one of those relics, like dinosaurs and ancient Greeks or Romans, nice to know, great topics for cartoons and movies, but considered otherwise of little serious interest or value.  But there are some of us that remain anchored in our history to understand where we came from and why we are what we are.  We navigate the modern world with an eye to the past.  And often disappointed how that past is repeated over and over again like the cycle of passing of comets.

For those reading this 8th episode, it will be easier to follow the story by starting from the beginning and working you way up to this current episode. Just click the links shown below:

Episode 1. Defending Cotta: Thoughts of a Comisario in the Morning of Salakayan
Episode 2. Attack on Cotta: Thoughts of an Iranun Warrior at Sunrise on the Day of Salakayan
Episode 3. The Captain from Gipuzkoa in the Battle of Miag-ao
Episode 4. The Tide at Sunrise in the Battle of Miag-ao
Episode 5. Riding the Whirlwind in the Battle of Miag-ao
Episode 6. Warlords in the Battle of Miag-ao
Episode 7. Wari-Wari Heights and Unexpected Alliances in the Battle of Miag-ao
Episode 8. Al Thar

For any comments or suggestions, please send me an email:

———————- The Story Continues ————————-

Episode 8

West Wall

The din of muskets firing, grenades exploding, screams of pain, of anger, and fear all mixed with the thick smoke and thunder of drums.  Teniente Arbuno’s men were trying to hold the parapets of the wall of timbers, but the Tausugs were about to break through the main gate and some were already over the wall.  What was once an orderly phalanx of men with spears now became a confused mess of Muslim warriors and Christians fighting one on one, slashing and stabbing at one another.   Arbuno knew very well that he would lose this fight if it turned into a single combat.  The experienced Tausugs would simply decimate his barely trained men, most of whom were Indios serving their annual mandatory 40 days of polo y servicio, the slave labor force in the service of the Spanish Empire.

“It is just a matter of time before we get overwhelmed,” whispered Arbuno to himself.

Arbuno signaled the bugler to blow his horn.  A thin reserve line, three-men deep, formed as an impregnable tercio. The tercio, also called tecio espanol meaning “third,” was comprised of a division of 3,000 to 6,000 men.  This was a military formation dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries which made Spain successful during its wars with Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands.   The tercio formation was a dense mass of pikemen or lancers, musketeers, and swordsmen, with javelins, creating a cohesive force similar to the phalanx of the Greeks and the Roman square 2000 years ago.  A typical tercio company was composed of 300 men arrayed in a hollow square (cuadro) formation, with the more mobile musketeers enabling the killing of the attacking enemies at long range before they reached the pikemen.  It was the first combined arms concept of warfare during the Renaissance.

All that Arbuno had on the West Wall was a tercio company.

The remaining howitzer was already turned around, aimed at the main gate.  Another blow of the bugle signaled the men holding the wall to retreat.  But retreat was not easy.  The men were engaged in a single combat.  Arbuno must find a way to save his men.

cuadrillerosTurning to Manong Tinio, the kali headmaster, he signaled the old man to send his men forward to buy time for the cuadrilleros to disengage.  With just a nod to his men, the kali fighters surged forward to the left and right side of the gate.  The fighting was bloody, men of both faiths dying.  The dry earth absorbing the spilled blood turned the soil into bright red mud. Tinio’s men were an even match to the Tausugs.  These kali men fought with one wooden stick of hardened kamagong wood on one hand and a short sword on the other, this against the short sword of the Tausugs called barong and their heavy round shield.  Most of the Tausugs were experst in “silatan,” the Tausug martial arts of swordsmanship.

The cuadrilleros defending the wall and the gate straggled back towards the tercio and melted into their ranks.  Hearing the new sound of the bugler, the kali-fighting men disengaged and ran towards the tercio, leaving a third of their men dead.  Most of the wounded were decapitated with the barong sword. The Tausugs liked to keep souvenirs of their kills after a battle.  As the Tausugs were giving chase, the grenadiers within the tercio started throwing small clay pots filled with gunpowder and metal shards. The grenades slowed the chase, giving the retreating men valuable time.

