EXCERPTS FROM : THE BALANGINGI SAMAL
‘Pirate Wars’, Dislocation and Diasporic Identities
By: Professor James Francis Warren
After 1852, Taupan's actions triggered a general sea war with the Spaniards that dragged on for six years until 1858, costing the Spanish colonial government hundreds of thousands of dollars, and countless more Balangingi and Filipino lives. Taupan waged a hit and run style war from the islands around the Visayas, with an inferior force and little popular support, and he was facing a technologically superior enemy. It is against this background of the scars of war that Panglima Taupan's maritime raiding exploits were to become the subject of so much conversation, consternation and controversy from the drawing rooms of Manila to the conventos of every province in the Visayas.
Under a flag of truce, Taupan along with Palawan Dando and Tumugsuc, were taken by the Spanish. They had voluntarily presented themselves to the Governor of Zamboanga to seek peace and exchange Samal prisoners—especially women and children—for sixty Christian captives, one priest and one European woman.
But the Spaniards betrayed these men. Their families were not returned to them and the celebrated Balangingi leaders were unceremoniously seized as prisoners of war. Taupan and his followers were to become victims of the Spanish administration’s mid-century removal policy, and they were despatched to Manila. In his farewell address in Zamboanga, Taupan said,
"Endure your sufferings. I would offer you your perfect fate with much hope that perhaps in a short time we will rise with our families after having given others the confidence that one day we will be owners of Zamboanga and gain our lost freedom."
The Spanish realised that the best stratagem to end this extraordinary man's career, short of life imprisonment or execution, was to separate the Samal leaders. Panglima Taupan was banished to the Cagayan Valley, north central Luzon. Palawan Dando and Tumugsuc were to be sent to Nueva Viscaya and Isabella respectively. The official proponents of deportation and banishment argued that Spain’s future in the Philippines and their 'manifest destiny' was dependent upon the removal of the ‘savage’ Balangingi from the pathway of Spanish civilisation and progress.
The Spanish aim was to undermine the economic livelihood of the Balangingi, cause ruptures to the social and material bases of their cultural practice, and challenge notions of community, nationhood and sovereignty. physically relocating the prisoners away from the sea to an unfamiliar inland environment where their excellent marine-based skills were replaced with the need to acquire the land-based agricultural skills—required for the growing of tobacco. The Governor General, in his letters to Spain, justified his actions in removing the Balangingi by portraying himself as a humanitarian in an army uniform.
The Spanish believed that it was the influence of Islam, and not global-capitalism that had left its pernicious mark on the Balangingi. In the Spanish mind, it was the inextricable link between Islam and ‘piracy’ that was essential to the Balangingi’s development and evolution as maritime slave raiders. This strongly-held belief partly explains the Spanish attempts to forcibly resettle the Balangingi in northern upland villages, thus freeing the Samal from enslavement to Islam and from the influence of their celebrated chieftains, particularly Panglima Taupan. They were banished from the sea and their homeland so that in future the Balangingi could not rival the authority of the Spanish. The key phrase in the Royal order of 19 April 1859 rationalising the deportation of the Balangingi and the condemnation of Islam stated, ‘piracy was an occupation that found a religious basis and was viewed not as a criminal act arising from moral degradation but rather, lack of civilization.’
The trauma of the conquest was immense, but it was not adequately understood by the Balangingi until 1858. For the Balangingi fortune was to be found on the sea. Indeed, the sole orientation of the Samal was, of necessity, towards the sea—from which, as specialists in maritime raiding, boat building, and marine procurement, they derived their strength, security, and ultimately, wealth. The primary message of the deportation sought to invalidate the totality of this Balangingi life and replace it with Spanish-Christian values—largely by forced means.
Margarita Cojuangco, in Kris of Valor, has sympathetically recounted the odyssey of the Balangingi who were resettled in the Cagayan Valley to work on the Tabacalera plantations. She has reconstructed the history of the Samal Balangingi diaspora spanning four generations of exiles, offering new materials, insights and an ethno-historical perspective based on several periods of fieldwork in Cagayan as well as in the Mindanao- Sulu region.
Within a generation, some of these Balangingi, who had been baptised into Catholicism, had intermarried with neighbouring Yoggad, Ilocano and Tagalog migrants in Camarag and elsewhere.
However, Haji Datu Nuno, alias Antonio de la Cruz, the Jesuit-educated youngest son of Panglima Taupan, established the importance of the places in which the Balangingi had lived, and how much they grieved when they lost them. In 1881, he petitioned the Government to return to Mindanao to utilise his services as a culture broker in a manner deemed most useful by the Zamboanga authorities. The local officials sought his assistance to facilitate the settlement of nearby Taluksangay which was being populated by Samals.
In the early 1970s, Cesar Majul noted that Christian descendents of the exiles in the Cagayan Valley were still recognisable, and the older ones could remember the Kalimah as recited by their grandparents. This tended to corroborate information given to me in 1974 that small isolated pockets of Muslim Yogads, who were located at some distance from Echague, still revered the Qur’an and traced their original settlement in the area to the forced removal of the Balangingi in 1848.