Home » The Sulu Invasion » Sulu Sultanate from US Perspective

Sulu Sultanate from US Perspective

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The Sulu Archipelago is a series of small volcanic islands which extends in a northeast and southwest direction between the meridians of 119° 10′ and 122° 25′ east, and the parallels of 4° 30′ and 6° 50′ north. It forms a continuous chain of islands, islets, and coral reefs, which connects the peninsula of Zamboanga with the northeastern extremity of Borneo and separates the Sulu Sea from the Celebes Sea. It marks the southern line of communication between the Philippine Islands and Borneo and is probably the chief route of former emigrations and travel from Borneo to Mindanao and the southern Bisayan Islands.

While the Sulu Sultanate is commonly regarded as an integral portion of the Philippine Archipelago, it was, historically, politically and internationally, a different territory. In fact the differences are even deeper, the Sulu peoples being ethnologically distinct from the varying types of the Philippine Islands, and their religious faith and governmental systems being those of the Semitic lands, and not of the Malay and Polynesian Islands. Politically the sultanate includes a large fief in British North Borneo, just below Sandakan, the islands ranging from Sibutu and Tawi Tawi, lying east of Cape Unsang on the Borneo coast, to the Province of Zamboanga, on the Island of Mindanao. It also included a fief known as the Sultanate of Buhaten, in the Provinces of Cotta Batto and Mindanao, upon the Island of Mindanao, and several smaller fiefs in the Provinces of Sibuguey and Samis. The leading islands of the sultanate are Sulu, Basilan, Tawi Tawi, Tapul, Pata, Siassi, Pangutarang, Bilatan, Mantabuan, Olutanga, Minao, Simisa, Lugus and Lapac.

The most reliable of the pre-Mahommedan traditional histories of Sulu states that the first civilized foreigners to establish a settlement in that island were the Orang Dampuan. The time of the original settlement of the Orang Dampuan in Sulu is very uncertain, but was probably between the ninth and twelfth centuries, AD, though Chinese or Arab ships are said to have traded there at an even earlier date. The Orang Dampuan built several towns and made other improvements, but were regarded with jealousy by the native inhabitants. Finally, some of the foreigners were treacherously killed, and a bitter war ensued; the result was that after killing as many as they could of the native inhabitants, the Orang Dampuan burned their towns and withdrew from the island. Thus the meager Sulu tradition. Considering that d and ch are interchangeable in a number of Philippine dialects, it seems quite possible that the Orang Dampuan were merely “Men of Champa”, and that their main purpose in Sulu was the establishing of a trading station.

Later, after the island had come under the dominion of Sri-Vishaya, Champa ships came again to Sulu. That they continued to trade there is substantiated by the claim in an early Sulu manuscript that in the century before the arrival of the Spaniards from four hundred to five hundred junks arrived annually from Cambodia, Champa and China, with which Sulu principally traded. At that time the island is said to have been very densely populated and to have been one of the great trade centers of the Archipelago.

The Sulu traditional history is very specific with regard to Bandjarmasin. The data which it contains may be summarized as follows: The fame of the richness of the pearl-beds and other resources of Sulu had already reached southern Borneo, probably through the agency of Chinese or Champa traders. The Orang Bandjar began to visit and trade with Sulu and soon sent a colony there. After a period of somewhat precarious relations between the colonists and the native inhabitants, called Bur&nun and said to have been very dark in color, temporary peace was assured by bringing from Bandjarmasin a princess of great beauty, who was married to the principal chief. The treaty of marriage made Sulu tributary to the Bandjarmasin empire, or more probably to Sri-Vishaya through Bandjarmasin, and secured to the colonists a permanent foothold for peaceful expansion and development.

They were not slow to take advantage of this, and the coastal regions of the Sulu Archipelago were soon filled with a motley population derived from the surrounding islands — probably chiefly from Borneo, Celebes and Mindanao, though Sumatra, Java, the Moluccas and even Indo-China may have contributed elements. The native inhabitants were gradually displaced, except in the interior of Sulu and the other larger islands, and the coasts came to be wholly dominated by the foreigners. The coast Sulus still speak of the people of the interior with contempt as Gimbah&nun, “Hillmen”. Sulu became a great trade center, and its harbors were frequented by ships from China, Cambodia, Sumatra, Java and possibly even India and Arabia. The rulers, or rajas, of Sulu were descended from the alliance of the Bandjarmasin princess with the native Sulu chief, and they remained tributary to Bandjarmasin and wholly under its cultural influence for a long period.