Both sides consolidated their lines at a 50-meter space between the Tausugs and the cuadrilleros.  Behind the tercio, wailing women carried the dying and the dead farther away.  There was a tense few minutes of relative silence as each side simply looked at each other with hate and malevolence.


Then, the deafening silence was broken as the Tausugs surged forward again with the loud roar of “Allahu Akbar.”  On Arbuno’s command, the tercio parted in the middle.  The now ready-to- fire howitzer was packed with rocks, nails, pellets, and sand. The blast disintegrated a dozen warriors in front of the muzzle, the rest bleeding as the lethal fragments knocked another 20 warriors back.  Then, the tercio surged forward at a 30-degree angle from the center of the line, long lances crammed side by side into an impenetrable mass of spikes, driving the rest of the Tausugs towards the gate.   The warriors pressed themselves side by side, their round shields overlapping to also form a wall that kept the west gate open.

Outside the West Wall, another battle was raging.

The sudden appearance of the Ati and Pintados was an unpleasant surprise to the Tausugs.  Ahead of his warriors, Garudin, the Pintado chief, smashed into the throng of Tausugs who hastily formed a wall of shields to hide from the volleys of arrows and poisoned darts from the Ati.  With two swords swinging in the air, Garudin brought the two swords at the same time on the first Tausug he encountered.  The force broke the shield into pieces.  And, like a flash of lightning, Garudin swung both swords at the enemy.  Ali, whom the Tausugs called the Chinaman fireworks maker, blocked the Pintado’s talibong sword with his own sword, the kampilan.  But the second sword swung and cut Ali’s neck.  Garudin moved on the next enemy, leaving Ali to bleed profusely on the ground.

Ali’s hand still held his kampilan.  As his life force ebbed and he was unable to speak, he whispered only in his mind,” Alhamdulillah,” meaning “All praise be to God.”  His last thoughts were those of his parents and his family and that he was finally about to rejoin them in heaven next to Allah.

Datu Abdullah of the Tausugs heard the din of battle behind him while facing the onslaught of the tercio in front of him.  Seeing the hopelessness of the situation, he yelled loudly. Those not engaged in single combat looked to see him point his kampilan to the right.  The Tausug regiment consolidated on him and then started an orderly fighting retreat to the right in the direction of the forest.  The Datu spoke to the two juramentars who sprinted back and vanished into the forest ahead of the retreating regiment.  The two assigned to his regiment had a different purpose in this battle.  Juramentar, meaning “to pledge” in Spanish or parrang sabbil meaning “Path to God” in Tausug was a solemn pledge to die for a purpose.  They did not expect to survive this battle but were assured of a place beside Allah upon their death.

Seeing the two juramentars vanish into the forest, Abdullah turned to his warriors and yelled, “Are we letting these dirty eaters of dogs and pigs push us !  We are the fearsome mighty Tausugs of Sulu.”  The warriors roared in unison, banging on their shields and raising their war pennants up in the air.  Then many warriors threw the heads of cuadrilleros they collected towards the Christian line, rolling on the feet of the terrified soldiers.

The blood lust was up.  Fermin was standing next to Garudin.  Both just smiled at each other.

talibongFermin turned to his terrified men, “Roast pig tastes wonderful ! These Tausugs smell like pork. Let them taste the point of your lances and skewer them like pigs !”  The cuadrilleros and their officers shouted, “VIVA FERMIN !” Almost simultaneously, Fermin and Datu Abdullah signaled their men to move forward.

The bloodbath continued.  The long lances of the tercio reached two meters before the Tausug warrior could close the gap.  While the warriors were preoccupied trying to block the spear thrusts, the cuadrilleros behind the front row rushed out with their short swords in between the lances to stab and maim. Then, they retreated behind the lancers to let the next swordsman behind him do the same.  It was the fighting style dating back to the period of the Roman Empire two millennia ago.  A Roman soldier fought only for five minutes and then was replaced by the man behind him, conserving energy as they rotated.  Slowly the Tausugs were being pushed into the edge of the forest.

Around Datu Abdullah were dead and dying cuadrilleros.  The splashes of crimson blood on his face and body made him look like a bloodthirsty monster like a kurits, the deadly monster of Mount Kalaban of the Sulu Island mythology.  With a tough impenetrable crocodile-like skin, the kurits could rise from the dead, emerging from his own pool of blood.  The Tausugs were shouting, “Kurits Abdullah!”

