Philippines – Mindanao And The Moros

We are on the beach at Zamboanga (sam-bo-an’ga), on the great island of Mindanao, at the southern end of our Philippine archipelago. We are only about three hundred miles from the Equator; but the climate is by no means unpleasant, for the fresh air from the sea fans our faces, whispering a welcome as it sweeps through the palms overhead.

Mindanao is by far the most important of the islands in the southern part of the Philippines. It is larger than Indiana, and although but little of it is inhabited by civilized people, it is one of the richest islands upon earth. Its soil will produce anything found in the northern parts of the archipelago, and it raises hemp, sugar, tobacco, and rice. It has all sorts of tropical fruits, and also pepper, cloves, nutmegs, and cinnamon. There are coffee fields within a mile of where we are sitting, and cocoanut trees may be seen by the millions on the lowlands of the coast. They are very tall, and some bear so many nuts that a single tree could furnish one for every day of the year.

Mindanao is thought to be rich in coal, copper, iron, and gold. Its forests include teak, ebony, and Filipino mahogany, and its pasture lands support herds. of horses, cattle, and carabaos.

The island is mountainous, three great volcanic ranges crossing it from north to south. The middle range is the highest, containing Mount Apo, an active volcano.

Mindanao is well watered. It has the largest river of the archipelago, the Rio Grande at the south; and in addition two hundred other rivers as well as numerous lakes, some of which are quite large.

This island is but thinly peopled. It is almost as large as Luzon, but it has not one seventh as many inhabit-ants, and most of its population is savage or at best semicivilized.

Many of the inhabitants are Malayan tribes known as Moros, of whom we shall see a great deal. as we take a trip around the coast. There are also Visayans in the northern and eastern provinces, and in the mountains are Negritos and wild Indonesians.

We shall not dare travel through the interior unaccompanied by soldiers. Many of the mountain people are barbarous in the extreme. Some use poisoned arrows, some have human sacrifices, and others might hunt us for our heads like the head-hunters of Formosa and Borneo.

Some of the Mindanao tribes build their houses in trees, and others put them high up on bamboo poles, crawling into them on notched sticks which they pull up at night. In some tribes the men are naked, and the women wear skirts only about a foot long.

The Bagobos, who are found about the slopes of Mount Apo, wear ivory or shell earrings as big round as a cup. There is a small button on the inside of the earring which goes through the lobe of the ear.

They wear clothes of grass cloth. The men have embroidered jackets and short trunks, and the women jackets and skirts which reach to the knee. Both sexes are fond of jewelry, and the women wear strings of bells on their legs and heavy brass rings on their ankles.

All these tribes are pagans, worshiping spirits which they believe to live in the trees and mountains. Our government is civilizing them; some have begun farming, and there are many schools. The most interesting people in this part of the world are the Moros, of whom there are thousands in Mindanao, and also in the Sulu Archipelago.

So far the Filipinos among whom we have traveled have been either Christians or pagans. The Moros are Mohammedans; that is, they believe in a religion founded by Mohammed, who was born in Arabia 570 years after Christ. This man claimed to have revelations from God which were collected into a book called the Koran. He had many followers, who spread his religion by the sword and in other ways, until a large part of the human race came to adopt it. There are millions of Mohammedans in Asia and Africa, and also in the islands of Malaysia, and especially Borneo.

The Moros are supposed to be descended from the Dyaks of Borneo, who invaded this part of the world centuries ago. They were here when Magellan discovered the islands, and were so fierce that the Spaniards were not able to conquer them, or to keep them in complete subsection. For a long time the Moros were noted as pirates. They had fleets of war vessels in which they sailed from Mindanao and Sulu to different parts of the Philippines, robbing the villages and killing the people, or carrying them back home as slaves. This piracy was not stopped until the Spaniards sent steam gunboats to suppress it.

The Moros have their own towns and villages. They are largely fishers, but also do some farming in a rude way.

They are divided into tribes, each under its independent chief, or datto, and they have also several sultans to whom they owe a certain kind of allegiance. The dattos once had the absolute power of life and death over their subjects, and until the Americans came, they could, if they wished, order any one to be killed. They frequently make war upon one another, each going out to battle with his fighting men. They are brave and apparently hold life of but little account.

Until recently all the rich Moros had slaves, and slavery still exists in some of the tribes, although the slaves are looked upon as members of the family.

According to the religion of Mohammed every true believer has the right to four wives, and we shall meet many Moros who have more than one, though very few have so many as four.

Such things, however, are being rapidly changed since the United States has taken possession of the Philippine Islands. Our government now rules the Moros through the dattos, allowing the people to govern themselves, but, at the same time, endeavoring to prevent them from committing crimes of all kinds. There is a large native town within a short walk of where we now are, and we can see the Moros at home.

We first take a stroll along the wide streets of Zamboanga, through which purling streams flow. The town is situated on the sea in a beautiful park facing the ocean. Its streets are lined with mango trees and cocoanut palms, and there are banana groves and coffee fields on the out-skirts. Everything is the greenest of green, and strange flowers, swayed by the sea breezes, nod to us as we walk by house after house. The buildings are much like those of Iloilo, for Zamboanga is a Christian town, although it is our Mohammedan capital. Its population consists of Visayans, Chinese, and American officials and soldiers, and we now and then meet a Moro dressed in gay clothes and ,a turban. We cross a bridge, and within a short time find ourselves in one of the chief towns of the Moros.