The three localities in the Philippines which are definitely known to have been controlled by Madjapahit were Sulu, the region of Lake Lanao in Mindanao, and the vicinity of Manila Bay in Luzon; these are the places mentioned in the list of tributary states. Though not mentioned in any records known to the writer, it is probable that there were also Javan colonies in the Pulangi and Agusan river valleys in Mindanao, in Palawan, Mindoro and possibly several of the Visayan islands. The best evidence of this lies in the strong element of Hindu culture still to be found in those places.

The “Islamic Empire of Sulu” arose in 1401, achieved its highest glory towards 1675, and survived until 1919. The Muslim Arabian scholar Abu Bakr ar-rived in 1450, married Baguinda’s daughter, and after Baguinda’s death, became sultan, thereby introducing the sultanate as a political system. Political districts were created in Parang, Pansul, Lati, Gitung, and Lu-uk, each -headed by a panglima or district leader. After Abu Bakr’s death, the sultanate system had already become well established in Sulu. Before the coming of the Spaniards, the ethnic groups in Sulu-the Tausug, Samal, Yakan, and Badjao-were in varying degrees united under the Sulu sultanate, considered the most centralized -political system in the Philippines.

By 1500 Islam was established throughout Sulu, and with no central government to resist the northward push of the sultans, Islam easily spread, and reached Manila by 1565. Islam was easily integrated into the islands’ societies as the indigenous peoples were divided into barangays (group based upon kinship), and Muslims brought with them an organized political concept of territorial states ruled by rajas or sultans. The Sultanate of Sulu extended its powers over Basilan, Palawan, and some coastal settlements in Zamboanga and North Borneo. The Sultanate of Maguindanao extended its influence over Mindanao.

They were the Ishmaelites of the East Indies. They were at war with every neighboring community. As pirates they viewed all flags as their proper prey, and as fanatical followers of Mohammed they took an especial delight in killing Spaniards. There was war between Spain and the sultanate from the advent of Legaspi up to the present year, and although the Sulus have been crushed by the pressure of civilization so that they are but a shadow of their former selves, they were nevertheless a constant menace to the Spanish government in the Philippines.

The name of Moro, given to the Sulu by the Spaniard, is a fair example of Castilian carelessness or ignorance. Just as they insisted upon calling the Antilles the West Indies, andredmen, Indians, even after they found that they had made a mistake, and that they had not discovered India and the Indians by going west, so when they encountered the Moslem Malays of Sulu they said, these are the Moors we drove out of Spain in the fifteenth century, and even after they had learned the full nature of their error, they still clung to the appellations they had bestowed.

The Sulu, or Moro, as the Spaniards called him, was about as intolerant as an Afghan. He believed in the most sanguinary teachings of Islam and took a pleasure in dying in an attack upon infidels. It was among the Moros that the juramentados, or oath-bound assassins, were found. They were usually young men of a high morality, measured by Moslem standards, who deliberately dedicated themselves to destruction. They went into training — religious, athletic and military — to prepare themselves for the culminating exploit of life, and when ready for the ordeal oiled their bodies, discarding all clothing, and with a weapon in either hand plunged into a Christian community, killing or wounding until they are dispatched by their foes.

With the arrival of the Spaniards came successive expeditions to conquer the Muslim groups in the south. Called the “Moro Wars,” these battles were waged intermittently from 1578 till 1898 between the Spanish colonial government and the Muslims of Mindanao. In 1578 an expedition sent by Gov Francisco de Sande and headed by Capt Rodriguez de Figueroa began the 300-year warfare between the Tausug and the Spanish authorities. In 1579 the Spanish government gave de Figueroa the sole right to colonize Mindanao. He was killed in an ambush, and his troops retreated to an anchorage near Zamboanga. In retaliation, the Muslims raided Visayan towns in Panay, Negros, and Cebu. These were repulsed by Spanish and Visayan forces.

