Jonathan R. Matias
Miag-ao, Iloilo, Philippines
May 30, 2017
The alliance of the Visayan tribes with Spain during the 16th to 18th Centuries saw the loss of the native traditions as the population became inevitably converted to Christianity. The culture of the local independent tribes vanished, often without a trace. The Pintados was just a term the Spanish called all the island tribes because of the tattoos that adorned their bodies. But who really were the Pintados? No one knows for sure anymore. Nothing is left about them except the bits and pieces of information from early Spanish chroniclers. The Pintados occupied the islands of Samar, Leyte, Cebu, and the Bicol Peninsula. Some tribes have migrated beyond the traditional homelands as far away as Panay. The City of Passi in Panay Island acquires the distinction of having a Pintado culture, but that too is just a faded memory of a once-proud people only celebrated as a body-painting festival.
I am for sure a descendant of the once-proud and warlike Pintados of old. My father, Baltazar L. Matias, grew up as child in the Province of Sorsogon in the Bicol Peninsula. It was the homeland of the Ibalon people. And the Ibalons are Pintados too. My father and my grandfather never ever mentioned any tales of the Pintados or of the Ibalon culture when I was growing up. The world they saw was the product of centuries of assimilation that have resulted in the total obliteration of a once-proud culture. All that is left now is the Ibalong Festival that simply mimics the epic poetry of the ancient Ibalon heroes fighting mythical beings.
Ati or Agta, meaning black people, is a term used to describe the Negrito tribes of Panay by the Christians lowlanders. Each clan has its own distinctive name which so few of us recognize or even acknowledge. By generalizing that all Atis are the same represents the beginning of the discriminatory practice that has long plagued our indigenous people. It is only in recent years that some of the Ati clans received homelands of their own. But the tradition of being able to go "like the wind" wherever they pleased is long gone. A sedentary life brings unfamiliar challenges for the Ati and our government. Centuries of discrimination and incursion into their mountain homelands slowly but surely eroded the Ati cultural traditions. Many have converted to Christianity, likely out of convenience and hope of a better treatment. They started using Christian names and Christian terms for many of the activities that describe their existence. Christian traditions become mixed with their own animist beliefs, but the latter will fade away in time. The dominant religion will prevail.
The Visayans became the vanguard of the Christian faith against the Muslim Nations of Southern Philippines, who were more steadfast in their religious beliefs. The Visayans bore the brunt of the yearly invasions during the Moro Wars. Our history books tell of the slave raiding and terrors perpetrated by the Muslim raiders but tell nothing of the same kind of terror the Spanish and their allies did when invading the southern islands. Perhaps one day we will have the benefit of reading the stories from the Muslim side of the Moro Wars.
Though this is a fictional historical tale of the events in May of the year 1754, I hope to express a different consciousness to the reader about the likely events of our dim, faded past. For those reading this 7th episode, it will be easier to follow the story by starting from the beginning and working your way up to this current episode. Just click the links shown below:
------------------------------------------The Story Continues ----------------------------------------------
Fermin sat beside a wind-torn tree on the Wari-Wari Ridge that overlooked the pueblo of Miag-ao and the sea, just three kilometers away. The sun was yet to rise. The old Pintado was motionless, deep in thought. Three meters away from where he sat were three dead Tausugs beside their still- smoldering camp fire, their eyes wide open as if still in agony from the many poisoned darts protruding from their chests from Nong Fermin’s Ati compatriots. They died swiftly and silently. The darts, tipped with poisonous concoctions from brightly colored tree frogs and deadly herbs in the deep forest, did their job well. To these Tausugs, this was not a good death. They would rather have fought and died with their swords on their hands. But the Ati did not fight that way. Their four foot stature would be no match to these warriors. They simply made up for the lack of height by killing swiftly from a distance.
Malukan, Fermin’s Ati friend, sat beside him, staring solemnly at the night sky. “My friend,” says Malukan. “It pains me to kill these men. This is my first time. Even when we kill a wild boar, we pray to the spirits of the forest to forgive us for the transgression. Women apologize to the oysters when they are gathered from the sea for our food. Our men even dance to the spirits before they go hunt for honey. In killing men, we have no one to pray to for forgiveness and no joy within our being for doing so.” Fermin broke his silence, placed the palm of his hand on the shoulder of the Ati, and said, “Just whisper a word of prayer to the spirits of this forest. The other tribes call the spirit of the forest Tagapuyo. Today, you may have to kill more men. There is no joy in it for me as well. And I do understand how you feel. There is no dishonor in the act, but there is no honor in it either.”