Abdullah rushed to the direction of Garudin and slashed at him with his kampilan.  Garudin just had a split second to parry Abdullah’s thrust.  Pivoting to his left, an arrow pierced Garudin’s chest, followed by a second one to his left side.  Garudin fell to the ground. At that precise moment, Abdullah swung his kampilan to cut Garudin’s head off.  But Fermin blocked it with his sword and slashed at Abdullah’s abdomen.  Abdullah rushed forward with his shield and smashed against Fermin’s body, throwing him off balance.   Not wasting a second, Abdullah stepped forward to deliver a killing blow, but he was stopped by a searing pain in his body.  A lance pierced him on the side as a cuadrillero rushed to Fermin’s defense.  Immediately, three Tausugs with their shields as protection from the lancers dragged their datu back to safety while the cuadrilleros carried the semi-conscious Fermin away.

Slowly, the Tausugs began to retreat into the woods, and then turned around to flee with their wounded comrades.  The cuadrilleros were about to mount a vigorous pursuit.  Regaining consciousness, Fermin yelled, “Sargento, stop the men now !”  The Spanish Sergeant gave him a questioning look.  Fermin continued, “That’s what the Tausugs want you to do, enter the jungle to chase them.  Our lances are useless against the Tausugs in the thick jungle.  Your men will be massacred.”

Fermin smiled and said, “I have a better idea.  Find me the Ati chief.”

“Chief Malukan, follow the Tausugs through the jungle. Stay at a distance.  Shoot at them with arrows and poisoned darts to keep them moving, but don’t confront them.  Let them go into the forest as far away as possible until they get on their ships.  Have some men guard the forest and send word if the Tausugs turned their ships back.”  Malukan nodded and waved at his men to follow him.

The Pintados were carrying the body of their chief, Garudin, towards the gate when a runner in haste from the inside of the fort passed them.  Almost out of breath, the runner yelled, “Nong Fermin, the Eastern Wall will be overwhelmed.  Captain Echevarria needs your men to reinforce the Eastern Wall !”

East Wall

Left and right of the path from the beach to the high ground were thick aroma bushes, each branch covered with long, sharp thorns.  Haji Ranom’s Iranuns tried to cut a path through them and even burn them, but to no avail.  The only quick way up was on the narrow central path. “I will lose a lot of warriors that way.  The infidels can concentrate their howitzer and musket fire on the main path,” thought Haji Ranom.  Turning to his men, he said, “Cut down coconut trees, find bamboos, and scavenge planks from the destroyed caracoas.  We will make new paths over and through the aroma bushes.”

The men created smoky fires to cover their work, but Captain Echevarria could see what they were trying to do. Much as he tried to stop them with musket fire, the Iranuns continued the tedious work.  By noon time, four new paths, two meters wide, through the aroma were completed. Before leaving, they put up two poles on each side of the new paths.  On the tip of the poles were heads of the Captain’s soldiers.  The warriors started making temporary shelters behind the aroma bushes with palm leaves for shade under the scorching sun.  The occasional drizzle brought some relief and rain water for drinking.  The others went about preparing meals.

“My illustrious Chiefs, I have finally arrived with the best meal of the day,” shouted Ahmed, the cook, with that usual familiar grin on his face.  Haji, Datu Muhammad, and the other datus of the Maranao and Magindanao sat around in a circle on bamboo mats while they heartily ate Ahmed’s special, piyanggang chicken in coconut milk , quietly chattering about the strategy for the upcoming battle.

Ahmed watched and listened in silence as the men discussed.  Not able to control himself anymore, Ahmed stood up, bowed , and asked,” My lords, I have been cooking for many of you in so many previous battles.  This time I want to fight.  I, too, am a warrior, though you might not think so highly of me as a warrior because I am of the Badjao tribe.  We sail the seas and do avoid wars.  But I am a Muslim too and this is my holy war.  Let me have the honor to fight today.”