In the early 17th century, the largest alliance composed of the Maranao, Maguindanao, Tausug, other Muslim groups was formed by Sultan Kudarat or Cachil Corralat of Maguindanao, whose domain extended from the Davao Gulf to Dapitan on the Zamboanga peninsula. Several expeditions sent by the Spanish authorities suffered defeat. In 1635 Capt Juan de Chaves occupied Zamboanga and erected a fort. This led to the defeat of Kudarat’s feared admiral, Datu Tagal, who had raided pueblos in the Visayas. In 1637, Gov Gen Hurtado de Corcuera personally led an expedition against Kudarat, and triumphed over his forces at Lamitan and Ilian. On 1 Jan 1638, de Corcuera with 80 vessels and 2000 soldiers, defeated the Tausug and occupied Jolo. A peace treaty was forged. The victory did not establish Spanish sovereignty over Sulu, as the Tausug abrogated the treaty as soon Spaniards left in 1646. In 1737 Sultan Alimud Din I entered into a “perma-nent” peace treaty with Gov Gen F. Valdes y Tamon; and in 1746, befriended the Jesuits sent to Jolo by King Philip V.

In 1748 he was forcibly removed by the forces of Bantilan, son of an earlier sultan. Alimud Din was charged as being “too friendly” with the Christians, whereupon he left for Manila in 1749. He was received well by Gov Gen Arrechderra and was baptized on 29 Apr 1750. He was humiliated in 1753, when after being reinstated as sultan, he was arrested on his way back to Sulu, under the orders of Gov Gen Zacarias. The Tausug retaliated by raiding northern coasts. In 1763 he was released by the British forces which had occupied Manila. He returned to Sulu as sultan, and in 1769, ordered the invasion of Manila Bay.

As late as 1851 their war prahus attacked and captured ships in Manila harbor, and made descents upon the towns and villages. The first great blow at the Sulu supremacy was delivered by the united navies of the civilized world, led by the gunboats of Great Britain. In the days of sailing frigates and corvettes the Sulus in their swift prahus nearly always managed to escape when on the open sea, and when prowling among the shoals and islets of the Philippine waters they were perfectly safe from the heavier and deeper ships of Europe and the United States. The introduction of steam soon showed them that their supremacy upon the high seas was gone forever. The Sulu sultanate declined after piracy was effectively halted, and in 1851, Gen Urbiztondo led an expedition that defeated the Tausug.

For many years the claim of Spain to sovereignty over the territories of Sulu had never been admitted by Great Britain and Germany, and the interference of the Spanish authorities with the freedom of trade in the Sulu Archipelago formed the subject of discussions and negotiations, and of a correspondence between the three Governments extending over many years. In consequence of the seizure in 1873 of certain German vessels in the waters pf Sulu and of the subsequent detention of a British vessel by a Spanish man-of-war, Her Majesty’s Government caused a careful examination to be made of the various Treaties between Great Britain and Sulu, and between Spain and Sulu, and of the correspondence relating to those Treaties. The conclusion then arrived at by Her Majesty’s Government and communicated by Lord Derby to the German Government in January 1876, was that, whatever rights Spain may have had to the sovereignty of Sulu and its dependencies, those rights must be considered to have lapsed owing to the complete failure of Spain to attain a defacto control over the territory claimed.

Sulu was only occupied and made into a protectorate in 1876 when Gov Gen Malcampo, using naval artillery, succeeded in destroying the kota (fort) of Jolo, and prevented the smuggle of ammunition to the besieged forces. A garrison was set up in Jolo commanded by Capt P. Cervera. Tausug attempts to recover the city were not successful. By a Treaty, dated 22 July 1878, the Sultan of Sulu was made to constitute himself the vassal of Spain, and to recognize Spauish sovereignty over the whole of the Sulu Archipelago and its dependencies, which, according to the Spanish contention, included the territories tributary to the Sultan on the north-east coast of Borneo. The Protocol of Madrid, which secured foreign trade from further molestation in the Sulu Archipelago, does not extend to the mainland of Borneo. The territorial limits of the sovereignty formerly claimed by Spain in the Sulu Archipelago are clearly defined in the Treaty between Spain and Sulu of 1836, wherein they are declared to extend “from the western point of Mindanao’ to Borneo and Palawan, with the exception of Sandakan and the other countries tributary to the Sultan on the continent of Borneo.”

North Borneo lay in the fair way of an immense British maritime trade between China, Australia, India, and the United Kingdom. Its occupation by a foreign Power would be a source of disquietude to this country, and for that reason clauses were inserted iu the British Treaties of 1847 and 1849 with the Sultans of Brunei and Sulu, under which they respectively engaged not to make any cession of territory to any other nation than Great Britain without the consent of Iler Majesty’s Government.