Fermin remembers how they met so many years ago. He was nearly dead when Malukan found him by the beach. He was clinging on to a broken piece of hull of his caracoa, holding on with one hand while the other held his kampilan, his sword won in battle years before. His ship was caught in the middle of a raging storm and battered against the reef. He only vaguely remembered being carried to the hills by little black men. He had asked Malukan later why they chose to nurse him back to health. Malukan just laughed and said that his wife and his children were delighted to see his naked body intricately tattooed from his neck down to his feet. They had never seen a man tattooed this much in all their lives.
Fermin, after he recovered from his wounds, also found delight in retelling war stories about each tattoo using hand signs and playful re-enactment. The Pintados created their tattoos by pricking their skin with pointed iron. Then black powder was immediately applied to the wound so the pigments could be absorbed permanently in the skin. The Ati, on the other hand, adorned their arms, legs, abdomen, and back by scarification. After creating the wound on the skin with sharp sticks, the scars were made to form using fire and lime. They adorned themselves with leaves and flower; the men, with rattan necklaces and neck braids covered with bristles of the wild boar. There was no tattoo in the Ati for the wild boar or men they killed.
He stayed with the Ati clan for almost a year, traveling with them as they roamed the mountains, hunting wild black-skinned boars with sharp, curved tusks, large lizards they called halo and pythons. He learned their customs, their way of life, their beliefs, and most of their language. The life of the Ati was simple, unencumbered by internecine warfare, by the inhibitions of the new Christianized tribes and the struggles of the sedentary lowland life. They came and went as they please. They prayed often to their many spirits of the forest. The Atis were generally at peace with one another and with the other Ati clans of the forest who were often related by inter-marriage.
Then he painfully remembered his warrior past before life with the gentle Ati. He saw the faces of his wife and his children and how he lost his entire family. Fermin wass not his true name. It was just a name he chose later so he could live with the lowland people in Miag-ao. The Pintados of his clan did not take Christian names. Then he closed his eyes and willed himself to think of the previous days.
Two days ago was a hard ride by mule up the mountains, making sure that the majestic mountain of Napulak was to his left. Most of time his trek was by foot, over boulders, fording a dozen cold water streams and rivers until he reached the settlement they now call Igbaras. Only two years ago, that town did not exist. In 1752 a certain Father Juan Aguado founded the new town site, the new name from the word baras that means sand and ig that means plentiful. Fermin avoided the outskirts of the new town and climbed up higher to the ancient settlement of Utas, now abandoned, and then further north of the area the other natives call Kiput. Climbing two mountains beyond Kiput was painful to his aging body. He passed the waterfalls of Guiritsan on his way to the mountain the Ati called Tulajon. Beyond this mountain was the valley where he found Malukan and his clan celebrating a wedding—Malukan’s daughter’s nuptial. He had never seen so many Atis in one place, hundreds of them. The clans congregated in this valley to witness the event and partake with the convite or the feast. Malukan was after all known by legend as a descendant of the Ati king named Marikudo.
Fermin did not speak of his intentions of making the trip to find Malukan as the Ati was busy with the marriage ceremony. But Malukan saw him behind the clansmen, Fermin standing at least a head taller than the tallest among them. Malukan bowed and smiled, happy to see his "brother" on this momentous day. Ati courtship took a year. The prospective groom often came from another clan and typically required a match-maker who knew both families. When the match and the bugay or bride-price were agreed upon, the prospective groom performed the pangagadamong by working for the family of the bride, doing everything reasonable that the prospective father-in-law required. Surviving the year with the intended family, both families set the date of the wedding. Before Fermin arrived, the bride and the groom had already done the "chase" where the bride hid in the forest and the groom had to track her. Upon capturing the bride, the groom brought her back to the feast for the wedding to continue. Fermin thought that the practice helped solve a problem if either one disliked the other. Either the girl hid so well or the groom did not look for her very hard.
Fermin stood behind the throng as the bride and the groom exchanged a bowl of rice signifying acceptance of each other as man and wife. Then the valley erupted in a loud jubilation, chants, and dancing. The roasted pigs, chickweare passed around. And more were slaughtered for roasting in the fire. Even food preparation for the Ati feast was simple : no seasoning, except salt which was considered priceless in the mountains. Laughter permeated the valley as the older men and women told the newlyweds what to do and not to do on their wedding night. Later as the celebration started to wind down, Malukan sat with the other headmen of the various clans beside a bonfire, exchanging news and talking about where the best hunting might be. It was then that Fermin approached the group, bowing in deference, speaking in Malukan’s language.
