Swish of the Kris - The Story of the Moros


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This book is part of a selection of rare Filipiniana books which have long been out of print and are no longer available. Through the admirable efforts of concerned groups such as the Filipiniana Book Guild, the Historical Conservation Society, Cacho Hermanos and the Eugenio Lopez Foundation, more Filipiniana materials have been reprinted and made available to the general public. These rare books, selected by Professor Renato Constantino, form part of the Filipiniana Reprint Series published by Cacho Hermanos.

"It is to be expected that American author Vic Hurley would regard Muslim leaders and resistance groups as bandits and terrorists. But if we read his graphic accounts of Muslim resistance from the people's point of view, we will see these battles for what they really were -- a determined heroic defense by the Muslim of the integrity of their societies.
"And despite the colonialist bias, there is in the author's accounts a grudging acknowledgement of the fighting prowess of the Filipino Muslims."

-- Renato Constantino, 1985

Due to the many requests for copies of the reprinted book which, ironically, have become as rare as the original, Bakbakan International has undertaken to publish the complete manuscript on the Internet so that we may be able to share with many this priceless record of our history. Because of the length of the book and our limited resources,it will be published in stages, complete and unabridged, by chapters within each section.

Reynaldo S. Galang
International Director
Bakbakan International

September 1997

The kris may be of any length and two
or three inches wide. All of the knives,
no matter what shape, are encased in
wooden scabbards, and have a keenness
of edge equaling that of a Damascus blade."

Major O. J. Sweet
22nd Infantry
U.S. Army


Author's Note

I. The Coming of the Krismen

 1. The Setting

 2. The Coming of the Kris

 3. Early Contacts In Mindanao

 4. The Spread of Mohammedanism

 5. The Spanish Conquest of the North

 6. The Seat of Moro Power

II. Kris versus Toledo Blade

 7. The First Expeditions to Mindanao

 8. First Footholds in Moroland

 9. Corcuera and Almonte

 10. The Sulu Pirates

 11. A Century of Conflict

 12. The Captivity of Alimud Din

 13. Stalemate in Mindanao

 14. Juramentados and Amuks

 15. The Later Wars

 16. The End of the Feud with Spain

III. Kris versus Krag

 17. Mindanao and Sulu in 1898

 18. The Formation of the Moro Province

 19. The Battle of Bud Dajo

 20. An Era of Banditry

 21. Jikiri

 22. The Mindanao Campaign

 23. Juramentados and Piracy

 24. The Battle of Bud Bagsak

 25. The Moro Disarmed

IV. America's Mohammedan Wards

 26. The Moro Today

 27. Moro Laws

 28. Moro Customs and Traditions

 29. The Plaint of the Moro

 Notes on the Moros
 List of Native Words Used in the Text

Author's Note

The casual visitor, stopping in Zamboanga or Jolo between boats, sees the Moro as a slightly grimy individual with a bad reputation. Faintly disturbing stories of the prowess of this villain with the razor-edged kris, sometimes reach the tourist's ears. Most of the stories are true. The visitor may also hear something of the enmity which exists between the Filipinos and the Moros. This is also true, as the Filipinos may discover when America leaves the islands.

What the tourist does not realize is that this sinewy, brown man, gaudily dressed in brilliant silk trousers and colorful turban, has an astounding history.

There are many men better qualified to write the military history of the Moros than this author. I know one man who could have done so and it would have been a wonderful book. He knew more about the Moros than any man in the world, I believe. He is dead now. Just before he died, I said to him, "Papa, why don't you write the story of these Mohammedan wards of ours?"

He was a Colonel in the United States Army but everyone called him "Papa".

Papa said, "Someday I will, Vic. It will have to be after some of the high rankers have gone to their rewards. I'd step on too many toes now."

But Papa passed on, as all good soldiers do, and that history of the Moros remained unwritten.

Almost, once, a newspaper man did the job. He was editor of the first newspaper in Mindanao, and he was eminently qualified. But he became busy with other things and the material turned yellow in the trunks of his basement and the book remained one of those nebulous things "that ought to be done".

So I have tried to do it. And when I look back to the seven years' association I had with the Moros while collecting the material, I wish I could have done a better job.

For the Moros are a grand people. Everything written about them, almost, has been authored by their enemies. They are feared and hated by the Filipinos. They were feared and hated by the Spaniards.

They spoiled a conquest.

Every one of them is valiant. There never was a Moro who was afraid to die. Death on the field of battle is a privilege, and they guard their privileges jealously.

History can never forget the Moros, for they did something in the 1500's, and the 1600's, and the 1700's and clear down into the 1800's, that was supposed to be impossible. They proved too strong for the Spanish conquistadores!

G. V. H.

San Diego, California
May, 1936

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In collecting the material for a book of this kind, involving not only untold centuries of warfare but, in addition, a discussion of prehistoric populations of the Philippines, the sources have been so varied as almost to prevent acknowledgement.

Much of the material was collected from the natives during the seven years I spent in Mindanao. During that period I made the acquaintance of elders of many Moro barrios, all of whom delighted in telling tales of the old days when the kri was the measure of a man.

For the verification of dates and campaigns I have depended upon standard histories of the Philippines. Among the books consulted were:

"The Philippine Islands" -- Foreman

"Historia de Mindanao y Sulu" -- Combes

"The Malay Archipelago" -- Wallace

"Voyage Around the World" -- Pigafetta

"Travels in the Philippines" -- Jagor

"Letters From the Philippines" -- Crevas

"History of the Philippines" -- Fernandez

I am particularly grateful to John Hackett, editor of the Mindanao Herald, for the material on "Kris versus Krag." Many of the details of this period were obtained from the files of his paper.

