Here’s an article I wrote more than a decade ago about our great-grandfather Sheikh Yahya ibn Hadi and his descendants in Mindanao and Brunei:
“I now know that wars do not end wars,” said Henry Ford. For the Moros, wars are simply followed by more wars. Wars usually correspond to turning points in our lives. During the American-Moro wars, one very important event for our family was the Battle of Bayang, known to the locals as the Battle of Padang Karbala. It was the first encounter between the Americans and the lake dwellers (Maranaos). May 3, 2000 was the 98thanniversary of the martyrdom of the Moro warriors at Padang Karbala.
In May 1902, some 1,200 American soldiers attacked the Sultanate of Bayang in Lanao. The Ibayangen’s (people of Bayang) were protected by a strong cotta (fort) but after fierce fighting, and the failure of the neighboring datuships to bring in reinforcement, the superior arms of the Americans finally prevailed. About 400 Moros were slain including the Sultan.
American newspapers at the time described the fight as “the fiercest battle of the entire Philippine insurrection.” The Americans were quite shocked when on-rushing kris-bearing Moros refused to fall even after being shot at several times. The Americans realized that they needed a more powerful gun than their Army-issued .38 caliber. That day is forever etched in the minds of Ibayangen’s.
According to stories by the elders, when the Americans finally entered Bayang, the town was empty. Then they saw an Arab sweeping the grounds of the mosque. The Americans immediately fired several rounds at him, but the bullets simply went past him.
That Arab was my great-grandfather, Sheikh Yahya ibn Hadi of the Sultanate of Lahej in Yemen, and he was not amused. As the religious leader, he must have felt responsible for the deaths of so many Ibayangen warriors. It was time for him to go home. He told his three sons that he would soon send for them.
Sheikh Yahya had another family waiting for him in Yemen. He had 2 sons and several daughters there. In 1913, he asked his son, Sheikh A’ish to go to Mindanao to fetch his brothers. Sheikh A’ish was a fakir (jurist) like his father. And so Sheikh A’ish sailed from Arabia to Mindanao.
But, he stopped over in Brunei. He was smitten by a Brunei lass and soon forgot Mindanao and Yemen. He got married and settled down in the Sultanate of Brunei.
Meanwhile, in Mindanao, the eldest, Sheikh Ismail had an American education, gallivanted all over Mindanao until he married Bai Rosa, Laga sa Nuling and settled in Malita, Davao del Sur. The other, Sheikh Arabia, went on a marrying binge in Bayang. The youngest died of natural causes. Sheikh Ismail was my grandfather.
In 1922, my grandfather received a message that his father was going to Mecca for his last pilgrimage; so he immediately left for Arabia. But his ship arrived late. The hajj season was over and his father had returned to Lahej. A slave was left in Mecca to tell Sheikh Ismail to proceed to Yemen. My grandfather was in a dilemma. If he would proceed to Yemen, he would miss the next ship to Java, which would pass by Mindanao. He might be stranded in Arabia for quite some time. He was afraid of leaving his wife for long periods because she had a nasty habit of giving away her properties to her relatives. He told the slave to give his regards and regrets to his father and sailed home. And his fears were not unfounded. His wife, my grandmother, gave away a huge tract of land with 500 heads of cattle.
On the other hand, Sheikh A’ish left Brunei for Yemen in 1922 but returned to Brunei the following year. The brothers had not yet seen each other.
In January 1931, Sheikh A’ish with his son Yahya arrived in Mindanao. Sheikh A’ish finally met his brothers Sheikh Ismael and Sheikh Arabia. Yahya ibn A’ish met his Moro cousins, including my mother Sitti Rahma and her brother Abdul Qadir.
According to my mother, the arrival of his Arab uncle was quite an occasion in their town. But she could not forget when the two brothers showed off their magical powers. She said that Sheikh A’ish removed his turban and struck a huge boulder with it. The boulder broke into little rocks. Sheikh Ismael, on the other hand, removed his turban, spread it on the water, stepped on it and crossed the river floating on the turban.
Both A’ish and Ismael passed away before the outbreak of World War II. That was the first and last time the Brunei and Mindanao branches of the Yahya ibn Hadi family met — until last year.
Although we knew the existence of our cousins in Yemen and Brunei, nobody took the trouble of locating them in spite of the fact that most of us had been to Arabia and Brunei on several occasions. I even studied in Saudi Arabia.
When Sheikh Aish’s son, Yahya, died a couple of years ago, his sons opened his private cabinet. And there they saw the documents about their grandfather, including the travel documents of their father and grandfather to Mindanao. They immediately contacted us.
A cousin, Ustadz Jamil Yahya, grandson of Sheikh Arabia, was sent to Brunei to meet them. He then invited them to the Philippines. Two sons ( Khalid and Abdul Qadir) and a grandson (Muhammad) of Yahya ibn A’ish arrived in Manila last year to meet us, their long-lost cousins.
Our Brunei cousins were quite surprised to find out that they have several hundreds of cousins here. Sheikh Arabia alone had more than 20 children. They went to Lanao and were shown the lakeside mosque where their grandfather was supposed to have thrown their father several times in order to teach him how to swim. They were also quite touched when my aging mother told them stories about the young Yahya. My mother told them that she was fascinated at the young Yahya’s queue (à la Chinese) and so she used to pull it which sent her cousin crying “Sitti Rahma, tidak bule!” (Sitti Rahma, no good!)
While accompanying them at the Fort Santiago, one of them had a call from Brunei. When asked about their Mindanao cousins, he said, “Fantastic! We have the same names and even same faces!”
Almost 70 years after the brothers A’ish, Ismael and Arabia came together, their descendants met for the first time. We hope that this time, we would be meeting more often.
The Battle of Bayang caused the hasty departure of Sheikh Yahya from Mindanao, which in turn caused the Sheikh to send his son A’ish to fetch his brothers, which caused A’ish to come to Brunei and finally settle there. And so in a way, our Bruneian cousins owe their existence to a battle fought almost 100 years ago.
Muhammad Hussein, the great-grandson of A’ish, is studying in Saudi Arabia. He sent me an e-mail saying that he was able to contact our cousins in Yemen. Perhaps we will have a grand re-union of the Yahya ibn Hadi family in Yemen We could do it in 2002 to commemorate the 100thanniversary of the Batlle of Bayang. (end)
Published in The Philippine Post July 21, 2000