After a few minutes of pleasantries and retelling of the news from the lowland, Fermin asked Malukan for them to speak together privately beside the big tamarind tree. “My friend, I am so happy to be here today because of Kadali-dalid’s marriage. But, I also came because of troubling news in the lowlands. The Muslim armies have descended upon us and now surround my adopted town of Miag-ao. The battle has begun and is continuing as we speak. The raiders are stronger and many more this time than ever before. The Spanish are there, too, but few in numbers. The Christians of the town will be massacred unless help comes. I am here to ask for the help of Malukan’s clan and from the other headmen of other clans to join the fight.”
The Ati Chief sighed deeply and looked into Fermin’s eyes as if searching for his soul. Then, he turned to watch the fireflies dancing around the trees, not knowing what to say to his friend who came from across the seas. After a moment, Malukan turned to speak. “The other headmen will say this to you. Why would we fight the war of the lowlanders? We are far away and raiders have never ventured this far from the sea. We are not warriors. We are the Men of the Forest and are free to move like the wind. Why sacrifice our young men whose only care in the world is to find a maiden to build their own clan ? Our forefathers gave the lowlands to the Malays to keep the peace. We even helped that Spanish adventurer they call Legazpi when they came with their big ships many generations ago. But, in the end, we got nothing but trouble in return. Now the lowlanders have given the same land to the Spanish. And now the Muslim raiders want the same. Let us stay in our forest and live happily, far away from these crazy people.
“I am the Chief, but you know our customs. Nothing is decided until the pisen, the council of the headmen and their own people, have their say. And that may take a very long time. But for myself, I will fight with my brother at any time.
Malukan continued, “I will send runners to the Pintado tribes far beyond the mountains to the north to tell them of your news. And I will bring along eight of my young unmarried men to come with us, regardless of what the elders will say. I think I know what they will say. Anyway, these young men need a different adventure for a while so they may stop irritating me about finding wives for them from the other clans.”
The Ati Chief walked to the headmen gathered around the fire. More wood was thrown in the fire pit as many more came to join. Fermin watched from a distance but could not hear the arguments. The Ati talked softly even when angry. He lost track of time as the meeting continued into the night.
Shaking Fermin awake, Malukan said that the elders had decided to fight. They had already left to gather their men and their arms. He told the headmen to meet them in the ridge called Wari-Wari. “How were you able to convince them?” asked a very surprised Fermin. Malukan smiled and said, “I lied—but just a little !”
Malukan explained that he let them talk and talk about the good and bad reasons, mostly bad, about joining this war. At the end, when they were worn out talking, they asked his opinion on the matter. “This is what I told them. My clansmen, I agree with you that there is no reason to be involved in the fight beyond our mountains. The lowlanders will be replaced by other people of another stranger religion. So what is it to us? The lowlanders may not like us very much but they did have respect for us. They left us alone as our forefathers agreed with them many generations ago. We traded with them wild animals and medicinal plants from our forests. We gave them worthless vines and they paid us in salt and metal knives we prized the most. And we laughed at them for trading for these things that we simply gathered without effort along our walks in the forest. I know of these raiders from across the seas. They called us the little people of the forests. They think of us to be lower than dogs and these people hate dogs. They said that we are so lazy and barely worth taking even as slaves, that we are to be killed on sight to free the mountains of pests like us, and that we are not men. We are just worthless Agtas!”
Fermin laughed. “I think the last statement really got them mad.” The dwellers of the forest consider being called Ati or Agta, meaning black people, as truly derogatory. Malukan added with a smile, “I can tell you that they were so mad, even the toothless old men, the panumpanum, were looking for their bows and arrows !”
“Teniente Arbuno, I would like you to place two of your own men to guard our two prisoners that came from Irong-Irong. You are to move them and chain them well by that tree beside the covered carriages. Keep them alive and well fed. I do not want the Indios to hang them in the middle of the night when we are sleeping. Instruct your two guards that one of them will pretend to be sleepy by midnight. Then the sleepy one to enter the carriage to lie down on the floor, making sure that he keeps the door open for the two captives to see what is inside.” Before the Teniente could reply, Captain Echevarria continued, “These two Moros are the sons of Haji Ranom, the leader of the raiders. The Vice-Admiral sent them along with our supplies to use as a bargaining tool with the Moros, just in case.” Teniente Arbuno said no more and went about with his order from the Captain.