The British, who were wonderfully diplomatic in their dealings with the semi-civilized races, had but little trouble, so far as possessions in Borneo were concerned. They made a special treaty with the Sultan of Sulu, recognizing his feudal ownership of Borneo Territory, and paid him a certain annual stipend in lieu of all other charges. In this way they managed to open up North Borneo to settlement and cultivation, and are now reaping a golden harvest from their skillful negotiations. In January 1877, shortly before the signing of the Protocol of Madrid, the Spanish Foreign Minister declared to Her Majesty’s Kepresentative that his Ministry had no designs on Borneo, and limited the claims of Spanish sovereignty to Sulu and the adjacent islands.

The tenacity with which the Sulus resisted Spanish domination, their obdurate opposition and bravery in battle, and their obstinate passive resistance in peace, baffled all Spanish efforts to subvert their political organization or gain a single point of advantage without paying too dearly for it. The Sulus succeeded at last in inaugurating their candidate as Sultan of Sulu. Their laws and the administration of their internal affairs were not interfered with.

Raja Muda Amirul Kiram, who fought and suffered so long for the throne of his father and brother, succeeded Sultan Harun and assumed the name of Sultan Jamalul Kiram II. He was not obliged to go to Manila in order to be vested with proper authority by the GovernorGeneral, but it seems that he pledged himself in one way or another to pay some tribute to the Spanish Government, and consequently a decree was issued by Governor-General Blanco on March 1. 1894. Spain evacuated Sulu in May, 1899, and Jolo was garrisoned by American troops on the same day. On the 20th of August Gen. J. C. Bates concluded a treaty with Sultan Jamalul Kiram II, generally known as the “Bates Agreement,” and the sovereignty of Sulu passed from Spain to the United States of America.

Until the advent of the Americans, Sultan Jamalul Kiram II had the final word over an area of land larger than Delaware. But his Moros got out of control, and in 1902 General Pershing, then a Colonel, went into the bush and killed three hundred of them. Four years later, Governor Leonard Wood was obliged to shoot down six hundred more of the Sultan’s army. At last the Sultan gave in, allowed the American flag to be hoisted, and promised to behave. To prove he was on the level, he made a trip to the United States in 1912, accompanied by wives, advisers, and $250,000 in pearls.

His Highness Padukka Mahasari Manaluna Hadji Mohammad Jamalul Kiram II, born thirty years before Dewey sailed into Manila Bay and already a legend at the turn of the century. He drove the Spaniards out of the southern Philippines, thumbed his nose at the rest of the world, and lived long enough to find his temporal powers taken from him by the United States and himself immortalized when George Ade wrote a musical comedy called The Sultan of Sulu. Sultan Jamalul Kiram II was one of the most colorful figures ever to sit on a throne. When diplomats and journalists journeyed from Manila to the capital of Jolo the Sultan stuffed his fat body into a gold-buttoned pongee suit, slipped his feet into patent leather shoes, and placed a maroon fez on his head. But that was just on special occasions. His regular dress consisted of a faded khaki shirt, riding breeches, and dirty tennis shoes.

On 15 December 1913, Frank W. Carpenter succeeded General Pershing as Governor of the Moro Province. Sultan Jamal- ul Kiram II signed the March 1915 Carpenter Agreement whereby the sultan recognized the sovereignty of the Unites States in the Sulu Archipelago with “all the attributes of sovereign government that are exercised elsewhere in American territory and dependencies.” The sultan in effect unequivocally abdicated all his powers including his prerogatives associated with the courts and collection of taxes while the United States recognized the sultan as the “titular spiritual head of the Mohammedan church in the Sulu Archipelago,” that the Moros “ shall have the same religious freedom . . . and the practice of which is not in violation of the basic principles of the laws of the United States of America.”

Sultan Jamalul Kiram II died on June 7, 1936 without children but he left a Will naming his brother and two adopted nieces to succeed. When Sultan Jamalul Kiram II died, the Ruma Bechara (council) petitioned the Philippine Commonwealth government to recognize Dayang Dayang Hadji Piandao as Sultana of Sulu since the sultan did not have a direct heir. Datu Jainal Abirin II was accepted by most Moros as the Sultan of Sulu. Following the demise of the latter in 1950.

Read the original text from: Globalsecurity.org

– DM: Should we accept this version of Sulu history, one thing didn’t add up: 


Since the Sulu archipelago was occupied by Gov Gen Malcampo and made into a Spain protectorate in 1876, the reigning Sultan of Sulu would not have the authority to signoff any parts of Borneo (which the Sulus allegedly claimed ownership) to Dent-Overbeck team in 1878.

This again substantiates Sulu Sultanate’s treacherous nature.

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