Everyone laughed except Haji and said, “My friend, you are among the most important men in this expedition.  Without you, these men will not eat well.  Without you, the rest of our warriors will have much less because you made sure we have provisions.  We never know how you manage to find food in this accursed land and we are all so grateful.  And I agree that you deserve a place in the field of battle as a true Muslim.  When it is time, you will join us.  Find your shield and kampilan.”  Ahmed bowed with reverence and joy, leaving with a wide smile on his face and his head held high.  Haji turned to Muhammad, “Please find him a place to fight, but keep him on the last reserve line.  I don’t want him dead.  Otherwise, we all have to eat your bad cooking all the way back to our homelands.”  All the chiefs laughed so hard that they could be heard far beyond their encampment.

Captain Echevarria heard laughter and saw smoke from their cooking fires.  “I think we have maybe two hours before they start their advance up this hill,” the Captain told Senor Gayo who simply nodded in agreement.  Their soldiers were also eating.  Several pigs were slaughtered and each roasted on a spit over charcoal.  Just to mentally harass the Muslim warriors, the cuadrilleros threw the heads of pigs and entrails over the wall as far down the paths as they could.  That made the Captain smile.

muezzinBy the shore behind the aroma bushes, the warriors of Islam prepared for their prayer time called salat after the muezzin, the man designated to make the adhan or the call to prayer, started reciting the Takbir and Kalimah.  The faithful washed their hands and faces.  The prayers were recited in Arabic.  Standing together while performing the ritualized gestures, they recited Rak’ha twice, proclaiming devotion to God while they faced Mecca.  Then the worshippers raised their open hand to shoulder level while proclaiming that God is Great (Allahu Akbar).  Crossing their right arm to their left across their chest, the faithful recited the first chapter of the Quran. Then, kneeling on their prayer rugs and mats with the palms, knees, toes, forehead, and nose touching the ground, they faced in the direction of Mecca, reciting three times, “Glory be to God, the highest.” Afterwards they sat momentarily to reflect on their prayer and then returned again to the kneeling position.  The last part, the Tashahhud, was when they sat again, feet underneath and hand on their laps for the final time with the right index finger raised, repeating their devotion to God, asking for mercy and forgiveness of their sins.

The Captain watched intently from the safety of his watchtower, remembering the discussion with the Arab trader a few days ago about Islamic life, rituals, and beliefs.  He remembered that the last act of the ritual was to look at the man to left and to the right with the greeting, “Peace be upon you, and the mercy and blessings of Allah.”  He thought it was odd that both Christians and Muslims do the same thing at the end of the worship.  Yet here today, neither side gives mercy and certainly no peace.

Not a moment too soon, the loud roar of “Allahu Akbar” brought the resting cuadrilleros running to the wall.  All of the warriors on the beach rose in unison.  The distinctive flag of the Iranuns with the black raven of death on a red color for courage was raised at the center.  So too did the serrated edged black war pennants of the Tausugs, the white serrated pennants of the Maranao, and the red serrated flag of the Maguindanaos.  As the emblem of the Sultan of Sulu rose high up, waving in the wind, the warriors of Islam began their dash up the hill through the paths they made over the aroma bushes.

From the parapet of his wooden fortress, Captain Echevarria watched in awe as hundreds ran through the aroma fields and out into the open ground of bushes and grasses.  The more than 50 cuadrilleros and Spanish soldiers with muskets concentrated their fire on the main road at the center.  A dozen warriors would stumble down as the musket balls connect with their bodies, but half of them would rise up and continue onwards.

war-flags-iranunThe Captain had fought in many European battlefields and yet to see this kind of behavior.  A European soldier would get hit with the round ball of the musket, fall down, and stay down even if just wounded.  Or, they tried to crawl back behind the advancing line while screaming in pain.  In contrast, these warriors simply got up without a word and continued onwards until another musket ball hit them or they fell down from loss of blood.

The Muslim warriors covered the remaining open ground with their scaling ladders made from bamboo and also from small trunks of trees.  The palisades protecting the defenders were only 12 feet high and easy to get over the top if one was determined enough.  And their opponents were fanatical and very determined. The Captain raised his hand and shouted, “Grenades !”  The explosions threw most of the warriors off their ladders, but more came to climb up.  One more hand signal from the Captain.  Another round of two dozen grenades was thrown off the battlements down below.  But the onslaught continued.  Now the fight was with lances, swords, and fixed bayonets.  The warriors started using their bows and arrows.  Some of the warriors trained by the Dutch were shooting muskets from behind trees and rocks, mostly missing their mark, but some of the Captain’s men were hit in the face and shoulders.  A few warriors managed to climb over the top and the fight was hand- to- hand.