The two young captives had finished eating by the time the Captain walked over to speak to them. Agustin Gayo, the capitan del pueblo, had provided the Captain with an interpreter to communicate with the two prisoners. The guards had taken the iron shackles off their hands, leaving the feet in irons. “I am Captain Echevarria, commander of His Spanish Majesty’s forces. Here are two pieces of bamboo mats they call here as sawali so you can pray to Allah. A wash basin with clean water will come shortly so you can wash and prepare for the evening prayers.” The
An ancient Koran from Ethiopia.
Captain handed them the Koran he received as gift from the Arab trader. The two Moros were surprised at the Captain’s gesture. They had not been treated so well since they were captured last year north of Panay Island during the sea battle in Sibuyan Sea. One of the men said, “My name is Rajul and my companion is named Makdum. We are Iranuns from the land around Lake Lanao south of Sulu Sea. We thank you for the meal and for allowing us to pray.” They both bowed respectfully towards the Captain and prepared for their evening prayers.
After the evening prayers, both prisoners were manacled in irons again, one foot and both arms chained to a tree. Resting with his back against the acacia tree, Rajul whispered to Makdum, “My brother, why do you think did that infidel Captain treat us with kindness ?” Makdum replied, “Maybe this is what the Christians call the ‘last supper’ before we die. This place is surrounded by our fellow Muslim warriors. Soon they will attack in force. It is very likely that we will not be allowed to live when our brothers break through those walls. Let us just sleep well tonight and be ready for tomorrow.”
One of the two Spanish guards was yawning by midnight. The sleepy one whispered to the other and moved towards the horse-drawn carriage. Rajul was pretending to be asleep, but had been watching the two intently. The sleepy soldier opened the carriage to lie down and forgot to close the door. Rajul saw that the carriage was empty.
On Wari-Wari Heights
Fermin was awakened by the first light of the sun creeping above the horizon. Malukan was already awake and looking down below the small army standing on a field of grass. On the right were the men of the forest, his Ati army made up of over a hundred men from a dozen clans. On the left were the Pintados, about 80 of them with their bare-tattooed bodies. They fought unencumbered by clothing and only a few wore loincloths. They always thought that a horde of painted naked warriors was psychologically more terrifying to the enemy. The Pintados of the northern land raised their swords, the talibong, and yelled to the sky. The Ati followed with the chants called subkal, each warrior dancing according to his emotions. Then they raised their rattan sticks, waving them in the air in a dance the lowlanders called the arnis-arnisan. Their movements were slow at first and then became swifter as the chants became louder and the beat faster. Their war dance was both to wish for Gutugutumakkan, the great creator, to favor them in battle and for Kedes, the god of the forest, to give them a great hunt. Behind the warriors the women, who carried food and water, were waving branches of the balete tree signifying the sacred home of the gods.
The headmen of the Ati clans were climbing Wari-Wari to pay respects to Malukan who was overjoyed at the sight of his forest warriors. Fermin, in the meantime, ran down the hill to meet the war chief of the Pintados. “We heard from Malukan’s clan that there is a fight about to take place here against our traditional enemies. We are the Pintados of Passi in the settlement along the Jalaur River. We have not bloodied our talibong for so long. So, we thought we join this one for practice,” said chief Garudin who wore his long hair fastened in a knot on top of his head. “They call me Fermin here, but I am known as Bantong of the Isarog Clan from the land the Spanish call Tierra de Camarines in the peninsula of Bikol. I am an Ibalon and I am most pleased to welcome you to this fight. There may not be much war booty here, but I think the Spanish Captain will find a way for you to bring something honorable back home.” Fermin knows that mangubat or the war booty is an important part of the raid. The war chief, to keep respect, must bring home something worthy to share with his people. “My Ibalon friend from Camarines, the mangubat is of no importance this time. I am here for my pleasure. It is good to feel my sword on my hands again to fight my old enemies, the Tausugs and the Iranuns,” said Garudin.