I am also indebted to many priests of the Jesuit Order who kindly placed at my disposal sources of information not usually accessible.

The preparation of this book entailed a tremendous amount of reading, as the material has not, I believe, been before confined to a single volume. There are, perhaps, glaring omissions; there are probably some errors, although no effort has been spared to keep the text accurate.

I make no claim for originality, as the story of the Moros is mostly history. I have supplemented my personal research by drawing freely upon all available sources in an effort to encompass within the covers of one book everything about the Moros that anyone might care to know.

G. V. H.

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"O YE WHO BELIEVE, when ye meet the
marshaled hosts of the infidels, turn not
your backs to them:
Who so shall turn his back to them on
that day, unless he turn aside to fight ,or
to rally some other troop, shall incur
wrath from God; Hell shall be his abode
and wretched the journey thither."--


The region of Mindanao and Sulu is one of the oldest battlegrounds in the world. Until the coming of America, these dark jungles and blue seas knew only the law of the strong, whose song was the song of the kris.

Men of all creeds and colors have scrambled for a foothold in Mindanao--from India, Ceylon, Borneo, Celebes, Java, China, Japan, Portugal, France, Spain, Holland, England. Their bones moulder there, and only the spirits of intrepid adventurers remain. They reckoned not on the courage of the defenders of this soil.

East meets West today in peace upon this centuries-old field of battle. Still in possession of his beloved isles remains the Moro; with this bosque warrior remains the American who finally conquered him.

In 1899 the Spaniards laid down their weary swords and gave over the task of subjugation of the Moros to the Krag rifles of America. The opening gun of the Spanish-American War found Spain holding a few precarious positions in Mindanao, Palawan and Sulu. This to show for more than 300years of bloody conflict! The Moros controlled the balance of the southern Philippines.

The close of the unsuccessful Spanish conquest of Moroland marked the beginning of the end of one of the most remarkable resistance in the annals of military history. The Moslems had staged a bitter and uninterrupted warfare against the might of Spain for a period of 377 years. It is doubtful if this record has been equalled in the whole bloody history of military aggression. The Dons, accustomed to the easy conquests of Peru and Mexico, met their match and more in the jungles of Mindanao.

As a fighting man of the highest caliber, the Moro has won for himself a distinguished place. This mighty krisman of the jungle has woven a thread of red into the fabric of the history of the East Indian Archipelago.

In common with other savage people, the Moros were ruthless and brutal and cruel, and they spared none in their crimson path. They lived in a stern age, during those days that preceded the coming of the Spaniards. Down through the years sailed the war praos of the Moros--ravaging, slaying and enslaving. Always they were masters of the Sulu Sea.

The Moros successfully defended their island empire from a period a century before the Christian era until their power was finally broken by the dismounted cavalrymen of Uncle Sam at the battle of Bud Bagsak in 1913.

The history of the Moros is a history of continuous warfare. Other opponents lacking, the Mohammedans fought with their own kinsmen. War was relaxation. To die was an earned privilege. Their history is Kris against Kris; Kris against Toledo blade; Kris against Krag.

The Moro was soldier, sailor, fisherman, pirate, slave-trader, pearl-diver, navigator; he was a composite portrait of competent savage. He ruled with cruelty in a sternly disputed domain. Piracy was his profession. Murder and rapine were his lighter amusement.

Nicolo Conti speaks of him in 1430:
"The inhabitants of Java and Sumatra exceed every other person in cruelty. They regard killing a man as a mere jest; nor is any punishment allotted to such a deed. If anyone purchase a new sword and wish to try it, he will thrust it into the breast of the first person he meets. The passers-by examine the wound, and praise the skill of the person who inflicted it, if he thrust in the blade direct."

Consistency was ever a virtue of the Moro, for Sawyer speaks of him again in 1900:
"Trained to arms from his earliest youth, he excels in the management of the lance, buckler and sword. These weapons are his inseparable companions. The typical Moro is never unarmed. He fights equally well on foot, on horseback, in his fleet war canoe or in the water, for he swims like a fish and dives like a penguin. Absolutely indifferent to bloodshed or suffering, he will take the life of a slave or a stranger, merely to try the keenness of a new weapon."

By our standards, the Moro was a barbarian, but it must be remembered that he occupied an uncertain throne on the crest of Malayan-Mongoloid invasions of a rude and uncultured country. The age of his power was a dangerous one of "conquer and live and leave no opposition alive on the back trail."

And yet, these bloodthirsty pirates were not lacking in sympathy. They waged a just war according to their lights and they were beset upon all sides by land-grabbing aggressors. Let the reader reflect upon one pathetic incident of the American occupation of Sulu. After listening patiently to General Bate's glowing description of the rich and powerful United States of America, the Sultan of Sulu asked, If all of this be true, why then do you seek my poor little islands?"

To which General Bates made no reply.

In his defense of the religion and customs of Islam against the militant priests of Spain, the Moro set a new historical precedent. He survived. His religion survived. The Mayas, the Aztecs and the Incas fell before the Toledo steel of the Spaniards, and their language and institutions perished with them. Their temples were destroyed and their literature burned by over-zealous bishops of the Romish church. A few of their cities remain desolated sepulchers of an ancient civilization which melted before the fanaticism of the conquistadores.

Not so with the Moros; sturdy and intact, their religion still flourishes on the shores of Sulu. The conquistadores came, fought vainly, and retired. The Moros remain.

As a civilizing agency, the position of the Moros is doubtful. As fighting men, they take first rank in the pages of martial history.

It is as fighting men that we should judge them.

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Original publication © 1936 E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc.

Filipiniana Reprint Series © 1985 Cacho Hermanos, Inc.

This publication (HTML format & original artwork) © 1997 Bakbakan International