The Captain turned his head to view the battle behind him at the West Wall. From his vantage point on top of the watchtower, he could see the Pintados now driving the Tausugs away from the West Wall and Teniente Arbuno’s artillery crew dragging the cannon towards the East Wall.  He tapped the shoulder of the man next to him. “Señor Gayo, send the women and children out through the western gate to hide in the hills.  Make sure the young and old men stay to fight.  We need every man here.”  As soon as he finished the last sentence, booms of cannon fire started, cannon balls smashing against the East Gate.  The Muslims had brought their lantaka cannons off the beach and started firing at the gate.  The lantaka cannon alone did not have enough firepower.  By combining them to fire into a single target, Haji was splintering the wooden gate into oblivion.  The Iranuns were sending flaming arrows to the splintered gate, hastening its demise.

“It is just a matter of time when they break through,” whispered Captain Echevarria.

 It seemed like an eternity but Arbuno managed to position their only howitzer at 20 meters in front of the burning gate.  Looking up to the watchtower, Arbuno yelled, “Captain, I have enough powder for only two canister shots.”  The Captain simply nodded back and started to climb down from the watchtower.

This was the moment the two Tausug parrang sabbils were waiting for.  In the parapet of the West Wall, the bodies of three of the cuadrillero guards, all of them beheaded, lay on their feet.   The Tausugs nodded at each other and nimbly climbed down as quietly as a cat.  They hid behind the bushes and watched.  There was a cacophony of sounds from the commotion of the Christians, the sounds of the lantaka cannons pulverizing the wall of the East Gate, and the wailing cries of women and men whose attentions were focused on the dead and dying being carried through the West Gate towards the hills, away from battle.

Hidden from discovery behind a big outcropping of rocks, tall bushes, and grass, Omar from the island of Basilan and Saleh ibn Tariq (Saleh son of Tariq) from the village of Luuk in the island of Sulu, prepared for their noon prayer.  Expecting it to be their last, their ritual was quiet and full of devotion.  As they finished the ritual, Saleh turned to Omar and said, “Salam duaa,” peace and prayers upon you.

Then, they watched with malevolence their targets almost 100 meters away – Captain Echevarria and Teniente Arbuno.

Day of the Juramentar

Left and right of the howitzer were about 30 cuadrilleros and Spanish soldiers armed with muskets already shooting at the Moros on the parapets as the walls were overwhelmed.  Those who survived the fight on the East Wall had already ran down to join the tercio already formed in a semi-circle.  Behind the muskets were the cuadrilleros, three-men deep with long lances.  Behind them was a thin line of men with their swords, the espada ancha and assorted weapons.  The young and old ones were farther back, holding up the banners of the Spanish colonial army and the flag of the Bourbon dynasty of Spain.  The banner of the Church was held high by Father Alvares.  Wooden crosses were raised high by old men with other assorted pennants just to make the line bigger than it really was.  Also, the banners kept the morale of the surviving troops, all 300+ still remaining and able to fight.

The Captain shouted to Arbuno, “I don’t mind the screaming and yelling.  It is the damn Latin prayers of the priest and his minions that truly irritate me!” Arbuno retorted back while pointing at Moros with his saber, “Better that than learning all the Muslim chants they do.”

Behind the tercio was the corral where the cattle, goats, carabaos, chicken, and pigs were kept.  The animals were visibly agitated.  The fences of the corral were breaking from the constant movement of the animals.  Young men were trying to fix the fences, but that seemed eventually a hopeless effort.

Outside of the West Wall, the Pintados and cuadrilleros were coming out of the forest as the Ati warriors were going in to chase the retreating Tausugs.  Along the Captain’s left flank facing the sea, Eduardo, Señor Gayo’s son, and his men on horseback were busy engaging the Maranao warriors as they disembarked from their caracoas and those warriors of the Maguindanao crossing Tumagbok using the ferry and makeshift bamboo rafts.