On Wari-Wari, the Ati headmen, the Pintado war chief, and Fermin discussed the upcoming battle. Fermin started to describe the plan, “My comrades, we can all hear the booms of cannons from beyond the hills. The smoke of the battle is rising in the sky. The yells and screams can be faintly heard even from such a great distance. The battle has started and we must join this war in haste. The Muslim raiders now occupy the beaches and have built a stockade behind the hill in Tacas to completely surround the pueblo. We will attack from behind. I have already asked our friends of the forest to build rafts so we may cross Tumagbok River to land in Sitio Aguiauan. There will be about 30 horsemen waiting to join us on the other side of Tumagbok River. The horsemen will drive to the left towards the riverside of Tacas while we make a frontal assault on the rear of the Tausugs. We have the advantage of surprise since the raiders do not as yet know of our presence in their rear.”
The 1697 engraving of a Pintado whom the Europeans dubbed "Prince Giolo." The Pintado was a slave purchased by the English privateer William Dampier. This engraving, though not likely accurate, shows the European concept of the Pintado warrior.
Chief Malukan interjected, “The warriors of the forest will crawl ahead to be as close to the enemy as possible. At your signal, we will send a volley of arrows and spears into the raiders. As they turn to confront us, my men will send short volleys of poisoned darts as we withdraw to give way to our noble Pintado friends to chop them to pieces. Speed and coordination will win the day.”
Joining the Fight
Fermin’s motley army moved quietly through the dense forest and crossed the river using the makeshift bamboo rafts that the Ati men and women prepared in advance. The Men of the Forest were especially apprehensive about crocodiles on the river bank, imagining a 15- foot croc would come from under the raft and eat them. “Malukan, the crocs will likely eat the Pintados first for they are much bigger and meatier. I was told by the old men here that crocs don’t like the taste of the Men of the Forest,” Fermin whispered with a little laugh. “My friend thinks we are afraid of crocodiles. Just 10 days ago, I killed a giant one with a spear, the croc about 6 lengths of my size. Took us a week to just take the meat and dry them in the sun for the wedding feast,’ says Malukan with pride. Fermin was amazed, “That must have been one giant spear !” “How many of your comrades were with you?” Malukan replied, “Not many. Just 20.” Then he laughed heartily. “I was just joking, my friend. It is just less than twice my height, but still took twenty of us to kill it.”
Talibong, the sword of Panay Pintado warriors.
Crossing Tumagbok River took another hour to ferry across over 200 men. The capitan del pueblo’s son, Eduardo Gayo, and his horsemen were guarding the other side of the river as planned. At least three dozen men on horseback were armed with long spears and their favorite sword, the espada ancha. In another hour, they reached the forest behind Tacas. Several of the raiders were already lying on the ground, some with their throats cut open, others with long lances still embedded on their chests. The horsemen already untied over a hundred slaves and moved them quietly to the rear.
Fermin and the other war chiefs crawled through the underbrush. They could now see that the raiders and the Christians were locked in battle, furiously hacking, stabbing, and shooting at each other. Looking at Malukan, Fermin nodded to his Ati friend to have his men half-crawl forward, hidden by the thick brush and tall grass. Garudin, the Pintado chief, ordered his men to quietly form a line, three men deep and to await his command to rush the enemies. In the meantime, the horsemen had taken their position to the far left, intending to sweep the Muslim raiders from the riverside to protect the left flank.
Reaching within range of his bow, Malukan and his Ati Army stood up. The Ati was barely taller than the bushes. They unleased two volleys of arrows, turned, and retreated. The Pintados then rose up from the edge of the forest. With their blood-curdling yell, they rushed forward with their long talibong swords raised up in the air and their rectangular shields close to their chest. Their tattooed naked bodies slicing through the brush was an awesome yet terrifying sight. Before the Pintados reached them, Malukan’s Ati army stopped, turned, and sent dozens of poisoned darts to the raiders now chasing after them.
Malukan saw Fermin swiftly pass him, his sword swinging in the air. Malukan remembered Fermin telling him of stories about winning the kampilan as a war trophy in a battle long ago from another datu of the same raiders. Fermin was also naked, his entire body tattooed like most of the other Pintados, the rays of the morning sun bouncing off the sweat on his body. Gayo’s horsemen were already galloping towards the riverbank, their lances pointing at the surprised raiders disembarking from their caracoas.
Fermin’s battle has begun.
1. Origin of the name Bicol http://nlpdl.nlp.gov.ph:81/CC01/NLP00VM052mcd/v1/v7.pdf
4. About the Aeta http://nlpdl.nlp.gov.ph:81/CC01/NLP00VM052mcd/v1/v1.pdf
8. The Epic of the Ibalon. www.philippinestudies.net/ojs/index.php/ps/article/download/2240/4328