Bangsa Moro, History, Newspaper article


Since I have now abandoned all my websites, I am re-posting my articles in my blogs.

Below is another of my full page articles published in The Philippine Post. This was written to commemorate the tercentennial anniversary of the death of Sultan Barahaman (Abdul Rahman) of Maguindanao.

The Philippine Post, July 20, 1999

©By Datu Jamal Ashley Abbas

Grandson and heir of the famed Sultan Qudarat, Sultan Barahaman has been relegated to the dustbin of history. It’s time to give justice to his memory and to throw more light on the sultans of Mindanao and their achievements.

Three hundred years ago, on July 6, 1699, the Sri Paduca Mu-u-it Baulas Muhammad Shah Barahaman died, thus ending 28 years of glorious reign as the Sultan of Maguindanao. Sultan Barahaman succeeded to the throne upon the death of his grandfather, the celebrated Sultan Qudarat who ruled Mindanao for about half of the 17th century. While historians/writers sang paeans to Qudarat, his heir and grandson was relegated to the dustbin of history – a grave historical injustice.

The reign of Sultan Barahaman (1671-1699) did not get much press from the Spanish (hence, Philippine history) because it coincided with what Dean Cesar Majul called an “interregnum” between the fourth (1665-1663) and fifth (1718-1772) stages of the so-called Moro Wars. This interlude started when the Spanish abandoned their fort La Caldera in Zamboanga and ended when the British captured Manila. During this lull in the Spanish-Moro wars, the Spanish had no communication whatsoever with Mindanao.

Fortunately for historians, the Dutch and the British were active in the Mindanao arena during that time. The (United) Dutch East Indies Company kept meticulous records of its intercourse with Maguindanao and neighboring principalities.

Being free from Spanish interference, Barahaman was able to consolidate Maguindanao’s power and expanded its territory. He diminished considerably arch-rival Rajah of Buayan’s power and territory, reduced Datu Buisan of Davao into vassalage, kicked out Buisan’s son , the Rajah of Kandahar (Northern Moluccas) from Sarangani, strenghthened ties with the Iranuns-Maranaos, Badjaos and the hinterland peoples (the Manobos, Alforeses, etc.), periodically invaded Borneo and generally held sway all over Mindanao – from Zamboanga to Tandag. Even the Sulu sultan was focred to acknowledge him as Overlord just like his grandfather, Sultan Qudarat.

Barahaman learned well from his grandfather in handling foreigners, specially the Dutch. Three English missions arrived in Maguindanao from 1686 to 1688. The adventurer William Dampier, who was in one mission, recounted his stay there in his book, New Voyage Round the World, published in 1697.

Dutch records of these European visits give us a glimpse of the Maguindanao royal protocol of the time. Arriving foreign parties were welcomed by one to three korakoras (long vessel with a high prow and higher stern, lean deck house, out-riggers and propelled by oar and sail) colorfully decorated with banners, ribbons and flags. The foreign officials’ retinue of guards, the official letters and gifts were transferred to the korakoras. The letters were put in lacquered boxes, one each for the designated persons (usually for the Sultan, the Admiral, and the Crown Prince), and placed under two open state parasols.

The Dutch usually took their own ship’s boats, similarly decorated, to go to the shore. Upon landing, a cannon salute (from three to 15 shots depending on the visitors’ rank) welcomed them. The letters were then put in one large lacquered box held by a colorfully attired young datu aboard a palanquin. Soldiers with guns and up to two companies of musketeers line the way to the Bichara (House of the Privy Council) or bale (Audience Hall). Tthe gifts were placed on large lacquered trays numbering from three to 15 depending on the number of gifts.

Barahaman’s brother, Maulano, the Rajah Laut (Lord of the Admiralty), who was the next most powerful man in the realm, together with other members of the royal family and their retinue, welcomed the guests by the river bank. Together, they walked in slow procession to the bichara or bale amidst the sounds of gongs, drums, flutes and the burning of incense.

The bale was a large hall with a dais on one end. On the dais was the sultan’s scarlet-covered throne. Opposite it was a bench draped in red. Sometimes, a chair next to the bench was placed for Maulano. Officers of the realm sometimes sit on the right of the sultan while members of the royal family sit on the left.

The young datu, with the letters, trays and parasols, occupied the place in front of the foreign delegation. When everyone was seated, the Sultan was informed. Sultan Barahaman usually entered the hall on a lavishly decorated state palanquin carried by four to eight men amidst the sound of gongs, drums and flute and the burning of incense. Invariably, he was dressed in white, with a golden kris sword and dagger on one side and gold-inlaid pistol on the other. He wore his tasbi (Muslim prayer beads) around his neck. The royal guards, all dressed in Spanish uniforms surrounded him. A guard in golden armor was on his right, while a guard in silver armor was on his left.

The ceremony began with a welcome address in Malay, and the foreign delegation responded in a similar manner. Betel nuts from a golden set were passed around. The letters were then opened and read aloud. At the Sultan’s signal, a salute of cannon and musket shots were fired, to which the crowd responded with shouts and merry-making. Discussion of the letter might follow, but only in the most general terms. A closing speech from the sultan ended the formal audience.

Pomp and splendor characterized the reign of Sultan Barahaman as witnessed by the Dutch and English. But the most awe-inspiring practice of the Maguindanao Sultanate during his reign was the “obeisance ceremony”. Official guests from neighboring principalities/sultanates were required to perform the ceremony thereby acknowledging the Maguindanao sultan as the supreme Overlord.

In this rite, the visiting dignitary would lay down his kris, crawl to the soveriegn (Sultan Barahaman) and kiss his feet and hands. This is similar to the kow tow ceremony in the Chinese emperor’s court. That the Tausug shahbandar (in-charge of the Sultan’s store and trade) submitted to the “obeisance” ceremony is proof that during Barahaman’s reign, the Sultanate of Sulu acknowledged his suzerainty.

Sultan Barahaman was a worthy successor to his grandfather. At the start of his reign, the Dutch addressed him as Koning (King) but near the end of the century, he was already referred to in official Dutch docuements as Keizer (Emperor).

With the tercentennial of his death, perhaps the government can give justice to the memory of Sultan Barahaman by say, creating a professorial chair (the Sultan Baharaman chair) dedicated to the research on Mindanao sultanates through the careful and intensive study of documents from the Dutch historical archives.


(First published in the Philippine Post, July 20, 1999).

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