“Señor Gayo, instruct Tinio’s kali men to move behind the corral.” Then the Captain proceeded to instruct Gayo and Manong Tinio what he had in mind.  The kali men moved swiftly behind the corral with Señor Gayo.  Tinio stayed next to the Captain and smiled.  The Captain simply shrugged his shoulders.  He remembered what Gayo said days ago that Tinio and some men were standing next to him as personal protection from the juramentar coming for his head and that Manong Tinio only took orders from Señor Gayo.

Like Fermin, Manong Tinio was also an enigma for most people.  Both arrived from the sea and took local names.   And both lost their families to the raids of their traditional enemies, the Tausugs.

Tinio looked with anticipation to the surge of the Tausugs and Iranuns through the East Gate.  For a brief moment, he remembered the past.  His true name was Bahandi, meaning wealth.  He belonged to the tribe who lived along the shores of Mactan Island called Pusok.  The surprise raid by the Tausugs 40 years ago caused the deaths of his father, the datu of Pusok, and his mother.  As he, his sisters, and his brothers were younger, they were held captive and sold to slavery.  He never saw his siblings again.  Bahandi was chained to the oars of the caracoa for three long years. Sometime in 1722, his galley was part of the Moro raid in Mindoro Island where his caracoa was destroyed near the shore.  Miraculously, the timber to which his chain was attached broke when the ship capsized.  Most of his fellow slaves perished as the ship sank.  Bahandi was washed ashore.  His war tattoos as a Pintado saved him from being killed by the Mangyan tribal people of Mindoro Island who realized he was not one of the Moro raiders.  Tattooing was forbidden by Islam.

A few weeks later, Bahandi was able to build a small boat and sailed from the island of Mindoro through the Tablas Strait and into the Sibuyan Sea.  Reaching the Spanish city of Irong-Irong, he stayed to recover from the long voyage and found a way to re-stock and repair his boat.  Here in this city he forgot all about his home island of Mactan.  Her name was Teresa.  She was the eldest a daughter of the owner of a casco boat that ferried cattle and cheese from the Jesuit enclave of Damilisan south of Irong-Irong.  He signed on as a crew under the name of Tinio, found love, married, had children, and settled in Damilisan.

The second tragedy of his life was in 1741.  Arriving in the casco with Teresa’s father, they found Damilisan destroyed by the Moro raiders, his children dead, and his wife taken as a captive.  Distraught with the thought that he would never find Teresa, he left Damilisan after burying his children.  Tinio found his refuge in the mountains they called Pan-ay where he re-trained himself in the art of kaliradman or simply kali, the swordplay with sticks he learned from his father.

Like Garudin and Fermin, he was here for revenge.

The parrang sabbils were here for al thar, meaning revenge, for the deaths of their families which they blamed on the many invasions of Zamboanga, Basilan, and Sulu by the Spanish and their Christianized allies.  Also, it was  al thar for the affront of establishing fortresses in their homeland and the attempts to convert them into their infidel religion.  Both Saleh and Omar saw their lives without a purpose and meaning until they made the pledge.  Today, that pledge came to being and there was excitement as they took their swords out of their scabbards.  Saleh had his kampilan and Omar drew the kris of his father and his father’s father.

They readied themselves.  Any moment now.

The weakened gate came crashing down with a loud boom.  The Moro warriors placed their men with muskets in front and started firing aimlessly through the smoke.  Two of the lantaka cannons were also placed in front of the gate and were fired in the same direction.  The cuadrilleros hit by the lantaka’s round ball were badly maimed.  The impact of the cannonball split the body of the man in the front row and had enough force to maim the man behind him. Others were hit by musket fire.  The cuadrilleros returned fire.  Both traded musket balls through the smoke.

kampilanAs the cuadrilleros were reloading their muskets, Haji Ranom raised his banner pointing at the gate.  The front ranks ran into the flames with their shields up, their swords swirling in the wind, unmindful of the embers they stepped upon.  Behind the first wave of the fanatical charge was one of the three juramentars among Datu Muhammad’s warriors.

