CARMEN NAKPIL: MANILA UNDER THE MUSLIMS

MANILA, OCTOBER 29, 2003  (MALAYA) by CARMEN NAKPIL - NOTHING dramatizes more the modern disorientation about Mindanao and Islam than turning back the time-machine of history to the 16th century when it was Maynila (and not Jolo) that was the "problem area" and it was the non-Muslims who had to be "integrated."

The turnabout has been so complete that it is hard to believe that Manila was once firmly under the Muslim heel. Muslims controlled the seat of government, the wealth and the trade up and down the Pasig and around Bai lake and Batangas as well as the sea lanes to Mindanao and Borneo.

The Muslims were the ruling class in Luzon, the rich traders, cultural leaders and missionaries, the ones with the know-how and the right connections, the literacy and what's more, the right religion. And it was the tagalog and the men of Luzon who were the second-class citizens, enduring pupilage, sulking and hanging back, infidels and disadvantaged quasi-aliens in their own land.

It had all begun early in the 16th century, said the late Dr. Cesar Adib Majul, when Sultan Bulkeaiah (Nakhoda Ragam) of Brunei conquered and made a dependency of Salurong (a still more ancient name for Manila). After that, Majul surmised, the Borneans built a settlement at the mouth of the Pasig among the older inhabitants, the Tagalog, the better to control trade and commerce while a branch of the Bornean royalty took over the tasks of government.

Maynila became a far-flung outpost of the Bornean and Sulu sultanates, connected with them by family ties, regular trading ships and common political interests, something like our Davao or Zamboanga. The Raha Matanda of the Spanish chronicles was married to a cousin from Brunei and the famous Sulayman himself, king of Manila and antagonist of Goite and Legazpi, was of Bornean origin and the son-in-law of the Bornean sultan.

In the middle of the 16th century, there were three distinguishable 'races' in Luzon (reported the Spaniards Sande). 'The Moros who obtain(ed) much gold, (wore) a small turban about the head, (did) not eat pork, believe(d) in paradise' and owned successful enterprises. The 'other natives' were 'a poorer and fiercer race' - the Tagalog - who wore their hair long, carried weapons such as daggers and lances, possessed some artillery and were not to be trusted. They lived along the shores of rivers, hardly ever traveling by land and 'going about in their little boats to steal'. Oddly enough, the Tagalog of a later day would apply the same description to the Moros of Mindanao.

The third 'race' were the 'mountaineers' who used bows and arrows, traded quantities of honey and wax with the lowlanders and, say the Spanish records with a fine disdain for their own ruthlessness, were 'savage and cruel and considered it very meritorious to kill men.'

The Muslims shaped the people's tastes and provided the ideals. The Tagalog who wanted to improve themselves adopted Muslims names, read the Quran, refused to eat pork, circumcised themselves and took to wearing turbans. They learned how to make sheets of 18 and 22 carat gold and all kinds of jewelry, but the 'Moros, with their standards (noted Sande) buy up all the money of current gold, and necessarily at the prices which they themselves give to it in their debts and traffic'. As highhanded as the Central Bank!

The majority of the people lived below this platform of Muslim wealth and technocracy. There was 'no need for anyone to spend gold' in any case for they caught fish, made wine from the palms and 'from the same trees obtain(ed) oil and vinegar'. There were 'wild boar, deer, and buffalo which they could kill in any desired number' and a surfeit of rice. No one was really poor, for with very little work 'they could have all they wanted.'

When Goite and Legazpi appeared on the horizon, Sulayman immediately recognized them as interlopers and 'foreign meddlers'. But they were the conquistadors and the archipelago became the Christian Filipinas for 333 years. Historians now say that if Legaspi had come 50 years later, Spain could not have prevailed over Muslim Manila.

In a recent speech, economics writer Boo Chanco said that without the long, pervasive Spanish experience, this country would have become just like Malaysia and Indonesia, Muslim Malay states powered by the Confucian virtues of a large sector of smart Chinese businessmen.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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