Levelled at the oncoming horde breaking through the gate was Teniente Arbuno’s howitzer positioned to give as wide a scatter as possible for his canister shot. The loud boom of the gun killed most of the warriors that came out into the killing field.  The remaining juramentars behind the line continued their fanatical charge with the few remaining warriors.  But concentrated musket fire hit them.  The juramentars, without shield and wrapped with white linens on their arms, leg, and belly, were targeted the most, killing them with bullets in the head and chest.

The gun crew were frantically reloading the last canister shot when the second wave of warriors began their rush forward.  Stepping on the dying and the dead only delayed the warriors momentarily.  And worse, it created unbridled fury in their souls as they saw their own dead.  The cuadrilleros’ muskets were firing in volleys into the mass of warriors emerging from the gate.  Some were firing at the other warriors on top of the parapet who were also firing wildly down with their snapchance muskets given by the Dutchmen.  Others simply jumped down from the parapets with their swords.  The fight was now man-to-man on the Captain’s left and right flank.  The arrival of Garudin’s Pintados kept the Captain’s position from being enveloped.

As the confusion of battle unfolded, the two juramentar warriors emerged from their hiding place and surreptitiously crawled towards the corral.  They passed two young Iranun captives gagged with cloth and tied to a tree—the sons of Haji Ranom.  Both Saleh and Omar did not recognize them.  They passed beside the two captives but kept going forward.  The captives were not their concern and purpose here.

 juramentarReaching the eastern fence of the corral, the two waited again for the right moment.  Then they jumped the low fence with both swords raised while on a fast run side by side towards the howitzer where Teniente Arbuno and Captain Echevarria were standing.  Tinio’s kali men were caught by surprise.  By chance the Captain turned to see what was happening behind him.  About 20 meters were the two juramentars that Gayo warned him about.  The rest of the men in the Captain’s security team turned around too.  Too late for the first five men on the juramentars’ path.  Two lost their arms as the juramentars swung their swords wildly.  One lost his head and two more were slashed across their chests.  Three cuadrilleros fired at the rampaging juramentars but to no avail.  Saleh was hit on the side; Omar, wounded on the shoulder.  The binding of cloth kept their blood from spilling out. Both kept coming and slashed at the cuadrilleros as they tried to reload their muskets.

Tinio’s kali men engaged the two juramentars, keeping them from reaching the Spanish officers.  Both pushed through, unmindful of their bodies being pummeled by the hardwood sticks and being slashed by swords.  Omar got close enough to Teniente Arbuno who was momentarily stunned by the sudden unexpected onslaught.  But, one of the Spanish sergeants parried with Omar, giving enough time for the lancers to stab him through the stomach and neck.  Omar died two meters away from Arbuno with his kris on his right hand. On his last dying moment, Arbuno heard Omar’s whisper of “Allahu Akbar.”

Meanwhile, Saleh moved fast to close the distance between him and Captain Echevarria.  The juramentar blocked the thrust of lances and stabbed one of the soldiers through the chest.  Another musket ball hit Saleh in the left arm and a lance was still lodged in his back.  Only sheer fury made him keep going.  “I must kill the infidel,” whispered Saleh as his breathing slowed.  The Captain had already drawn his pistol and fired point blank on Saleh’s chest.  At the same instant, Saleh brought down his sword on the stunned Captain who fell backwards, missing the swish of the blade by a mere centimeter from his face.  Saleh again raised his kampilan high for the final blow. But Manong Tinio placed himself between them.  He tried to block the downward arch of the kampilan with his kamagong fighting stick which he held with both hands.  The sheer force and weight of the juramentar’s sword broke the hardwood in half and sliced Manong Tinio’s body from his left shoulder down through his chest. The old man had enough will to drive his short sword into Saleh’s chest.   Both died together as if on a death embrace.

Al thar was fulfilled for Saleh and Tinio.

The boom of the howitzer broke the second wave of Muslim warriors, but the fight was not over.  Warriors were trampling over the dead on the ground to get close to the enemies of Islam.  The Captain gave the signal to Señor Gayo.  With lighted torches, they prodded the cattle, water buffaloes [carabaos], and pigs, forcing them to crash through the fences on both the left and right side of the corral.  The animals rushed out to the only opening there was—the main gate.  The tercio contracted into a classic square of men at arms with lances forward like a porcupine, giving way for the animals to rush out through the gate.  The melee was now between the warriors and the cattle escaping the fire.  The onslaught of the animals turned the battle into a mass confusion along the Muslim ranks.

Seeing what had happened, Haji ordered his banner raised, pointing towards the beach.  Haji’s warriors hastily retreated back towards the shore.  The men of the tercio moved quickly to block the gate, Arbuno following just behind them.  The rest of the surviving men were putting out the fires and tending to the wounded.  The dead could wait.  The severely wounded Moros were dispatched with a quick thrust of the lance through the neck.  The lightly wounded were tied with ropes and herded to the West Wall under guard.

Haji stood alone halfway to the beach, surveying the carnage they left behind.  Hewas exhausted but felt something else.  Not hopelessness. Not rage.  Not defeat.  Just a feeling he could not explain.

The Spanish Sergeant raised his musket to shoot at Haji.  Too far beyond the musket’s effective range,  the Sergeant thought that maybe he could still hit him with a little luck.  “Sargento, lower your musket.  This fight is over for now,” said Teniente Arbuno.

Haji simply stood stoically, looking at Teniente Arbuno from a distance.

“My Lord Haji, please come and join us down below.  We cannot lose another one of our datus,” pleaded Ahmed who came rushing to his side.  “What do you mean another one?” said Haji in an angry tone.  Ahmed bowed and said, “I saw Datu Muhammad fall on the second charge through the gate.”

 All of a sudden Haji felt so tired and more alone.  Taking one more look at the wall, he turned, sighed, and walked solemnly down towards the shore.

 Al thar for Haji Ranom remained unfulfilled.  “Tomorrow is another day,” thought Haji.

——————— TO BE CONTINUED ———————-


  1. Many thanks to Paolo Paddeu of the Philippine Vexillological Association for his help in identifying the heraldry of the Muslim tribes and the  Spanish Army during the period of this story.  See also

  2. The details of the parrang sabbil’s attack on Captain Echevarria came from my father’s personal experience described to me when I was young.  Like most soldiers who had gone through the trauma of war, he did not talk much about the details of armed conflicts, unless he had plenty of alcohol.  My father, Baltazar L. Matias, was a young 2nd lieutenant in the Philippine Army in the 1950’s during the Kamlon Revolt in Sulu and Zamboanga.  Among his first assignments was to take his platoon to a market in Jolo because there was an announcement from Army intelligence that a huramentado would appear.  He said that it was tradition to announce such an event to warn other Muslims from being in the market.  Thus, there were less people in the market than normal.  Christians would not normally receive any warning. His platoon was spread out in the market waiting for the huramentado to appear.  The huramentado suddenly took off his robe, raised his kampilan, and ran specifically towards 2nd Lt. Matias.   Those soldiers that saw the huramentado appear fired their garand rifles.  But the man just kept coming.  My father said that he emptied his hand gun as the huramentado ran towards him.  Then he froze where he stood and was about to be hacked to death.  One of his soldiers got in front of him and blocked the downward swing of the kampilan with his garand rifle.  Despite the gun being mostly metal with a wooden stock, the downward force of the kampilan broke the rifle in the middle.  The sharp heavy sword still cut the soldier in half from his head to his groin.  Then, the huramentado fell dead on his feet. The soldiers brought the dead body of the huramentado to the camp physician.  The huramentado had seven bullet wounds.  My father was sure at least two of the wounds were from his pistol.  That huramentado should have been dead before he got to 10 feet of him.  There was little bleeding from his wounds.  His arms, forearms, legs, and belly were tightly bound by white cloth. That presumably had kept him from bleeding out from his wounds.  Of all the military engagements my father had experienced during his career, the day with the huramentado was the most terrifying of all.

    In World War II during the occupation of Mindanao by the Japanese Army, the frequent raids of their detachments by Muslim guerillas with huramentados made the Japanese soldiers go back to the safety of their ships at night.  For Japanese soldiers to be afraid of Filipino guerillas was rare in Luzon and Visayas but was common for the Japanese fighting or in garrison duty in Mindanao.

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